The Half-Life of Facts

“The Half-Life of Facts” is easily one of the best books of the year on science.


Delightfully nerdy.

Wall Street Journal

Engaging, insightful jaunt across the backstage of scientific knowledge.


A pop science primer on the epidemiology of epistemology.


Absorbing and approachable treatise on the nature of facts.


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Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award, 2013.

Scientific American Recommended Book

Facts change all the time. Smoking has gone from doctor-recommended to deadly. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe and that Pluto was a planet. For decades, we were convinced that the Brontosaurus was a real dinosaur. In short, what we know about the world is constantly changing.

But it turns out there’s an order to the state of knowledge, an explanation for how we know what we know. Samuel Arbesman is an expert in the field of scientometrics—literally the science of science. Knowledge in most fields evolves systematically and predictably, and this evolution unfolds in a fascinating way that can have a powerful impact on our lives.

The Half-Life of Facts is a riveting journey into the counterintuitive fabric of knowledge. It can help us find new ways to measure the world while accepting the limits of how much we can know with certainty.

What does it mean to live in a world drowning in facts? Consider The Half-Life of Facts the new go-to book on the evolution of science and technology.

Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, and author of An Economist Gets Lunch

How many chromosomes do we have? How high is Mount Everest? The Half-Life of Facts is fun and fascinating, filled with wide-ranging stories and subtle insights about how facts are born, dance their dance, and die. In today’s world where knowledge often changes faster than we do, Sam Arbesman’s new book is essential reading.

Steven Strogatz, Professor of Mathematics, Cornell University, and author, The Joy of X

The Half-Life of Facts teaches you that it is possible, in fact, to drink from a firehose. Samuel Arbesman, an extremely creative scientist and storyteller, explores the paradox that knowledge is tentative in particularly consistent ways. In his capable hands, we learn about everything from how medieval manuscripts resemble genetic code to what bacteria and computer chips have in common. This book unravels the mystery of how we come to know the truth–and how long we can be certain about it.

Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, co-author of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives

The Half-Life of Facts is a rollicking intellectual journey. Sam Arbesman shares his extensive knowledge with infectious enthusiasm and entertaining prose. Even if the facts around us are ever-changing, the lessons and fun in this book will have a very long half-life!

Michael Mauboussin, Chief Investment Strategist, Legg Mason Capital Management, and author of Think Twice

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