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Imagined worlds : stories of scientific discovery

by Paul Andersen; Deborah Cadbury;

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by wppalmer


Authors: Paul Andersen and Deborah Cadbury

Reviewer: William P. Palmer

In their book Imagined Worlds, Paul Andersen and Deborah Cadbury give a brief account the lives and contributions to science of a number of well known scientists, who are currently active in a variety of different areas of scientific research. The scientists were all interviewed for a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) radio program. Those interviewed were Dr Tom Bower (child psychology), Dr Tom Gold (astronomy), Dr Patrick Wall (medicine), Dr Sydney Brenner (molecular biology), Professor Abdus Salam (astrophysics), Dr Walter Gilbert (biochemistry), Dr John Crook (animal behaviour), Dr Dan McKenzie (geophysics) and Professor Roger Penrose (twistor theory).

The important feature about the book is that it gives insight into the lives of some of the well known scientists of our time, explaining what interested them at school, how they started as research scientists, what theories they advanced and how they came to develop these theories. It is this explanation the creative thinking of these scientists, working in very diverse fields, that gives us a glimpse into the nature of science, as we are enabled to understand the processes of discovery better. As a former science teacher, I like to believe that science teachers are influential in many cases in inspiring their students to take up science as a career, and perhaps in being indirectly responsible for starting some scientific prodigy on their road to scientific achievement. Alas! There is very little evidence for such a theory here. About half mention that they attended school, presumably, because they were questioned about it. None of the scientists mention their science teacher by name, though two mention their teachers. In one case this is for some incorrect statements (Salam) and in the other a mention to his physics teacher for getting him to college through the `old boy network' (McKenzie), so teachers do not emerge from these recollections as being particularly influential in the lives of contemporary scientists.

It is a pity that the interviews did not include any female scientists. This omission means that the collection, the aim of which is to demonstrate science as an essentially human activity, is shown as rather less human than it should be. The reviewer has also come across a similar selection of interviews in another book (Wolpert & Richards, 1988) which includes interviews with some of the same scientists (see Palmer, 1992).

(Originally reviewed as Review of 'Imagined Worlds' & Is Science Necessary?', The Journal of the Science Teacher Association of the Northern Territory, Volume 12, pp. 102-104.)


Palmer, W.P. (1992) A Review of A Passion for Science by L. Wolpert and A Richards, The Australian Science Teachers' Journal, September, 38 (3) 72-74.

Wolpert, L. & Richards, A. (1988) A Passion for Science, Oxford University Press.

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