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About James Owen Weatherall
James Owen Weatherall is a physicist, philosopher, and mathematician, currently working as Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Irvine, where he is also a member of the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Science. He lives in Irvine, CA with his wife and two daughters.
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After the economic meltdown of 2008, Warren Buffett famously warned, “beware of geeks bearing formulas.” But while many of the mathematicians and software engineers on Wall Street failed when their abstractions turned ugly in practice, a special breed of physicists has a much deeper history of revolutionizing finance. Taking us from fin-de-siècle Paris to Rat Pack–era Las Vegas, from wartime government labs to Yippie communes on the Pacific coast, James Owen Weatherall shows how physicists successfully brought their science to bear on some of the thorniest problems in economics, from options pricing to bubbles.
The crisis was partly a failure of mathematical modeling. But even more, it was a failure of some very sophisticated financial institutions to think like physicists. Models—whether in science or finance—have limitations; they break down under certain conditions. And in 2008, sophisticated models fell into the hands of people who didn’t understand their purpose, and didn’t care. It was a catastrophic misuse of science. The solution, however, is not to give up on models; it’s to make them better.
This book reveals the people and ideas on the cusp of a new era in finance, from a geophysicist using a model designed for earthquakes to predict a massive stock market crash to a physicist-run hedge fund earning 2,478.6% over the course of the 1990s. Weatherall shows how an obscure idea from quantum theory might soon be used to create a far more accurate Consumer Price Index. The Physics of Wall Street will change how we think about our economic future.
“Fascinating history . . . Happily, the author has a gift for making complex concepts clear to lay readers.” —Booklist
“Empowering and thoroughly researched, this book offers useful contemporary analysis and possible solutions to one of the greatest threats to democracy.”—Kirkus Reviews
Editors’ choice, New York Times Book Review • Recommended reading, Scientific American
Why should we care about having true beliefs? And why do demonstrably false beliefs persist and spread despite bad, even fatal, consequences for the people who hold them?
Philosophers of science Cailin O’Connor and James Weatherall argue that social factors, rather than individual psychology, are what’s essential to understanding the spread and persistence of false beliefs. It might seem that there’s an obvious reason that true beliefs matter: false beliefs will hurt you. But if that’s right, then why is it (apparently) irrelevant to many people whether they believe true things or not?
The Misinformation Age, written for a political era riven by “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and disputes over the validity of everything from climate change to the size of inauguration crowds, shows convincingly that what you believe depends on who you know. If social forces explain the persistence of false belief, we must understand how those forces work in order to fight misinformation effectively.
James Owen Weatherall’s bestselling book, The Physics of Wall Street, was named one of Physics Today’s five most intriguing books of 2013. In this work, he takes on a fundamental concept of modern physics: nothing. The physics of stuff—protons, neutrons, electrons, and even quarks and gluons—is at least somewhat familiar to most of us. But what about the physics of nothing? Isaac Newton thought of empty space as nothingness extended in all directions, a kind of theater in which physics could unfold. But both quantum theory and relativity tell us that Newton’s picture can’t be right. Nothing, it turns out, is an awful lot like something, with a structure and properties every bit as complex and mysterious as matter. In his signature lively prose, Weatherall explores the very nature of empty space—and solidifies his reputation as a science writer to watch.
Included on the 2017 Best Book List by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
“An engaging and interesting account.”—The Economist
“Readers get a dose of biography while following such figures as Einstein, Dirac, and Newton to see how top theories about the void have been discovered, developed, and debunked. Weatherall’s clear language and skillful organization adroitly combines history and physics to show readers just how much ‘nothing really matters.’”—Publishers Weekly