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Powell's Q&A

Simon Singh

Describe your latest project.
Big Bang is an explanation of the theory that explains the origin and evolution of the universe. As well as explaining the physics of the Big Bang theory, I also describe who came up with the idea, who proved it and why the idea is more compelling today than ever before. I just think that it is incredible that scientists can give us a reasonable, coherent, consistent and verifiable theory of the cosmos, and I want to tell everybody about that theory. As Einstein once said: "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good place to start.
I am a big fan of Tom Standage, a journalist with the Economist who has written a series of great books. The Victorian Internet tells the story of the development of the telegraph and puts our current communications revolution into context.

Why do you write?
Over the course of two or three years I can learn about an entirely new subject (mathematics, cryptography, cosmology) and then I can share it with others. So the motivation is partly selfish and it is partly a desire to tell everyone why mathematics and science are so amazing.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I saw Richard Dawkins speak recently, which made me realise that I had never read any of his books. I found The Selfish Gene on my bookshelf and noticed that it had someone else's name scribbled on the inside. I then remembered that I had borrowed it from a colleague at the BBC over a decade ago, but at last I have started reading it. It is brilliant.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
They don't have any holes.

What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, what sign would you change to and why?
I refuse to answer this question on principle. Maybe one third of the population share my annoyance, maybe one third treat astrology as a bit of fun, but the remaining third take astrology seriously. There are people who waste hundreds of dollars on astrology phone lines or seeking astrological advice face to face, when what they really need to do is talk to friends and family. It is horribly sad that (despite five thousand years of scientific advance) there are still hundreds of millions of people who believe in astrology and other hippy dippy claptrap.

Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Kelvin, for three good reasons. First, it is the absolute and scientific scale of temperature measurement. Second, it generally makes the temperatures seem warmer — today it is almost 300 Kelvin! Third, Kelvin was British. In fact he was an enobled Brit, and had the title Lord Kelvin. He once said: "When you are face to face with a difficulty, you are up against a discovery." Less wisely, he said: "Wireless [telegraphy] is all very well but I'd rather send a message by a boy on a pony!" and "I can state flatly that heavier than air flying machines are impossible." spacer

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