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Gravity's Shadow: The Search for Gravitational Waves [Paperback]

by Harry Collins
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1, 2004 0226113787 978-0226113784 1
According to the theory of relativity, we are constantly bathed in gravitational radiation. When stars explode or collide, a portion of their mass becomes energy that disturbs the very fabric of the space-time continuum like ripples in a pond. But proving the existence of these waves has been difficult; the cosmic shudders are so weak that only the most sensitive instruments can be expected to observe them directly. Fifteen times during the last thirty years scientists have claimed to have detected gravitational waves, but so far none of those claims have survived the scrutiny of the scientific community. Gravity's Shadow chronicles the forty-year effort to detect gravitational waves, while exploring the meaning of scientific knowledge and the nature of expertise.

Gravitational wave detection involves recording the collisions, explosions, and trembling of stars and black holes by evaluating the smallest changes ever measured. Because gravitational waves are so faint, their detection will come not in an exuberant moment of discovery but through a chain of inference; for forty years, scientists have debated whether there is anything to detect and whether it has yet been detected. Sociologist Harry Collins has been tracking the progress of this research since 1972, interviewing key scientists and delineating the social process of the science of gravitational waves.

Engagingly written and authoritatively comprehensive, Gravity's Shadow explores the people, institutions, and government organizations involved in the detection of gravitational waves. This sociological history will prove essential not only to sociologists and historians of science but to scientists themselves.

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Editorial Reviews


"Gravity's Shadow is an astonishing achievement, and gives the lie to the charge that sociologists of science have no idea how science really works. It is surely destined to become a definitive study of a science in the making."
(Robert Matthews New Scientist 2004-10-15)

"Over 800 pages long, the book charts the story of the quest to detect gravitational waves from the first small-scale experiments of the 1960s to the current generation of multimillion dollar observatories. It is a story replete with controversy, personalities, and large sums of money."
(Edwin Cartlidge Physics World 2004-12-01)

"Collins has presented us with an enthralling investigation into the way in which big science advances....a perfect case study in the sociology of science."
(David Hughes Times Higher Education Supplement 2005-03-04)

"A superb reference text on the history of one branch of physics and it will long be seen as a definitive study. . . . The more I delve into this book the more I like it. I think it is a work that will go down in history. It will be a significant book for historians and philosophers of science. It is also an interesting book for gravity-wave physicists to dabble in. It should be in university libraries, and for the average physicist it is definitely worth a browse."


(David Blair Physics World 2005-06-01)

"[It is] very timely that Harry Collins has written a first-class study of how contemporary experimental physics operates. Collins is a distinguished sociologist, and in Gravity’s Shadow he demonstrates why it is important to go beyond superficial characterizations of science to study how groups of scientists actually work. . . . The resulting narrative is as provocative as it is convincing. There is a lot written by philosophers and others about how science is supposed to work. But this is one of the very few books I’ve read that tries to help the reader understand what really goes on these days in the world of big science. . . . This is a book that everyone who cares about the future of science should read."

(Lee Smolin American Scientist 2005-09-01)

"The book will be valuable to readers who desire a detailed account of this growing field [of gravity-wave detection] and its sociological aspects, and to those interested in the history of science. It will also be helpful to students and others who wish to get first-hand accounts of what experimental physics can be like in practice.
"I do not know of any other book quite like Gravity’s Shadow. Collins has publicly announced his plan to produce a sequel when
gravity waves have been unambiguously detected on Earth. I hope he does not have too long to wait."
(Ronald W. P. Drever Physics Today 2005-12-01)

"Gravity's Shadow will function very well as an introduction to sociological studies of science. In addition to an explicit defense of sociological methodologies, Collins explains in detail and uses profitably many of the classic categories and approaches of the field. . . . Garvity's Shadow is an extremely impressive piece of scholarship that does justice to three decades of fioeldwork."
(Matthew Stanley British Journal of Sociology)

"Gravity's Shadow performs a twofold act of preservation, and an enormous service, by capturing both the historical richness of gravitational wave research and the methodological reflections of one of science studies' most imaginative and engaging writers."
(Edward Jones-Imhotep Isis)

"This book uncompromisingly shows the curbs, returns and negotiations associated with [this] scientific activity. Moreover, as it presents important and valuable sociological data on the funding and patronage of scientific research, it will also engender important discussions on the effectiveness of 20th century scince policies."
(Simone Turchetti Nuncius) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Harry Collins is Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology at Cardiff University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science. With Jay Labinger, he is coeditor of The One Culture? A Conversation about Science, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 870 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226113787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226113784
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,468,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping account of a controversial field February 17, 2005
This book covers two related stories, each fascinating in its own right. It is first of all the definitive account of the controversy surrounding Joe Weber's claimed detection of gravitational waves, told by someone who has met and interviewed all of the leading participants since the origins of the controversy in the 1970s. Weber was a remarkable character whose story is one of considerable pathos and Collins gives a sympathetic and incisive account of his career and its ramifications that no one else is qualified to give.

The second part of the book covers the dramas that shaped the more recent efforts to detect gravitational waves, a remarkable story with important insights into the way big science projects evolve, sometimes to the point of near implosion. I was a graduate student at Caltech while some of these events occured, and was later a colleague of Collins while he conducted many of his interviews, and can only say that he does an amazing story full justice. As readers of the Golem will know he has a clear, direct style of writing which carries the reader along through a long book, partly for the intrinsic interest of the material, and partly for the engaging style. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in physics.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and Most Comprehensive August 16, 2006
By Ralph
The research involved in complex sciences and in particular the study of delicate signals which emanate from the edge of our galaxy are not something for the faint of heart to pursue. Collins does a remarkable job of accurately and objectively telling the story of how four decades of intense research unfolded in search of Gravitational Waves by more than a dozen qualified scientists. His perspective is rare as we often are not told about the heartache and miscalculations which inevitably punctuate the search for new knowledge. This book is valuable from the perspective that the reader is shown the effort, dedication and pain that many people endure in the name of science. this is a story that happens time and again but rarely is told with such glaring accuracy to this level of detail and objectivity. Best hundred dollars I have spent on a book in some time and it certainly has aided me in my research
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Skip the first 400 pages, unless you're obsessed with Joe Weber. But read the second 400 for an interesting take on the politics and people involved in gravity wave detection. Also a decent presentation of the issues in gravity wave detection for non-physicists.
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