Nine Crazy Ideas in Science: A Few Might Even Be True

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9780691094953: Nine Crazy Ideas in Science: A Few Might Even Be True
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AIDS is not caused by HIV. Coal and oil are not fossil fuels. Radiation exposure is good for you. Distributing more guns reduces crime. These ideas make headlines, but most educated people scoff at them. Yet some of science's most important concepts-from gravity to evolution-have surfaced from the pool of crazy ideas. In fact, a good part of science is distinguishing between useful crazy ideas and those that are just plain nutty. In this book, a well-known physicist with an affinity for odd ideas applies his open mind to nine controversial propositions on topical subjects. Some, it turns out, are considerably lower on the cuckoo scale than others.


Robert Ehrlich evaluates, for the general reader or student, nine seemingly far-out propositions culled from physics, biology, and social science. In the process, he demonstrates in easy-to-understand terms how to weigh an argument, judge someone's use of statistics, identify underlying assumptions, and ferret out secret agendas. His conclusions are sometimes surprising. For instance, he finds that while HIV does cause AIDS and the universe almost certainly started with a big bang, our solar system could have two suns, faster-than-light particles might exist, and time travel can't be ruled out as mere science fiction.


Anyone interested in unorthodox ideas will get a kick out of this book. And, as a fun way of learning how to think like a scientist, it has enormous educational value. Of course, only time will tell whether any of these nine ideas will be the next continental drift--the now orthodox account of the Earth's geology that was for years just a crazy idea.

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Do more guns mean less crime? Is AIDS caused by something other than HIV? Does our solar system have two suns? These are three of the "crazy" (some might say crackpot) ideas that physicist Robert Ehrlich explores in Nine Crazy Ideas in Science. But Ehrlich's crusade isn't to overturn established scientific thinking. His mission is to teach and promote the scientific method: techniques used to examine new ideas to see if they explain our world better than current theories do.

Ehrlich's oddball and hot-button topics keep the discussion exciting and fun. But he also points out:

Many ideas in science seemed crazy at one time but are now reported as being settled ... as in the case of plate tectonics, which grew out of an earlier "crazy" theory of continental drift.

Some of the crazy ideas relate to our lives: AIDS, gun control, sun and radiation exposure. Others are further out there, such as the double sun theory and the possibility of time travel. For each, Ehrlich scrutinizes who the idea's proponents are and what their agendas might be. He looks for internal consistency, misapplication of statistics, how open the proponents are with their data and methods, and more.

His conclusions are sometimes surprising, even to Ehrlich, who admits that his feelings about gun control changed after completing his research. Another startling finding comes in the chapter that digs into the theory that oil, coal, and gas have abiogenic origins--that they are not created from decayed vegetable matter, but were part of the Earth's original composition. A fringe, unorthodox notion, certainly. Still, substantial evidence supports the theory, and Ehrlich finds that a chemical origin for hydrocarbons better explains the observed facts.

Nine Crazy Ideas in Science makes several eccentric scientific theories accessible to general readers and, more important, it teaches methods of evaluating new ideas so we can decide for ourselves whether or not they make sense. --J.B. Peck

From the Back Cover:

"Physicist Robert Ehrlich has come up with a lovely idea for a discussion of how science works. His book is a light-hearted treatment of bizarre-but-not-manifestly-impossible ideas that have burdened scientific literature over the past decades. What is valuable is that Ehrlich uses scientific methodology to subject these ideas (not all wrong!) to critical examination. He has a low-key, pleasing style and uses no math."--Leon Lederman, 1988 Nobel Laureate in Physics

"At any time, there are ideas at the fringe of science, some too crazy to be true, some not crazy enough. Physicist Robert Ehrlich gives a levelheaded tour of today's frontiers-and sticks his neck out by rating each idea he considers. You surely won't agree with him, but you'll have fun trying to figure out why."--James S. Trefil, author of A Scientist in the City and Other Worlds

"Ehrlich's book puts life into a novel idea: a fresh view of the most controversial scientific notions of our time, which are always intriguing, often interesting, occasionally seemingly impossible, and sometimes downright fool-hardy ideas. It's informative, entertaining, and provocative reading, inviting the reader to wonder how the scientific mind can differ so much."--Robert C. Gallo, MD, Director, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland

"An excellent, thought-provoking read for those interested in science."--Geoff Wexler, Times Higher Education Supplement

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Book Description Princeton University Press, United States, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Revised ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. AIDS is not caused by HIV. Coal and oil are not fossil fuels. Radiation exposure is good for you. Distributing more guns reduces crime. These ideas make headlines, but most educated people scoff at them. Yet some of science s most important concepts-from gravity to evolution-have surfaced from the pool of crazy ideas. In fact, a good part of science is distinguishing between useful crazy ideas and those that are just plain nutty. In this book, a well-known physicist with an affinity for odd ideas applies his open mind to nine controversial propositions on topical subjects. Some, it turns out, are considerably lower on the cuckoo scale than others. Robert Ehrlich evaluates, for the general reader or student, nine seemingly far-out propositions culled from physics, biology, and social science. In the process, he demonstrates in easy-to-understand terms how to weigh an argument, judge someone s use of statistics, identify underlying assumptions, and ferret out secret agendas. His conclusions are sometimes surprising. For instance, he finds that while HIV does cause AIDS and the universe almost certainly started with a big bang, our solar system could have two suns, faster-than-light particles might exist, and time travel can t be ruled out as mere science fiction. Anyone interested in unorthodox ideas will get a kick out of this book. And, as a fun way of learning how to think like a scientist, it has enormous educational value. Of course, only time will tell whether any of these nine ideas will be the next continental drift--the now orthodox account of the Earth s geology that was for years just a crazy idea. Seller Inventory # AAH9780691094953

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Book Description Princeton University Press, United States, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Revised ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. AIDS is not caused by HIV. Coal and oil are not fossil fuels. Radiation exposure is good for you. Distributing more guns reduces crime. These ideas make headlines, but most educated people scoff at them. Yet some of science s most important concepts-from gravity to evolution-have surfaced from the pool of crazy ideas. In fact, a good part of science is distinguishing between useful crazy ideas and those that are just plain nutty. In this book, a well-known physicist with an affinity for odd ideas applies his open mind to nine controversial propositions on topical subjects. Some, it turns out, are considerably lower on the cuckoo scale than others. Robert Ehrlich evaluates, for the general reader or student, nine seemingly far-out propositions culled from physics, biology, and social science. In the process, he demonstrates in easy-to-understand terms how to weigh an argument, judge someone s use of statistics, identify underlying assumptions, and ferret out secret agendas. His conclusions are sometimes surprising. For instance, he finds that while HIV does cause AIDS and the universe almost certainly started with a big bang, our solar system could have two suns, faster-than-light particles might exist, and time travel can t be ruled out as mere science fiction. Anyone interested in unorthodox ideas will get a kick out of this book. And, as a fun way of learning how to think like a scientist, it has enormous educational value. Of course, only time will tell whether any of these nine ideas will be the next continental drift--the now orthodox account of the Earth s geology that was for years just a crazy idea. Seller Inventory # AAH9780691094953

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