Recommended Books for Teachers|
by Douglas Allchin, SHiPS Editor
Everyone begins at a different level, perhaps. I hope you can find something appropriate from the descriptions below, crudely organized in successive levels (see also the fuller reviews for many):
I base my recommendations on my background in both science education at the secondary and college levels and my perspective as a professional historian and philosopher of science. This list is not intended to exclude volumes that others may possibly find valuable.
The beginner should first be wary of many books popularly available, even in good bookstores. Such volumes when designed to sell, may portray science in glossy pictures, overly dramatic tales or triumphant authority (or, alternatively, unbridled criticism) that many historians, philosophers and sociologists would find grossly misleading. The texture of science is probably best appreciated through concrete case studies, rather than abstract principles. Still, a good overview can alert the newcomer to significant features of science. For the very beginner, I recommend as #1 for "Nature of Science":
For other good surveys on how scientists think and work--in contrast to the mythic structures often portrayed in textbooks and the lore of science education:
- The Search for Solutions, by Horace Freeland Judson.
- This 1981 "Science Book fo the Year" uses abundant historical anecdotes to profile the process of science through such themes as "Patterns," "Change," "Models" and "Strong Predictions." The breezy, comfortable style belies the thoughtful and textured characterization of scientific thinking. You might find the pleasantly illustrated earlier edition in used book stores. An excellent video series of the same title was produced in parallel and, while not as sophisticated, offers nine good, short (18-minute) collages of images of science in action.
- How We Know, by Goldstein and Goldstein (DaCapo, 1980)
- Beginning with three extended case studies-- John Snow and cholera, heat as a substance, and the nature of schizophrenia-- the authors sketch ordinary scientific practice well, without promoting any contentious philosophical agenda.
A similar and more recent volume, with a slightly more analytical tone, is What Science Is and How It Works, by Gregory Derry (Princeton Univ. Pr., 1999). [full review ]
- The Force of Knowledge, by John Ziman (Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1976)
- This profiles many social dimensions of scientific research, with many cases and illustrations. It helps you think about science as a profession, the funding of science, science versus technology, how scientists communicate, authority within science, science and war, etc. -- thereby inviting reflection on the importance of featuring these topics in a science class.
- Reading the Book of Nature, by Peter Kosso (Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1992)
- Kosso leads you into the concerns and language of professional philosophers of science, but proceeds somewhat narratively, exposing you to successive layers of difficulties in trying to represent reality reliably. This volume is especially good for persons ready to address more nuanced issues and metaphysical arguments. [ full review ]
- Conjuring Science, by Christopher Toumey (Rutgers Univ. Pr., 1996) [full review] and
- The Flouridation Debate: Scientific Knowledge in Controversy, by Brian Martin (SUNY Univ. Pr., 1991) [full review]
- Both these books address the problem of the public understanding of science, and how it may differ from authentic science (and hence they are particularly appropriate for teachers, positioned where these two cultural worlds intersect). Both authors profile how scientific knowledge becomes transformed as it migrates from expert to lay contexts -- a transformation that is especially important for non-scientists to understand.
More challenging ideas
The notions of controlled experiments and evidence hardly exhaust the nature of reliability and authority in science.
Perhaps the most influential book in science studies in the 20th century was:
Another landmark was set by a sociological analysis:
- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1970).
- This is the source of the now popularly used term 'paradigm', which Kuhn adopted to describe a holistic ensemble of theory, questions, instrumentation and social networks among scientists. Ultimately, Kuhn argued that science does not fit the common picture of simple observations connected by logical operations and progressing by simple accumulation of facts. Rather, he said, one enters science with theoretical filters. Scientific revolutions occur when scientists replace one gestalt with another. Kuhn's work is always provocative. I recommend reading Chapter 6 first to understand what motivated Kuhn's view. [ full review ]
- Laboratory Life, by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (Princeton Univ. Pr., 1986).
- Latour, as an ethnographer, used anthropological concepts to interpret a scientific lab as an exotic "fact-finding" culture. The approach, which refers only to scientists' behavior and not to ny external reality, may prove disorienting at first. But it allows one to observe "science-in-the-making" and see how scientists decide what is fact and what is not based only on the available evidence. The reader cannot return to casual and naive realistic assumptions unaltered. Latour's "sequel", Science in Action (Princeton Univ. Pr., 1987), is both more readable and slightly more sophisticated.
