I think popular science is ruining science

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  • #1
Pengwuino
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I think we've all noticed this on this forum and I swear i'm noticing this in real life! I'm finding these people who have read all these popular science books where equations are not at all used and try to act like they really understand or know or like physics. For example, this one girl I use to talk to... 1st semester in a classical mechanics intro series class... 1st calculus semester.. etc etc... would try to argue with grad students over various subjects...when even after a whole semester of CM, could not do projectile motion problems and really did not even understand the actual equations being used. I have a feeling she's going to drop the major once she hits (or in this case, it hits her) upper division e/m and I really do think its because she does not appreciate the mathematical aspect of physics and I think popular science books can be to blame! Or at least, the way people read them as if they were what physics majors read in classes.

These people make me nuts !!! :devil: :devil: :devil:
 

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  • #2
Integral
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I have made the distiction in the past. In Pop Sci books you learn ABOUT physics. This is not the same as learning Physics, which must be done in a real physics text.

Many crackpots come out of the Pop Sci books thinking that they acutually know physics. :cry:
 
  • #3
Mk
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I like to read popular science. Am I evil? :frown:
 
  • #4
Pengwuino
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Mk said:
I like to read popular science. Am I evil? :frown:
very, hold still while i fetch a priest :tongue2:
 
  • #5
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The reason I decided not to study physics was because I didn't think I could handle the math parts.

*shrug*
 
  • #6
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Well, a good pop sci book could inspire you to learn Physics. :)
 
  • #7
arildno
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I don't think the situation would have been any better if there weren't any pop sci books at all.
In that case, science would have appeared to the general public even more strongly than today as magical, incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo.

I'm not sure if that would have been more preferable than the current situation.
 
  • #8
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Pop. sci. is a neccessary evil. The popularization is needed to justify the funding we get. Unfortunately it usually goes wrong and implies that all there is to physics is cosmology and focuses more on the why part, which we know nothing of, instead of the how part which we know very thoroughly. In addition this leads me to losing my nerves very often since every time some half friend finds out that I'm a physicist they start going off about black holes and the deep mysteries of the universe and ignore every other field of physics.
 
  • #9
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If it wasn't for popular science books we wouldn't have that amazing physics movie "What the bleep do we know?" Which really tells is like it is.

I know a girl who claims to love physics and quotes that movie as her favorite. She also loves David Blaine the magician. I told her I could levitate just like Blaine and she wanted to see. I showed her and she was amazed then I told her how to do it. She got mad and said "That's just a trick, I'm talking about REAL levitation" When I also told her that her favorite movie is just about the biggest load of crap I've ever seen she quit talking to me altogether.
 
  • #10
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Pengwuino said:
I think we've all noticed this on this forum and I swear i'm noticing this in real life! I'm finding these people who have read all these popular science books where equations are not at all used and try to act like they really understand or know or like physics.
Well, let's eliminate such lack of knowlegde and join us to write the Physics FAQ-thread. Inthere, we try to answer some of the most common questions about physics (what is energy, what is a photon) in a very easy language.

Go check out the If i get one $ (or a Euro)"-thread in GD to see the list of questions we are tackling right now.

Let's make the world a better place....

regards
marlon
 
  • #11
Pengwuino
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Did you at least get it on with her before you broke her heart?
 
  • #12
Pengwuino
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The girl i was talken about... im already incommunicado with her :P
 
  • #13
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lol, no pengwuino, I did not "get it on" with her. While I do enjoy having sex with crazy or handicapped people I draw the line at stupid.
 
  • #14
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how do you levitate?
 
  • #15
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inha said:
In addition this leads me to losing my nerves very often since every time some half friend finds out that I'm a physicist they start going off about black holes and the deep mysteries of the universe and ignore every other field of physics.
That's funny, cause I met a guy last year who'd read about black holes and was eager to explain them to anyone who'd listen. People are really attracted to, and hung up on, any aspect of physics that proposes spectacular effects. It's a sublimated desire to believe in magic and mystical things.
 
  • #16
Smurf said:
The reason I decided not to study physics was because I didn't think I could handle the math parts.
Funny, the reason I decided to study math instead of physics was because I can't handle the labs. I HATE the labs.

I read "popularized" math books, though most that fall into this category are biographies, like "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers". I just got my hands on "God Created The Integers" which is a collection of original papers by some great mathematicians of all time, with commentary by Hawking. Fun read.
 
