Science and Society… Science Education. You’ve heard me speak of this issue so many times here, so I won’t repeat myself too much. Seems that Natalie Angier is in agreement – So much so that she took matters into her capable hands and wrote a book to try to change things: “Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science”. I have not read it, but I’ve heard a lovely NPR interview with her today, and she read an extract. You can hear it at this NPR site, and also read an even longer extract there.
In the interview, she backed off a bit from saying that everyone learning a bit of basic science literacy is of vital importance (increasingly so in this day and age, I’d say), although she acknowledges that there are a number of us in the scientific community who do think so. You’ll notice the -perhaps understandably- lighter approach (“these things are fun…” ) that is taken in the book blurb I quote below. While I agree that the fun part is very important indeed (and we really need to get that across a lot!), and that one should always try to persuade rather than scare, I do think that we’re in a dangerous situation sometimes with regards the overall science education and attitude to science of our citizenry. We should definitely not be reluctant to say it. I think that she thinks so too, but does not – when promoting a book – want to make the book seem like it is bitter medicine, but rather, a bit of tasty candy. I’d prefer to think of books like this as a delicious piece of fruit: both tasty and good for you. To be fair, I should mention that in the interview, while declining to subscribe entirely to the view herself, she mentioned a scientist acquaintance who considers the issue as analogous to the urgency for everyone to acquire literacy when the world changed and printing and the written word became common currency. While we are not quite there yet, I’m inclined to agree with that view, on balance…
Well, rather than repeat myself endlessly on this interesting matter, here’s the blurb from her website:
THE CANON is vital reading for anyone who wants to understand the great issues of our timeâ€”from stem cells and bird flu to evolution and global warming. And it’s for every parent who has ever panicked when a child asked how the earth was formed or how electricity works. Angier’s sparkling prose and memorable metaphors bring the science to life, reigniting our own childhood delight in discovering how the world works. “Of course you should know about science,” writes Angier, “for the same reason Dr. Seuss counsels his readers to sing with a Ying or play Ring the Gack: These things are fun and fun is good.”
THE CANON is a joyride through the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy. Along the way, we learn what’s actually happening when our ice cream melts or our coffee gets cold, what our liver cells do when we eat a caramel, why the horse reveals evolution at work, and how we’re all made of stardust. It’s Lewis Carroll meets Lewis Thomasâ€”a book that will enrapture, inspire, and enlighten.
I’ve not read it, but I’m going to guess that overall, this will be a very good read indeed! From what I gather, it is not one of those books of dry facts. Facts alone do not make science. It sounds like she’s taken care to write a book that also gets across the process, the beauty and the poetry of science. This makes for a good book.
[Update: KC Cole has a review of the book in Sunday's LA Times book section. She likes it, overall, with some reservations that she explains carefully. Have a look at the review here.]
I hope you might consider reading it, if looking for such a way into a variety of science topics…. and/or give it as a gift to someone who is.