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Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries First Edition Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0674006478
ISBN-10: 067400647X
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Steven Weinberg isn't ashamed of science. Of course, as a Nobel winner in physics, he does have emotional capital invested in the enterprise, but most of his arguments are sound and compelling. Facing Up is a collection of his essays, written over 15 years, celebrating and defending mainstream science. Rising up against the cultural critics who insist that science is essentially politics or even imperialism dressed up in a white coat, he is patient and eloquent as he explains how their misreadings of scientific literature and their own preconceptions guide their reasoning. From mildly wonkish to endearingly passionate, his writing engages the reader's full attention regardless of cultural affiliation. Science lovers will adore Weinberg's unabashed boosterism, while skeptics can try to rise to his challenge. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

Winner of the Nobel prize for physics in 1979, Weinberg will be well known to science buffs for his book The First Three Minutes and to a wider readership for his frequent essays in the New York Review of Books. He is one of the foremost proponents of reductionism, "the explanation of a wide range of scientific principles in terms of simpler, more universal ones." He has also been a major figure in the so-called science wars, arguing against writers like Derrida and Latour who question the objective character of scientific knowledge and maintain that cultural factors influence the nature of scientific discoveries. This collection of 23 essays dating from 1985 to 2001 will probably have only limited appeal because Weinberg never ventures too far beyond a few recurring topics: reductionism, the Big Bang and inflation in the early universe, and the problems of introducing culture as a variable into science. While not a Johnny One Note, he might justifiably be called a Johannes Leitmotif; some contrasting themes, along with a wider field of references and analogies, would have made the collection much more compelling. Yet he is quite adept at explaining complex concepts clearly to the general public, as in the magisterial essay "The Great Reduction: Physics in the Twentieth Century," and those readers who do pick up the book should be sure not to miss his controversial assault on paradigm shifts, "The Non-Revolution of Thomas Kuhn."

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (October 31, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067400647X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006478
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #992,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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73 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This collection of twenty-three essays by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist are drawn from various publications and talks that Professor Weinberg has given over the last few years. The subjects range from defenses of reductionism and Zionism to spats with social constructionists (including his essay on the Sokal Hoax), to debates about the history of science and the prospects for utopia to the anthropic principle and final theories in physics. They have in common, besides Weinberg's well-mannered and modest (but not self-deprecating) prose, a belief in the advancement of scientific knowledge, and a criticism of mysticism, religion and ignorance. I found myself in substantial agreement with Weinberg on almost every subject, and in admiration of his measured, fair and very wise expression.

In the essay, "Confronting O'Brien" (that's the O'Brien of Orwell's 1984), Weinberg makes it clear where he stands on the possibility of two plus two equaling five, or on the so-called "strong" social constructionist view of scientific knowledge. He writes that while "there is no such thing as a clear and universal scientific method", nonetheless, "under the general heading of scientific method" there is "a commitment to reason...and a deference to observation and experiment," and "Above all...a respect for reality as something outside ourselves, that we explore but do not create." (p. 43)

In the chapter, "The Non-Revolution of Thomas Kuhn," Weinberg writes that "the task of science is to bring us closer and closer to objective truth." It is here that I demur. I think it would be better to say that science more and more allows us to better manipulate the environment to our advantage (or disadvantage!
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Hanno Essen on January 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a collection of essays, speeches, and reviews written by Steven Weinberg during 1987-2000. This inevitably means that there is a fair amount of repetition if you read the whole book. On the other hand all are clear and well written as usually is the case with Weinberg. They are also carefully argued and persuasive. The topics that Weinberg dwells on are the reasons why the superconducting supercollider should have been built, why reductionism is good (and what it is), scientific method and history, Thomas Kuhn's paradigm change view of scientific revolutions, Sokal's hoax, and the postmodernist views of science. Weinberg argues that the only real revolution in the history of science is that brought about by Newton when Aristotelian physics was crushed. After that science has evolved in such a way that new theories have included the older ones as limiting cases. The ideas that scientific knowledge should be social constructions are carefully shown to be nonsense. The book is enjoyable and does not avoid controversy. Weinberg states in the book that: "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion". This has, of course made many angry, but Weinberg indicate by several examples from history how this, in fact, is so. Buy it and read it!
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By "anonymous80" on June 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
I just graduated from UT in 2002, I've seen Weinberg once and have heard many stories about him. None of the stories are positive with the possible exception that he is too smart for his students to understand (although there is a quote in his book that shows he's been trying to improve "It never was true that only a dozen people could understand Einstein's papers on General Relativity, but if it had been true, It would have been a failure of Einstein's, not a mark of his brilliance." This is on page 141 responding to an extremely funny quote from a deconstructionist). I've read his Discovery of Subatomic Particles and The First Three Minutes. They were okay readings with good information especially the former. I thought I'd give him another try with Facing Up. I was pleasantly surprised of how funny he is. The humor is dry, but I couldn't help smiling and sometimes laughing at some of his comments about philosophers and religious leaders. Maybe this is because I agree with him; I can imagine someone getting mad at some of the things he says. In any case, this book really makes you think about some philosophical issues relating to science and its value to us.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jill Malter on October 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is a collection of essays that to a large extent share the theme in the title: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries. Of course, the title begins with the words "Facing Up" which to Weinberg has three meanings: looking upwards as an astronomer, facing up to the conclusions one derives, and looking upwards rather than downwards as if in prayer.

Well, who are the cultural adversaries of Science? Creationists? Certainly. But there are others. Weinberg agrees with most of the Creationists about truth being a value. The disagreement with them is about which side possesses it. There are others who attack the value of truth, including many multiculturalists. We Westerners say that the Milky Way is a Galaxy, our home Galaxy. That works for us. Mayan culture had the Milky Way as a river in the sky. That may have worked for them. Can Weinberg say that one belief is better than the other? He sure can. As he says, "Western astronomers got it right."

Weinberg criticizes some political attacks on truth as well. That's the point of his very short (about one page) article on Zionism. His point is not that anti-Zionists may tell specific lies as a means to some goal (such as winning a war). It is that, especially when he deals with fellow Western liberals, anti-Zionism is an attack on Western civilization and the culture of science in general, so that defeating truth as a whole becomes an anti-Zionist goal. It is also the point of his article about utopias, some of which idealize a world in which the cultural adversaries of Science are either right or victorious or both.

Still, the most interesting articles are on Reductionism.
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