I have a friend who wants to be a popular science writer after he retires.
A while back, he went down to the Santa Fe Institute for a workshop on how to do this (be a science writer, that is, not retire).
On the third day of the week-long workshop, one of the scientists from the Santa Fe Institute addressed the group of aspiring writers. The scientist told them how valuable they would be to the scientific community and of the personal impact popular science writing had on him. “I didn’t know,” he said, “what my work really meant until I read some popular accounts—I didn’t grasp the significance.”
And this leads to a problem: the efflorescence of the science pimp—the science cheerleaders who get their religion on through thinking about science, particularly “deep questions”—things like string theory. Stuff that is hardly even science.
I hate that shit.
I know a lot of people like George Johnson’s books, including a lot of people far smarter than me. But when I read Fire in the Mind I wanted, at various points, to throw the book across the room. I thought it was childish and revolting and I doubted very much whether Johnson had any clue what he was writing about.
But the forces of light are marshaling. Today’s Financial Times had a wonderful editorial espousing good old fashion Popperian falsifiability.
And we now have Peter Woit’s book, the title of which comes from a saying by Wolfgang Pauli. The worst kinds of scientific theories, Pauli said, are “not even wrong.”
It’s about time. I feel the Popperian spirit coming over me! I’ve become one of the Popperazi!
And this raises the question: How can smart people be so dumb? Is there a pattern to this? (More on this later).