Fred Watson’s inspiration as a lad was the legendary telly astronomer Patrick Moore, who presented the BBC’s show The Sky At Night for more than fifty years. At the end, when others such as Chris Lintott began taking over, Moore was simply wheeled in at the start of the show in his wheelchair, to mumble a couple of sentences, then wheeled off again, out of the way, looking on wistfully.
Watson and Moore have a lot in common: both British, both immensely informed, both musical performers. And they both showed not just deep knowledge of deep space but also the essential emotional commitment to the vast tapestry they were investigating. I well remember the night when the first pictures of the far side of the moon came to Moore, live on air. As he showed them to the television audience, he simply cried, talking in choked tones as tears streamed down his face.... (read more)
A few intellectually superior women exist, conceded nineteenth-century anthropologist Gustav Le Bon, but ‘they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity, as, for example, of a gorilla with two heads’. Armed with cephalometers, scales, and birdseed for measuring skull volumes ...... (read more)
I first encountered Stephen Jay Gould when I happened on one of his books in a bookshop during my late teens. Its unusual title, The Panda’s Thumb, caught my eye. The lead article channelled Charles Darwin’s approach to understanding the natural world, not through looking at perfect adaptations to the environment but ...... (read more)
Peter Atkins writes a sentence at the beginning of this bewildering book that seems both preposterous and cheeky: ‘I would like to assert that not much happened at the Creation.’ And then: ‘I would like to replace the “not much” by “absolutely nothing”.’ How can any leading scientist ...... (read more)
It is a common misconception that scientists are not writers. As Professor Emma Johnston states in her foreword, writing is a fundamental part of the scientific process and innumerable volumes of scientific journals are published each year. These papers often employ dry, opaque language ...... (read more)
Millions of words have been printed by and about Charles Darwin. There are hundreds of biographies, the dozens of books he wrote (including his own autobiography), as well as various pamphlets, essays, correspondence, diaries, manuscript notes, and other ephemera. Fascinating though the man and his work is, it must be hard to come up with anything ...... (read more)
Nick Haslam reviews 'The Secret Life of The Mind: How our brain thinks, feels, and decides' by Mariano Sigman
Along time ago in a university far, far away, I received an application for graduate study in psychology. The applicant claimed to have no particular orientation to the field, just a broad and open-minded curiosity. In her own words, she was a ‘tabula rosa’: a rose tablet. The student had misrendered John Locke’s famous tabula rasa, the empiricist metaphor of ...
Robyn Williams reviews 'Radio Astronomer: John Bolton and a new window on the universe' by Peter Robertson
What shocks me, as I consider this important new book, is how completely John Bolton has disappeared from the public mind. Just consider, he pioneered extragalactic radio astronomy, built two superb radio telescopes, was worthy of a Nobel Prize, hired or mentored a generation of top scientists – and was played by Sam Neill in the film The Dish (2000). Nei ...
Nick Haslam reviews 'A Day in the Life of the Brain: The neuroscience of consciousness from dawn till dusk' by Susan Greenfield
The youthful genre of popular neuroscience enjoys a few advantages that popular psychology, its older sibling, does not. The general public holds neuroscience in higher esteem, more confident in its scientific legitimacy. The concreteness of brain science – its colourful scans, its focus on a kilogram or so of custardy matter rather than a weightless cloud of mind ...