News

March 2012

- Physics on the Fringe is reviewed in The New York Review of Books, by physicist Freeman Dyson from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Dyson writes:

 "Margaret Wertheim's book discusses her encounters with natural philosophers. She is interested in them as characters in a human tragedy, with the seriousness and dignity that tragedy imposes.

Dyson's poetic and sympathetic piece discusses his own encounters with two physics dissidents, Sir Arthur Eddington and Immanuel Velikovsky. Eddington, an insider for much of his life - he is the physicist who led the expedition that made the first observational verifications of general relativity - spent his later years championing a wild idea he called "Fundamental Theory." Velikovsky was always an outsider who became famous in the 1950's for a notion of cosmic history he articulated in the best-selling book Worlds in Collision. Dyson, himself one of the great physicists of the later 20th century, knew both men and comments thusly on them:

"Why do I so highly value the memory of Eddington and Velikovsky, and why does Margaret Wertheim treasure the memory of Willaim Thomson and Jim Carter? We honor them because science is only a small part of human capability. We gain knowledge of our place in the universe not only from science but also from history, art, and literature... The mythologies of Carter and Velikovsky fail to be science but they are works of high imagining."

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- This month Physics on the Fringe is also released in Australia, where it has been reviewed in the Melbourne newspaper The Age. 

"After reading this stimulating book, I might be tempted at least to open the next offbeat email or tatty envelope that comes my way," writes reviewer Peter Spink.

February 2012.

- Physics on the Fringe has been reviewed in a thoughtful piece in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of American Scientist,  penned by Princeton historian of science Michael Gordin. Gordin writes:

"[Wertheim] wants us to take these “outsider physicists” seriously, not as a kooky cultural phenomenon, but as people actually doing science in a way that demands as much attention from mainstream science as folk art now claims from the elite art community. The analogy with art is a touchstone for Wertheim. Her attraction to these theories is at root deeply aesthetic. She is fondest of those fringe physicists who have an eye for the catching illustration or the beautiful color scheme, and she has curated the work of one of them, Jim Carter, for an art gallery and also made a documentary film about him...Wertheim really likes Carter. And, reading this at times beautifully written book, we like him too, and we like her for liking him." 

- In the Winter 2011/2012 issue of Cabinet magazine, Margaret has a piece about Jim Carter's theory of cosmic creation. The article is part of an issue focused around the theme of The Day. The essay looks at Carter's Fourth Day of creation. See pdf here.

- The month the book is also reviewed on Book Forum's website, by scence journalist Lizzie Wade. "Wertheim approaches these 'outsider physicists' with sincerity and generosity," she writes.

- In February, Margaret also spoke about the book and her encounters with the physics fringe on Michio Kaku's program on the Talk Radio Network.

 

- The 2011 Christmas issue of New Scientist contains an Opinion Piece I wrote about fringe physicists and why those of us who love science should care about this burgeoning resistance to mainstream physics.

 

- The Baltimore Sun has also run a review, by Rebecca Oppenheimer, recommending the book as good holiday reading:

"Physics on the Fringe" is a portrait of the contemporary community of outsider physicists, but it is also a work of history and philosophy. Wertheim shows that there always have been passionate amateurs storming the gates of mainstream science, and she considers the profound need these outsiders have to define the world on their own terms."

 

- On December 16 physicist Peter Woit posted a long, thoughtful essay about Physics on the Fringe, on his blog Not Even Wrong. Woit's own book, also titled Not Even Wrong, is a critique of string theory that was influential in my own thinking about this subject.

Woit calls Physics on the Fringe "a very thought provoking book". His essay concludes:

"I think this is an important book, one which raises in an interesting way fundamental issues about how people think about and conduct research into fundamental theoretical physics. We’re at an unusual point in the history of the subject, one where the foundations of how this kind of science has traditionally been done are being questioned. Wertheim’s contribution to this questioning is worth paying attention to."

 

December 10, 2011.

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-The Wall Street Journal has published a wonderful review of Physics on the Fringe. Written by Michael Shermer, celebrated science author and founder of the Skeptics Society, the piece is a powerful, sympathetic account of the book.

“With the patience of Job,  (Ms Wertheim) has undertaken the task of carefully reading as many ‘theories of everything’ as she could get her hands on.  In ‘Physics on the Fringe’ she takes us on a tour of ‘outsider’ ideas and with an eye toward challenging our preconceptions of what science is, how it works, and what it is for.  As you’d expect, the book is entertaining—even laugh-out-loud funny in places—but it’s equally enlightening.  In an elegant narrative Ms. Wertheim has taken on one of the knottiest conundrums in the philosophy of science, the demarcation problem—that is, how to find criteria to define the boundary between science and pseudoscience."

The piece ends: “In the meantime, let’s not dismiss outsiders before giving them their day in court, as Ms. Wertheim has done in this splendid book.”

- On Sunday December 11, Margaret will be giving a talk about the book at the Skeptics Society at Caltech. Location: The Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech, 2pm.

 

 

- The current issue of The American Scholar (Winter 2012) contains a marvelous review of Physics on the Fringe by writer Sam Kean. Kean's extensive piece looks at two books, Physics on the Fringe, and The Infinity Puzzle by Frank Close. The latter is an account of the lives and work of physicists over the past half century who have been attempting to resolve major mathematical problems in theories such as quantum mechanics. Kean perceptively contrasts the different kinds of frustrations faced by outsiders and insiders, and ends by sympathizing openly with both sides.

"In the end, both books left me feeling pangs, but different pangs," he writes. "Scientists have built multi-billion-dollar particle accelerators to probe the limits of field theory, but many thousands of physicists working at accelerators have, sadly, become technical bureaucrats, with little autonomy or independence. However misguided, the characters in Physics on the Fringe are their own men, doing their own work, like Newton and Faraday, and other past heroes. In some ways, Wertheim's book is a a paean to small science."

Kean himself is the author of the entertaining book The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements.

- In The Chronicle of Higher Education, science writer John Horgan has written an insightful essay about Physics on the Fringe and science outsiders. An "entertaining and philosophically provocative new book" Horgan declares.                                                                    [See previous post for text of full review.]

- Physics on the Fringe has also been sited on one of our favorite websites, HiLo-Brow.