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Showing posts from October, 2008

Bad Science – Ben Goldacre *****

Ben Goldacre, the author of this book, gave a keynote address at a science blogging conference I attended recently. He was funny, brash and acerbic in his attacks on poorly conducted and reported science (particularly medical science) just as he is on his excellent blog  Bad Science . What remained to be seen was whether he could translate this rip-roaring success as scourge of the pseudo-scientists into the full length book form. With a few small quibbles the answer is a very loud ‘yes’. It’s excellent. Goldacre takes on the likes of Brain Gym, homeopathy, exotic claims from the cosmetics industry, Gillian McKeith, Patrick Holford and more. It’s remarkable just how many are taken in by this pseudo-science, and Goldacre roundly and accurately criticizes the media for their wide-eyed ignorance. In his talk, he seemed to say that professional writers are rubbish and we should rely solely on real scientists’ communications. In practice this doesn’t work well as a sole approach, and in

Quantum – Manjit Kumar ***

The first thing that strikes you about this book it’s big. It’s a chunky tome. It looks suspiciously like the sort of book that assumes you’ve written a ‘big’ book if you have written a long one, and sadly the contents don’t do anything to counter this opinion. It goes on too long, it’s often dull and I couldn’t really find any new ground being covered here – it has all been done before, better and more readably. For example, the early chapters on Planck and Einstein feel very samey with all the other material I’ve read on them (though it’s particularly plodding here). The trouble is, you feel you have to put all this stuff in, but there’s no doubt that it’s going over old ground with a will. Things do live up a little when we get onto Bohr, who has relatively little biographical information written about him. However, even here things aren’t all sweetness and light. The problem with this section is the author’s poor structuring. We keep diving back and forth in time. Part way thr

Einstein’s Mistakes – Hans C. Ohanian ****

This is, without doubt, one of the most fascinating popular science books I have ever read. When I first saw the title, I was filled with dread, because the bookshelves are filled with crank titles that try to take on Einstein and prove him wrong. But this is quite different. It’s a carefully constructed exploration of Einstein’s life and scientific work, built around the errors in his work that are often glossed over in presenting the triumph of his great ideas. The only slight concern about the approach is that this does result in a rather smug feel to the book, a sort of ‘aren’t I clever, I can tell you where Einstein went wrong’ aura that isn’t helped by occasional descents into loose language (apparently Van Gogh became a great artist ‘when he went bonkers.’) Building the book around Einstein’s mistakes is an excellent idea, but sometimes it results in excessive weight being put on a relatively small point, such as an assertion in the original Special Relativity paper that alle