- Paperback: 237 pages
- Publisher: Prometheus Books (April 8, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1591022851
- ISBN-13: 978-1591022855
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,328,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Just A Theory: Exploring The Nature Of Science
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Contrary to common belief, scientific theories are not true or false but are provisionally accepted pending disproof. Computer scientist Ben-Ari spells out this modest but far-reaching claim in two parts: one describes the elements that qualify something as science, and the second dissects the logical deficiencies of pseudoscience. Far from dryly defining the hallmarks of a valid theory, Ben-Ari illustrates these elements with examples from the history of science, such as Galileo's formulas for acceleration and Newton's for gravity. Further discussing aspects of a valid theory, such as whether it's susceptible to falsification, or the social environment in which new theory supplants reigning theory, Ben-Ari is ready for the bemusing task of contemplating the assertions of astrology and so-called intelligent design in biology. He concludes that the predictive power of both is vague, and the mechanism for each is typically an ad hoc explanation of a particular observation, not of a wide class of observations, as a scientific theory insists upon. A readable precis that will best suit science majors. Gilbert Taylor
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About the Author
Moti Ben-Ari is associate professor in the Department of Science Teaching at the Weizmann Institute, Israel, and the author of six textbooks on computer science. He has received the 2004 ACM SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education.
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Why only four stars? First, in his scientists' vignettes (where he uses biographical information on a scientist to illustrate a nature-of-science-point) are a rather homogenous bunch, for true excellence I would have to see more diverse group of scientists discussed. Secondly, his understanding of science as a discourse is somewhat impoverished, and I would say that his treatment of the topic isn't completely fair.
But- this should not take away from a strong recommendation. Great book!
Where I part company with the author is in his closing statements, to the effect that most of what there is to be discovered has already been discovered. (I paraphrase, badly.) I believe that Ben-Ari underestimates the quantity of what we do not yet know, as well as the potential impact of numerous breakthroughs that can already be foreseen. Of course, that's all speculation, and Ben-Ari's take is at least stimulating.
In short, a quick, entertaining, worthwhile read.
Ben-Ari's book is refreshing in that it provides an introduction to philosophy of science which cuts to the chase and is easy and enjoyable to read, and therefore ideal for beginners. A further plus is that the author is a computer scientist with an impressive grasp of a diverse range of sciences, and the illustrative examples in the book are correspondingly diverse.
Ben-Ari has an evident pro-science bias, and thus tends to somewhat downplay arguments which reveal the limitations and confusions of science, but I still think that his presentation is balanced enough to make this book an excellent introduction to the subject.
Readers who already have some background in philosophy of science should find the book to be a quick and entertaining review of the subject, but will probably finish the book with the thought "I already knew all of this, and need to read something more challenging and advanced."
Nonetheless, this an excellent book for what it aims to do, and is written with admirable clarity and conciseness.