Reviews for Physics on the Fringe : Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything

Booklist Reviews 2011 October #2
Australian science writer Wertheim has an unusual hobby that she freely admits most physicists would wince at. On her office shelves, Wertheim has amassed dozens of manuscripts from fringe engineers and mathematicians touting alternative theories of matter that sharply diverge from those endorsed by mainstream science. In this informative, often witty overview of "outsider physicists," Wertheim offers an extended rumination on the role such amateur theorists play in science's public acceptance. Readers are shown visions of a universe immersed in ether (an abandoned nineteenth-century concept), one that contracts rather than expands, and one that eliminates field theory but embraces a twisted version of quantum mechanics. The crown jewel in her menagerie of eccentric visionaries, however, is James Carter, a do-it-yourself mechanic whose theory of everything has been percolating for five decades. Insisting that physics should be comprehensible to the layman, Carter's theory features a donut-shaped particle as matter's fundamental building block. Yet far from belittling Carter, Wertheim uses his inspiring example as a potent reminder that today's cranks may be deemed tomorrow's geniuses. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2012 August
This book defies accepted science. It is largely a story of Jim Carter, a layperson who has put forward an alternate theory to the physical universe, using his model of elementary structures called "circlons." One aspect of the theory leads to Carter's suggestion that there is no need for Newton's gravitational force. Instead this natural force can be explained by a constantly expanding Earth. It brings to mind a comment made by physics professor Alan Sokal (NYU): "Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. I live on the twenty-first floor." Wertheim is a science writer (e.g., The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, CH, Oct'99, 37-0982) who ventured to explore the world of alternate theories and the people behind them. The linchpins of a successful theory are falsifiability and predictability, and the theory must correspond to observation. By these tokens, alternate explanations for the physical universe as described in this book fall short of making sense. Wertheim writes a story with details that remain sketchy. The book includes numerous photographs of Carter and his models. Unfortunately, the story remains fanciful and not well told, at that. Summing Up: Not recommended. Not Recommended. N. Sadanand Central Connecticut State University Copyright 2012 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 August #2

Maverick science writer Wertheim (A Field Guide to Hyperbolic Space, 2005, etc.) challenges the right of the scientific establishment to lay claim to the position of gatekeepers of truth.

After receiving an undergraduate degree in physics, the author pursued a career as a journalist, writing a column on science for three fashion magazines including Vogue Australia. At that time, she began following the work of outliers in the field, and in 1994 she discovered Jim Carter, a central figure in this book. She admires his commitment to describe physics in terms a layman can comprehend without knowledge of higher mathematics. Carter rejects the theories of Newton, Faraday, Maxwell and Einstein, as well as quantum theory, in favor of his own view of the universe. Wertheim describes his theory that in this universe, "all matter and energy are explained by the mechanics of subatomic particles each one shaped like a circle of coiled spring." She compares his down-to-earth approach to physics with that of Richard Feynman when he demonstrated the brittleness of O-rings under freezing conditions. The author explains that she decided to write this book about "outsider physicists," whose work is off the beaten track, after attending a 2003 conference of mainstream physicists sponsored by the Institute of Theoretical Physics on the "bizarre, magical worlds" proposed by various String Theories. She contrasts this with a 2010 meeting sponsored by the Natural Philosophy Alliance—a group that offers fringe scientists an online platform where they can publish—attended by "dissident researchers" from around the world who presented more than 120 hotly debated papers—their own version of peer review.

Although her enthusiasm for alternate science is controversial, Wertheim raises an important question with broader ramifications: Since "anyone can publish a theory of physics online, what can be, or will be, or should be, our criteria for credibility in this field?"


Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2011 September #2

What does it mean to be a scientific outsider and question contemporary paradigms? Wertheim (Pythagoras' Trousers; The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace) describes the historical background of several nontraditional ideas in this collection of outsider theories in physics, focusing on Jim Carter, creator of the Absolute Motion Institute, in the book's middle section. Rather than an expos, the book is an objective, compassionate look at those on the fringe--individuals with unconventional and potentially revolutionary ideas about the nature of the universe that challenge the status quo. The text's final section discusses the broader implications of the insular culture of theoretical science. Wertheim covers new ground in this treatment of how science is communicated and what it means for scientific ideas that aren't part of the discussion. Her previous work provides the best comparison with this one, as well as older historical works such as August De Morgan's A Budget of Paradoxes. VERDICT Both conversational and easy to read, this is an accessible guide to the world of the weird, although a bit long in the middle section and brief in the final. Both practicing and casual scientists will find value in the content. [See Prepub Alert, 4/25/11.]--Elizabeth Brown, Binghamton Univ. Libs., NY

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 August #2

With insight, wit, and warmth, Wertheim (Pythagoras' Trousers) offers a look into the hearts and minds of the "outsider" physicists: solitary figures who, usually with little or no formal training, strive to explain our world. Wertheim builds the book around the affable Jim Carter, explorer, self-taught physicist, trailer park owner, and proponent of circlon synchronicity, with atoms shaped like tiny circles of coiled spring. Carter is one of thousands of outsider theorists with their own books and papers often patterned " an abundant use of CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation points!!!" Those included in this special breed of scientist feel alienated by accepted physics, from gravity to the space-time continuum. Often their work recreates or builds upon concepts proposed and discarded hundreds of years ago. A chapter is dedicated to A Budget of Paradoxes, a collection of alternative science theories compiled in the 18th century by mathematician Augustus De Morgan. NASA's brief Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project even hoped to exploit outsider ideas, whereas the complex wonderland of mainstream string theories seems to echo the work of fringe theorists. Readers may hope for a deeper look into outsider theories past and present, but this sympathetic portrayal of one outsider's work offers an entry point into a fascinating corner of pseudoscience. (Nov.)

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