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Physics for Future Presidents: The Science…

Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines (utgåvan 2009)

av Richard A. Muller

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
4631741,235 (3.87)4
Learn the science behind the headlines in this work that outlines the tools of terrorists, the dangers of nuclear power, and the reality of global warming.
Titel:Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines
Författare:Richard A. Muller
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 384 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek


Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines av Richard A. Muller


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While I appreciated Richard Muller's book "Physics for Future Presidents", I would no longer recommend it to others. Unfortunately, it's now become too dated. He discusses the benefits and safety of nuclear power, but since the book was written before 2011, there's no discussion of Japan's Fukushima accident. I'd say no discussion of that topic is complete today without some mention of that accident. He talks about Global Warming, but states that the hottest year on record was 1998. That record has been exceeded several times since then, as have carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere which he discusses in the book. He talks about renewable energy, but his information on solar technology and costs are no longer valid.
I think his background information is good, and the underlying science is basically unchanged, but technology changes rapidly, and I suspect that readers today, some nine years after the book was written, could be misled by some of the old information. The exception would be for physics teachers who've stayed current with today's technology, who will be able to weed out the old facts from the newer facts. I also wouldn't recommend this book in the audiobook format. There are too many references to graphs and figures, and if you're going to have to refer to a print copy, you might as well be reading the print book.
( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
REVIEW NOTES: (blog review)
From a leading scientist now off the fence about Global Warming; see an excerpt from his video lecture at http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2011/03/028625.php
  librisissimo | Apr 22, 2020 |
The science behind the headlines
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
Not a perfect book, but a must-read for politicians, activists, voters, teachers, pundits, SF writers.... It's accessible, fascinating, and sometimes even humorous. And it's truly important. Now, if you know of a similar but even better (or even newer) book, please let me know.

Meanwhile, if you have any concerns about terrorism (including the policies of Homeland Security), or energy (including climate change and pollution and the rapid growth of China and India), space (including satellites whether as spies or for popular communications), or the variety of potential nuclear applications, read this.

Muller tried very hard to be objective, but since so much of what passes for science in the popular media is propaganda, sometimes his corrections also come across as propaganda. Readers who doubt anything he explains should do their own careful research... I recommend that you don't just say I already know that such'n'so is true' but rather explore any discrepancies you think you find.

Muller developed this book from his Berkeley course on physics for non-scientists, so the material has already been vetted by those students.

I have always been a skeptic of anything claimed by people with *any* agendas, and I do have some scientific background. I'm also eager to learn something new, and almost as eager to admit I've been wrong about something. From that perspective: what I did 'already know' about the issues covered by Muller coincided with what he wrote, and what I learned from him (almost always) made perfect sense and was entirely believable. (The only exceptions were when he made claims that coal is 'cheap' in the early chapters, and not until the later chapter did he add 'unless we factor in damage to the miners, the environment, etc., and when he dismissed electric autos as a failed idea.)

So, the rest of the review will be gleaned from my book darts and will be written as if we've established the impeccable objectivity and expertise of the author.

1. The quote that provides a focal point for the book is one we know from Mark Twain: The trouble with most folks isn't their ignorance. It's knowin' so many things that ain't so. "Ironically, this quote isn't even from Twain -- as if to illustrate the aphorism itself. The quote is correctly attributed to Josh Billings, a nineteenth-century humorist."

2. After letting the reader know that the base rate of cancer in an average population is 20%, meaning that "we already have about a 20% chance of dying of cancer, even if exposed to no human-created radiation. Nobody knows why," Muller discusses Chernobyl:

"Was the evacuation of the Chernobyl region wise?... Imagine that unless you left,..your cancer risk [would increase] from 20% to 21.8% If given that choice, would you give up your home in order to avoid that increase?.... This is not a physics question... wise leaders have to make the hard decisions."

3. Two entirely different bombs destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The former was destroyed by a Plutonium bomb, for which the materials are accessible, but the design & technology to build is well-beyond the reach of terrorist groups and developing nations. The latter was a Uranium bomb, the one that the exemplary 'high school student' can supposedly build, but for which the fuel is well-nigh unavailable. The biggest danger from an 'atom bomb' is that bad guys will buy a ready-made one, 'perhaps from a disgruntled warehouse worker in Russia.'

4. "[I]f the Yucca Mountain facility were at full capacity and all the waste leaked out ... immediately and managed to reach groundwater, the danger would still be 20 times less that that currently posed by natural uranium leaching into the Colorado River. The situation brings to mind the resident near Three Mile Island who feared the tiny leakage from the reactor but not the much greater radioactivity of natural radon gas seeping up from the ground."

