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I think popular science is ruining science

  1. Dec 29, 2005 #1


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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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  3. Dec 29, 2005 #2


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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:
  4. Dec 29, 2005 #3


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    I like to read popular science. Am I evil? :frown:
  5. Dec 29, 2005 #4


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    very, hold still while i fetch a priest :tongue2:
  6. Dec 29, 2005 #5
    The reason I decided not to study physics was because I didn't think I could handle the math parts.

  7. Dec 29, 2005 #6
    Well, a good pop sci book could inspire you to learn Physics. :)
  8. Dec 29, 2005 #7


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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.
  9. Dec 29, 2005 #8
    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.
  10. Dec 29, 2005 #9
    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.
  11. Dec 29, 2005 #10
    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....

  12. Dec 29, 2005 #11


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    Did you at least get it on with her before you broke her heart?
  13. Dec 29, 2005 #12


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    The girl i was talken about... im already incommunicado with her :P
  14. Dec 29, 2005 #13
    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.
  15. Dec 29, 2005 #14
    how do you levitate?
  16. Dec 29, 2005 #15
    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.
  17. Dec 29, 2005 #16
    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.
  18. Dec 29, 2005 #17
    We need to have Physics Fourms the Magizine it whould be a perfect for somthing in between real physics and popular science
  19. Dec 29, 2005 #18


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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.
  20. Dec 29, 2005 #19


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    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.


    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:
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2017
  21. Dec 29, 2005 #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.
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