# The Trouble with Popularizing Science

I've developed a reputation as someone who gets annoyed at popularizations of science. From Nate Silver's book on statistics to many variations on quantum mechanics. They are all starting to get under my skin.

Why? I assume it's because I have started developed some expertise in a few branches of the physical and mathematical sciences. For example, popular books on biology don't typically bother me. I don't know nearly enough details to get annoyed by the generalizations and simplifications the authors indulge in.

An example of a popular science topic that annoys me to no end: the 'particle-wave' duality of light. Is light a particle? Or is it a wave? The popular science version says that light is *both* a particle and a wave. I would posit (and I'm not a physicist) that light is *neither* a particle *nor* a wave. It has both wave-like and particle-like properties. But a car has both cart-like and horse-like properties, and yet is neither of those two things. Why should light be forced to fit into a set of concepts developed in the 1700s?

Light is governed by a probability amplitude. Sure, understanding probability amplitudes requires a modicum of mathematical sophistication: one has to understand what a probability distribution is, what a complex number is, and the like. But these ideas are not so complicated. They can be grasped by anyone with a college-level mastery of calculus. In fact, when I took an intermediate-level quantum mechanics class in undergrad, I was shocked at how straightforward most of the math was: a little calculus, a little linear algebra, and a little probability theory. (And none of the *hard* parts from these topics.)

Popularizers of science have to walk a thin line between making science understandable and accurately representing its findings to the general public.