Bad Astronomy, 1

I’m currently reading through the eponymous book by the popular ‘Bad Astronomy’ blogger Phil Plait, now posting regularly at Slate.com, where he celebrates scientific breakthroughs and criticizes anti-science movements (anti-vaxxers, state-sanctioned teaching of creationism, etc.). His first book, which I’ll review more fully once I finish it, explores various misconceptions about astronomy (thus the title), from ideas about the tides to the illusion of the moon’s size near the horizon, to the moon landing ‘hoax’, to top examples of bad astronomy in Hollywood pictures.

Some of these, e.g. the moon illusion, I’m familiar with since my earliest reading — e.g. Martin Gardner’s Science Puzzlers, which I must have bought at a book fair in the 7th grade.

Which is to say, an underlying theme of this book, and of that old book, is how human intuition and perception can be misleading. (And thus one of my provisional conclusions.) A paragraph from Plait, page 86:

My point here is that often our perceptions conflict with reality. Usually reality knows what it is doing and it’s we, ourselves, who are wrong. In a sense, that’s not just the point of this chapter but indeed this whole book. Maybe we should always keep that thought in mind.

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