- Maps Are Territories: Science is an Atlas, by David Turnbull. (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1993)
- This book may not appear challenging at first glance, with its many illustrations and "exhibit" format. But the book poses many questions about the nature of science, its cultural contexts, and the limits of any scientific theory in representing reality. [ full review ]
Surveys of the academic discourse
To enter into some of the more formal academic discussions among philosophers and sociologists of science, consider:
- Philosophy and Sociology of Science: An Introduction, by Stewart Richards (Basil Blackwell, 1987)
- This serves as a textbook for students in science studies, organizing issues in academic terms along historical disciplinary boundaries. Surveys well the topics and authors most frequently discussed by professional academics. [ full review ]
- Engaging Science, by Joseph Rouse (Cornell Univ. Pr., 1996)
- Likewise surveys approaches over the past several decades, then advocates the primacy of recent "cultural studies" perspective to interpreting science. [ full review ]
- Science Studies, by David Hess
- Appropriately subtitled "An Advanced Introduction". Erudite and informative, assuming a level of serious intent by the reader. [ full review ]
For someone well versed in the "standard" accounts of Kuhn and various sociologists, the following offer more provocative perspectives:
- Primate Visions, by Donna Haraway (Routledge, 1989)
- Delightful reading and profoundly puzzling, by the accounts of graduate students who read this. Haraway tells compelling narratives with dizzying imagery -- all towards revealing complexities of boundaries in scientific theories and practice.
- Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?, by Sandra Harding (Cornell Univ. Pr., 1991) and
- Science as Social Knowledge, by Helen Longino (Princeton Univ. Pr., 1990)
- Feminist perspectives inspired both these books. Both authors probe the problem that male-dominated science, though conducted "according to the rules," nonetheless generated biased conclusions. In some cases, gender seemed to bias the very questions that were asked. How do we interpret -- and remedy -- such apparent cultural bias?
- Science and Technology in a Multicultural Context, by David Hess (Columbia Univ. Pr., 1995)
- Explores the intersection of science and culture, from the export of Western science to nonindustrialized nations, as well as the epistemic processes of native cultures.
- The Scientific Image: From Cave to Computer, by Harry Robin (Freeman & Co., 1993)
- This is a "picture book" in the sense that Robbins presents and comments on a spectrum of scientific diagrams and pictures. Helpful for thinking about the role of the visual in scientific creativity and communication -- elements the teacher might well address.
For discipline-specific and thematic histories, consult:
- The Timetables of Science, by Alexander Hellemans and Bryan Bunch (Touchstone, 1988).
- As its name implies, this catalogs discoveries and scientific events by year. Helpful for finding when certain concepts originated and what developments were roughly cotemporaneous with them.
- Dictionary of Scientific Biography
- A trustworthy guide to the lives and works of significant (Western) scientists, used by historians themselves. This 15-volume work should be available in most public libraries.
- Encyclopedia of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, edited by Helen Selaine (Routledge, 1998)
- This is certainly the authoritative reference in this field, for which little is available with scholarly qualitifications.
- A History of the Sciences, by Stephen Mason (Collier Books, 1962)
- While out of print, this volume is still available in many used book stores. It covers all the "important" discoveries, while never implying that history of science is an inevitable march towards truth. Also out-of-print, but less accessible, is the equally fine Science: Its History and Development among the World's Cultures, by Colin Ronan (Facts-on-File, 1985), with especially good coverage of early science in non-western traditions.
- A History of Modern Science: A Guide to the Second Scientific Revolution, by Stephen Brush (Iowa State Univ. Pr., 1988)
- This is an annotated bibliography for the history of most science from 1800-1950. With a vast scope, Brush addresses specific thematic threads, highlights important works and points you to the best historical literature. [ full review ]
- Doing Biology, by Joel Hagen, Douglas Allchin and Fred Singer (Harper Collins, 1996)
- Though more episodic than comprehensive, the case studies focus on central concepts valuable for the science classroom. [ full review ]
- The Norton [Fontana] History of Chemistry, by William Brock. (W.W. Norton, 1992)
- Great Geological Controversies, by Anthony Hallam (Oxford Univ. Pr. 1990)
- Also episodic, but excellent in reviving why great debates were debates. [ full review ]
- Women of Science: Righting the Record, by G. Kass-Simon and Patricia Farnes (eds.) (Indiana Univ. Press, 1990). [ full review ]