Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Popular Science Books Taking Off

The Telegraph has a very interesting piece on the rise in popularity of pop-science books, including physics.

But since Dennett wrote that in 1995, evolutionary theory has been fighting for shelf space, as quantum physics and relativity mount a comeback. The past few weeks have seen Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, move from the books pages to the front pages with its provocative argument that physicists do not need a creator to explain the universe’s existence. But a reader could equally well pick up We Need to Talk about Kelvin by Marcus Chown; In Search of the Multiverse by John Gribbin; Quantum by Manjit Kumar; Void by Frank Close; and dozens more.

This popularity is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is heartening to know that people are interested in knowing more about subject areas that we, as physicists, are passionate about. We can only hope that these books not only convey some information on the subject matter, but also simulates interest in these areas and gather support from the public.

But on the other hand, pop-science is just that, popular science that lacks the details that separate a knowledge from being superficial to in-depth knowledge. Pseudoscience figures such as Deepak Chopra appear to learn about physics from such books without realizing that they are only seeing the shadow of the animal, rather than the animal itself. Many of the bastardization of physics can be traced to applying such superficial knowledge to justify something that science has never deemed to be valid. The popularity of these pop-science books can easily trigger even more of such bastardization by people who don't know any better.

These books will be most effective if they trigger the readers to ask questions and to learn more in the effort to try and understand these things. It will backfire if it initiates more bastardization by people who think they've understood all they need to know to apply such things to dubious phenomena.


1 comment:

Gary Baker said...

A Brief History of Time – 1988
Bully for Brontosaurus – 1991
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid – 1979
The Selfish Gene – 1976
The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and The Laws of Physics – 1989
Just a few I have on my bookshelf – yes, I'm a popular science junky. The point is, the ordinary bloke's fascination with all kinds of science has never gone away.
Taking off?! It's never landed.
The Telegraph is 30 years behind the times. Or, more likely, they have a twenty something reporter who thinks he's noticed something new.