Friday, February 03, 2006

Beware the Experts

One of the big problems I have with research is finding books that I can actually understand. The amount of times I've bought popular science books whose cover quotes promised me the text was perfect for the layperson only to belatedly realise that the quote was written by a genius-level scientist who probably considers someone with an A-level in physics to be mentally subnormal. Consequently the books are filled with equations and all kinds of technical gobbledygook that might as well be written in Klingon for all the sense I can make of them.

Alternatively, when I do manage to find a science book that's easily understandable I find that they've often played fast and loose with the facts in order to make it easier to digest. For example, whilst flicking through one book I noticed the author state with great authority that quantum decoherence is the reason that quantum weirdness is confined to the sub-atomic level and doesn't permeate the everyday world. I'm no genius but even I know that decoherence is only one of a number of theories that might explain this phenomenon. When I know more than the "expert" I start to worry. Needless to say the book went straight back on the bookstore shelf.

Even when the author knows what they're talking about they sometimes twist things to fit their own pet theories or are forced to exclude certain facts due to space limitations. So it's unwise to rely on a single book . Unfortunately, to really understand a subject takes lots of time and effort. I'm talking years of reading and studying and researching.

Which is why I normally fake it.

Just toss in a few facts in an attempt to dazzle the reader with my seemingly vast knowledge and then move the story along quickly before they have a chance to start asking awkward questions.

After all, as the saying goes, "An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less."

Of course I could find out who came up with that impressive sounding quotation but that would mean looking it up :-)

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