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What Science is and how it Works

Popular Science

By: Gregory N Derry

344 pages, 24 illus

Princeton University Press

Hardback | Dec 1999 | #101089 | ISBN: 0691058776
Availability: Usually dispatched within 3 days Details
NHBS Price: £33.95 $43/€39 approx

About this book

How does a scientist go about solving problems? How do scientific discoveries happen? Why are cold fusion and parapsychology different from mainstream science? What is a scientific worldview? In this lively and wide-ranging book, Gregory Derry talks about these and other questions as he introduces the reader to the process of scientific thinking. From the discovery of X rays and semiconductors to the argument for continental drift to the invention of the smallpox vaccine, scientific work has proceeded through honest observation, critical reasoning, and sometimes just plain luck. Derry starts out with historical examples, leading readers through the events, experiments, blind alleys, and thoughts of scientists in the midst of discovery and invention. Readers at all levels will come away with an enriched appreciation of how science operates and how it connects with our daily lives. An especially valuable feature of this book is the actual demonstration of scientific reasoning. Derry shows how scientists use a small number of powerful yet simple methods - symmetry, scaling, linearity, and feedback, for example - to construct realistic models that describe a number of diverse real-life problems, such as drug uptake in the body, the inner workings of atoms, and the laws of heredity. Science involves a particular way of thinking about the world, and Derry shows the reader that a scientific viewpoint can benefit most personal philosophies and fields of study. With an eye to both the power and limits of science, he explores the relationships between science and topics such as religion, ethics, and philosophy. By tackling the subject of science from all angles, including the nuts and bolts of the trade as well as its place in the overall scheme of life, the book provides a perfect place to start thinking like a scientist.

[There is] no better contemporary book to convey the unity of science and at the same time to stimulate further study. Choice Part textbook, part manifesto, Derry's book offers both entertainment and food for thought for readers inclined to learn the ways of science. gory McNamee, How does a scientist go about solving problems? How do scientific discoveries occur? How is mainstream science different from borderland science and pseudoscience? In this lively and wide-ranging book, Gregory Derry discusses these and other questions as he introduces readers to the scientific way of thinking... Readers of this book will come away with an enriched appreciation of how scientists operate, and how science connects with our daily lives. -- Robert J. Deltete The Quarterly Review of Biology


PREFACE ix PROLOGUE What Is Science? 3 PART I. EXPLORING THE FRONTIERS OF SCIENCE: HOW NEW DISCOVERIES ARE MADE IN THE SCIENCES 9 CHAPTER 1 A Bird's Eye View: The Many Routes to Scientific Discovery 11 CHAPTER 2 Nature's jigsaw: Looking for Patterns As a Key to Discovery 26 CHAPTER 3 New Vistas: Expanding Our World with Instrumentation 35 CHAPTER 4 Close, But No Cigar: Discrepancies As a Trigger to Discovery 42 CHAPTER 5 Ingredients for a Revolution: Thematic Imagination, Precise Measurements, and the Motions of the Planets 52 PART II. MENTAL TACTICS: SOME DISTINCTIVELY SCIENTIFIC APPROACHES TO THE WORLD 67 CHAPTER 6 A Universe in a Bottle: Models, Modeling, and Successive Approximation 69 CHAPTER 7 Thinking Straight: Evidence, Reason, and Critical Evaluation 89 CHAPTER 8 The Numbers Game: Uses of Quantitative Reasoning 107 PART III. LARGER QUESTIONS: THE CONTEXT OF SCIENCE 123 CHAPTER 9 Ultimate Questions: Science and Religion 125 CHAPTER 10 More Practical Questions: Science and Society 133 CHAPTER 11 Difficult and Important Questions: Science, Values, and Ethics 145 CHAPTER 12 Questions of Authenticity: Science, Pseudoscience, and How to Tell the Difference 158 CHAPTER 13 Contentious Questions: The Shadowy Borderlands of Science 174 CHAPTER 14 Very Abstract Questions: The Philosophy of Science 189 CHAPTER 15 Questions of Legitimacy: The Postmodern Critique of Science 207 PART IV COMMON GROUND: SOME UNIFYING CONCEPTS IN THE SCIENCES 215 CHAPTER 16 Fleas and Giants: Some Fascinating Insights about Area, Volume, and Size 217 CHAPTER 17 The Edge of the Abyss: Order and Disorder in the Universe 230 CHAPTER 18 Riding Blake's Tiger: Symmetry in Science, Art, and Mathematics 252 CHAPTER 19 The Straight and Narrow: Linear Dependence in the Sciences 274 CHAPTER 20 The Limits of the Possible: Exponential Growth and Decay 285 CHAPTER 21 In the Loop: Feedback, Homeostasis, and Cybernetics 295 EPILOGUE So, What Is Science? 303 INDEX 305

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Gregory N. Derry is Associate Professor and Chair of the Physics Department at Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland.

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