Saturday, September 27, 2008

Physics for Future Presidents -- The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller

My book club selected this for the first read of the new year, and I am glad and sad to have read it.

First my glad side: considering the last eight years have seen a rejection of science in many areas, not to forget the general demonetization of intellectualism, this volume shows in a clear and concise manner, scientific explanations of important issues of the day. The best sections were on terrorism, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power. Muller taught me a lot about these issues. I was on the fence about nuclear power, but his statistics and logical discussions of the real dangers has caused me to lean somewhat in favor.

The section on space was the thinnest, and added nothing to my knowledge of this subject. Over all, the book was written at about a 10th grade level. The “Presidential Summaries” at the end of each chapter, were at about a 9th grade level. The reading level was glaring, and sometimes this came across as condescending. I sure hope the next president can at least read at a college level!

The book grew out of course the author teaches at UC-Berkeley, which makes the reading level even more glaring. Perhaps he has the current president in mind. Bush 43’s dictum, early on in his presidency, that all position and policy papers be no longer than 2 pages and his admission that he does not read newspapers, make me want to vote for an intellectual – not someone I’d like to talk sports with over a beer. 4 stars

--Chiron, 9/25/08

1 comment:

Earl Killian said...

One thing you should know about this book is that there are plenty of inaccuracies. Some of the sections on climate are distorted. For example, the hockey stick discussion leaves out information the reader should know, such as reconstruction of past temperatures from proxy sources have been validated independently of the analysis the author criticizes. The terrorist nuke section downplays the effects of a 1-kiloton blast, concentrating only on the "blast radius" and ignoring other effects such as heat and radiation, and minimizes the effects by assuming a ground blast when elevators or Cessnas could easily be used to gain altitude. Is the only thing you want your Future President to know is the distance at which buildings are destroyed, or are the effects on people relevant too? The author's analysis of electric cars is completely bogus, and filled with incorrect information.

In summary this book is one where opinions are dressed up as science. I have no objection to the author offering his opinions, but to mischaracterize them as science is grossly misleading.