Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…