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Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" 1st Edition

98 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471409762
ISBN-10: 0471409766
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Plait, a science writer who works in the physics and astronomy department at Sonoma State University, is appalled that millions of Americans don't believe the moon landing really took place and do believe that Galileo went blind from looking at the sun, or that they can make an egg stand on end only on the vernal equinox. To set the record straight, he debunks these and many other astronomy-related urban legends in this knowledgeable, lighthearted volume. The early chapter "Idiom's Delight" sets the stage by clearing up the scientific inaccuracies in everyday expressions as in the phrase "light years ahead," for example, which is used to indicate timeliness or prescience when light years are actually a unit of distance. In later chapters, Plait explains meteors, eclipses, UFOs, and the big bang theory, revealing much about the basic principles of astronomy while clearing up fallacies. With avuncular humor, he points out the ways advertising and media reinforce bad science and pleads for more accuracy in Hollywood story lines and special effects. This book is the first in Wiley's Bad Science series on scientific misconceptions (future titles will focus on biology, weather and the earth). (Mar.)Forecast: If every entry in the series is as entertaining as Plait's, good science may have a fighting chance with the American public. Expect respectable sales, for the paperback format is nicely suited for armchair debunkers.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Inspired by his popular web site, www., this first book by Plait (astronomy, Sonoma State Univ.) debunks popular myths and misconceptions relating to astronomy and promotes science as a means of explaining our mysterious heavens. The work describes 24 common astronomical fallacies, including the beliefs that the Coriolis effect determines the direction that water drains in a bathtub and that planetary alignments can cause disaster on Earth. The author sharply and convincingly dismisses astrology, creationism, and UFO sightings and explains the principles behind basic general concepts (the Big Bang, why the sky is blue, etc.). Though some may find him strident, Plait succeeds brilliantly because his clear and understandable explanations are convincing and honest. This first volume in Wiley's "Bad Science" series is recommended for all libraries, especially astronomy and folklore collections. Jeffrey Beall, Univ. of Colorado Lib., Denver
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471409766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471409762
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Joseph S. on January 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
As an amateur astronomer, I took great pleasure reading Philip Plait's "Bad Astronomy". The book handles the debunking of common myths with hysterical humor. I could not put the book down. Each chapter was entertaining.
Finally we have a text that not only puts the Coriolis Effect where it belongs but explains basic astronomy principles in lay terms. It is better than reading an astronomy textbook. Where else could you read about why skies are blue and why the earth has seasons than in this humorous tome.
Plait gets a little more serious as he talks about the more delicate subjects of the Apollo "hoax", Velikovsky, UFOs, and Astrology. This was appropriate since many people believe in these unscientific hypotheses. He approaches these subjects in a nonoffensive, objective and scientific manner.
Being a movie fan, I particularly enjoyed the chapter entitled: "Bad Astronomy Goes Hollywood." Here Plait unveils all of the Bad Astronomy we see every day in science fiction movies. In his list of Top 10 offenses, the Star Wars series is guilty of no less than 8 of them. That does not make Star Wars any less enjoyable, but it is fun to know the difference between science and Hollywood.
I give this book 5 stars. I think it would be entertaining for anyone with any interest in astronomy regardless of how much or how little they know about the subject matter.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By John Rummel on June 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
Misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy perhaps more than any other science. Surveys have found that even college graduates carry persistent misconceptions or even wildly incorrect ideas about the phases of the moon or the cause of the seasons.
For the past several years, astronomer Phil Plait has been battling these misconceptions, as well as the flood of just plain bad astronomy (hence the name). Plait's web site has built a loyal following, and I have been a frequent visitor there almost since its inception. For people like me, the book "Bad Astronomy" is a logical extension of the web site. For newcomers, it will be a welcome addition to your libraries.
In addition to chapters on lunar phases and the cause of the seasons, Plait adds a detailed (and fairly technical) account of tides, the coriolis effect (as applied to toilet bowl water rotation), why the sky is blue, the moon size illusion, and many, many others.
Digging a little deeper into the "current issues" genre, Plait also tackles Velikovsky, UFOs, creationism and astrology. His writing is very clear and should be accessible to anybody interested in science and the battle against pseudoscientific nonsense.
Regular visitors to the web site will be familiar with Plait's crusade against those who persist in believing that the Apollo moon landings were faked. Plait's site led the charge against this nonsense, and he includes a treatment of the topic in his book as well.
Bad Astronomy is lightly illustrated with a mix of schematic drawings (to illustrate for example, tides or the moon size illusion) and black and white photographs.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful By STEPHEN PLETKO on February 14, 2004
Format: Paperback

Answer true or false to these ten statements:

1) The sky is blue because it reflects the blue color of the oceans.
2) The seasons are caused by the Earth's tilt.
3) The Moon's phases are due to the shadow of the Earth falling on the Moon.
4) The bright glow of a meteor is not caused by friction as it passes through the Earth's atmosphere.
5) There are no stars seen in Apollo Moon-landing pictures thus proving that these landings were staged.
6) The Hubble Space Telescope is bigger than all Earth-based telescopes.
7) Stars in the night sky do have color.
8) The Moon is bigger near the horizon than when it's overhead.
9) In the southern hemisphere, winters are much warmer than those in the northern hemisphere.
10) X-rays are emitted from the eclipsed sun but these X-rays do not damage your eyes if you look at the eclipsed sun.

If you answered true to any one of statements 1,3,5,6,8,9 or false to any one of statements 2,4,7,10, then you can use the help of this book to clear up your misconceptions!

This book, by Dr. Phillip Plait (creator of the bad astronomy internet site), corrects 24 common misconceptions of astronomical science. This book divides these misconceptions into five parts. All science is fully explained so the reader does not have to have extensive scientific knowledge. As well, there are diagrams and black-and-white photographs to aid the scientific discussions. Finally, there are recommended books and recommended internet sites for those who want to know more.

Part one explains three misconceptions that occur in the home. The second part deals with five misconceptions about the Earth and Moon.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Albert Einstein is quoted as having said, "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be research."
Of course, Albert Einstein is also purported to have won the Nobel Prize for his Theory of Relativity.
This is just one myth dispelled by "Bad Astronomy", by Phil Plait, a highly entertaining, thought-provoking, extraordinarily readable anthology of misconceptions about the oldest world's oldest science, Astronomy.
From reasons an egg will stand on end (if patiently balanced) even if it's not the Vernal Equinox to the phases of the moon, all is explained in the simplest of terms. One of the best is an explanation of how, during a wedding reception, Plait was able to relate the revolution of the moon around the earth to his daughter, as she stood on his feet while he danced with her (he was the earth, she was the moon) - after reading this, I demonstrated to my daughter, and (though she kept falling off from laughing) she understood as well as I. Further discussions of the moon and tides include diagrams which are simple and sensible - and eminently useful for teaching anyone who wants to learn.
Another misconception is the idea of seeing stars during the day, using as an example a child's prank of using "the tube" - down which another child (no doubt a prior victim) will pour water, dousing the unsuspecting child. Yet it is true that stars are sometimes visible as the sun sets, and that the moon and Venus are both visible in the blue sky. But can you sit at the bottom of a well at noon and see stars? Nope! Simple discussions of real experiments are presented, as well as the "findings" of a good friend of Plait's who insists it is possible.
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