Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist

Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist

by Chad Orzel
     
 

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Even in the twenty-first century the popular image of a scientist is a reclusive genius in a lab coat, mixing formulas or working out equations inaccessible to all but the initiated few. The idea that scientists are somehow smarter than the rest of us is a common, yet dangerous, misconception, getting us off the hook for not knowing—or caring—how the…  See more details below

Overview


Even in the twenty-first century the popular image of a scientist is a reclusive genius in a lab coat, mixing formulas or working out equations inaccessible to all but the initiated few. The idea that scientists are somehow smarter than the rest of us is a common, yet dangerous, misconception, getting us off the hook for not knowing—or caring—how the world works. How did science become so divorced from our everyday experience? Is scientific understanding so far out of reach for the non-scientists among us?

As science popularizer Chad Orzel argues in Eureka, even the people who are most forthright about hating science are doing science, often without even knowing it. Orzel shows that science isn’t something alien and inscrutable beyond the capabilities of ordinary people, it’s central to the human experience. Every human can think like a scientist, and regularly does so in the course of everyday activities. The disconnect between this reality and most people’s perception is mostly due to the common misconception that science is a body of (boring, abstract, often mathematical) facts. In truth, science is best thought of as a process: Looking at the world, Thinking about what makes it work, Testing your mental model by comparing it to reality, and Telling others about your results. The facts that we too often think of as the whole of science are merely the product of this scientific process. Eureka shows that this process is one we all regularly use, and something that everybody can do.

By revealing the connection between the everyday activities that people do—solving crossword puzzles, playing sports, or even watching mystery shows on television—and the processes used to make great scientific discoveries, Orzel shows that if we recognize the process of doing science as something familiar, we will be better able to appreciate scientific discoveries, and use scientific facts and thinking to help address the problems that affect us all.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/06/2014
We all have an inner scientist, and Orzel, a professor of physics at Union College, says we put those inner scientists to work every day—whether we realize it or not. Orzel winnows down science to four basic steps: “Looking” involves collecting observations and searching for patterns, as Darwin did to create his theory on the origin of species. “Thinking” means reviewing your data and coming up with an explanation—a model—for what you’ve seen, the way Dmitri Mendeleev studied chemical properties of different substances to create the periodic table of the elements. “Testing” means devising experiments to test your model, as physicists did to determine what atoms are made of. “Telling” is sharing the story of your work with others. His vivid examples include pop culture touchstones Iron Chef and Where’s Waldo?, fantasy sports leagues, and the citizen-scientist organization Zooniverse. Orzel also enlivens the work with glimpses of fascinating scientists such as physicist Richard Feynman and astronomer Vera Rubin, whose work allowed scientists to deduce the presence of dark matter in galaxies. This fun, diverse, and accessible look at how science works will convert even the biggest science phobe. Agent: Erin Hosier, Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

PRAISE FOR EUREKA:

“A good reminder that we are all capable of looking at the world scientifically and working things out, and we should all have the confidence to do that a bit more often.”BBC Focus

“Chad Orzel entertainingly argues that we are all scientists, with the innate ability to discover and create.”New Scientist

“This fun, diverse, and accessible look at how science works will convert even the biggest science phobe.” Publishers Weekly

“Similar to Richard Rhodes or Dava Sobel, Orzel makes complicated scientific narratives accessible to lay readers.” Library Journal

“In writing that is welcoming but not overly bouncy, persuasive in a careful way but also enticing, Orzel reveals the ‘process of looking at the world, figuring out how things work, testing that knowledge, and sharing it with others.’” Kirkus Reviews

“[Eureka] makes science fun for just about anybody.”Times Union, Albany

“Drawing on a wide variety of examples and stories, many from sports and pop culture, Orzel writes in a crisp, clear, and entertaining style.”Winnipeg Free Press

