Crease conveys in unambiguous terms the perils science denial presents to contemporary society and the importance of...

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THE WORKSHOP AND THE WORLD

WHAT TEN THINKERS CAN TEACH US ABOUT SCIENCE AND AUTHORITY

A timely, sophisticated analysis of the plague of science denial, and possible correctives, via an examination of the ideas of 10 profound thinkers.

Crease (Chair, Philosophy/Stony Brook Univ.; World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement, 2011, etc.) explores the work of individuals who “confronted severe problems with scientific authority in their time, reacted with different forms of anger, and took action. Some risked their lives. Taken together, their stories show why the dwindling authority of science is…threatening to human life.” He finds that the vulnerabilities of science authority, at least in the eyes of detractors, derive from its own strengths. Crease deciphers the precepts of famous historical figures—Francis Bacon, Galileo, René Descartes, Mary Shelley, Max Weber, and Hannah Arendt—as well as well-known but noted intellectuals (Edmund Husserl, Auguste Comte, Giambattista Vico) to reveal how the modern scientific apparatus emerged, took shape, overcame resistance, and developed a once-pervasive authority. This author not only challenged—and still challenges—prevailing power structures and modes of thought, but also presented a philosophical quandary: how to reconcile scientific abstractions with the nonscientist's experiential grasp of the world. Crease, also a columnist for Physics World, is not simply a successful science popularizer, but also a perceptive critic, which is not to say he does not allow his political and ecological convictions to enter the equation, especially when it comes to science denial among opportunistic politicians. Given the range and complexity of the subject, the author has taken on a herculean task and executed it deftly. The narrative is stimulating, morally aware, and imbued with obvious respect for the men and women whose ideas the author plumbs. Refreshingly, Crease brings the same intellectual honesty to dissecting their flaws and mistakes as he does to appreciating their triumphs.

Crease conveys in unambiguous terms the perils science denial presents to contemporary society and the importance of restoring the reputation of science as integral to a vibrant and enduring human culture.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-29243-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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