Cover image for Facing up : science and its cultural adversaries
Facing up : science and its cultural adversaries
Weinberg, Steven, 1933-
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
xi, 283 pages ; 24 cm
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Q171 .W419 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In a recent New York Times profile, James Glanz remarked, "Steven Weinberg is perhaps the world's most authoritative proponent of the idea that physics is hurtling toward a 'final theory,' a complete explanation of nature's particles and forces that will endure as the bedrock of all science forevermore. He is also a powerful writer of prose that can illuminate--and sting...He recently received the Lewis Thomas Prize, awarded to the researcher who best embodies 'the scientist as poet.'" Both the brilliant scientist and the provocative writer are fully present in this book as Weinberg pursues his principal passions, theoretical physics and a deeper understanding of the culture, philosophy, history, and politics of science. Each of these essays, which span fifteen years, struggles in one way or another with the necessity of facing up to the discovery that the laws of nature are impersonal, with no hint of a special status for human beings. Defending the spirit of science against its cultural adversaries, these essays express a viewpoint that is reductionist, realist, and devoutly secular. Each is preceded by a new introduction that explains its provenance and, if necessary, brings it up to date. Together, they afford the general reader the unique pleasure of experiencing the superb sense, understanding, and knowledge of one of the most interesting and forceful scientific minds of our era.

Author Notes

Born in New York City, Steven Weinberg was a high school and college classmate of Sheldon Glashow; both attended the Bronx High School of Science and Cornell University. Although Weinberg has made contributions as a theoretical physicist in cosmology, quantum scattering, and the quantum theory of gravitation, he is most widely known for his work with Sheldon Glashow and Abdus Salam, with whom he shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics. Weinberg received a share of this honor for his formulation of the theory that unifies the relationship between the weak force and the electromagnetic force, including the capability to predict the weak neutral current. After receiving a Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1957, Weinberg held postdoctoral positions at Columbia University from 1957 to 1959, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory from 1959 to 1960, the University of California at Berkeley from 1960 to 1966, Harvard University from 1966 to 1967, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1967 to 1969. He is married to a law professor, and they have one daughter. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In our insouciant culture, no one looks more suspect than the defender of orthodoxy. But as a champion of rigorous science, Weinberg dares to defy the zeitgeist, throwing down the gauntlet to all the multiculturalists, religionists, feminists, and posmodernists who regard the physicist's formulas as mere cultural artifacts, hopelessly contaminated with social biases. Weinberg insists that such formulas, regardless of the cultural background of the scientists who apply them, reveal objective realities. Cogent and lucid, this collection of essays helps general readers understand both why the so-called science wars have aroused such passions within the academy and how these wars have affected sociopolitical events far beyond university campuses. Like other compilers of previously published pieces, Weinberg repeats himself (resorting to the same arguments against different foes in different contexts) and includes items of questionable relevance. But these essays generally cohere in an articulate explanation of the bedrock objectivity of science and in a forceful counterattack against those who have called that objectivity into question. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Winner of the Nobel prize for physics in 1979, Weinberg will be well known to science buffs for his book The First Three Minutes and to a wider readership for his frequent essays in the New York Review of Books. He is one of the foremost proponents of reductionism, "the explanation of a wide range of scientific principles in terms of simpler, more universal ones." He has also been a major figure in the so-called science wars, arguing against writers like Derrida and Latour who question the objective character of scientific knowledge and maintain that cultural factors influence the nature of scientific discoveries. This collection of 23 essays dating from 1985 to 2001 will probably have only limited appeal because Weinberg never ventures too far beyond a few recurring topics: reductionism, the Big Bang and inflation in the early universe, and the problems of introducing culture as a variable into science. While not a Johnny One Note, he might justifiably be called a Johannes Leitmotif; some contrasting themes, along with a wider field of references and analogies, would have made the collection much more compelling. Yet he is quite adept at explaining complex concepts clearly to the general public, as in the magisterial essay "The Great Reduction: Physics in the Twentieth Century," and those readers who do pick up the book should be sure not to miss his controversial assault on paradigm shifts, "The Non-Revolution of Thomas Kuhn." (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Anyone who has read Weinberg's essays in The New York Review of Books over the years knows that, in addition to being a superb popular expositor of science (as in books such as Dreams of A Final Theory, CH, Jul'93), the distinguished Nobel Prize physicist has not shied away from polemically treating more controversial matters as well. Not only has he written brilliantly about the Sokal hoax, but he also took on in its pages a sacred cow of postmodernism, Thomas S. Kuhn's perniciously influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which contributed significantly to the origins of that movement. Readers of those essays (and new readers as well) will be happy to have them under one cover, along with Weinberg's occasional other writings on science and education--invited talks, various articles, a commencement speech, book reviews, etc. Weinberg's writing is a joy. Difficult ideas are explained in a language that is learned, unpretentious, elegant, and persuasive all at once--it is the quality of the ideas that comes through, ideas needing no embellishing obfuscation of style. Much, much to be learned here, both by laypersons and specialists. A valuable, important book. Highly recommended. All levels. M. Schiff College of Staten Island, CUNY

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
1. Science as a Liberal Artp. 1
2. Newtonianism, Reductionism, and the Art of Congressional Testimonyp. 7
3. Newton's Dreamp. 26
4. Confronting O'Brienp. 42
5. The Heritage of Galileop. 49
6. Nature Itselfp. 57
7. The Boundaries of Scientific Knowledgep. 70
8. The Methods of Science ... and Those by Which We Livep. 83
9. Night Thoughts of a Quantum Physicistp. 93
10. Reductionism Reduxp. 107
11. Physics and Historyp. 123
12. Sokal's Hoaxp. 138
13. Science and Sokal's Hoax: An Exchangep. 155
14. Before the Big Bangp. 162
15. Zionism and Its Adversariesp. 181
16. The Red Camarop. 184
17. The Non-Revolution of Thomas Kuhnp. 187
18. T. S. Kuhn's Non-Revolution: An Exchangep. 207
19. The Great Reduction: Physics in the Twentieth Centuryp. 210
20. A Designer Universe?p. 230
21. "A Designer Universe?": An Exchangep. 243
22. Five and a Half Utopiasp. 247
23. Looking for Peace in the Science Warsp. 264
Sourcesp. 273
Indexp. 275