Martin Gardner with his The Annotated Alice
Portrait in background by Ken Knowlton (photo source)
A great expositor of science and mathematics and scourge of pseudo-science has passed: Martin Gardner died today at the age of 95. According to the article on him in Wikipedia, he published more than 70 books. I confess that the only one that I have read all the way through is his classic Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, originally published in 1952 and still in print. Here is a passage from chapter 1, “In the Name of Science”:
In the last analysis, the best means of combating the spread of pseudo-science is an enlightened public, able to distinguish the work of a reputable investigator from the work of the incompetent and the self-deluded. This is not as hard to do as one might think. Of course, there always will be borderline cases hard to classify, but the fact that black shades into white through many shades of gray does not mean that the distinction between black and white is difficult.Delightful book. I do not know what his last days were like, but the man certainly had a good run.
(Credit to an entry by James Randi in the JREF Swift Blog for my learning of this event. And credit to the anonymous commenter who corrected my error about Gardner’s date of birth, which I originally took to be 1920, following—to my disgrace—the Wikipedia article cited above. The date of 1914 is given in this article by Phil Plait.)
Addendum, May 24, 2010: I notice that this entry has received some visits from a Google search for the text “Martin Gardner Jewish”—presumably from people curious to know whether Gardner was Jewish. I have seen no indication that he was so, even as a matter of descent, and the following passage from his book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999) seems to me positively to indicate that he was not:
Let me speak personally. By the grace of God I managed the leap [of faith] when I was in my teens. For me it was then bound up with an ugly Protestant fundamentalism. I outgrew this slowly, and eventually decided that I could not call myself a Christian without using language deceptively, but faith in God and immortality remained. (221)The passage implies that in his early life, the option of religious belief presented itself to Gardner in the form of Protestant fundamentalism. (Gardner grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma.) In view of this, it seems very unlikely that he had any Jewish connections.
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