Steven Pinker reviews The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier, in the New York Times:
In “The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science,” Natalie Angier aims to do her part for scientific literacy. Though Angier is a regular contributor to the Science Times section of this newspaper, “The Canon” departs from the usual treatment of science by journalists, who typically cover the “news,” the finding that upsets the apple cart, rather than the consensus. Though one can understand why journalists tend to report the latest word from the front — editors’ demand for news rather than pedagogy, and the desire to show that science is a fractious human activity rather than priestly revelation — this approach doesn’t always serve a widespread understanding of science. The results of isolated experiments are more ephemeral than conclusions from literature reviews (which usually don’t fit into a press release), and the discovery-du-jour approach can whipsaw readers between contradictory claims and leave them thinking, “Whatever.”
Angier’s goals are summed up in two words in her subtitle: beautiful basics. “The Canon” presents the fundamentals of science: numbers and probability, matter and energy, the origins and structure of living things, and the natural history of our planet, solar system, galaxy and universe. These are, she judges, the basics that every educated person should master, and a prerequisite to a genuine understanding of the material in any newspaper’s science coverage.
More here. [Thanks to Robin Varghese.]