Everything You Know About Science is Wrong
2017 Batsford 176pp £9.99hb
Everything You Know About Science is Wrong – this is the bold claim made by science writer Matt Brown, and it’s also the title of his latest book. Despite its somewhat click-baitey nature, the book’s title is compelling enough to make anyone pick it up and have a look, if only to decide whether you agree with the loaded assertion or not. But don’t let the title fool you, this book is full of extremely accurate science, and what Brown aims to do is bust common science myths that masquerade as facts. “The world is full of pseudoscience – ideas that sound plausible and scientific, but are ultimately worthless. Whole industries are built on the credulity of a trusting public,” writes Brown. The book is divided into eight sections – science and scientists in pop culture, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, the human body and famous scientists. Brown tackles archetypal myths such as the Great Wall of China being the only man-made object visible from the Moon (it’s not, unless you take along a telescope), or that nothing can travel faster than light (this is true only for light in a vacuum that is not interacting with anything else) or that water is a good conductor of electricity (pure water isn’t…it’s the impurities in tap or sea water that act as conductors). Although this is a book full of nit-picking, I thought that Brown did admirably well to avoid the I-think-you’ll-find tone that would likely annoy readers. Instead, he comes across as enthusiastic and whimsical, while also being glib and funny. Take the chapter on faster-than-light travel: after talking about quantum entanglement (and the instantaneous transfer of information), he ends by pointing out that the British royal family does not seem to obey the laws of relativity given that the transfer of title for a monarch at the death of a previous one is instantaneous. Brown describes a paradoxical scenario where a future monarch dies on Mars and the heir (assumed to still be on Earth) immediately becomes the new king or queen, despite the fact that they won’t know it for the 20 minutes or so it would take for the message to be sent from Mars. While the science is simple and light, the book is an enjoyable read, particularly the “A–Z of Pseudoscience” towards the end, where Brown lambasts and pokes fun at everything from detoxing and kale to Moon-landing conspiracies and “quantum nonsense”. If you are scientifically up to date, then buy this book for a chuckle and pub-quiz trivia. More importantly though, definitely buy this book for the people in your life who are easily swayed by “alternative” science facts – they will learn something true, new and enjoy themselves while they’re at it.
- Enjoy the rest of the July 2017 issue of Physics World in our digital magazine or via the Physics World app for any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. Membership of the Institute of Physics required