August 7th, 2011 12:03 EST
Science for the Concerned Citizen
"We all live in a world which, if not dominated by science, is certainly strongly influenced by it. Yet most people seem have only a vague, and often erroneous, understanding of what science is all about. This is both sad and dangerous," says Philip A. Yaffe, mathematician and author of the new book Science for the Concerned Citizen: What You Don`t Know CAN Hurt You.
"It is sad because we are all scientists by nature. Babies begin to explore the world from the moment they are born to try to understand this strange news environment in which they live," Mr. Yaffe says. "But this penchant for exploration - and that is what science really is - somehow seems to be suppressed shortly after they begin going to school .
"It is dangerous because if we depend on science but don`t really understand it, we are likely to make uninformed decisions, with potentially disastrous consequences," he asserts. "For example, people are constantly being called upon to vote on issues such as global warming, nuclear energy, genetic engineering, alternative medicine, etc. But if they don`t really understand them, how can they make informed decisions?"
Science for the Concerned Citizen attempts to rectify this hazardous state of affairs. Since it is directed at people who basically don`t like science - or worse, fear it - the book is organized to be as approachable and readable as possible.
Its overriding purpose is to convey the underlying principles of science itself. To this end, there are no chapters about specific sciences, i.e. everything you really need to know about physics, everything you really need to know about chemistry, everything you really need to know about astronomy, etc. Instead, the book takes the form of easy-to-read essays, through which these principles are shown in action and in context.
"Science, reason, and robots" calls on short stories by the celebrated writers Isaac Asimov and H.G. Wells to demonstrate the uses and abuses of scientific reasoning. "How to stop blowing scientific research out of proportion" uses a case history to show how once a false idea escapes from the laboratory, it is almost impossible to recapture it "Common misconceptions: things we know that just aren`t so" speaks for itself.
The essays are all self-contained, so they can be read in any order. It is not necessary to finish the first essay in order to understand the second one, the second in order to understand the third, and so on.
The book contains a wide variety of quotations about science from well-known scientists such as Einstein and Newton, lesser known scientists, as well as authors, philosophers, poets, etc. Again, each quotation is self-contained. However, where necessary a quotation is commented on to make certain that its references and allusions can be easily understood.
"Believe it or not, some people find science to be fun; scientists like to laugh at themselves. Science for the Concerned Citizen therefore also contains several pages of jokes about science," Mr. Yaffe explains. "As with the quotations where necessary a joke is commented on to make certain that its references and allusions can be easily understood. What better way to learn something than to discover why a joke about it is funny?"
The key chapter of the book is "Science in a Nutshell" at the end, which brings together all the fundamental principles of science and how science works in one place. Its headings include such apparently contradictory topics as "Science is faith" and "Science is lack of faith"; "Science is open-minded" and "Science is skeptical"; and "Science is precision" and "Science is probability." It also examines topics such as "science is counter-intuitive," "science is simplicity," "science is cumulative," "science is history," and "science is human."
"Readers who feel themselves already rather comfortable with science may wish to read this chapter first, then read the essays, quotes and jokes to see how these fundamental principles play out in practice. Readers who are somewhat queasy about science may wish to read the essays, quotes and jokes first, then read `Science in a Nutshell` as a kind of summary," Mr. Yaffe explains.
"However you choose to approach the book, when you finish you will surely have a better understanding of science and how it affects our daily lives than you did before you started," he concludes.
Philip A. Yaffe was born in Boston in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles. In 1965 he graduated in mathematics from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), where he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, the daily student newspaper.
Mr. Yaffe has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and industrial marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a marketing communication agency in near Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974.
He is author of seven self-help books available in digital format. In addition to Science for the Concerned Citizen, his other books are:
A comprehensive companion to The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional
- The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional
- The Gettysburg Collection
- The Little Book of BIG Mistakes
Things we "know" that just aren`t so.English grammar as native speakers really use itFrench grammar as native speakers really use it
Fun with homophones, proverbs, expressions, false friends, and other linguistic oddities in English and French
Judyth Piazza chats with Philip Yaffe, Author of the ... - theSOP Home