The Disordered CosmosPosted: July 28, 2021
The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred
Bold Type Books (March 9, 2021), 244 pages
Kindle edition $16.99, Amazon hardcover $21.49
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an angry woman. And justifiably so.
The author is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Black mother. She identifies as Black. Prescod-Weinstein grew up in East Los Angeles, with all the challenges that implies, yet earned acceptance into Harvard. She got her PhD and engaged in research in particle physics. She has studied dark matter, focusing her work on a theoretical particle called the axion.
The first part of the book is about physics and her research. She then talks about the biases in physics and science in general. She writes about melanin and points out that genetics and biochemistry have shown that skin color is an arbitrary construct, not tied to race.
Prescod-Weinstein segues from her discussion of dark matter to a commentary on how Black people are dark, that is invisible, in society, and all the entailed risks. She then spends a lot of space discussing how we decide where we build our telescopes. She explains how the volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii is sacred to the indigenous Hawaiians, yet we built our telescopes there anyway. She recounts encountering the wrath of her science colleagues when she joined the native Hawaiians in opposing the latest addition, the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Gender plays an important role in this book as well. Prescod-Weinstein devotes several pages to the challenges that trans people face. She refers to herself as both “agender” and “queer.” In the acknowledgements she mentions her “spouse and political partner” whom she identifies as “Mr-ProfChandra.” Though some don’t like to admit it, gender is a fluid thing.
The author candidly describes her own experience of rape at the hands of a male in a position of power in her field. She describes the event in some detail, making clear that what happened was at the very least non-consensual sex, and was for all intents and purposes rape. Prescod-Weinstein concludes the book with a heartfelt letter to her mother, a civil rights activist, which recounts all that her mother did for her.
Much of The Disordered Cosmos is not easy to read, but it is a reminder of how far we have to go in the work of social and racial justice.