The Reinvention of Science | In the Dark

Story


I’ve known about the existence of this new book for quite a long time – the first two of the authors are former collaborators of mine and I’m still in fairly regular touch with them – but I only received a copy a few weeks ago. Had I been less busy when it was in proof stage I might have been in a position to add to the many generous comments on the back cover from such luminaries as Martin Rees, Jim Peebles, Alan Heavens and, my hosts in Barcelona, Licia Verde and Raúl Jiménez. Anyway, now that I’ve read it I’m happy to endorse their enthusiastic comments and to give the book a plug on this blog.

One can summarize The Reinvention of Science as a journey through the history of science from ancient times to modern, signposted by mistakes, fallacies and dogma that have hindered rather than facilitated progress. These are, in other words, not so much milestones as stumbling blocks. Examples include the luminiferous aether and phlogiston to name but two. These and many other case studies are used to illustrate how supposedly rational scientists sometimes hold very irrational beliefs and act accordingly on them. The book presents a view of the evolution of science in spite of the suppression of heterodox ideas and the desire of establishment thinkers to maintain the status quo.

The volume covers a vast territory, not limited to astrophysics and cosmology (in which fields the authors specialize). It is a very well-written and enjoyable read that is strong on accuracy as well as being accessible and pedagogical. I congratulate the authors on a really excellent book.

P.S. I am of course sufficiently vain that I looked in the index before reading the book to see if I got a mention and was delighted to see my name listed not once but twice. The first time is in connection with the coverage of the BICEP2 controversy on this very blog, e.g. here. I am pleased because I did feel I was sticking my head above the parapet at the time, but was subsequently vindicated. The second mention is to do with this article which the authors describe as “beautiful”. And I didn’t even pay them! I’m truly flattered.

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