Book review: How to Build a Universe by Brian Cox and Robin Ince

How to Build a Universe: An Infinite Monkey Cage AdventureHow to Build a Universe: An Infinite Monkey Cage Adventure by Brian Cox

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to bake some chocolate muffins from scratch, so this book should be useful.

Professor Brian Cox, Robin Ince, and Alexandra ‘Sasha’ Feachem are the team behind the popular The Infinite Monkey Cage, a BBC science show that pairs scientists and comedians for laughs and education. From 2009 they have produced +100 shows covering all sorts of topics. This book encapsulates some highlights and essays around their favourite topics and common science communication issues* they have covered in that time.

From the opening forewards to the covering of Schrodinger’s Strawberry I was heartily entertained. As a science nerd and fan of comedy, this book seems to have been written specifically for me. It actually left me feeling a bit annoyed that I haven’t, as yet, listened to The Infinite Monkey Cage show, despite having been aware of it for quite some time. So I guess I’ll be rectifying that soon.

What I like most about this approach to science is that it doesn’t seek to sex up science (or dumb down, depending upon the preferred flavour of marketing), but instead make it accessible and entertaining. There is a line between those two that too often those in the media can’t tell the difference between. Science is interesting, but it is complicated, it is often dry, and communicating scientific knowledge as done here is hard to do.

* Yes, I do mean how people aren’t willing to honestly engage with science, either through pseudoscience co-opting, or denial of evidence, or wanting certainty instead of the probability that science offers.

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Book Review: Climate Change Denial – Heads in the Sand

Climate Change Denial: Heads in the SandClimate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand by Hadyn Washington and John Cook
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

It takes a while to read a book during your lunch break at work. It can take even longer if the book you are reading is filled with interesting tidbits of referenced information, which then inspires you to read the original research paper. I suppose that is the best thing about Washington and Cook’s Climate Change Denial, it is filled with interesting research and arguments, all concisely expressed for anyone with an interest in the future of our planet.

Usually I have an issue with non-fiction books. Often times the non-fiction genre is filled with work that lacks credibility or validity. Non-fiction is also prone to the shouting polemic, which is all doom and gloom, and short on any solutions. Climate Change Denial is the opposite, with a very well researched base of information, well rounded and reasoned arguments and an entire chapter devoted to the solutions for both denial and climate change.

What interested me was the mindset of denial. I’ve done a lot of reading of the peer reviewed literature on climate change (hint: the world is getting warmer, it’s our fault, we need to take action now) and have been frustrated with the same debunked arguments arising time and again. Now I understand why, well, aside from the massive fear and smear campaign waged by denier groups with oil $$. I also appreciated the candid debunking and slaying of the red herrings (e.g. we need to adapt) and white elephants (e.g. carbon capture and storage) often associated with the climate change debate.

This is a great book for the climate change extension people, for those who are undecided on the topic, and a must read for politicians (this book has been given to every Federal Government minister in Australia). Those who read it now have the job of converting the deniers, logic and science will prevail, but it would be nice to have that happen sooner rather than later.

Also worth reading John Cook’s fantastic site.

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