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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Dialogues - Clifford Johnson ***

The authors of science books are always trying to find new ways to get the message across to their audiences. In Dialogues, Clifford Johnson combines a very modern technique - the graphic novel or comic strip - with an approach that goes back to Ancient Greece - using a dialogue to add life to what might seem a dry message.

We have seen the comic strip approach trying to put across quite detailed science before in Mysteries of the Quantum Universe. As with that book, Dialogues manages to cover a fair amount of actual physics, but I still feel that the medium just wastes vast acres of page to say very little at all. This is brought home here because quite a lot of the sections of Dialogues start with several pages with no text on at all, just setting up the scenario.

As for using a discussion between two people to put a message across, Johnson makes the point that, for instance, Galileo's very readable masterpiece Two New Sciences is in the form of a dialogue (more accurately a discu…

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson ****

This is an interesting book, even if it probably tries to be too many things to too many people. I wondered from the cover design whether it was a children's book, but the publisher's website (and the back of the book) resolutely refuse to categorise it as such. The back copy doesn't help by saying that it will 'inspire trailblazers and pioneers of all ages.' As I belong to the set 'all ages' I thought I'd give it a go.

Inside are featured the 'stories of fifty inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.' So, in some ways, A Galaxy of Her Own presents the other side of the coin to Angela Saini's excellent Inferior. But, inevitably, given the format, it can hardly provide the same level of discourse.

Despite that 'all ages' comment and the lack of children's book labelling we get a bit of a hint when we get to a bookplate page in the form of a Galaxy Pioneers security pass (with the rather worrying…

Liam Drew - Four Way Interview

Liam Drew is a writer and former neurobiologist. he has a PhD in sensory biology from University College, London and spent 12 years researching schizophrenia, pain and the birth of new neurons in the adult mammalian brain. His writing has appeared in Nature, New Scientist, Slate and the Guardian. He lives in Kent with his wife and two daughters. His new book is I, Mammal.

Why science?

As hackneyed as it is to say, I think I owe my fascination with science to a great teacher – in my case, Ian West, my A-level biology teacher.  Before sixth form, I had a real passion for the elegance and logic of maths, from which a basic competence at science at school arose.  But I feel like I mainly enjoyed school science in the way a schoolkid enjoys being good at stuff, rather than it being a passion.

Ian was a revelation to me.  He was a stern and divisive character, but I loved the way he taught.  He began every lesson by providing us with a series of observations and fact, then, gradually, between …