"Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know" by Katy Borner, MIT Press, 2010.
Anyone with less than a bachelors degree, and probably only then with a science major, will open this colorfully illustrated coffetable-book and go "Huh?" Those with the prerequisite knowledge to understand the extensive graphics will be fascinated. Unfortunately, this mix of science and history is contaminated with science futurism; there are parts that more correctly should be filed by librarians under science fiction.
The most enjoyable sections are the biographical snippets that explain how various (mostly computer pioneer) luminaries contributed to various stages in the analysis of scientific advancement. However, the perspective of the book is through the new digital generation and lacks the expertise of veteran scientists who would have rightly dampened the futurist gloss. For instance, in tracing the history of maps, it begins with the ptolemaic system rather than earlier T-O maps that were "oriented" with East at the top, hence the meaning of the term "to orient a map."
One recurring pioneer thinker is Eugene Garfield, familiar to earlier users of "Current Contents." He was inventor of the science citation index that rates a publication's value on the number of times it is then cited. Modifications of this procedure have been used for substantial portions of graphic analyses. This may be useful for molecular biology or cancer research where each new discovery immediately triggers the next step. But in systematics, a monographic revision of a group should "quiet" the field for some time; if it is immediately followed by extensive citations, that would nearly always indicate that the revision was erroneous and generated extensive objections. In other words, there are quality factors that in many graphs are totally ignored for quantity measures. Therefore, those who promote this technology without any understanding of its appropriate and inappropriate uses promote concepts that are not only pollyanna but downright destructive. Thus this atlas is schizophrenic.
One clear case is represented in the "Science Maps for Kids" section where a narrow selection of computer games are hyped as the wave of the future, ignoring massive evidence of videogame addiction that has decimated male participation in academics across all developed countries for the last 15 years.
Ironically, Garfield once interviewed Linus Pauling and asked how Pauling came up with his discoveries in biochemistry. Pauling revealed that it took extensive experience and time to think; a process that is not aided in any way by "science methods" or analyses such as are in this book. In other words, this book is analogous to baseball statistics, fabulously interesting to the baseball fan but of limited or no value to the rookie training for the game. Yes, the graphics showing that the more an author is cited, the more grants and prestige flow to them ("knowledge equals power") are a true reflection of the politics of science, but it is worrisome that decision makers have already mis-used such data for decades.
Another major error that continually reoccurs is the confusion of "information" with "knowledge" as if they were the same. "The enormous increase in our collective knowledge..." is but one of many examples. Until the Rosetta Stone was discovered, the hieroglyphs were information, but we did not "know" what they meant. The accumulation of information into the "world brain" and other "knowledge webs" shows a complete lack of understanding of the role of education. Essentially, "no experience, no meaning."
While various "mapping science workshops" from 2005 to 2007 brought bonafide expertise together to produce valid big science "visualizations," the most serious and obvious pseudoscience is seen in heavy reference to Wikipedia, where group wisdom and science often do not come together. Not only is the science quality of Wikipedia never questioned, the Wikipedia methodology is held as a wonderful example of future compendia; in truth it is the replacement of expert review with amateurism. This blindness throughout the narrative, as well as the future-hype, seriously detracts from the sections of graphics that are valid and useful.
Throughout this tome, there is an underlying theme that the future will be completely online, open source and digital (whatever that means). The ultimate irony is that this book, while accessible through a website with extended hyperlinks to everywhere, is in print, and it is in this format that it is most easily read and deeply understood.
John Richard Schrock