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Uncertain Science ... Uncertain World Paperback – July 11, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0521619103 ISBN-10: 0521619106

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Editorial Reviews


"Uncertain Science...Uncertain World is extremely well written and compulsive reading." Education in Chemistry

"Pollack has a pleasant style and a light touch...an informative and enlightening account of how science works in practice and how scientists learn to be at ease in an uncertain universe." --Wilson Quarterly

"Too often, scientists fall into the quicksand of technical jargon and fail to communicate important information to the general public. In Uncertain Science...Uncertain World, Henry Pollack uses plain English and engaging examples to explore uncertainty both in science and everyday life." --Neal Lane, Professor, Rice University, former Science Advisor to President Clinton and former Director of the US National Science Foundation

"Uncertain Science...Uncertain World gives the layman an excellent inside look at how science works and flourishes even though it is immersed in uncertainty. Pollack analyzes the paradox that society is unable or unwilling to address environmental problems of global scale-often under the pretense that there's not enough scientific certainty to take action-while at the same time the insurance industry and other businesses routinely hedge the risks attendant to an uncertain future. It's my hope that this very clearly written book, devoid of both polemics and equations, will be widely read by the general public and policy makers." Paul Crutzen, Winner of 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry

"Uncertain Science...Uncertain World is certain to clarify one of the most fundamental popular misconceptions about science-that it is exact and certain. Henry Pollack demolishes the mythology about certainty in science with short and clear examples of how uncertainty is both endemic to science and not a cause for paralysis or inaction. This well-written book is a welcome antidote to the misrepresentations of special interests who misuse scientific uncertainty to stall public policy and advance their own agendas." Stephen Schneider, Stanford University

"This excellent book will serve as a blast of common sense to counter two dangerous attitudes. One is the desperate search for impossible certainties in a complex world where few comprehend the meaning of probability. The other is a belief that scientists are the magicians of today who can deliver certainty by 'scientific tests.' Pollack writes with vigour and clarity about big issues such as global warming, and reading this book ought to help us become better judges when 'facts' conflict. There are few more important attributes we need for the 21st century." Aubrey Manning, University of Edinburgh

"Public policy debates are constantly getting stuck in the mire of perceptions about scientific uncertainty and risk. Yet science is no different to many other areas of human experience in that uncertainty and risk are inevitably present. In a readable, entertaining presentation, Henry Pollack removes some of the mystery surrounding uncertainty by placing it alongside examples from everday life." Sir John Houghton, Co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and author of Global Warming-The Complete Briefing

"Important...an admirable job...Pollack provides a tremendous service with his clear exposition of scientific uncertainty." EOS goal...

"At last we have a solid, scientific look at the vexing subject of uncertainty. You may not be more certain about some subjects when you finish this book, but you'll understand why." James Trefil, Professor of Physics, George Mason University and author of A Scientist in the City

"...Pollack's writing is clear, and should change the way the both policymakers and the general public evaluate scientific developments, especially those associated with global climate change." Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology

Book Description

Scientific uncertainty puzzles many people. The puzzlement arises when scientists have more than one answer, and disagree among themselves. This book will help people find their way through a maze of contradiction and uncertainty. By acquainting them with the ways that uncertainty arises in science, how scientists accommodate and make use of uncertainty, and how they reach conclusions in the face of uncertainty, the book will enable the reader to confidently evaluate uncertainty from their own perspectives, in terms of their own experiences.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521619106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521619103
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,668,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henry Pollack is a Professor of Geophysics (Emeritus) at the University of Michigan. He has taught at every level of the curriculum, from introductory courses for non-scientists to specialized graduate seminars. His current research activities focus on the record of global warming, as recorded by the temperatures in the rocks beneath the Earth's surface. The Earth's crust retains a thermal archive of past climate that presents a glimpse of what the Earth was like in the pre-industrial era, and which enables scientists to assess the human impact on Earth's climate.

