Saturday, 20 November 2010

Piers Bizony – Four Way Interview

Piers Bizony has written on popular science and space for a variety of magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, and was shortlisted for the NASA/Eugene M. Emme Award for Astronautical Writing. He has written several books, including Atom and most recently Science: the Definitive Guide.
Why science?
People sometimes imagine science as a dull technical enterprise conducted by emotionless nerds in white coats. The media also gets annoyed when scientists can’t answer questions in black and white terms – or worst of all, when one scientist’s ideas conflict with another’s. The wonderful thing about science is that it’s an act of creative imagination, followed by a test of those ideas to see if they have any truth behind them. It’s a constant and often fiery process of human discovery, rather than just an abstract set of cold facts. But the facts do count for a lot. Yes, the earth is round, not flat. Yes, the earth goes around the sun, and not the other way around. Yes, there’s an evolutionary reason – simple and compelling – why we share so much of our biology with the chimpanzees. That’s what I mean by “fiery.” The scientists who discovered these things came in for a lot of flack. Thanks to their determination, we can be sure of certain kinds of knowledge because of scientifically tested evidence. Year by year, generation by generation, science has delivered the most reliable form of human knowledge that we possess. And the exciting thing is how much more we have yet to discover. What’s not to like?
Why this book?
There are some ambitious illustrated guides to science available right now in the bookshops. They are impressive and monumental, and that’s precisely why we thought we could add something to the mix, by making a book that’s less daunting to pick up off the table, and easier for non-scientific families to get into. We spent many weeks working out what the structure of the book should be. It develops essentially as a narrative, through time and space. Where did the world come from? How did life develop? What are the forces and substances that make everything tick? Science is a story, and we structured the book in that way. And it’s not history, so much as purely and simply an overview of what we think we know today about the natural world and the forces that make everything tick. And all in plain simple language.
What’s next?
I’m working with the wonderful Rough Guides brand on a book about the genuine science of hunting for extraterrestrial life – a very hot topic right now, and fantastic fun.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
The breakthrough private technologies in space flight. Those so-called ‘space tourists’ are actually very dedicated entrepreneurs with a passion for opening up the space frontier. In the next few years we might actually start to get the science fiction future that we were always promised.

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