Maverick science writer Wertheim (A Field Guide to Hyperbolic Space, 2005, etc.) challenges the right of the scientific establishment to lay claim to the position of gatekeepers of truth.
After receiving an undergraduate degree in physics, the author pursued a career as a journalist, writing a column on science for three fashion magazines including Vogue Australia. At that time, she began following the work of outliers in the field, and in 1994 she discovered Jim Carter, a central figure in this book. She admires his commitment to describe physics in terms a layman can comprehend without knowledge of higher mathematics. Carter rejects the theories of Newton, Faraday, Maxwell and Einstein, as well as quantum theory, in favor of his own view of the universe. Wertheim describes his theory that in this universe, “all matter and energy are explained by the mechanics of subatomic particles each one shaped like a circle of coiled spring.” She compares his down-to-earth approach to physics with that of Richard Feynman when he demonstrated the brittleness of O-rings under freezing conditions. The author explains that she decided to write this book about “outsider physicists,” whose work is off the beaten track, after attending a 2003 conference of mainstream physicists sponsored by the Institute of Theoretical Physics on the “bizarre, magical worlds” proposed by various String Theories. She contrasts this with a 2010 meeting sponsored by the Natural Philosophy Alliance—a group that offers fringe scientists an online platform where they can publish—attended by “dissident researchers” from around the world who presented more than 120 hotly debated papers—their own version of peer review.
Although her enthusiasm for alternate science is controversial, Wertheim raises an important question with broader ramifications: Since “anyone can publish a theory of physics online, what can be, or will be, or should be, our criteria for credibility in this field?”