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How To Distinguish Between Credible Authors?

  1. Aug 19, 2012 #1
    Long story short, I just started going to college for a major in physics and I am looking to expand my knowledge. I have read a handful of books, but it has been a while due to time constraints (very long story). Most of what I read was from Stephen Hawking, Einstein, and Michio Kaku. I went to my local Barnes & Noble to check out what they had on the shelves, but I quickly realized a lot of the authors on the shelf were offering pseudoscience rather than credible information.

    So, I am wondering if there is somewhere I can go to find out a list of credible authors, and maybe a blacklist of not so credible authors as well? I want to make sure that what I read is accurate, and not things that are anecdotal, hearsay, or disproven theories. I have tried to do a web search on the authors, but I'm sure you all know that the reviews are always very mixed. People sometimes rant and rave about books that lack any credibility whatsoever, but made for good reads.

    So, what is most important to me is reading information that will expand my knowledge, but not mislead or misinform me with information that will embarrass me in front of my professors later on down the road. If anyone can give me some help here of resources to look into credibility, I'd really appreciate it. By the way, the reason I posted here is because my main interest is quantum physics, though I do also love astrophysics and particle physics.
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  3. Aug 19, 2012 #2

    Jano L.

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    Welcome to PF.
    I myself found out that the most worthwhile books on physics are mostly the older books, 1800-1950. Very few of those books are bad.

    For quantum theory and atomic physics, there are many great books, I can give you some list if you tell me what exactly are you interested in.

    Of course, there also excellent books published later, but the closer to the present, the lower the percentage of interesting ones.

    But I would like to warn you before the pop books like Hawking, Greene or Kaku. They just talk about the same boring story again and again with nothing to tell. I read some of them and I did not like them. The older popular books by Einstein&Infeld, Landau and Feynman are much better.

    If you want to understand and develop physics, not just kill time, you better read serious textbooks, like Feynman, Landau Lifgarbagez etc., and also original papers. Then you will find they are much more interesting than pop books.
  4. Aug 19, 2012 #3
    I'm not really sure which authors you have looked up so far, but if someone writes a book on physics he or she is probably a legitimate physicist. This is very easy to check. If you Google them and find that they are (were) tenured (emiritus) professors at an accredited university, and that they publish(ed) in reputed peer-reviewed journals, then they are legitimate physicists. You can look them up on Google scholar in order to find out what they have published. They would not have gotten to where they are if they were misinformed! Yes, there are good and bad books written by these people. The latter often has to do with lack of clarity, organization, user-friendliness, etc. But they do not contain false information or incomplete concepts.

    If you want to resolve the dilemma of mixed reviews and I suggest you take a look at the journal Physics Today. This journal often contains reviews of decent books where the reviewers are themselves legitimate physicists. This is one example:

    http://www.physicstoday.org/resource/1/phtoad/v65/i8/p50_s1 [Broken]

    I hope that helped.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Aug 19, 2012 #4
    "The road to reality" by Roger Penrose is definitely a very exhaustive and credible read.
  6. Aug 19, 2012 #5

    Most authors and authorities will sooner or later propose something that will not be readily accepted by everyone. Get the facts and make up an informed choice.
  7. Aug 20, 2012 #6
    Just as Maui said, physics is evolving at its boundaries. So if you work with older theories, there's much chances that what you read is correct. If you work in cutting edge theories, it might be correct. So you have to reproduce experiments to determine if it is right or wrong.
  8. Aug 20, 2012 #7
    Well, I wanted to start by saying thank you so much for all of the responses. You have all given me a lot to think about. I need to get some sleep, but wanted to at least stop in and say thanks before I did. I'll try to get back to this tomorrow when I can.
  9. Aug 20, 2012 #8
    Physics World too.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. Aug 20, 2012 #9
    Thanks. I did not know about this. I'm always on the lookout for new physics resources. This looks like a good one.
  11. Aug 20, 2012 #10


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    Read a lot.

    The more you read, the more you'll develop your own ideas about what's credible and what isn't.

    That's the best advice I can give.
  12. Aug 21, 2012 #11
    This won't work because someone can be super-credible in one field and a total crank in another. Lawrence Krauss, Roger Penrose, and Richard Dawkins are for example absolutely top notch in one area, and then very crankish in another. Issac Newton was the same way.

    It helps if you read a lot. Also you *do* want to read anecdotal, hearsay, and disproven theories so that you know what they look like. One thing that's fun is to read old astronomy textbooks to see what stuff we got wrong.

    I once had a science fiction teacher that said it was really important for writers to read *bad* writing so that you know what it looks like and so that you can avoid it.

