Special thanks to Brian Clegg for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Science for Life: A manual for better living
Born in Rochdale, Lancashire, UK, Brian attended the Manchester Grammar School, then read Natural Sciences (specializing in experimental physics) at Cambridge University. After graduating, he spent a year at Lancaster University where he gained a second MA in Operational Research, a discipline developed during the Second World War to apply mathematics and probability to warfare and since widely applied to business problem solving. Brian now concentrates on writing popular science books, with topics ranging from infinity to ‘how to build a time machine.’ He has also written regular columns, features and reviews for numerous magazines and newspapers, including Nature, BBC History, Good Housekeeping, The Times, The Observer, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal and Physics World. – Adapted from Brian’s Homepage
#1 – What was the impetus for Science for Life?
In part being fed up of the flow of contradictory information in the media – and the way they often drew attention to bad science, and in part because I thought it would be fun to explore the science that really had a direct impact on everyday life. Often popular science involves writing about fairly abstract concepts that may be fascinating, but it’s hard to tie into everyday life – here there was a chance to really take a look at what has an impact.
#2 – With so much information packed into the book, who have you written this book for?
It would always be nice to think that your book appeals to everyone, but often that’s not the case. However, I genuinely think it is the case here. It’s for anyone who reads the latest news on coffee or red wine or whatever and thinks ‘I’ve had enough. Just give me a straight answer.’ Also, although you can do so, it was never intended as a book to read through from end to end, so having a wide range of information was important to cover as many different concerns as possible. It couldn’t be comprehensive, but I hope it was a good set.
#3 – With so many facts in the book, how did you do your research for it? What was the most surprising finding in the book for you?
I was certainly surprised by the suggestion (admittedly contested) that nicotine of itself is not addictive, but rather is in combination with other chemicals in tobacco. And as someone who has always found the ritual of exercise ridiculous I was surprised but delighted to discover that static stretching as a warmup was not only useless, but made things worse. But I think my favourite shocker was the drinkable sunscreen that several newspapers covered as if it had some possible scientific basis – it really brought home how and why the media can be so poor at reporting science that as a direct influence on everyday lives.
#4 – Science changes so quickly, as does the science that is relevant to our lives. How long do you think the information in the book will stay relevant for?
The information available is always improving, though changes don’t really occur as frequently as people think, as often what is being reported is the outcome of a single study which doesn’t necessarily change the scientific consensus. So we will be updating the book in future editions. To help with this, and for readers to keep up to date I also have a website www.scienceforlife.info where I add updates and new information on a regular basis.
#5 – Are you working on any other projects/books that you can tell us about?
I have two books in the pipeline for later this year. The first, Ten Billion Tomorrows, is about the interface between science and science fiction – how each has influenced the other, although the reality is often very different from the fictional idea. The second is How Many Moons Does the Earth Have, which is a science quiz book, featuring questions that I hope will be intriguing and entertaining. It can be used to run an actual quiz, but it also designed so you can read it through, challenge yourself on a question and then not only get the answer but also a page with more information. I’m hoping it’ll prove a popular gift around the end of the year!