13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time Paperback – 4 Feb 2010
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Fascinating ... Brooks reawakens us to the astonishing fact of our mere existence, the strangeness of the world around us, and the astonishing amount that science has yet to discover (Christopher Hart Sunday Times)
Outstanding non-fiction reading (Esquire 2011-01-01)
Impressively knowledgeable, articulate (Christopher Hirst Independent 2010-02-19)
An admirably clear and clever writer (Evening Standard 2010-02-11)
Proof that science gets interesting when things get weird (Weekend Australian 2010-06-19)
'Brooks is an exemplary science writer ... This is the sort of science book one always hopes for. Learned, but easy to read. Packed with detail, but clear. Reading it will make you feel clever' William Leith, Daily TelegraphSee all Product description
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Dear Michael, I would have liked to be able to recommend your book, 90% of it are interesting and enjoyable, but the remaining 10% are terrible. Consider asking the publisher whether you can write a second edition (and get someone to proof it who understands medical statistics as you clearly have a blind spot there).
Unfortunately, the Kindle edition, at least, is let down by being littered with scanning/OCR errors ranging from spaces and hyphens erroneously appearing in the middle of words, through errors such as "woodness" in place of "goodness", right up to "A gram of carbon, for instance, contains 5 x 1022 atoms" which should, presumably, have been "5 x 10^22 atoms". Several paragraphs required reading through a couple of times to decode the author's actual meaning, which was something of a let down.
Generally I get most scientific ideas when explained by good populist science writers. But I just didn't understand whole arguments presented in the book. This is not Michael Brooks fault - he is trying to cover 13 topics for which there are at least 2, and often more, complex explanations (so you have c. 30+ scientific theories to get through in 300 pages). This is a tough ask and I think a fundamental flaw with the idea of the book.
Were they the correct 13?
- Brooks missed out our non-understanding of what makes up a proton (e.g., are there more than 4 dimensions? How can 'particle spin' seem to transmit info faster than speed of light etc?) This seems to me to be as interesting as dark matter / energy and clearly not understood.
- He also decided to hide the origin of life (very interesting topic) under a chapter about what is the definition of life (not interesting). Defining terms isn't a scientific mystery. It can be hard (try defining comedy or art) but it's not as interesting. Or put it another way: I am about 100 times more interested in knowing how life came about than am I knowing how best to define whether something is alive or not.
- Two of the chapters are single anomolies (i.e., happened once and for which there is no other evidence). These are both mysteries, but not on the same level as, say death, it is
- I have not read all the homeopathy chapter yet but am puzzled at it's inclusion. He also refers to a lancet meta-data paper in 1997 that was a) written by the "Centre for Complementary Medicine Research and they have a vested interest and b) was not that conclusive (at least against no single illness, although pretty good against all evidence) and c) the analysis has been redone by the authors who now concede "it seems, therefore, likely that our meta-analysis at least overestimated the e'ects of homeopathic treatments." Brooks also has so far failed to mention the other major meta-analyses; all of which find no evidence for homeopathy working better than placebo.
- On reflection of the topics chosen, he seems to have amassed a lost of "these are things scientists hate talking about because they can't explain them" not "these are the most interesting problems science is grappling with"
Finally, I disliked the style. He jumps from a narrative style about the people involved to a person style (I then believed because...) Either approach is fine, but the swapping over mid-book from one to the other was jarring. That is not all. Brooks does a bad job of summarising the debate, e.g., in the placebo chapter he does not look at anyone else's meta-analyses apart from the one that causes contention and does not tell us whether there are other meta-analyses (there are). He also tries to sensationalise some arguments, for example, the significance that a few species still reproduce exclusively asexually. With over a million species there are bound to be some that have gone down this cul-de-sac, but Brooks tries to milk this fact for more than it is worth.
All in all a disappointment, but perhaps inevitably with such a impressive scope?
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