COMING TO TERMS: From Alpha to X Ray, A Lexicon for the Science-Watcher by Wayne Biddle

COMING TO TERMS: From Alpha to X Ray, A Lexicon for the Science-Watcher

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During the Three Mile Island and Love Canal incidents, journalist Biddle reminds us, incomprehensible scientific pronouncements inflamed rather than allayed public apprehension; so his lexicon attempts to debunk 160 well-used and abused terms drawn from the arcane jargon of science, computers, and the military--but even with this modest goal there are major problems. To real science-watchers, Biddle's definitions will often seem simplistic, or, worse, wildly inaccurate; true laymen will find his assumption of basic scientific knowledge disconcerting; and on what basis he selected these particular terms, and omitted others, remains obscure. He does occasionally hit the mark in a sardonic way: ""Creationism is an artful but rather hokey myth, there is not a shred of evidence for it, and the people who maintain otherwise are silly bumpkins""; but later, confusingly, we read about ""the unstable elements present at Creation."" Elsewhere, we're told, misleadingly, that the word gene ""is more or less synonymous with DNA""; the term Hertz is defined, unhelpfully, as ""a unit of frequency""; quarks are referred to, wrongly, as ""quantum numbers."" And, under the heading Fats/Oils occur the undefined terms Saturated/ Unsaturated, cross-referenced to a nonexistent entry. All in all, a mess--and, in practical terms, untrustworthy.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking