Timothy Ferris is Emeritus Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His latest book, The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature, was published in February. (March 2010)

A Hero of Science, After All

Frank Oppenheimer with a gyroscope at Pagosa Springs High School, where he taught in the late 1950s
The physicist Frank Oppenheimer is remembered today, insofar as he is remembered at all, as the younger brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project scientists who built the atomic bomb. Some also recall that Frank was drummed out of academic life for lying about whether he had …

Stumbling into Space

Dreamed up as a kind of hangover cure in the days following the Apollo lunar missions, when the NASA budget was shrinking from over 4 percent of the federal budget to its current level of under 1 percent, the space shuttle was sold to Congress as a cost-effective way of putting humans and satellites in orbit. Taken in by NASA hype, President Nixon assured the nation that “a space vehicle that can shuttle repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back…will revolutionize transportation into near space, by routinizing it,” and President Reagan declared, following three test flights of the first space shuttle, Columbia, that shuttles were now “ready to provide economical and routine access to space.” This was sheer fantasy, as NASA was in a position to know and ought to have admitted.

The Gentleman Scientist

Amateurs used to make significant contributions to scientific research—as they still do, in astronomy at least—but generally speaking, their roles got small once the sciences got big. This is particularly true for physics, the hardest-core of all the “hard” sciences. Physics had become almost exclusively professional by the dawn of …

Some Like It Hot

In the sky at dusk some midsummer evenings one could see two lights that evoked distinct lines of thought about the American space program and its uncertain future—Mars, rust-red and unblinking, suspended low in the southwest, and the Mir space station, a white dot that could be seen gliding overhead …

On the Edge of Chaos

The spectacular success of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, a shard of the true cross that has sold more than five million copies since its publication in 1988, touched off a speculative frenzy among book publishers suddenly willing to back just about any scientist-author who might duplicate Hawking’s …

The Case Against Science

Bertrand Russell concluded his 1933 book The Scientific Outlook with a chapter warning what life might be like in “the world which would result if scientific technique were to rule unchecked.” Many of Russell’s prophecies sound quaint today: He feared the establishment of a world government that forbade the public …