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Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax"
by Philip C. Plait (Author)

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...

 

5 out of 5 stars Bad Astronomy made fun, January 12, 2003

  Reviewer: skittery99 (see more about me) from Denver, Colorado United States

As an amateur astronomer, I took great pleasure reading Philip Plait's "Bad Astronomy". The book handles the debunking of common myths with hysterical humor. I could not put the book down. Each chapter was entertaining.

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.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:

5 out of 5 stars A welcome addition to any science lover's library, June 22, 2002

  Reviewer: John Rummel (see more about me) from Madison, WI

Misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy perhaps more than any other science. Surveys have found that even college graduates carry persistent misconceptions or even wildly incorrect ideas about the phases of the moon or the cause of the seasons.

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.

 

 


  
 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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