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What Science Is and How It Works [Paperback]

Gregory N. Derry
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 24, 2002 0691095507 978-0691095509

How does a scientist go about solving problems? How do scientific discoveries happen? Why are cold fusion and parapsychology different from mainstream science? What is a scientific worldview? In this lively and wide-ranging book, Gregory Derry talks about these and other questions as he introduces the reader to the process of scientific thinking. From the discovery of X rays and semiconductors to the argument for continental drift to the invention of the smallpox vaccine, scientific work has proceeded through honest observation, critical reasoning, and sometimes just plain luck. Derry starts out with historical examples, leading readers through the events, experiments, blind alleys, and thoughts of scientists in the midst of discovery and invention. Readers at all levels will come away with an enriched appreciation of how science operates and how it connects with our daily lives.

An especially valuable feature of this book is the actual demonstration of scientific reasoning. Derry shows how scientists use a small number of powerful yet simple methods--symmetry, scaling, linearity, and feedback, for example--to construct realistic models that describe a number of diverse real-life problems, such as drug uptake in the body, the inner workings of atoms, and the laws of heredity.

Science involves a particular way of thinking about the world, and Derry shows the reader that a scientific viewpoint can benefit most personal philosophies and fields of study. With an eye to both the power and limits of science, he explores the relationships between science and topics such as religion, ethics, and philosophy. By tackling the subject of science from all angles, including the nuts and bolts of the trade as well as its place in the overall scheme of life, the book provides a perfect place to start thinking like a scientist.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Science," writes physicist Gregory Derry, "is the active and creative engagement of our minds with nature in an attempt to understand." Not to understand anything in particular, mind you--just to understand, to gain a sense of our place in the world. Whether viewed as a body of knowledge, a collection of techniques, or a way of seeing, Derry adds, science is just plain interesting. It is also difficult to live in the modern world, which is so entangled economically and culturally in technology, without some grasp of science, technology's sire.

All that said, Derry states his aim: to show his readers how to think scientifically. In this aim he is quite successful, as his narrative proceeds through case studies that draw on real-world situations to discuss the importance of precise measurement, replicable experimentation, clear research design, logical thought--and imagination. He is quite clear on what constitutes good science, and he profiles a few heroes (Kepler, Einstein, Helmholtz, Joule) to illustrate how that good science is conducted. He is just as clear on what constitutes bad science, which often results when money and politics enter the laboratory. The fundamental virtue required of a scientist is honesty, he remarks, and a scientist who is dishonest or unethical scarcely deserves the name.

Part textbook, part manifesto, Derry's book offers both entertainment and food for thought for readers inclined to learn the ways of science. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2000

"[There is] no better contemporary book to convey the unity of science and at the same time to stimulate further study."--Choice

"Part textbook, part manifesto, Derry's book offers both entertainment and food for thought for readers inclined to learn the ways of science."--Gregory McNamee, Amazon.com

"How does a scientist go about solving problems? How do scientific discoveries occur? How is mainstream science different from borderland science and pseudoscience? In this lively and wide-ranging book, Gregory Derry discusses these and other questions as he introduces readers to the scientific way of thinking. . . . Readers of this book will come away with an enriched appreciation of how scientists operate, and how science connects with our daily lives."--Robert J. Deltete, The Quarterly Review of Biology

Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691095507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691095509
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #502,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
When I picked this up, I didn't know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised. Gregory Derry writes about and explores different ideas ranging from logic to symmetry to pseudoscience, so the book covered a great range. The reading style is easy to understand, and it helps me a lot in college for my science courses and some math courses. Also, I showed it to my professor, who now uses it as a source himself. And also my little sister (aged 15) is getting a lot out of it, although admittedly she is very intelligent for her age. So it's for everybody! I now feel like I understand science better as a whole, as well as the fact that it has made me really interested in science.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pretty good book. May 22, 2000
If I could summarize my opinion of this book in a single word it would be "ambivalence." The book definitely has its good points, but it lacks closure on many themes, is open ended in many ways, and it's a little of order. Perhaps Derry wanted it that way because scientific progress often goes the same route. This is supposed to be an explanatory text, though, and I would have organized it differently.
The book begins with a chapter consisting of several stories from the history of science, including the discovery of the structure of Benzene and the development the Smallpox vaccine. There are five in all, and each illustrates a different application of the method of science to discovery. The one thing lacking from this chapter (and from the book, for that matter) is a cohesive summary of the principles brought out through these examples. I think Derry wanted his readers to figure it out themselves, and so he shuns summary tables and lists as a way of making the reader think. Part of the author's message is that science does not work according to a given set of rules -- the kind of rules you might have learned in grade school. Instead, Derry presents science as a more fluid construct. I agree, but telling the stories had a point, and I believe he should have been more succinct in bringing out his opinion about what the point was suppose to be, especially in relationship to the stories meant to illustrate how science works.
The next few chapters list some important methods used by scientists -- some of which are illustrated in the examples from chapter 1. For example, chapter two describes how looking for patterns in nature provides important clues in scientific exploration.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Effective text for the science classroom teacher December 6, 2011
I teach a college, senior-level course entitled, The History & Philosophy of Science, for pre-service teachers of secondary science. I am always on the lookout for those texts that provide a balance between the shall-we-say, 'hardcore' scientific philosophy/history and one that is useful for the young education professional. This text lends itself to just that. I also endeavor to insert some good ole' fashioned instructional pedagogy into the course as well. Though it is not a 'methods' course, Derry's book does have a 'pedagogical' sense to it. This allows me to insert those activities, labs, etc. that seem to jump out at the reader such as the Parts II & IV. Students also seem to enjoy reading it! Yes..,. that's right!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Science Book April 29, 2000
By Liz
This book is incredibly well-written and imformative. It spans all of the sciences, and describes many breakthroughs and issues in the sciences, both current and from centuries ago. It delves into topics both simple and complicated, from symmetry to pseudoscience. Derry writes in language both simple enough to understand and interesting enough to keep you raptly engaged. One of the best books spanning general science. All levels.
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