A Mythologist Looks (Seriously) at Popular Science
Reviewed by Peter Rogerson
When scientific topics are discussed in language aimed at the general public is there an inevitable tendency for them to recapitulate age old themes? That is an interesting topic for discussion, however, I am not sure what extent this book engages with that discussion.
Schrempp examines a number of popular science writers and finds what he calls mythological themes in their writings, though I tend to see the use of sometimes anthropomorphic similes, rather than any worked out mythological theme. This may be because he has a somewhat unusual take on myth for a folklorist and anthropologist. He does not define myth in the anthropological sense of stories which explore matters of ultimate concern (the origin of the cosmos, humanity, culture and society, the relationship between people and the cosmos, the meaning of human existence etc.); which definition would indeed put much modern science writing in the mythological tradition. Rather he defines it almost by the crude folk definition as “untrue stories”, or rather more specifically as portraying the cosmos anthropomorphically, “not as it truly is, but in our own image”. That of course begs the question as whether human beings could ever know the cosmos as it truly is, though science might aim at getting “locally factually accurate statements” about portions of it.