We commonly think of the study of science and that of sociology or humanities as very different – we look at science as neutral and data-driven, while non-STEM fields are frequently seen as reflective and thought-driven. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s new book, “The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred” (2021, Bold Type Books), successfully argues that “studying the physical world requires confronting the social world,” however. By delving into her backgrounds in physics, astronomy, and black feminist thought, Prescod-Weinstein shows the deep interconnectedness of all that surrounds us.
“The Disordered Cosmos” opens with a dense but accessible section on physics, where Prescod-Weinstein gives solid explanations on spacetime, dark matter, and what exactly a quark is. Though a bit challenging to read if this isn’t a field you’ve studied, the writing is interesting and relatable while also containing the infectious passion of Prescod-Weinstein on (one of) her area(s) of expertise.
After the in-depth science lesson as background, Prescod-Weinstein looks deeply into who can study science and what that means for all of us as curious individuals as well as for the scientific community, stating, “Access to a dark light sky – to see and be inspired by the universe as it really is – should be a human right, not a luxury for the chosen few.” The historic barriers to education and access to research based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation have discouraged or prevented many people from pursuing scientific study, and too many of those barriers still exist or manifest in other ways today.
“The Disordered Cosmos” is all at once a scientific study, a historical account, a sociological analysis, and a highly personal narrative of first-hand experiences from a black and queer woman who holds an undeniably rare tenure-track position. Prescod-Weinstein asks, “what if you never give yourself permission to think about a problem?” As someone who was interested in chemistry but who gave up taking classes after being needlessly discouraged by a high school teacher, I personally see some of the answer to that question; Prescod-Weinstein admirably shares her story of continuing to pursue thinking about a problem, regardless of the institutional barriers and the multitude of challenges along the way.
Check out “The Disordered Cosmos” at your closest Denver Public Library location or through denverlibrary.com.
Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.