18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
The Half-Life of Facts,
This review is from: The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date (Hardcover)
After I saw Samuel Arbesman speak at Tedx Kansas City a few weeks ago, I knew I had to read his book. The premise of his talk and his book is that facts are not really information set in stone, the way we usually think about them. The world is constantly changing and nothing is for certain forever. I was floored by the notion that what my kids are learning in school may contradict what I learned in school. For some reason, that notion had never occurred to me!
The Half-Life of Facts is easily understood by a lay person. I found it very readable and I don't have a head for science at all. Each chapter outlines a different reason why facts may either change or be found to be untrue. Arbesman uses examples throughout, all of which I found fascinating. I would love to read even more stories about which facts have changed over time and why.
I was surprised by some of the facts that are no longer true. For instance, did you know that there really isn't a dinosaur called a Brontosaurus? I had no idea and both of my boys have been through dinosaur obsessions within the past few years. The Brontosaurus was found to be a type of Apatosaurus over a hundred years ago. However, once something is out in the ether, it's really hard to circulate information modifying or correcting the original assertion.
I appreciated that not only does Arbesman discuss the various ways in which untruths persist and facts change over time, he also offers suggestions of how to keep current without getting information overload.
I love that in keeping with the spirit of The Half-Life of Facts, Arbesman's website has a Errata and Updates section for the book. There is already one case listed in which Arbesman unknowingly perpetuated a myth about how spinach became known to have a high iron content.
It's very rare that I read a non-fiction book that I have a hard time putting down. The Half-Life of Facts is one of those rare riveting works of non-fiction. I highly recommend it to all.