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Scientifica Historica - Brian Clegg ****
I like Scientifica Historica very much. I studied History and Philosophy of science as an undergraduate many years ago and have maintained an interest in it, so this is an area I’m familiar with in an amateur sort of way – and am pleased (and slightly smug) at the number of books discussed by Brian Clegg that I have actually read. The first thing to say is that the book is beautiful. The illustrations are lavish and inspiring much of the time – especially for me, seeing original scripts from millennia ago and handwritten notes by some deeply revered scientists but also pages and covers from great books. This makes it more of an introduction and a coffee table book than an in-depth work on the historiography of science, but that’s just fine because it fits that role very well. All the great works of pre- and 20th-Century science you’d expect are here, from Aristotle and Hippocrates through the great Arab works of the 9th to the 12th centuries, then Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Galileo, Harvey, Malthus, Dalton, Faraday, Darwin, Einstein… plus a lot more, all of which is a delight to see. Each is discussed readably and with enough depth to inform the casual reader and to encourage those interested to seek out more. Things become quite interesting with 20th-Century selections as science broadens out and I think it’s here that people may find some editorial choices controversial, especially in the final section on popular science books. Clegg doesn’t give us any Freud or Jung, for example, but does include Oliver Sacks and two (two!) of Desmond Morris’s books. To me Sacks is unarguable, as are many others he chooses, but two Desmond Morris books but nothing whatsoever by Peter Medawar or Stephen Jay Gould? My judgement would have been different – but then, that’s always going to be the case in such a selection. So, as an enticing introduction to some of the great (and in my view some not so great!) books of science, this works very well and I can recommend it. Reproduced with permission from the Sid Nuncius blog.
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Review by Brian Clegg
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.
As Melanie Mitchell makes plain, humans have limitations in their visual abilities, typified by optical illusions, but artificial intelligence (AI) struggles at a much deeper level with recognising what's going on in images. Similarly in some ways, the visual appearance of this book misleads. It's worryingly fat and bears the ascetic light blue cover of the Pelican series, which since my childhood have been markers of books that were worthy but have rarely been readable. This, however, is an excellent book, giving a clear picture of how many AI systems go about their business and the huge problems designers of such systems face.
Not only does Mitchell explain the main approaches clearly, her account is readable and engaging. I read a lot of popular science books, and it's rare that I keep wanting to go back to one when I'm not scheduled to be reading it - this is one of those rare examples.
We discover how AI researchers have achieved the apparently remarkable abiliti…
Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.
What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …
Colin Stuart is an astronomy journalist, author and science communicator. He has written fourteen science books to date, which have been translated into nineteen languages, including 13 Journeys Through Space and Time: Christmas Lectures From the Royal Institution and The Universe in Bite-sized Chunks both published by Michael O’Mara Books. He also has written for the Guardian, the European Space Agency and New Scientist and has spoken on Sky News, BBC News and Radio 5 Live. He is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and even has an asteroid named after him. His latest title is Rebel Star: our quest to solve the great mysteries of the Sun. Why science?
For me the stories that you can tell with modern science rival the most imaginative leaps in fiction. The secret, invisible kingdoms of bacteria and sub-atomic particles. The logic defying realms of black holes and Big Bangs. That excites me more than Hogwarts or Mordor. The universe is an amazing place and we’ve only just scratche…