28 March 2020

MYTHS LAID

Bob King. Urban Legends from Space; The Biggest Myths About Space Demystified. Page Street Publishing, 2019.

I’m not sure whether the myths and misunderstanding about space described in this book actually constitute ‘urban legends’ within the meaning of the act, but they certainly include most of the elements of misinformation about the planets and stars that you are likely to come across.
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I though at first this might have been like a book published by one of the ‘Skeptics’ organisations a few years ago, which took dedicated aim at the low-hanging fruit of crankery, rather than genuine misunderstandings. I mean “The Earth Is Flat” - how much debunking does that ‘urban myth’ need?

Well maybe more than you might think, as a sort of ‘Flat-Earth’ mentality seems to be building as part of the conspirasphere, along with moon-landing denialism and even more sinister attempts to up-end historical facts. There is a British Flat Earth Society, which gained some press publicity recently for holding their meetings at a pub called The Globe. This was in Brighton and was largely a student group, and we can all imagine what student groups in Brighton are going to be like.

Although some of the ‘urban myths’ here are unlikely to be spread by Magonia readers – no, aliens did not build a spaceport on the far side of the Moon, you will be unsurprised to lean - there are certainly many chapters which do explain astronomical phenomena which are unfamiliar to or only partially understood by the general reader. I was certainly not aware that meteorites were not red-hot when they hit the ground, or the exact way in which the Moon influenced the tides. And the phases of the Moon are rather more complicated that I thought as well.

Unlike a lot of sceptical material written for the popular market, this book has a refreshingly unpatronizing style, and is able to explain some quite complex ideas in an easily understandable manner. Even the rather obvious chapters give a good explanation of the science involved in explaining the unscientific thinking involved. The book would perhaps be a good gift for a young person developing an interest in space and astronomy, providing them with solid information and leading them away from the pitfalls of credulity.

And although there’s noting actually wrong with the chapter on UFOs, I could write a better one, because, simply by definition, UFOs are real; it's what causes them to be seen that's the important stuff! – John Rimmer.

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