Thursday, November 19, 2020

Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax," by Philip C. Plait (author), Kevin Scullin (narrator)

Tantor Media, Inc., ISBN 9781705259467, July 2020 (original publication March 2002

This is Phil Plait's first book, born out of his Bad Astronomy website, and it's an excellent and entertaining takedown of, as it says on the label, bad astronomy. He takes on many popular misunderstandings and misrepresentations of astronomical facts and realities.

Why is the sky really blue? Are meteorites hot enough to cause fires when they hit the ground? Can you see stars during the day if you are at the bottom of a well?

Plait takes on creationism, astrology, and UFOs, as well as bad science in movies and television. He talks about the Hubble telescope, and what it can and can't do, and why its data is not released publicly for a year after after collection.

I especially enjoyed the chapter dealing with the moon landing "hoax" (spoiler: yes, we really did land on the moon). Also quite interesting is the discussion of Velikovsky's crazy theory about Venus being ejected from Jupiter towards the inner solar system, and causing many of the dramatic events recorded in the Bible, such as when Joshua is reported to have stopped the sun in the sky for a full day. There are many reasons this doesn't make sense, but, really, read or listen to Plait's explanation.

Plait does a great job of making this entertaining, educational, and just really interesting. At times it's clear the nonsense that gets presented as plausible science makes him really cranky, but he's also very clear about how much he has enjoyed science fiction tv and movies with really bad science, and how it got him interested in real science and a career in astronomy.

The book was originally published in 2002, and is naturally a little dated in some respects. That's mostly in ways such as talking about the space shuttle as still an active part of our space program, and other relatively minor details. And if you catch him out in something more significant that scientific research since 2002 has proven wrong, well, he'd say, "Good!" He'd be delighted you're paying attention to scientific progress, and science's natural self-correcting features.


I bought this audiobook.

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