  • #17
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We need to have Physics Fourms the Magizine it whould be a perfect for somthing in between real physics and popular science
 
  • #18
SpaceTiger
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It was a popular science book (Cosmos) that was my primary source of inspiration for becoming an astronomer. Although they can clearly do damage, as several folks have already pointed out, I think the gains outweigh the losses. Perhaps if the popular science writers went out of their way to explain the purpose and utility of their books, their role as a source of crank science could be mitigated.
 
  • #19
Astronuc
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SpaceTiger said:
It was a popular science book (Cosmos) that was my primary source of inspiration for becoming an astronomer. Although they can clearly do damage, as several folks have already pointed out, I think the gains outweigh the losses. Perhaps if the popular science writers went out of their way to explain the purpose and utility of their books, their role as a source of crank science could be mitigated.
Ah! I presume that would be Carl Sagan, Mr. Billions & Billions. I remember his show (1980) and how he got people fired up about astronomy and space exploration.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0345331354/?tag=pfamazon01-20

I think the problem is that pop sci writers avoid any math, since the majority of people seem to recoil at having to understand physics in terms of formulas.

Perhaps if scientific journalists and pop sci writers wrote books along the lines of Richard Feynman's lectures in Physics, that might work, but I have strong doubts. :frown:
 
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  • #20
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It's common for people to downplay/ignore/be-unaware-of the difficulty of a given scientific field. It's a trap, and i think it's positive. Eventually people realize that it's not all as simple and pleasant as they once though but by then they may be in too deep and so they might continue to become respected professionals. In my opinion it's not about whether you come into physics because you are attracted to some of its most popular concepts, but whether you choose to continue and go farther once the going gets tough.
 
  • #21
SpaceTiger
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Astronuc said:
Perhaps if scientific journalists and pop sci writers wrote books along the lines of Richard Feynman's lectures in Physics, that might work, but I have strong doubts. :frown:
Although I loved those books, I think it's a bit of a stretch to expect to reach a wide audience with that much formalism. People want something they can read casually as a break. They want us to tell them stories, not explain to them concepts.

That's my impression, anyway. I know the majority of PFers don't fit this mold, but I doubt this forum would represent an unbiased sample of pop. sci. consumers.
 
  • #22
SpaceTiger
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-Job- said:
In my opinion it's not about whether you come into physics because you are attracted to some of its most popular concepts, but whether you choose to continue and go farther once the going gets tough.
I don't see your point. I'm saying many folks wouldn't even have started were it not for popular science. I don't think any reasonable person would claim that these books are a solid foundation for a career in real science.
 
  • #23
Ivan Seeking
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Astronuc said:
Ah! I presume that would be Carl Sagan, Mr. Billions & Billions. I remember his show (1980) and how he got people fired up about astronomy and space exploration.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0345331354/?tag=pfamazon01-20

I think the problem is that pop sci writers avoid any math, since the majority of people seem to recoil at having to understand physics in terms of formulas.
Perhaps if scientific journalists and pop sci writers wrote books along the lines of Richard Feynman's lectures in Physics, that might work, but I have strong doubts. :frown:
If pop science writers wrote like Feynman they wouldn't be pop. :biggrin:

I agree with Space Tiger. And not only pop science, in fact we have a space shuttle name Enterprise. Pop science inspires people to take an interest - both as a career and for public support. If the public didn't take an interest, much of the money that pays for science would disappear. So it can reasobably be argued that science depends on pop, and even bad science, in order to continue. So it is a bit like biting the hand that feeds you to wish this all away.

There is another aspect to all of this. Not everyone agrees on what is and is not credible or real. In fact, much of so called pop science is written by leaders in the field, while lesser mortals pull out their hair in protest.

Edit: My first Chem professor believed that some pop science books allows real scientists to exchange and explore new ideas - that this has replaced the fireside cigar and brandy.
 
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  • #24
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SpaceTiger said:
I don't see your point. I'm saying many folks wouldn't even have started were it not for popular science. I don't think any reasonable person would claim that these books are a solid foundation for a career in real science.
I think you misunderstood. I was saying that IMO it's all right for people to start physics with popular literature as long as they take it farther and go past the stage of speculation.
 
  • #25
Ivan Seeking
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In fact, although driven as much by practical concerns as anything else, I think PF has gone too far in this respect. I believe that there has always been a role for math-free, dreamy inspiration, for young, soon to be scientists. In fact I have wondered what the result of this will be; that is, the social and intellectual impact that the internet now has on the world of science. Many young people now seem immersed in an analytic, sterile, deductive cynicism that was once reserved for older people. And dreamers do play an important role in science.
 
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