- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 1, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0471409766
- ISBN-13: 978-0471409762
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #378,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Plait, a science writer who works in the physics and astronomy department at Sonoma State University, is appalled that millions of Americans don't believe the moon landing really took place and do believe that Galileo went blind from looking at the sun, or that they can make an egg stand on end only on the vernal equinox. To set the record straight, he debunks these and many other astronomy-related urban legends in this knowledgeable, lighthearted volume. The early chapter "Idiom's Delight" sets the stage by clearing up the scientific inaccuracies in everyday expressions as in the phrase "light years ahead," for example, which is used to indicate timeliness or prescience when light years are actually a unit of distance. In later chapters, Plait explains meteors, eclipses, UFOs, and the big bang theory, revealing much about the basic principles of astronomy while clearing up fallacies. With avuncular humor, he points out the ways advertising and media reinforce bad science and pleads for more accuracy in Hollywood story lines and special effects. This book is the first in Wiley's Bad Science series on scientific misconceptions (future titles will focus on biology, weather and the earth). (Mar.)Forecast: If every entry in the series is as entertaining as Plait's, good science may have a fighting chance with the American public. Expect respectable sales, for the paperback format is nicely suited for armchair debunkers.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Inspired by his popular web site, www. badastronomy.com, this first book by Plait (astronomy, Sonoma State Univ.) debunks popular myths and misconceptions relating to astronomy and promotes science as a means of explaining our mysterious heavens. The work describes 24 common astronomical fallacies, including the beliefs that the Coriolis effect determines the direction that water drains in a bathtub and that planetary alignments can cause disaster on Earth. The author sharply and convincingly dismisses astrology, creationism, and UFO sightings and explains the principles behind basic general concepts (the Big Bang, why the sky is blue, etc.). Though some may find him strident, Plait succeeds brilliantly because his clear and understandable explanations are convincing and honest. This first volume in Wiley's "Bad Science" series is recommended for all libraries, especially astronomy and folklore collections. Jeffrey Beall, Univ. of Colorado Lib., Denver
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Finally we have a text that not only puts the Coriolis Effect where it belongs but explains basic astronomy principles in lay terms. It is better than reading an astronomy textbook. Where else could you read about why skies are blue and why the earth has seasons than in this humorous tome.
Plait gets a little more serious as he talks about the more delicate subjects of the Apollo "hoax", Velikovsky, UFOs, and Astrology. This was appropriate since many people believe in these unscientific hypotheses. He approaches these subjects in a nonoffensive, objective and scientific manner.
Being a movie fan, I particularly enjoyed the chapter entitled: "Bad Astronomy Goes Hollywood." Here Plait unveils all of the Bad Astronomy we see every day in science fiction movies. In his list of Top 10 offenses, the Star Wars series is guilty of no less than 8 of them. That does not make Star Wars any less enjoyable, but it is fun to know the difference between science and Hollywood.
I give this book 5 stars. I think it would be entertaining for anyone with any interest in astronomy regardless of how much or how little they know about the subject matter.
For the past several years, astronomer Phil Plait has been battling these misconceptions, as well as the flood of just plain bad astronomy (hence the name). Plait's web site has built a loyal following, and I have been a frequent visitor there almost since its inception. For people like me, the book "Bad Astronomy" is a logical extension of the web site. For newcomers, it will be a welcome addition to your libraries.
In addition to chapters on lunar phases and the cause of the seasons, Plait adds a detailed (and fairly technical) account of tides, the coriolis effect (as applied to toilet bowl water rotation), why the sky is blue, the moon size illusion, and many, many others.
Digging a little deeper into the "current issues" genre, Plait also tackles Velikovsky, UFOs, creationism and astrology. His writing is very clear and should be accessible to anybody interested in science and the battle against pseudoscientific nonsense.
Regular visitors to the web site will be familiar with Plait's crusade against those who persist in believing that the Apollo moon landings were faked. Plait's site led the charge against this nonsense, and he includes a treatment of the topic in his book as well.
Bad Astronomy is lightly illustrated with a mix of schematic drawings (to illustrate for example, tides or the moon size illusion) and black and white photographs. Some of the chapters could certainly have benefitted from more lavish illustrations, and perhaps even some color plates (the chapter on the Apollo "hoax," for example, needed some additional photos to help dispel the most common objections). However, the format of the book (paperback) and the expense (between $11 and $14) dictated the conservative approach, I'm sure.
The chapters are well balanced in size. With a topic per chapter, and 24 chapters totalling 257 pages, you won't find an indepth treatment of any of these topics, but enough to surely whet your appetite. He also provides recommendations for additional reading, both book and WWW, in an appendix.
In the larger context of "defense of science" writings, Plait joins other such notables as Carl Sagan, Martin Gardner, Robert Park, Stephen Jay Gould, and Michael Shermer. Plait's contribution is a welcome one, and he is poised to take his place as a defender against bad science.