    Read lots of different authors. Also, professors have been known to be wrong.
  13. Aug 21, 2012 #12
    This is totally wrong. I know of a person with a Nobel prize who had this very crankish belief that black holes could not and did not exist. I know of someone who was a former and respected president of the American Astronomical Society that has some very strange ideas on galactic jets (he doesn't believe they exist). He's actually written a very widely used and very well written undergraduate textbook, and it's only when someone points out that he has that strange idea that you notice that he doesn't talk about galactic jets in his textbook.

    Yes they do. Also a lot of the time, people will publish false information because they didn't know it was false at the time. That's why reading old textbooks is such as wonderful thing to do. Make you humble.....
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2012
  14. Aug 21, 2012 #13
    Yeah, it's true that there have been wrong theories in the past. One thing I should have included when I made the above statements is that I was thinking about modern authors. These modern authors would be aware of theories that have been proven to be wrong by the scientific community.

    I am usually in the habit of reading recent publications unless some old publication is cited heavily by the new ones (that way I know that the content of that old publication is still valid). Obviously, those recent publications have to be from reliable sources.

    Yes, there are exceptions to what I have said above too. The case of Jan Hendrik Schön is a classic example. You can read about it here:


    He fits the criteria for what I would call a modern author (although not of books) and he published in reputed peer-reviewed journals such as Nature and Science. The difference in this case was that he deliberately published false data. If I had not suspected this I would have probably considered him to be a credible author. But the community did not immediately recognize the fraud.

    You can have generalized guidelines for finding credible authors; not a foolproof algorithm.
  15. Aug 21, 2012 #14
    Thanks again for all the information. You've given me a nice little list to start with here, as well as what to expect from many of them. I deeply appreciate the help.

    One of the reasons I decided to ask on these forums about authors is because one of the books I found interesting in Barnes & Noble was "The Holographic Universe" by Michael Talbot. However, after looking into him on the net, reviews about him seemed mixed. Some seemed to love the material, however some claimed it was too anecdotal and lacked supporting evidence.

    Though I would love to read things that expand beyond what can be proven, I feel that at this time I need to be studying what has been proven to be right, or at least what studies seem to be proving right. That way, I can make more educated decisions on what material I do and do not want to accept that may or may not be accurate. Hopefully that makes more sense of where my original concerns were coming from.
  16. Aug 22, 2012 #15


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  17. Aug 22, 2012 #16
    Proof is for mathematics and not for science.

    That's not a great idea. It's a good idea to read old publications because you end up reading about all of these pretty interesting ideas that ended up not working. On problem with cranks is not that they are unconventional. Unconventional is *great*. The problem is that they are unoriginal. They come up with an idea that someone came up with in 1950, and had been shot down by 1960.

    Science works a lot by process of elimination. Looking at old papers gives you some good idea for what has been eliminated. The other thing is that sometimes looking at old but wrong ideas gives you "poetic inspiration."
  18. Aug 22, 2012 #17
    First of all physics is not about proof. Math is about proof.

    Second, I think that's a bad idea. One reason that it's a bad idea is part of your education is to be less and less certain about your own understanding of the universe. The more I know, the less certain I am about things, and if I limited myself to just stuff that can be proven, it would be an awfully cold place.

    One tip. Just because you *read* something doesn't mean that you have to *believe* it. I find that it's a good idea to read stuff and try to avoid making conclusions about what I'm reading. Also, it's useful sometimes to read stuff that just is annoyingly wrong. I've read a ton of books by young earth creationists because I have to know their arguments better than they do in order to argue against them.
  19. Aug 22, 2012 #18


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    If you are interested in how the holographic stuff works physically you should get something like this:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  20. Aug 22, 2012 #19


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    I wonder if a quality to look for is that of an author qualifying their statements and

    addressing critiques to their theory; maybe even better, seeing the

    author trying to falsify their own theory and seeing the theory come out alive.
  21. Aug 22, 2012 #20
    If you read not-so-old (but not so new as to be unknown!) textbooks on physics by well known authors such as Feynman, then you'll have a good basis. However, be aware that non-physics in physics books, such as described history of physics and metaphysical interpretation, are often inaccurate and/or mere opinion (for that you can consult other books by established historians and philosophers!).

    As to a quick first opinion of such books as the one you mention, you could copy my very simple approach: I looked at commentaries at Amazon.com, noticed mention of amazing observations concerning MPD and "googled" for those - only to be directed back to that same book. :uhh: That took me less time than to write this message. At the best those amazing observations are not widely known, at the worst they are exceptions due to chance and/or misreporting. So, if I had already bought the book, I would check out a few of the references to form a more solid opinion, before, perhaps, wasting more of my time on fantasies.
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