Monday, May 24, 2010

Remembering Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner, who died on Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma, may be best-known today as an author of mathematical puzzles. Yet his most important contribution to scientific literacy is an entirely and wonderfully different book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.
As its title implies, Fads and Fallacies challenges crackpots and frauds. I picked it up in my teens, when I was fascinated by rogues, eccentrics and scoundrels of all sorts, from Gilded Age financiers to flying saucer fans. Gardner wrote it in the 1950s, it made fascinating reading when I found it in the 1960s, and it remains full of important lessons for today.
One crucial lesson is to be entertaining. It's terribly easy to write worthy books full of righteous indignation, scolding fools for their foolishness and trying to lead them to scientific truth. That's the stuff of cold showers and gruel: "good for you" by someone else's definition, but not terribly appetizing.
Fads and Fallacies is fun. Gardner had wit and wasn't afraid to use it.

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The New Busy think 9 to 5 is a cute idea. Combine multiple calendars with Hotmail. Get busy.


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