"I know, I know, you think you're just not smart enough to be a scientist. Chad Orzel might convince you otherwise with Eureka. Drawing on basketball, stamp collecting, Angry Birds, Iron Chef, and Antiques Roadshow among his many colorful examples, he ably demonstrates that science is not a rarefied alien endeavor performed solely by those with genius IQs. It's a process, and a way of thinking about the world available to all. Surprise! You're probably committing acts of science every day."—Jennifer Ouellette, author of The Calculus Diaries and Me, Myself and Why

"Chad Orzel is absolutely right: everyone has a scientist inside them, eager to burst out and look at the world in a new way. This book provides great examples that will inspire you to let your inner scientist free."—Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist at Caltech and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe

"Many people are curious about the natural world, but few consider themselves scientists. Using an engaging array of examples of scientific discovery—some recent, others drawn from history—Chad Orzel takes readers on a wonderful tour of how scientists think."—David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, MIT and author of How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival

"Chad Orzel's previous two books were just fine and dandy. However, this one is awesome. If anyone wants an insight into nature and the process of science, this is the book to get. Chad uses his witty writing style along with historical stories to show that science is part of our human nature.
Do you have a non-scientist friend? They will love this book. Or maybe your friend is a scientist—yup, it's for scientists too.”—Rhett Allain, Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University and author of WIRED Magazine’s Dot Physics

Kirkus Reviews
2014-10-19
Orzel (Physics/Union Coll.; How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog, 2012, etc.) explains that we all think like scientists, at least some of the time; we just may not know it.What is science? Most of all, writes the author, it is a process. Its many products may be bewildering, but its process is anything but inscrutable ("not some incidental offshoot of more general human activity; it's the very thing that makes us who we are"). In writing that is welcoming but not overly bouncy, persuasive in a careful way but also enticing, Orzel reveals the "process of looking at the world, figuring out how things work, testing that knowledge, and sharing it with others." In the first part of the book, the author looks for patterns. He uses the pleasures of collecting things as a way of polishing his awareness of the importance of close observation. The next step—using your experiences in life, the frame of what you know—allows you to fashion your observations into a model, which is not just a story as to why something happened, but a source of optimism, as well, since it provides a real notion that the world is comprehensible. With an easy hand, Orzel ties together card games with communicating in the laboratory; playing sports and learning how to test and refine; the details of some hard science—Rutherford's gold foil, Cavendish's lamps and magnets—and entertaining stories that disclose the process that leads from observation to colorful narrative. There will be false leads, dead ends and red herrings, but the beauty is in the chase and in the pleasing fact that the practice of science is open to all races, genders and persuasions. Orzel's point is well-taken: Like breathing, we are engaging in the scientific process much of the time, even if we don't know it.
Library Journal
10/15/2014
Using story as illustration, Orzel (physics, Union Coll.; How To Teach Physics to Your Dog and How To Teach Relativity to Your Dog) contends that, whether they know it or not, ordinary people constantly act as scientists in their everyday lives. The author argues that people should not regard science as esoteric, exclusive, or inaccessible; rather, they should recognize that human beings naturally employ the scientific method when looking at the world, thinking of models to explain phenomena, testing theories, and telling others about discoveries. Orzel demonstrates the universality of science by pointing to examples of the scientific method at work in everything from baking to fantasy sports. He connects these examples to stories about scientists who have made important findings while asking questions about the weight of the earth, the properties of atoms, or the correct time at sea. Similar to Richard Rhodes or Dava Sobel, Orzel makes complicated scientific narratives accessible to lay readers. VERDICT Recommended for undergraduate students, science educators, and readers with an amateur interest in science or science history.—Talea Anderson, College Place, WA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465074969
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
12/09/2014
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
749,439
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author


Chad Orzel received his BA in physics from Williams College, his Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Maryland, and his postdoctorate from Yale University. He maintains the blog Uncertain Principles and is the author of How to Teach Physics to Your Dog and How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog. He is now a professor at Union College in Schenectady, New York.

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