Skip to main content

Mick O’Hare – Four Way Interview

Mick O’Hare is the editor of numerous popular science books taken from his column The Last Word, found inside New Scientist magazine. He is also production editor at the publication. His degree was in geology but he retains a healthy disregard for rocks. He I as as passionate about science as he is about rugby league, malt whisky and Formula 1, which is saying something. His latest title is Will We Ever Speak Dolphin?
Why science?
Because it’s the story of the rational. It can, ultimately, explain everything, although what constitutes everything and its limits are constantly shifting. Nonetheless it’s the only process we possess that can give us answers to our questions based on evidence rather than irrationality. And as such it should be embraced by every free-thinking person. It can also tell us why snot is green and what earwax is for. Which keeps me in work.
Why this book?
We just can’t stop. All the previous books in the series have proved popular and there was a clamour for more. And, without wanting to offer a gratuitous plug, we’ve figured out what makes a great question and what brings in the best responses. So in my opinion the books get better and better. Last of all, I also got free reign this time to include a chapter on two of my favourite things: James Bond and martinis, although I have to admit I prefer mine with gin, not vodka.
What’s next?
Other than handling the press calls when the book comes out, it’s back to the coal face. New Scientist is a weekly magazine and there’s always something to do. And I fancy expanding the chapter I mentioned on martinis into a book on the entire science of cocktails.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
What should be exciting me is watching governments make decisions based on scientific evidence rather than gut feeling and off-the-cuff thinking. But in the inevitable absence of that I guess it’s figuring out how Weetabix sticks to the bowl, how they might get the gold out of the back of the coach at the end of the Italian Job, and – most of all – next year’s Rugby League World Cup to be held in Britain.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Great Silence – Milan Cirkovic ****

The great 20th century physicist Enrico Fermi didn’t say a lot about extraterrestrial life, but his one utterance on the subject has gone down in legend. He said ‘Where is everybody?’ Given the enormous size and age of the universe, and the basic Copernican principle that there’s nothing special about planet Earth, space should be teeming with aliens. Yet we see no evidence of them. That, in a nutshell, is Fermi’s paradox.

Not everyone agrees that Fermi’s paradox is a paradox. To some people, it’s far from obvious that ‘space should be teeming with aliens’, while UFO believers would scoff at the suggestion that ‘we see no evidence of them’. Even people who accept that both statements are true – including  a lot of professional scientists – don’t always lose sleep over Fermi’s paradox. That’s something that makes Milan Cirkovic see red, because he takes it very seriously indeed. In his own words, ‘it is the most complex multidisciplinary problem in contemporary science’.

He points out th…

The Order of Time - Carlo Rovelli ***

There's good news and bad news. The good news is that The Order of Time does what A Brief History of Timeseemed to promise but didn't cover: it attempts to explore what time itself is. The bad news is that Carlo Rovelli does this in such a flowery and hand-waving fashion that, though the reader may get a brief feeling that they understand what he's writing about, any understanding rapidly disappears like the scent of a passing flower (the style is catching).

It doesn't help either that the book is in translation so some scientific terms are mangled, or that Rovelli has a habit of self-contradiction. Time and again (pun intended) he tells us time doesn't exist, then makes use of it. For example, at one point within a page of telling us of time's absence Rovelli writes of events that have duration and a 'when' - both meaningless terms without time. At one point he speaks of a world without time, elsewhere he says 'Time and space are real phenomena.'…

The Happy Brain - Dean Burnett ****

This book was sitting on my desk for some time, and every time I saw it, I read the title as 'The Happy Brian'. The pleasure this gave me was one aspect of the science of happiness that Dean Burnett does not cover in this engaging book.

Burnett's writing style is breezy and sometimes (particularly in footnotes) verging on the whimsical. His approach works best in the parts of the narrative where he is interviewing everyone from Charlotte Church to a stand-up comedian and various professors on aspects of happiness. We get to see the relevance of home and familiarity, other people, love (and sex), humour and more, always tying the observations back to the brain.

In a way, Burnett sets himself up to fail, pointing out fairly early on that everything is far too complex in the brain to really pin down the causes of something as diffuse as happiness. He starts off with the idea of cheekily trying to get time on an MRI scanner to study what his own brain does when he's happy, b…