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Education Math Science

Science Luminary Martin Gardner Dead at 95 96

From James Randi's blog comes word that science writer Martin Gardner has died at the age of 95. I never met Gardner, but one of his books (Entertaining Science Experiments With Everyday Objects) has been a favorite of mine since I was 6 or 7 years old; I didn't realize until just now quite how many books he authored.
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Science Luminary Martin Gardner Dead at 95

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  • Adieu, Martin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ridgecritter ( 934252 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:16PM (#32310444)
    His pages in Scientific American were something I always looked forward to, and from which I always learned something. Glad he was among us.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:22PM (#32310488)

    I want to speak for the entire geek community, so I'm posting A.C.

    Martin, you will be dearly missed. You've probably changed more lives than you could ever realize, and this planet was a better place because you existed.

    Requiescat in pace.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:26PM (#32310520)

    It's guys like Martin that provided some balance against mindless idiots like those on the Texas education boards.

    Let's hope there's a thousand more Martins out there. Surely he would hope the same.


  • by gorrepati ( 866378 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:55PM (#32310726) Homepage
    He is a man to whom scores of people thank for igniting the first spark of appreciating math and science. He will be terribly missed.
  • Re:Adieu, Martin (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @10:01PM (#32310754)

    Martin's SciAm column rocked. I used to read it back in the late 60's and all through the 70's. He nearly singlehandedly inspired popular interest in mathematics in the United States during that era.

    Hey, it beats the shit out of playing another round of Modern Warfare, which is what damn near every kid these days spends his free time doing. I enjoy computer games, but I also fear what mass consumption of them will do to our children and our culture's ability to achieve scientific results.

  • by Shimmer ( 3036 ) <brianberns@gmail.com> on Saturday May 22, 2010 @10:29PM (#32310850) Homepage Journal

    In the 1970s and early 80s, before the internet, before personal computers, nothing linked geeks together more than Martin Gardner's monthly column in Scientific American. I amazed myself with his binary card deck, and collected matchboxes to make a tic-tac-toe learning computer.

    His work will live on. I'm sitting next to a shelf full of his books as I type this.

  • by belochitski ( 148176 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @11:04PM (#32311006)

    >He was of the idea that there is no way to prove the non-existence of god

    This is, in fact, correct. In natural sciences it is only possible to show that something does exist. It is not possible to prove non-existatnce. (It is not the case in mathematics, but mathematics is not a natural science).

    The easiest way to understand it is to realize that the body observations available to science was taken in a limited period of time and area of space. Thus the our current scientific view of the world is only formally valid in this limited domain. What exist outside of it is only our educated guess.

  • Re:Adieu, Martin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dbg1000 ( 1817578 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @11:12PM (#32311028)
    This great quote sums it up for me and my son:

    "Martin Gardner has turned dozens of innocent youngsters into math professors, and thousands of math professors into innocent youngsters."

    From "Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems," attributed to Persi Diaconis
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @11:55PM (#32311202)

    I always thought it was weird that Gardner defended theism, but to say that he was a crackpot because of this one belief despite the many contributions he has made in promoting math, science and skepticism is absurd. A man isn't measured by one mistake he makes. I'm sure your pencils have no erasers, so we can't call you stupid and weak and say good riddance when you die.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:40AM (#32311428)
    To be perfectly honest, atheism is hurt more by the attitude that leads you to take a dump on a guy who taught so many people about science and mathematics. So he was a theist? Who cares? I had no idea about his views either way reading his books, and it doesn't matter to me. Sounds like you have some single-issue myopia.
  • by GNUALMAFUERTE ( 697061 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <etreufamla>> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @01:19AM (#32311640)

    Well, that's what Theists do!

    They do not believe in 99.9999% of the gods out there, except for one god, the one in their own religion. So, by your definition, catholics are skeptics, because they do not believe in buddha, reincarnation, aliens, xenu, and mohammad?

    He had his own set of irrational believes, and disregarded other people's irrational believes as stupid. Just like the rest of theists. Get yourself an alchemist, a catholic priest, a jew, and a spoon-bender and they'll all tell you that they don't believe in a lot of stuff. That doesn't make them skeptics or rational humans. They are just defending their own believes, and disregarding others.

    Same thing for this guy.

