Non-Fiction Reviews

What's Science Ever Done For Us?:
What The Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Live and the Universe

(2007) Paul Halpern, Wiley, 9.99 / Can$$17.99 / US$14.95, trd pbk, pp xi + 262. ISBN 978-0-470-1-1460-5


Many take it for granted that we live in a modern global society completely underpinned by technology that springs from science. The Simpsons is a series about the lives of those in a dysfunctional family within our modern global society. It should therefore be theoretically possible to relate the latter to the former and explain what science has done through us through The Simpsons. Paul Halpern has turned this theoretical proposition into a reality.

This is not some dry text sugared with Simpson's references to ease the reading but is a short odyssey that explains the relevance of science to life and the Universe. Along the way we learn whether genetics can explain Homer's dimwittedness and Lisa's brains? We find out if toilets in North America and Australia really flush in different directions? Could we travel back in time like Homer did and find ourselves in a parallel reality? And SF loving scientists will be pleased that things like Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics are included.

What's Science Ever Done For Us? is a fun introduction to some aspects of science that will appeal to anyone curious about some common science, and indeed science fictional, notions. It obviously has extra appeal for fans of The Simpsons but will hopefully get a broader readership. I sincerely mean this. Here is an excerpt from a recent (Nov 2007) press release from Harris Interactive on one of their surveys of the US public:-

"That very large majorities of the American public believe in God, miracles, the survival of the soul after death, heaven, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Virgin Birth will come as no great surprise. What may be more surprising is that substantial minorities believe in ghosts, UFOs, witches, astrology, and reincarnation - the belief that they themselves were once another people. More than six in ten believe in hell and the devil. Overall, more people believe in the Devil, Hell and angels than believe in Darwin's theory of evolution."

Frightening huh? It is critically vital if we are to solve the global problems of the 21st century that we do have a vaguely scientifically literate public, and virtually anything that furthers achieving that goal is to be lauded. Given The Simpsons popularity let's hope that Halpern's book helps. Meanwhile my personal recommendation is that it would make an excellent Christmas or birthday gift for a youngster wondering in which subjects at school they might begin to specialise. However others too will find it engaging.

Jonathan Cowie

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