Read that again. Note the absurdity of the fallacy of thinking that 'natural = good." Note the "20 times less. Note the word "radon" and try to remember if your home has been tested: http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/hmbyguid.html. Note that the Colorado River serves a lot of ppl, including Los Angeles. Don't panic - understand the need to put scary information into perspective.

5. I like the quote introducing the chapter on space. If you're not already playing the videogame Kerbal Space Program, or already a physicist, you probably don't quite understand orbital mechanics. I know I understand it better after reading "Being in orbit is like being infatuated -- you are constantly falling, but you aren't getting closer." (Apparently an aphorism, as there's no attribution in the book nor can I find any online.)

6. "It takes 25 times as much energy to get into orbit as to merely reach a 60 mile altitude." That means that the accomplishments of the winner of the "X Prize" and its 'astronauts' were relatively trivial, and private enterprise is still a long ways from actual space travel.

7. Isaac Newton's 'apple moment' was not a discovery of gravity, but a better understanding of it. He suddenly realized that 'the physics of the Mood was the same as that of a falling apple."

8. Satellites are diverse. LEO (low earth orbit) fly close enough to see large details of the surface, but they fly by at 5 miles per second. Geostationary and geosynchronous satellites are not the same thing, and they are up 22K miles. (Remember, the winner of the X Prize only had to achieve 60 miles). The 24 GPS satellites are at MEO, about 12K, orbiting the Earth every 12 hours.

9. "A world-class sprinter can do the 40-meter dash in 4.4 seconds... about 40% of a g.

10. Fossil fuels are not in imminent danger of being depleted, but we should decrease our reliance upon them. Not mentioned in the book is fracking - but I hope you already know how awful this is. Muller does point out that "About half of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels winds up in the ocean... The acidification of the oceans may be a bigger danger to the ecosphere than a few degrees of additional warmth."

11. One bit interested readers will definitely want to investigate the section that ends "Who killed the electric car? Expensive batteries did." My brother, who lives in the metro area just south of San Francisco, just bought an electric car.... Hmm.... In fact, this is part of his chapter titled 'Nonsolutions." Upon reading each bit, I'm not convinced that the title doesn't exaggerate. These are 'less than ideal solutions" (to the twinned problems of energy and global warming, which Muller differentiates but I don't.)

12. Muller's (and my) favorite solution is conservation. This is not low-hanging fruit; this is an example of "fruit on the ground." As Amory Lovins puts it, " Energy efficiency isn't just a free lunch; it's a lunch you are paid to eat." Autos can be made both lighter and safer. Hybrid is no longer a derogatory term - there was even a hybrid Lexus by 2008. Refrigerators, since their kwh/year usage was made available to shoppers doing comparisons, have become sufficiently more efficient, (and affordable) that we've avoided the need to build 23 big new power plants.

13. Fossil fuels are not only bad for the local environment, and bad for climate change. but they are much more likely to enable warmongers to wreak real havoc than are the industries that contribute to nuclear power plants. An interested reader will have to read the whole book fairly carefully to fully understand that this has been true for seven decades, but even if you're still fearful of bs like 'China Syndrome' please read about the new kinds of nuclear power plants. I am convinced that "pebble bed nuclear reactors" should be adopted more widely. They have already been in use in Germany and attempts have been made elsewhere - but naive & confused concerned citizens have blocked their development.

14. Don't reveal your ignorance by mocking the 'duck and cover' drills of the Cold War. Your school desk was never intended to protect you from radiation. It would help to protect you from the effects of flying debris from the shockwave... this blast radius is many miles long.

I could go on, but I sincerely recommend you read this yourself.

If you're still not sure you want to read the whole book, at least look at the images on p. 256-7, especially the cover of "Amazing Stories" (Hugo Gernsback's "scientifiction" magazine) from the 1950s, showing a glacier invading NYC. And read the 5 end of section summaries, especially (imo) the one for 'global warming.'

" ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
This book covers a variety of topics that include physics and are relevant to politics. Topics included global warming, nuclear power, atomic weapons, conservation, and spying technology. The author appear scientifically knowledgeable and also insightful into the issues. I found the book interesting. ( )
  GlennBell | Sep 16, 2015 |
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Richard A. Mullerprimär författarealla utgåvorberäknat
Úbeda, VíctorÖversättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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Learn the science behind the headlines in this work that outlines the tools of terrorists, the dangers of nuclear power, and the reality of global warming.

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