Heavenly Errors: Misconceptions About the Real Nature of the Universe

Heavenly Errors: Misconceptions About the Real Nature of the Universe

by Neil F. Comins
     
 

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One of the great paradoxes of modern times is that the more scientists understand the natural world, the more we discover that our everyday beliefs about it are wrong. Astronomy, in particular, is one of the most misunderstood scientific disciplines.

With the participation of thousands of undergraduate students, Neil F. Comins has identified and classified,

Overview

One of the great paradoxes of modern times is that the more scientists understand the natural world, the more we discover that our everyday beliefs about it are wrong. Astronomy, in particular, is one of the most misunderstood scientific disciplines.

With the participation of thousands of undergraduate students, Neil F. Comins has identified and classified, by origin and topic, over 1,700 commonly held misconceptions. Heavenly Errors provides access to all of them and explores many, including:

• Black holes suck in everything around them.

• The Sun shines by burning gas.

• Comets have tails trailing behind them.

• The Moon alone causes tides.

• Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, is the hottest planet.

In the course of correcting these errors, he explains that some occur through the prevalence of pseudosciences such as astrology and UFO-logy and some enter the public conscience through the "bad astronomy" of Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science-fiction movies.. Perhaps most important, Professor Comins presents the reader with the methods for identifying and replacing incorrect ideas -- tools with which to probe erroneous notions so that we can begin to question for ourselves... and to think more like scientists.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
A professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Maine, Neil Comins collected more than 1,500 common misconceptions from his students. In this book he addresses many of them, such as the idea that black holes suck in everything around them.
Library Journal
Among his other courses at the University of Maine, astrophysicist Comins teaches introductory astronomy. He has discovered that his students harbor a large number of misconceptions about the universe when they begin his course, e.g., that black holes swallow everything around them and that the moon alone creates tides. Over the years, he has turned this ostensibly unpromising situation into a teaching tool as he helps the students analyze their misconceptions and find their way to an accurate understanding of modern astronomy. Comins does several different things: he presents over 1500 misconceptions, arranged by origin and topic, and then provides the scientific facts; he gives some details of his teaching methods and data to demonstrate the successful results; and he provides 22 suggestions for developing one's critical thinking skills. His relaxed style of discourse makes his book quite readable, and though his pedagogical approach is somewhat unconventional, he deserves a hearing. Recommended for academic and public libraries. Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Comins (University of Maine) brings his crusade to the general reader (he's written a number of textbooks aimed at correcting students' misconceptions). In addition to graciously informing us that the Sun does not emit mostly yellow light, Mercury is not the hottest planet, and the moon alone does not cause tides (etc.), he points out the bad astronomy in and other science fiction movies, explains how pseudosciences such as astrology and UFO-ology are responsible for many errors, and provides tools to help those newly cleansed of their misperceptions to avoid acquiring new ones. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
San Diego Union-Tribune
An easy-to-read guide to what science now knows about the universe.
Choice

An interesting new look at how humans perceive nature....A good primer on critical thinking and how science really works.

Astronomy Now

Anyone concerned with astronomy will find this book useful.

San Diego Union Tribune

An easy-to-read guide to what science now knows about the universe.

Bookwatch

Intriguing analysis of common errors and misconceptions of the real nature of the universe.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231502528
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
09/05/2001
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
File size:
4 MB

What People are saying about this

Michael Shermer

Comins's delightful romp through both scientific and pseudoscientific errors through the ages will not only teach you more science than a year's worth of college courses, but you'll learn something even deeper about how the mind works and, more important, fails to work.

John Allen Paulos

Although ostensibly about astronomy, Comins's Heavenly Errors effectively uses common (mis)conceptions about the subject to present an elegant tutorial on scientific thought—as much about embarrassing holes in arguments as about black holes in space.

Jeffery Bennett

A unique and entertaining way to learn how we have progressed from the ancient belief in an Earth-centered universe to our modern understanding of the cosmos. Along the way, Comins provides lessons about science and misconceptions that should be valuable to every teacher, student, and parent.

Meet the Author

Neil F. Comins is the author of What if the Moon Didn't Exist? He has contributed numerous articles to Astronomy magazine and has appeared on radio and television. He is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Maine.


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