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Science a la Mode

Science a la Mode: Physical Fashions and Fictions

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    Science a la Mode
    Book Description:

    These iconoclastic and witty essays are about what happens when scientists jump on band-wagons. Tony Rothman applies creative skepticism to contemporary fashions in science, including the "standard model" Big Bang theory, geodesic domes, the concept of nuclear winter, and sociological applications of the second law of thermodynamics. "Rothman proves himself an excellent communicator.. I am grateful to him for he has enlarged my vision, increased my understanding, and made me more aware of the beauty of the patterns and connections of all the world."--Dick Kovan, New Scientist "These six delightful essays address and substantiate the sociological underpinnings of the scientific enterprise.. I highly recommend this volume of excellent essays that remind us all of the `folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truth, and oneself for an oracle..'"--Dennis W. Cheek, Science Books & Films

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5985-6
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

    (pp. 3-28)
    G. F. R. ELLIS

    Recently, at a New York cocktail party, a young physicist was asked how he made his living and he replied that he was by specialty a cosmologist. While it might be debated whether cosmology constitutes a “living,” his host remained undeterred and immediately inquired if it would be possible to make an appointment for a manicure and a haircut. The physicist explained that cosmology is the study of the large-scale structure of the universe and that he—alas—knew very little about nail polish, split ends, and all those other things a cosmetologist presumably deals with. Both the physicist and...

    (pp. 29-50)
    G. F. R. ELLIS

    Physics and metaphysics. Nature and beyond nature. Or so the terms are ordinarily used. Physics is a science; it deals with questions that can be decided by observation and experiment. Metaphysics deals with issues that do not admit defeat so easily: the existence of God, the content of the soul. In the twentieth century, scientists pride themselves on maintaining the distinction between them. How the Big Bang occurred is a question cosmologists attempt to answer:whythe Big Bang occurred is not.

    As we have just used them, the terms physics and metaphysics might suggest science versus religion. We do...

    (pp. 51-74)

    We often use words without giving them much thought. A cynic would go further—it is a rare instance when wedothink about what we say. There is a case to be made here. If you’ve ever called anyone a “son of a gun,” you probably did not mean he is the offspring of a Colt 45. (The expression seems to have originally denoted “son of a gunner” on a ship. Because sailors were usually out on the high seas, I suspect it meant he was a bastard.) Not long ago, a Scientologist attempted to convince me that the...

    (pp. 75-108)

    “Metaphor is the frayed thread that connects what we desire with what merely exists,” scribbled Tony Rothman in 1987. Neither Gasset’s metaphor nor my own is particularly powerful. Equatingmetaphorwithfertile powerdoes not require a great leap of the imagination. My draft needs to be tightened up; it holds promise but is too vague to be really effective and vivid.

    Nevertheless, many of you would probably agree with the above sentiments. A good metaphor discloses a link between two or more concepts that we had previously thought unrelated and, in doing so, broadens our experience of the world....

    (pp. 109-147)

    On October 30, 1983, aParademagazine article by Carl Sagan introduced Americans to a new form of apocalypse called “nuclear winter.” With his article, Sagan had hoped to alert the public to a danger he felt real and relevant to our thinking about nuclear war. Everyone knows how successful he was. The vision of Earth slowly freezing under a twilight sun has found a place in our nuclear nightmares, somewhere beside that of Slim Pickins riding the H-bomb to Armageddon.

    This essay is also about nuclear winter, but I will not be concerned so much with the scientific details...

    (pp. 148-194)

    In Paris, on the obscure morning of May 30, 1832, near a pond not far from the pension Sieur Faultrier, Evariste Galois confronted an adversary in a duel to be fought with pistols, and was shot through the stomach. Hours later, lying wounded and alone, Galois was found by a passing peasant. He was taken to the Hôpital Cochin, where he died the following day in the arms of his brother Alfred, after having refused the services of a priest. Had Galois lived another five months, until October 25, he would have attained the age of twenty-one.

    The legend of...