Friday, March 5, 2021

Emily Levesque and the Last Stargazers

This book is mislabeled. If observational astronomy is in any danger as a profession it is from overpopulation as researchers line up to use the world’s observatories. This is just a bunch of cute stories. In not one of them has a dispirited stargazer turned to another profession for lack of opportunity or (worse) from a lack of interest in a field long closed to discovery. No one is vanishing here.

The Last Stargazers: 
The Enduring Story of 
Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers
by Emily Levesque 
Source Books, 2020
Seldom do I not finish a book. Even less often do I give a negative review. I also am fully cognizant of the limitations of “the boy brain.” Men are too easily characterized by our passions for food, sex, and combat. That said, as the father of a daughter, it was too easy for me to see the girl brain at work here: I’m cute; I’m smart; Everyone likes me. I am sure that she is and we do. Halfway through, I just turned the pages until the end.


Emily Levesque has been granted awards for her ground-breaking research into red supergiant stars. She also advocated successfully to have the Physics Graduate Record Examination dropped as a basic requirement for astronomers and physicists seeking admission to graduate school. It was a stellar victory, but from my point of view 50 years late. See, The Tyranny of Testing by Banesh Hoffmann (1962), which I learned about in 1966 from Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Newsletter. 

Levesque writes well. Her modern style is close enough to literature that her neologisms do not detract from her narrative. But the narrative just stopped being interesting halfway through the book. It was recommended on an astronomy discussion board that I participate in. So, I bought it without hesitation. 


Except for the fact that their mirrors are larger, these folks only do what any amateur astronomer does: put up with cold and heat, animals and instruments, just to get a look at a star (or planet, etc.). As for the observing, amateurs also engage as radio astronomers. Photography and spectroscopy have long been tools. And we publish our results. 

The key difference there is that for amateurs on discussion boards, peer review is after the fact, whereas for an academic researcher, peer review is a form of censorship. Moreover, it so happens that in astronomy, peer review is a form of vanity press. Researchers must pay journals to publish their works—though only after the report has been approved. Levesque is silent on that.




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Cosmos: A Spacetime Travesty 

Questions about "A Brief History of Time"

Females and Women 

U.S. Patent Law Does Not Add Up 

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