A casual spin of the Google directory returns over 600,000 results for "moon landing hoax". Naturally, some portion of these hits are by the debunkers, those war-torn heroes who continue to throw logic and sense at the convinced conspiracy cults. Yet even discounting the lights of reason embedded in these results, the fact remains that far too many still believe that America's voyage to the moon was no voyage at all: 6% of Americans, to be precise.
At first brush, and consumed without much in the way of science literacy, some of the doubts offered by hoaxers can sound marginally compelling. But first glances can be deceiving. And be warned: If you do wade into this cesspool of credulity, you may find yourself in contact with ideas that would make Roswell truthers blush. `The whole moon itself is faked and is projected onto the sky using the same technology used to project the Bat Signal'. Or something just as otherwordly. Conspiracy wonks are nothing if not creative, but you may find such departures from Reality unfit for public consumption. Don't venture too long.
To be sure, collapsing the arguments of moon landing deniers requires little more than a healthy dose of common sense infused with trace amounts of scientific acumen. They might try the following on for size:
1. Experts spanning the fields of astronomy, astrophysics and photography all say we've been to the moon, and it's usually a good idea to defer to experts on matters in which you are, in fact, not one.
2. Global conspiracy theories on the scale necessary to fake a moon landing are probably infeasible given how many people would need to stay silent, from the hundreds of thousands of NASA engineers who worked on the Apollo project for nearly 10 years, the staging crews who fabricated and processed the footage for six different manned landings, the 12 men who claimed to have walked on the moon and the other astronauts who flew with them, and finally to the chain of command terminating with the Oval Office.
3. If the Soviet Union had the slightest inkling of imposture, they would have trumpeted it from the rooftops to the stars. We were, after all, waging an international space race at the time.
4. Photographic chicanery of the type required to spoof a moon landing did not exist.
5. Along with much third-party evidence, in recent years orbiting spacecraft have captured photos of the landing sites, the tracks left by the Apollo astronauts, and various remnants of the lunar surface experiments they conducted.
If exercising logic and countering similarly pseudoscientific moonshine is something you work into regular rotation, you'll find Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" crowded with thrills and long on ammunition. In a way, this is the book Phil Plait, award-winning blogger and skeptic superstar, was always meant to write. The topics covered are the very ones he's written vibrantly about for more than a decade on his blog of the same name (now appearing on Slate). Fans of his work will be accustomed to the serviceable combination of wit, humor and academic rigor directed at scientific misinformation. His easily digestible tome is in this sense perfectly continuous with his veteran crusade to debunk all manner of `bunk'.
Astronomy is Plait's specialty, and his breadth of the stars is staggering. Sure, much of the information on offer here is a Google search away, but the comedic, accessible format and the assortment of diverse but neatly divisioned topics prove to be the book's redeeming qualities. And along with a pulverizing exposé on moon landing conspiracy theories, about a quarter of the way into the book you're treated with one of the best, if not the best, layman explanations of how tides work. Given all of the half-explanations and untruths swirling around online on this topic (Plait notes that even many textbooks have it wrong), it's refreshing to read a comprehensive breakdown of tidal physics that even an amateur can regurgitate. His deconstructions really are that good.
While we cannot be faulted for it, most of us live out our day entirely ignorant of the celestial wonders that loom just beyond the horizon. The sun, and the planets that race around it, each with its loyal retinue of moon or moons, all dance to intricate patterns and are governed by a dense filigree of physical relationships. Plait does a great job of exposing the profundity of the stars to which we are so often oblivious while putting to bed a few of the most pervasive inaccuracies lodged in our modern consciousness.
As it turns out, the seasons are not caused by the sun's intensity or by its distance from the earth. The moon is not larger near the horizon than when it's high overhead. Lunar phases are not the result of the earth's shadow dynamics. The sky is not blue because it reflects the color of the oceans. And, far from proving that no man has stepped foot on the surface of the moon, the fact that there are no stars in the Apollo 11 photographs simply shows that NASA knew how to work a camera. Plait's treatments are precise, no-nonsense and layered with enthusiasm.
Some chapters are less memorable than others: why you can balance an egg on its end any day of the year; why you can't glimpse stars in daylight; and why astrology carries as much science cred as Harry Potter struck me as less than revelatory. However, the sections on the Hubble Space Telescope, the "Velikovsky affair", the Big Bang - perhaps the most frequently misconceived of scientific theories - and his entertaining finale on bad astronomy in film all earn high marks.
If you find science synonymous with entertainment, then Bad Astronomy is for you, especially if you're already familiar with Phil Plait's online persona. Not merely the arch-critic of pseudoscience, Plait is one of the few educators I know of who can graft humor onto science without falling victim to oversimplification or pulling from the standard ditch of cliches. You won't just learn that the sky is blue because the earth's atmosphere scatters blue light more than other wavelengths, or that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most scientifically authentic space movie ever. You'll also obtain a wonderful introduction to the underlying principles of astronomy and appreciate the admixture of humor throughout. Plait's book, his first, is an exercise in clear thinking fused with good science, necessities surely foreign to the moon landing deniers. Highly recommended.