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Science Secrets: The Truth about Darwins Finches, Einsteins Wife, and Other Myths Hardcover – May 29, 2011
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"Busting scientific myths ... fascinating and thought-provoking book."
"Myths are actually important because they serve a purpose... the reality is interesting too, and that's a real strong point of the book, and I really enjoyed it, I found out interesting things that I hadn't known before."
― Physics World, magazine and podcast
"Did Galileo really study gravity by dropping objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as many of us learned in school? According to science historian [Alberto A.] Martínez, a rich variety of tall tales, myths, and fictitious accounts have congealed around famous scientists 'like plaster, paint, and acrylic gloss.' In a laudable effort to separate the fragments of truth from the hype surrounding a number of eureka moments in the history of science, Martínez skillfully reveals how even the best biographers and writers make plausible but incorrect connections between historical events and often rely on their imagination instead of the facts. VERDICT: Martínez’s more truthful reconstructions of these mythlike stories about Newton, Einstein, Darwin, and other scientists are only a starting point for a fascinating analysis of the historical and social factors that created these legends and keep them alive. This book should be required reading for all college science majors. The author’s meticulous and engaging use of historical evidence will also appeal to history of science enthusiasts."
“Combines the best qualities of popular science writing with the thorough documentation that one would expect from a professional historian. Highly recommended.”
“Martínez does four valuable things in this book: he refutes several well-established myths and misunderstandings in the history of science, he finds a common thread to many of the older myths in a hidden history of Pythagoreanism, he shows how to detect such mistakes in the work of others, and how to avoid them in one’s own work. It is at once a work of solid scholarship and an education in how to do history of science and it can be read with pleasure and excitement by anyone who cares about the place of science in the modern world.”
—Jeremy Gray, The Open University
—Allan Franklin, University of Colorado
“Martinez has pointed his finger at interesting and often unexplored aspects of science history: Our urge to know leads us to interpolate facts and interpretations into history in a process of speculative invention. These interpolations get picked up, recycled, reinforced, and evolve until we cannot separate fact from fiction any more. Pythagoras is the patron saint of this process. It is more enjoyable to disentangle real history from these interpolations—and to understand why these interpolations were made in the first place—than to accept them and live with them. Myths, after all, are meaningful, and as meaningful can be explored.”
About the Author
Alberto A. Martínez is associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. He is author of Kinematics: The Lost Origins of Einstein's Relativity and Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can Be Positively Bent.
Top Customer Reviews
What did Galileo actually do at the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Was Galileo really a heretic?
Did Newton formulate his Theory of Gravity after getting plunked by an apple?
What were the Pythagorean Brotherhood actual contributions to the world of knowledge?
What did Darwin really do on Galapogos?
Did Ben Franklin discover electricity by flying a kite?
How did Coulomb discover that electricity was an inversely squared law with distance?
Why is J.J. Thomson credited as the discoverer of the electron, and did he really believe in the disasterous 'Plum Pudding' model?
Did Einstein even believe in God?, given his many famous quotes on the workings of 'the Almighty'.
Was Einsten's wife, the quite obedient wife that stood behind the famous husband?
Did the clock towers of Bern contribute to the Special Theory of Relativity? What if Einstein had lived in another city?
Was Einstein a genius because he thought like a child?
What is the truth behind Eugenics and equality (or lack thereof) of species and races?
The author presents much new documented evidence and for the most part, allows the reader to come to his own conclusion. It is highly entertaining and worth reading.
There is also a chapter called "The Myth about the Speed of Light", and although he does present a brief, relatively impressive lecture (for a historian) on time dilation and length contraction and the highly non-intuitive (nor sensical) relativistic velocity mathematics, there is no myth or point for debate here.
The book ends with a comprehensive set of notes to accompany all anecdotes and quotations.
The author's approach is to explore hard evidence usually in the form of reliable original sources/documents that date as close as possible to the events in question. He also discusses some possible reasons why such myths are created, embellished and propagated over time, and how careful historians must be in separating fact from pure fiction before recounting what seems to have really happened.
The prose is very clear, friendly, lively and quite engaging. This book should appeal the most to science and history buffs - especially those with a penchant for the history of science.
"Science Secrets" explores in a fun and engaging way some very important questions I used to (wrongly) think were sufficiently answered, or was reluctant to ask for fear I'd get lost in the answer. Did Einstein believe in God? What made Darwin think about evolution in the way that he did? How could a supposedly mythical stone pass from a king's mere touch to a dank shed in Paris, and then from a lab in Delaware to finally transform a struggling Scottish writer into a multi-billionaire?
Martinez makes use of original diagrams, helpful pictures and figures, and easy-to-read tables. He explains equations and concepts in a logical way that is easy to follow, especially the problems that led Einstein to explore relativity. Most importantly, he helps us understand not only the truth, but the value in our very interest and in our questions. By revealing the real, arduous, and complicated process of scientific discovery from the overly simplified "who-gets-credit" textbook model we're all used to, Martinez takes us on a treasure hunt to uncover the truth. Upon closing the back cover, I not only knew a lot more about science in general, but also how important it is to understand why we love these stories. Very well written and highly recommended.