Pollack has served on many advisory panels for the National Science Foundation, testified before National Academy of Sciences and U.S. Senate committees, and provided briefings about climate change to Congress and the White House. He has published widely in scientific journals, is a Contributing Author to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Assessment Report, and a member of the training faculty of Al Gore's Climate Project. He is an elected fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the author of "Uncertain Science ... Uncertain World", published by the Cambridge University Press in 2003, and of "A World Without Ice", published by Penguin in 2009.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Crocker on April 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
One of the hardest things to teach to 9th-graders is that uncertainty in science, rather than being a bad thing ["Are you trying to tell us that everything science says will be proven wrong!?!"], is one of the things that makes modern science thrive. Most adults don't get the uncertainty thing either; otherwise, more nicotine addicts might've realized that when the tobacco companies used the fact that scientists couldn't prove that cigarettes cause cancer at a 100% certainty level as a reason to assure them that they could continue to smoke without worry, that those companies were misusing the methods of modern science as a smoke screen. Henry Pollack tries to bring a deeper understanding of scientific uncertainty to the masses with his book Uncertain Science...Uncertain World.
Pollack starts the book by laying out some general facts about science and uncertainty. He then goes on to gently chastise scientists and the media for their contributions to the public's lack of understanding of scientific uncertainty. The meat of the book is an examination of scientific uncertainty in all its guises. I especially enjoyed his use of examples that the layperson will easily understand [forensics in the solving of crimes and air crashes, how insurance works, etc.] along with tougher and more obscure scientific examples. The example that Pollack returns to again and again is that of climate change and global warming [Pollack's own research has contributed to this debate], and the final chapter focuses solely on the global warming debates [scientific AND political].
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and most of my complaints are personal ones involving examples I would have used in addition to Pollack's had I written the book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Haydon Mort on June 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Henry Pollack equips the non-scientific reader with several powerful tools with which to assess the world in which we live. Even as a practicing scientist, I found this book informative, entertaining and well written. This book should be required reading at the start of any degree in any scientific (or even social) related field as it goes to the heart of many of societies problems. I also urge secondary school educational policy makers, especially those involved in formation of science curriculums, to read this book. The second chapter is especially relevant to them and contains direct and constructive criticisms of how our education system is 'shortchanging' our future adults.
I believe, the two most important points detailed in this book are that 1) Science is NOT, (contrary to the misconception brought about by modern education), about facts, rather uncertainty and likelihood, which drives science forward. 2) Lack of certainty is therefore in no way a reason for inaction when it comes to important discussion which may effect the stas-quo. Pollack, sensibly uses his own field of geological expertise when focusing on this point by coming back to the global warming again and again.
Henry Pollack has written a much needed book which explodes the popular notions about science, whilst using plain English and dispassionate reasoning in order to build-up the publics understanding and convidence into how science works. A clear sign of self-evaluation, critical thinking and fairness is shown when Pollack also attacks certain facets of the scientific establishment for their poor public contact: this is exemplified by the sentance "The ultimate responsibiliy for removing the curtain of obscurity that surrounds science lies with its practitioners...successful teachers do not hide behind a barrage of technical jargon" (pg 28). Great book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on June 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Some books fit in the must-read category because of the ideas they bring. This is one of those, a warning of the dangers of scientific ignorance.
We've heard it before, regarding evolution, global warming, the dangers of smoking: "It's just a theory." As if to dismiss massive amounts of scientific evidence because of a limited amount of uncertainty is okay, or to allow crackpota who think that smoking is harmless equal time although their arguments are utterly flaky. Here is a book that shows that such arguments are both wrong and destructive.
Pollack focuses on global warming, which is a good illustrative example of how the uncertainties of science are manipulated (and a subject that fits into his geological background). He shows that few things in science are dead certain and that there are levels of uncertainty. It may be impossible to show a 100% certain link between global warming and fossil fuels, but that doesn't mean the idea should be dismissed casually. Pollack points out that most of the people who exploit the uncertainty have a vested interest in the status quo.
There is blame aplenty to be spread, but Pollack seems to point the finger most strongly at the public which is in general scientifically ignorant enough to buy these specious arguments. Other entities such as the media and politicians are hardly guilt-free either, nor is the scientific community which often makes itself inaccessible to the public.
Pollack is a good writer. The main flaw in the book is you're never fully certain what it wants to be. A book about scientific uncertainty that uses global warming as its prime example or a book about the risks of global warming that discusses the exploitation of "uncertain science" in showing why these risks continue. Either way, this book - which would normally be a four star book - gets a bonus star because its message is too important to ignore, whichever of the two it may be.
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