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Uncertain Science ... Uncertain World

  • Date Published: June 2005
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521619103


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About the Authors
  • Is the world warming due to the Greenhouse Effect? Can nuclear weapon arsenals be relied upon without periodic testing? Is the world running out of oil? What action should be taken against an outbreak of foot-and-mouth or BSE? Why can't scientists provide certain answers to these and many other questions? The uncertainty of science is puzzling. It arises when scientists have more than one answer to a problem or disagree amongst themselves. In this engaging book, Henry Pollack guides the reader through the maze of contradiction and uncertainty, acquainting them with the ways that uncertainty arises in science, how scientists accommodate and make use of uncertainty, and how in the face of uncertainty they reach their conclusions. Taking examples from recent science headlines and every day life, Uncertain Science … Uncertain World enables the reader to evaluate uncertainty from their own perspectives, and find out more about how science actually works.

    • Timely popular science book informing everyone how science works and why it is often 'uncertain'
    • Written in accessible and engaging way, taking examples from everyday life and the science headlines
    • A thoroughly good read: excellent advance praise from very influential and well-known scientists, and superb reviews of the hardback edition
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Uncertain Science … Uncertain World gives the layman an excellent inside look at how science works and flourishes even though it is immersed in uncertainty. Pollack analyses the paradox that society is unable or unwilling to address environmental problems of global scale - often under the pretence that there's not enough scientific certainty to take action - while at the same time the insurance industry and other businesses routinely hedge the risks attendant to an uncertain future. It's my hope that this very clearly written book, devoid of both polemics and equations, will be widely read by the general public and policy-makers.' Paul Crutzen, Winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for work on the ozone hole

    'Uncertain Science … Uncertain World is certain to clarify one of the most fundamental popular misconceptions about science - that it is exact and certain. Henry Pollack demolishes the mythology about certainty in science with short and clear examples of how uncertainty is both endemic to science and not a cause for paralysis or inaction. This well-written book is a welcome antidote to the misrepresentations of special interests who misuse scientific uncertainty to stall public policy and advance their own agendas.' Stephen Schneider, Stanford University and author of Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can't Afford To Lose

    'This excellent book will serve as a blast of common sense to counter two dangerous attitudes. One is the desperate search for impossible certainties in a complex world where few comprehend the meaning of probability. The other is a belief that scientists are the magicians of today who can deliver certainty by 'scientific tests'. Pollack writes with vigour and clarity about big issues such as global warming, and reading this book ought to help us become better judges when 'facts' conflict. There are few more important attributes we need for the twenty-first century.' Aubrey Manning, author of An Introduction to Animal Behaviour

    'Public policy debates are constantly getting stuck in the mire of perceptions about scientific uncertainty and risk. Yet science is no different to many other areas of human experience, in that uncertainty and risk are inevitably present. In a readable, entertaining presentation, Henry Pollack removes some of the mystery surrounding scientific uncertainty by placing it alongside examples from everyday life.' Sir John Houghton, Co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and author of Global Warming – The Complete Briefing

    'At last we have a solid, scientific look at the vexing subject of uncertainty. You may not be more certain about some subjects when you finish this book, but you'll understand why.' James Trefil, George Mason University, and author of A Scientist in the City

    'Too often, scientists fall into the quicksand of technical jargon and fail to communicate important information to the general public. In Uncertain Science … Uncertain World, Henry Pollack uses plain English and engaging examples to explore uncertainty both in science and everyday life.' Neal Lane, Professor at Rice University, former Science Advisor to President Clinton and former Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation

    '…Pollack's writing is clear, and should change the way that both policymakers and the general public evaluate scientific developments, especially those associated with global climate change.' Science and Theology News

    '… a primer in very basic thinking about probability. It should be compulsory reading for journalists - who wouldn't necessarily get to the end voluntarily.' New Scientist

    'Pollack has a pleasant style and a light touch…an informative and enlightening account of how science works in practice and how scientists learn to be at ease in an uncertain universe.' Wilson Quarterly

    'Uncertain Science … Uncertain World proves that what we don't know is a vital ingredient in science's growth.' Scientific American Book Club

    'Pollack's book is one of the best ever written on the subject of uncertainty.' Focus

    'Pollack provides a tremendous service with his clear exposition of scientific uncertainty.' EOS

    'Practising scientists and teachers would do well to peruse the book …'. The Observatory

    'This is a brilliant book: probably the best in its field since [Carl Sagan's] The Demon Haunted World … I have rarely seen public understanding of science communication explained as lucidly …' Concatenation

    'One of the strong points of this book is the author's fusion of his extensive scientific experience and broadly based professional judgment with a keen sense of intellectual propriety and of ethics - not just scientific ethics in the narrow sense, but the ethics of the use of science in support of the broader human enterprise.' Palaios

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2005
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521619103
    • length: 256 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 155 x 13 mm
    • weight: 0.36kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    About the author
    1. Setting the stage
    2. Uncertain about science
    3. Can the media help?
    4. Unfamiliarity breeds uncertainty
    5. Fever or chill?
    6. A fifty-fifty chance
    7. How does this work?
    8. Let's see what happens if...
    9. Reconstructing the past
    10. Predicting the future
    11. Out of the blue
    12. A climate of uncertainty

  • Author

    Henry N. Pollack, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
    Henry N. Pollack, is a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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