© Norman Sperling, February 13, 2011
A big antiquarian book fair was just held in San Francisco. It seems that books are not going out of style, and old books keep climbing in value.
You probably know famous old Science books from recent paperback nth-editions. You know how important the authors, and the books, were. You may even have read the books.
That would tell you what an author said ... but not with the same impression that the original book gave to its original readers. The real first edition is different.
It's clothbound, not paperback. It's a quality production job that feels substantial. The first edition's cover and frontispiece don't depict the author full of age and honor and glory, because he wasn't yet. When the first edition got to the readers, the author was rather young, no hero, not particularly well known, and hadn't been glorified at all. And the book therefore looks like it: the author's name is not as big and bold as the title. The subtitle plays an important persuasive role.
When important Science books get published, the authors are full of hope, but the publishers, who have actual money at risk, are full of fear. So most first editions have short press runs to reduce the risk of warehousing unsold leftovers. Therefore, with such a tiny supply of first editions, if a book becomes famous, demand can drive prices very high. I've been collecting old Science books for decades but only have a few important first editions.
Compare first editions to later editions. By the time those were printed, the authors and publishers knew that they'd sell a lot, so the press runs were much longer. The persuasive roles of the binding, the title, the subtitle, the author's name, and the frontispiece, all changed from the first edition. Of course the contents are updated and enriched, too.
Demand can continue for decades after the book is out-of-date, and even after the author dies. Degenerate late editions look different, and may persist as volumes in big series of "important books", with muddier and muddier type as the years drag on. Publishers of even-later paperbacks assume you already know the contents are important. The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, illustrates this with a long shelf with over 100 editions of Darwin's On The Origin of Species.
If you're interested in an old Science book mostly for its contents, a reprint or a low-price late edition serves perfectly well. The bulk of my library is that way. But the originals certainly tell a different story!
© Norman Sperling, February 6, 2011
Thanks to Dennis Normile, the Science Insider of Science Magazine, we've learned that last week's flap over satellite-catching nets began with mistranslation and ballooned as journalists and bloggers skipped fact-checking and blundered directly into copying and embroidery.
As far as I know, space nets have not yet been tried. I think they ought to be.
© Norman Sperling, February 1, 2011
An amateur astronomer, systematically classifying observations from a massive professional survey, noticed something that, at first glance, looked very odd. Further examination confirmed that it is definitely odd. She reported it to the astronomers leading the program, who confirmed all that. Now, the Hubble Space Telescope has taken a much sharper image of the object. It is odd indeed.
Relayed from Jay Diamond, slightly enriched by Norman Sperling, January 27, 2011
Homeopathy is a popular but widely misunderstood form of alternative "medicine" based on pseudo-scientific principles. Homeopathic "remedies" are allegedly made by diluting questionable remedies with extraordinary amounts of water - often until there is only a slight chance of one molecule of active ingredient in the final treatment.
Extraordinary claims are causing consumers to forego traditional medical treatment, with estimates of Americans spending >$3B per year on this pseudoscience.
Stand up for rational thinking and scientific evidence. For more on the 10:23 campaign or homeopathy see http://1023.org.uk .
Why 10:23? Think Avogadro's Number. After the event, go to Trader Joe's and enjoy their delicious "Avocado's Number Guacamole".
San Francisco, February 5
You are invited to join like-minded skeptics in San Francisco on Saturday morning, February 5, to take part in the worldwide 10:23 campaign to raise awareness on this issue. Demonstrate, supply information, and perform a mass "overdose" to garner attention for this cause.