Science Matters: Achieving Science Literacy
Science Matters: Achieving Science Literacy is a popular science book by Robert Hazen and James Trefil, first published in 1991. The book is a general primer on the major categories of the hard sciences. A second edition was published in 2009 which updates the existing chapters and adds a chapter on biotechnology.
I found this book at a used book store and bought it based on the title and I read it shortly thereafter.
I own a first edition hardcover and have read it, finishing it on 2019-06-11.
- I love the basic overview of every major branch of the hard sciences.
- Despite the title and introduction implying the book would argue for why a basic science education is important to everyone, the book is really just a primer on various fields of the hard sciences. It ignores the soft sciences entirely, and doesn't go into much depth on what science is or why a good science education is important outside of the introduction and epilogue.
- The writing style is quite dry, and I often found my mind wandering out of boredom.
- The books wants more illustrations. There are a lot of concepts that are very difficult to picture in your head and basic illustrations would make understanding much easier. Unfortunately, the book only has a handful of primitive illustrations.
- Early on in the book, the authors suggest that science isn't the only way to understand something and suggest philosophy and religion as alternate means of understanding. While I agree with philosophy (science is just natural philosophy after all), religion is not a means to understand anything, but rather a stumbling block that prevents understanding.
- The authors suggest that atoms are analogous to tiny solar systems, but this model was well out of date when the book was published in 1991, and is especially inaccurate today.
- The authors anthropomorphize too much, suggesting that photons "choose" whether they will reflect, retract, or be absorbed, that "nature created the electron," and so forth.
- Near the end, the authors point out that science cannot have a position on the morality of abortion (which is correct), but they say it in a very inaccurate way suggesting that science can't say if life begins at conception. Science clearly can answer this question (the answer is "no, life existed long before conception since both the sperm and ovum are alive"), and they could have elaborated on why the question is often phrased improperly and explained how to ask a better question about abortion.
- "To function as a citizen, you need to know a little bit about a lot of different sciences—a little biology, a little geology, a little physics, and so on."
- "The education of professional scientists is often just as narrowly focused as the education of any other group of professionals, and scientists are just as likely to be ignorant of scientific matters as anyone else. You should keep this in mind the next time a Nobel laureate speaks ex cathedra on issues outside his or her own field of specialization."