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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Fall 1997

Book Reviews

Julia Gelfand
Acting Head, Research & Instruction Division
Science Library
University of California, Irvine Libraries


Image and Logic:  A Material Culture of Microphysics.  Peter Galison. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.  955 p. paperback $34.95. (ISBN 0-226-27917-0); hardbound. $90.00.  (ISBN 0-226-27916-2)
This tome of nearly 1000 pages meets its expectation as one of the most detailed descriptions of what the work of physics means in our modern society and how physicists function.  Most science today is undertaken in a very collaborative environment, with colleagues spanning different disciplines.  Society's preconceived notion that physicists are perhaps less consultative, doing their own calculations and working independently, is challenged by this book which suggests that there are many diverse cultures and subcultures abundant in the life of physics.  Not that this orientation would alarm other specialists, but it clearly is a new approach to consider when describing the daily travails of those immersed in physics. 

This monumental book has a penetrating effect, forcing the reader to think regardless of the background they bring to it, an immense amount can be learned about the controversies between scientific practices and how all the participants work together in newly defined teams and communities. 

Most people who work in the information or scientific industries today and who were trained in the disciplines of operations research, mathematics, economics and computer science and are interested in changes in scholarly communication models were likely to have been highly influenced by Thomas Kuhn and his book of lasting impression, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962+). Image & Logic  extends some of the ideas introduced by Kuhn and gives more attention to the scientific principles of physics and how the research enterprise has come to be defined.  

The author of 'Image and Logic' brings many interpretations to his reasoning, but the mainstream discussion revolves around the sociology of particle physics.  Poring over this book, devouring some of the rhetoric and constantly wondering whether it belongs on the science shelf or on the sociology shelf where a new body of literature has emerged in recent years exploring the sociology of information and scientific culture, because it crosses both streams with depth and explanation, makes the reader even more curious.  The title 'Image and Logic' suggests the intense relationships between visualization and computational understanding of data so that influences such as the computer and other laboratory resources and instruments loom large as science unveils itself. 

Each chapter enlightens a reader more about the machines of physics.     The introduction sets the pace and the subchapter on the "Context of Context" highlights and explores what is meant by the statement, "This book is a history of instruments, but it is a history that cannot remain hermetically sealed." (p. 51)  The subsequent chapters guide readers through the developments and applications of physics in the modern world - in chapters entitled, Nuclear Emulsions, Laboratory War...the Los Alamos Man, Bubble Chambers, Electronic Image, Time Projection Chambers, Monte Carlo Simulations, and Artificial Reality.  Language is very powerful throughout the book, and excellent, detailed footnotes lead readers to clearer understandings and sources of greater discussion. 

For a librarian or information scientist, Chapter 6 on the Electronic Image:  Iconclasm and the New Icons is rich and fascinating as the design process of circuits and new technologies is explained.  Reading is not described as easy with this volume, but the feeling of accomplishment and a better understanding of of the US war efforts and the role of computing in our society is certainly achieved.  It is encyclopedic in clarity and rich in ideas.  Since this reader engaged in tackling this work, it has become a source of discussion with colleagues and friends with always refreshing exchange.  One hopes that the overwhelming content and sheer size does not intimidate readers, but instead affirms the thoroughness of coverage and encourages readers to tackle it.  The outcome makes one far more knowledgeable about the impacts of modern technology and how science, particularly physics has evolved.  Other reviews have indicated that this is a work that cannot be ignored if one wants to consider alternate viewpoints about the nature of scientific knowledge and discourse. History is served very well with such a work capturing the chronology of events and noting them in this context of debate and inquiry.

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