Ramblings about what I encounter within the realm of the geosciences, as well as the occasional rant about nonsense.

16 February 2009

Book Meme redux

I've got writer's block on the thesis. So I am going to respond to a meme. Chris over at Highly Allochthonous got tagged in a book meme (by Grrl Scientist), and graciously tagged the entirety of the internet (on that token I also tag anyone interested in this meme). PZ was compiling a list of science books every book store should have on its shelves, and I copied over the geology list at some point in the thread's development. An interesting list to be sure. This meme has some different rules though:
Imagine: YOU are asked to assign a half-dozen-or-so books as required reading for ALL science majors at a college as part of their 4-year degree; NOT technical or text books, but other works, old or new, touching upon the nature of science, philosophy, thought, or methodology in a way that a practicing scientist might gain from.
I'm not sure what is meant by excluding text books. I have had courses which use popular literature as the text book (such as Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Prothero). So I am making the assumption that if I don't consider it a text book, it isn't. Without further ado, here is my half-dozen list or so (with appropriate links):
  1. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: What more needs to be said. This is just a book that everyone should read, especially considering the "controversy" that is going on today. Plus from a geology perspective, there are two chapters dedicated to the subject of geology (Chapters IX and X). And two chapters dedicated to geography, well biogeography, (Chapters XI and XII).

  2. Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell: The book that laid out the priniciple of uniformitarianism. Which is a fundamental principle to ALL science. Without an appreciation for uniformitarianism, it isn't possible to practice science. Please don't confuse uniformitarianism with gradualism, this is a recent trend in the sciences. It is a straw-man used to discredit the concept. Lyell was not advocating a uniformity of rate.
    As the present condition of nations is the result of many antecedent changes, some extremely remote and others recent, some gradual, others sudden and violent, so the state of the natural world is the result of a long succession of events, and if we would enlarge our experience of the present economy of nature, we must investigate the effects of her operations in former epochs.
    -Charles Lyell
    Note: the abridged version is acceptable, seeing as how it is considerably cheaper.

  3. Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan: The baloney detection kit is brilliant, I attribute that chapter alone to my high GRE essay score. More than anything this is a great book for showing the framework of critical thinking, and how to avoid nonsense.

  4. To Interpret the Earth Ten Ways to be Wrong by Stanley Schumm: I haven't finished this one myself (I just got my copy recently), but so far I have had a majority of my earth science professors tell my class to read it.

  5. Evolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie Scott: Not specifically a textbook, though it could easily be one. The first chapter discussing the "scientific hierarchy" of ideas is brilliant and could very easily correct the incorrect world view that "theories" are unimportant. And that all ideas can eventually become "laws".

  6. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson: A fun non-specific, non-technical, general overview of the history of science. And, unlike a LOT of general history of science books, it doesn't kiss off geology as irrelevant. Nothing like opening up something titled the "100 greatest scientific advances in history" and seeing not one reference to geology.

  7. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards: Not particularly sciencey, but relevant in how people observe the world around them. And unless you have a camera with you, whether attached to a microscope, telescope, or just while out hiking, you will probably need to accurately sketch what it is you are observing so that someone else can see what you are seeing. Even if you have a camera, you won't be able to immediately include it in your notes... unless it is a polaroid.

  8. Sherlock Holmes and Ellery Queen: I have often thought about how fun it would be to introduce students to the scientific method by using fair play mysteries as an example. As far as Sherlock Holmes and Ellery Queen go, they are just my favorites (Queen recently more than Holmes, but that is because I finished the canon with the weak Holmes adventures and they left a bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, when the mystery is resolved by Holmes figuring out the culprit is becoming a monkey it is time to choose a new detective mystery). The particular adventures I can't recommend highly enough are:
    • Ellery Queen (haven't read all of the adventures yet, so this is an incomplete list. To be honest I have only read the first collection of short stories, some of the novels are next on my list):
      • The African Traveller: shows the problems of making assumptions and having a favored hypothesis.

      • The Bearded Lady: An example of a "dying message", but following the inferences lead to extraordinary conclusions

      • The One Penny Black: Another great example of following the evidence to extraordinary conclusions, very much akin to Holmes' at his greatest.

      • The Three Lame Men: An example of Parsimony (Occam's Razor).

    • Sherlock Holmes:
      • Sign of the Four: The BEST of the novels.

      • Red-Headed League: A better example of red-herring is hard to find.

      • Boscombe Valley Mystery: Attention to detail, and the concept of multiple working hypotheses are addressed.

      • Man with the Twisted Lip: Follow the evidence, no matter where it leads.

      • Blue Carbuncle: Once again, multiple working hypotheses and determination

      • Silver Blaze: Events that should occur in a given situation, but don't, also need to be explained (i.e. the dog that didn't bark).

      • The Naval Treaty: Avoid having a favored hypothesis

      • The Adventure of the Norwood Builder: The importance of being attentive to details, no matter how minor.

      • The Problem of Thor Bridge: Don't make assumptions before you have accounted for all the evidence available. Though Holmes was very sloppy in this one.
  9. I'm going to wrap this up by giving myself an escape clause. Any other book I find that may be relevant. I can easily see myself walking home and giving myself a facepalm at some book I forgot. Classic Feynman is brilliant. Albert Einstein's Ideas and Opinions are great. Medawar's "Advice to a Young Scientist" is interesting so far (another in the myriad of books I am reading). Throw in Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolution" and now you're talking. Flim Flam, by James Randi sounds interesting. Several of Michael Shermer's books would fit the bill (The borderlands of science and Why people believe weird things for example). Bad Astronomy and Death from the Skies sound like an adventurous read as well. Let's not overlook Death by Black Hole, Annals of the Former World, The Seashells on the Mountaintop, The Man Who Found Time (note this is weirdly priced I think), Beyond the hundredth meridian, Galileo's Daughter and Longitude by Dava Sobel are also good. This list could go on forever, so I am just going to stop now.
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Facepalm: Arggh, I knew it would happen... How To Lie With Statistics by Huff and Geis should be in there somewhere. Okay... NOW... I am going to stop.
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Edit: Suvrat over at Reporting on a Revolution has put up his list.

1 comment:

CJR said...

An interesting list! I'm currently reading Principles of Geology, and I'm not sure I'd recommend it for entry-level students; not that it isn't well written, but it is quite hard going (although I completely agree with you about the way it has been misrepresented).

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