I think popular science is ruining science

  • Thread starter Pengwuino
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  • #101
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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. 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:
All through HS I read nothing but Pop Physics books (Kaku got me started) and that got me wanting to be a theoretical Physicist :-)...

Well, I then found out in College all the crappy physics classes I had to take in order to even have a chance to become a TP.... screw that, I decided Math was a faster rout because I would have the mathematical knowledge to apply to teh pop sci books then and could look at some of that stuff.

I have come to realize that Math is the only true way however :-D
 
  • #102
Nereid
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Mindscrape said:
Well, on one hand it may be good if popular science refashions science into a more accepting light. Still, popular science seems to ignore large chunks of what makes science our most viable form of truth, including the scientific method, and a distinction between theory and law.

I'm new by the way, hello all.
And a warm welcome to Physics Forums, Mindscrape! :smile:

Perhaps there are some popsci books that do justice to the scientific method? Certainly most, in my experience, convey at least some aspects, if only indirectly (the need to ground theories in good observations/experiments, for example). Personally, I think a greater 'gap' in popsci is math - how does the urban myth go? "for every equation in the book, the expected sales will fall by 50%"? I'm all for wildly successful good popsci authors (and there plenty, not only wrt physics - anyone ever read a book by Steven Jay Gould?), but the glossing over of the math that's a core part of today's physics is problematic (IMHO). After all, there are also quite successful 'popsci' books on math, so it must be within the realm of possibility to creatively convey the awe and wonder of physics and astronomy while at the same time inspiring readers concerning math.

Just my €0.02's worth.
 
  • #103
Aether
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SpaceTiger said:
If you have a deeper meaning here, I'm genuinely curious to know it, but all of your explanations so far have been either vague or trivial...If you think you have a genuine disagreement, please make it known. Otherwise, I don't see the point of this discussion...
There is no deeper meaning here. When you said:
If the particle physicist wanted to go and apply it to cosmology, they would have to learn a few things about primordial nucleosynthesis, crunch the numbers, and give us a new helium abundance (again, for example). If it turned out that this new number was inconsistent with measurements, then we might require fundamental modifications to cosmology. If the same experimenter wanted to do this, they would have to continue studying, developing a more complete picture of standard cosmology. Then maybe they could write a paper with a new theory of the origin of the universe.
and I agreed with you, then my original question was answered.
 
  • #104
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Didn't get a chance to read all seven pages, but....

Please do have sympathy for those of us who cannot understand the mathematics needed to be a physicist. The only way I satisfy my curiousity is by reading about conceptual physics. I dont read mags or watch movies or read fiction on science, but I do read conceptually based physics books. Basically all of the non-math books that famous scientists publish.

On the other hand, I do see your point for the reason that I have to deal with the same stuff in my philosophy field. When I took Metaphysics, the non introductory class, 60% of the class time was devoted to the "what ifs" of popular movies like The Matrix. I was a freshman then so I didnt have the courage to appeal to the instructor about it, but basically, our time could have been much better spent talking about less ridiculous and more logically based theories.
 
  • #105
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Mattius_ said:
When I took Metaphysics, the non introductory class, 60% of the class time was devoted to the "what ifs" of popular movies like The Matrix. I was a freshman then so I didnt have the courage to appeal to the instructor about it, but basically, our time could have been much better spent talking about less ridiculous and more logically based theories.
Hah a ha, well you signed up for metaphysics, not physics.
 
  • #106
Nereid
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Mattius_ said:
Didn't get a chance to read all seven pages, but....
Please do have sympathy for those of us who cannot understand the mathematics needed to be a physicist. The only way I satisfy my curiousity is by reading about conceptual physics. I dont read mags or watch movies or read fiction on science, but I do read conceptually based physics books. Basically all of the non-math books that famous scientists publish.
[snip]
There's a real quandry lurking here ... how do you keep with weak math abilities informed (and, if possible, engaged) in modern physics?

Sure there's still some new stuff in classical physics, and one can appreciate (special) relativity at some level without the math, but general relativity is tough, and no one 'gets' quantum weirdness without the math (well, if Feymann said he didn't/couldn't, ... ).

So are there ways to provide some insights, without actually doing the math (and also doing more than just say 'well, if you do the math, you'll see that it all comes out right = matches what we observe')?
 

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