FACING UP by Steven Weinberg

FACING UP

Science and Its Cultural Adversaries
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In 23 previously published articles and miscellaneous speeches, which span 15 years, the Nobel Prize–winning particle physicist takes up arms against a sea of post-modernists, religionists, mystics, and even some liberal critics of modern science.

Weinberg’s congressional testimony during the lost battle to build the Superconducting Super Collider, the technology for which he argued might have moved physics beyond the “standard model” of quantum field theory toward a unified theory including gravity, touches on an oft-repeated theme. He believes that there is order in the universe, that physics has been successfully probing this as an external reality for at least 400 years, and that we are getting closer to the truth. Enter now the adversaries, chiefly cultural relativists, deconstructionists, and some philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science. Weinberg is particularly incisive in taking on the relativists, who believe that science is nothing but the elitist, authoritarian, and sexist reflection of a particular cultural milieu. On the contrary, he points out, physicists the world over speak the same language, adhere to the same precepts and paradigms. To skewer the deconstructionists, Weinberg makes good use of physicist Alan Sokal’s hoax article in the journal Social Text, noting that while Sokal perpetrated various howlers from his own field, he did not make up the incomprehensible quotes from such French intellectuals as Derrida and Lacan. In the final essays dealing with religion and utopias Weinberg is predictably more than skeptical; he goes so far as to say that “for good people to do evil—that takes religion.” Weinberg admits that as often as not scientists and their adversaries talk past each other, so do not expect reconciliation here. However, interspersed with the arguments, counterarguments, and rebuttals of adversaries are two quieter gems: a tour-de-force summary of 20th-century physics’ accomplishments and a brief description of the moment of inspiration for his development of the theory unifying the weak and electromagnetic force.

Uneven, but pleasurable overall for the stimulation of being in the presence of a nimble mind.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-674-00647-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001




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