    In order to be a rational human being you must NOT believe in ANYTHING. You can have a reasonable confidence in something due to experimentation and analysis on the subject. If you have faith in something, without any facts that support that idea, and a lot of facts against it, then you are not a rational human being, even if you happen to disregard a lot of other ideas. You can't believe in everything, that doesn't make you an skeptic.

  • by WNight ( 23683 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @08:23AM (#32313290) Homepage

    In order to be a rational human being you must NOT believe in ANYTHING.

    OK. I will take your advice. That means that I don't believe in that, either. Now what do I do?

    Think, about it, before acting. Like with everything else.

    Trying to argue the existence or non-existence of God via logic is pointless.

    Not to those who get it. To them it's the red-pill.

    But how would you go about it?

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @09:11AM (#32313556) Homepage Journal

    And if we all switched to organic, large portions of the human population would starve, as we couldn't possibly produce as much food as cheaply to feed everyone.

    Wait a minute, people would starve because we can't feed them cheaply? This is bullshit. Organic wouldn't be the reason people would starve, corporate greed would be. Further, all we have to do to have enough fertilizer for organic food production for all citizens would be to stop piping our shit off to sewage "treatment plants" and shit in a composting toilet instead. Sewage sludge is not a safe fertilizer; composted shit is. The Green Revolution fed nobody who would have otherwise starved, and there are numerous methods of organic farming which produce more food per acre than so-called Green Revolution methods. Today, most farming doesn't even utilize crop rotation; we're not using even the most basic technologies of farming.

  • changed my life... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aminzade ( 799206 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @01:38PM (#32315390)
    This is a long posting, a copy of the one I just put up on randi.org. It wasn't supposed to be long, but it turned out that way. Just a way to remember how important Martin Gardner was not just to science and math popularization, but to the sceptic movement as well.

    I never met Martin Gardner, but he certainly touched my life. In the late 1970s a girlfriend of mine gave me a copy of "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science." She was given a copy but didn't want to read it.

    I was not exactly a person who was ready to embrace a message scepticism. The book was mostly written before I was born. I was a hippie, a 20-something working in a natural food store, deeply distrustful of any authority and critical of what I thought of as authority-based science. My life revolved around Macrobiotics, acupuncture, Rolfing, herbalism, est, Primal Scream Therapy, foot reflexology, a syncretic hash of Eastern religions and pretty much every other new age technique that flew in over the transom. I was a pioneering subscriber to "New Age Journal," a publication that introduced the world to Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra.

    I was angry when Gardner criticised the things I believed in, but fascinated and amused by the foolishness [b]other [/b] people believed in. I've heard Gardner quoted as saying "..oddly enough, most of [my critics] objected to one chapter only, thinking all the others excellent..." and that pretty much captures my reaction to the book.

    I vividly remembered my amazement on reading the chapter on Rhine's ESP studies (a subject that had fascinated in my adolescence). It's been over 30 years since I've seen the book, and I may be conflating it with other books I've since read, but I recall a comparison of ESP results obtained by "sheep" (believers in ESP) and "goats" (nonbelievers), and just how resistant the "sheep/goat" effects were to attempts to blind the studies. This was a revelation,and marked the beginning of a self examination that continues to this day.

    I had been drawn to New Age activities because of a deep skepticism of authority figures. Science had been taught to me almost like a religion. I thought it was a set of beliefs, handed down as truth by an older generation that had brought us a war in Vietnam, Racism, sexism, environmental disaster and a host of other evils. Garner set me on the path to discovering what science really is. I began to see that in fact its foundation was the very kind of skepticism that led me to all those New-Age practices, that in fact the scientific method supports a much deeper skepticism that allowed me to question my own cognitive biases. He gave me the courage to follow the evidence even when it conflicted with my firmest beliefs. This has served me well in my life and my careers.

    Earlier that decade I had witnessed as a fellow natural-food buff died of cancer while dosing himself with bitter almonds (then though to be a "natural" version of Laetrile, a supposed cancer cure) refusing conventional treatment that might have extended his life. He left behind a wife and child. Watching him get worse and worse as he cheerfully talked of his impending cure was heartbreaking, and I remember thinking about how little his belief in the cure helped him ouut. I know that in the decades that have since passed I've steered one or two of my family and friends away from worthless quack cures, and I'd like to think I've saved a few lives taht way. If so, those people have Martin Gardner to thank.

    Well, I've run on far, far longer than I meant,but I wanted to add my thoughts. We'll miss him, but take joy in the fact his work will be there to enlighten people like that 20-something me for a very long time.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire