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Reviews22 1 Sybil P. Parker, ed. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Co., 1989. xvii + 2137 pp. $95.00. McGraw-Hill has published a fourth edition of their durable scientific and technical dictionary, a volume designed to help readers fight their way through the thickets of technical literature. Parker and her collaborators present us with more than 100,000 entries and a series of useful appendices in a thick, yet manageable, reference work. The dictionary is, on the whole, a satisfactory source, even though it does not in every instance meet its announced purpose of being intelligible to the general, technically inclined reader. The volume is helpful in providing crisp, understandable definitions for entropy, cybernetics, crosstalk, and many other scientific terms that are often used vaguely or erroneously. Moreover, the dictionary provides useful details: entries for geological time periods, chemical processes, and biological classifications are among the many that include quantitative as well as descriptive information. Almost every query made by several readers over two weeks' time found an entry in this dictionary, and most queries yielded sufficient information to meet the needs. And, as happens when dictionaries are consulted, they often found interesting or amusing information when scanning for the sought item: How else to learn that melissophobia is an abnormal fear of bees? Or be reminded that one can enqueue items by putting them in a first-in, first-out order? Occasionally one finds listings in unexpected places without cross reference to places where most readers would look: reciprocity failure is defined only under low intensity reciprocity failure, and pp scattering only under low energy pp scattering. A more serious problem with the dictionary is that more than a few important entries are in language that does not serve the probable audience: Chi square, cross section, and autocorrelation are among a significant number of definitions that are understandable to (and not very useful for) experts. A few definitions miss important aspects of the terms defined. For example, cruise control is defined in its naval but 222Reviews not its automotive sense; ground loop is given in the electrical but not the aeronautical usage; and Dirac monopole is defined without pointing out that this particle is not yet known to exist. There are other minor disappointments in this dictionary with respect to widely used abbreviations and acronyms. DOS and DOLBY are not defined. CD is listed only as circular dichroism; the compact disc is mentioned only in its CD-ROM application in another entry. CCD is identified as calcite compensation depth with no mention of its more common reference to charge coupled detectors. QWERTY is given, but not Dvorak. Coho is defined not as a salmon but only as the abbreviation for coherent oscillator. There is no entry for scientific notation. The illustrations on the generous margins are often an essential supplement to the definitions, since they communicate the essentials of entries such as Tarsier, wing nut, lambda point, halftone, and equal loudness contour or the pain of Strauss reaction much better than can a written text. Cross references to figures are sometimes given but are not always complete. The reader seeking a definition of photomultiplier is sent to multiplier phototube with its very useful illustration, but the reader looking at electron multiplier is not similarly assisted. And some figures (e.g. frequency meter, gyroscope) are technically correct but not optimal for the entry being illustrated. Of course there are also illustrations for a few entries (e.g. temperate rain forest, Doppler VOR) that provide, at this scale, little or no real information. Among the entries for which one might have expected illustrations are benzene ring (particularly since dozens of more exotic hydrocarbons are shown) and planetary orbits. Overall, however, the illustrations make a substantial contribution to the utility of this work. Editors who create or update volumes of this sort have the difficult task of pruning entries in order to accommodate new information while still keeping the final product to a manageable size. To what extent should one include the selfevident (emergency power supply) or the one-of-a-kind (DUMAND for deep underwater muon and neutrino detector)? Should one list...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 221-223
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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