Shelves: contemporary , nonfiction , npr-worthy Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally here. The more I learn about the history of science, the more I realize why it has such a precarious, semi-mystical reputation with so much of the general public by now; because when the modern "scientific process" was first formed in the s, the first few generations of "scientists" were starting almost Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter. Indeed, it was this activity that got us both the terms "gentleman scientist" and "dilettante," descriptions you hardly ever hear applied to members of the general public anymore. How nice would it be, then, to have a simple yet smart guide to just the basics of science all over again, the building blocks of each field first discovered back during the Renaissance and Enlightenment by the exact proto-scientists just mentioned, the same material covered in school during childhood but in this case written expressly for grown-ups.
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By Steven Pinker May 27, A baby sucks on a pencil and her panicky mother fears the child will get lead poisoning.
A consumer tells a reporter that she refuses to eat tomatoes that have genes in them. And a newsmagazine condemns the prospects of cloning because it could mass-produce an army of zombies. These are just a few examples of scientific illiteracy — inane misconceptions that could have been avoided with a smidgen of freshman science. Though we live in an era of stunning scientific understanding, all too often the average educated person will have none of it. People who would sneer at the vulgarian who has never read Virginia Woolf will insouciantly boast of their ignorance of basic physics.
Most of our intellectual magazines discuss science only when it bears on their political concerns or when they can portray science as just another political arena. The costs of an ignorance of science are not just practical ones like misbegotten policies, forgone cures and a unilateral disarmament in national competitiveness. There is a moral cost as well.
A failure to nurture this knowledge shows a philistine indifference to the magnificent achievements humanity is capable of, like allowing a great work of art to molder in a warehouse. Image Credit And, oops, hmm, hey, Mom, this thing seems to have stopped working! I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. Anyone who knows a boffin as the British affectionately call the women and men in white coats will recognize the passionate and irreverent voices of her subjects.
The remaining chapters cover probability, large and small numbers, physics, chemistry, evolutionary and molecular biology, geology and astronomy. Though the material is up-to-date, Angier stays clear of cutting-edge discoveries and in-house controversies. She also wisely avoids the dreary peace-and-ecology sermon with which so many scientists feel they must conclude their popular books.
The solutions include the detective story, the suspenseful race to a discovery, the profile of a colorful practitioner, the reportage of a raging controversy and the use of a hook from history, art or current affairs. The lure that Angier deploys is verbal ornamentation: her prose is a blooming, buzzing profusion of puns, rhymes, wordplay, wisecracks and Erma-Bombeckian quips about the indignities of everyday life. A good analogy does not just invoke some chance resemblance between the thing being explained and the thing introduced to explain it.
It capitalizes on a deep similarity between the principles that govern the two things. Just as a poker player actively tries to hide his reactions, natural selection may select against features of an organism that would otherwise divulge its internal state.
And just as it would do no good for the poker player to lie about his hand because the other players would learn to ignore the lie , selection would not favor an animal giving a false signal about its intentions because its adversaries would evolve to ignore the signal. A good analogy helps you think: the more you ponder it, the better you understand the phenomenon. Spatial arrangements like eggs in a carton , mixed ingredients like those of a cocktail and harmonically related frequencies like those of an octave are all potentially relevant to the structure of matter and indeed are relevant to closely related topics in physics and chemistry , so Angier forces readers to pause and determine that these images should be ignored here.
Not only do readers have to work to clear away the verbal overgrowth, but a substantial proportion of them will be misled and will take the flourishes literally. She conveys the real substance of field after field, without distortion or dumbing down, and often her sensual descriptions of the interior of a cell, a star or the Earth, for instance leave the reader with images both vivid and useful.
It could make the country smarter.
Overview[ edit ] The Canon presents a summary of some of the different areas of science, as well as extensive descriptions of, and interviews with, contemporary scientists who work in these fields. In her Introduction, Angier writes: Of course you should know about science, for the same reason Dr. Seuss counsels his readers to sing with a Ying or play Ring the Gack: These things are fun, and fun is good. Angier included quotes from the scientists she interviewed throughout her descriptions of different scientific topics in an attempt to show how scientists experience and think about their work, and why they do it. Scientists interviewed[ edit ] To obtain material for The Canon, Angier interviewed a number of scientists, professors, and other science professionals, and incorporated their stories and quotes into her work.
The Known World