walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Michael Brooks, _13 Things That Don't Make Sense_

I checked this out from the library. It's a scientific american book club selection, which may or may not mean good things for it in terms of credibility. The topic matter is inherently controversial: anomalies in science/medicine/etc. which might be the pivot on which a Kuhnian scientific revolution turns.

One I mentioned already: free will. The specific anomaly is the 1 second or greater measurable potential in advance of an action (lifting a finger, say). Given that human reaction time is measurable in a lot less than a second, I was wondering about this until I pursued the "in response to an external event" qualifier. Otherwise, it was looking like we had functional precog (cool! yeah, right). The problem lies in measuring "conscious intent" and when that happens. The experimental protocol made me laugh out loud (probably not the intention). I'm happy to grant a laundry list of "free will illusions", like optical illusions -- and even include space for an arbitrary additional list. But using optical illusions to "prove" we can't _actually_ see, or the world outside is not _actually_ there is pretty silly. So is this argument. Why do these guys think we have ideas like "fighting words" built into the law? The problem lies in philosophy vs science, or, rather, philosophers vs scientists or, perhaps, philosophizing versus scientificating. The p-group is overly enamored of questions. The s-group is overly enamored of answers. The truth lies in the e-group: engineers. Which, I might add, is not necessarily in between the other two groups; just in a different space.

The summary of dark matter and dark energy would be up to someone else to assess. It didn't seem inaccurate to me. The conclusion at the end of the homeopathy chapter was ludicrous (for homeopathy to save itself it has to be willing to die). Homeopathy made it this far by not succumbing to demands for rationality. If I know anything about humanity, that's a pretty good strategy for surviving indefinitely. Just because it is annoying doesn't make it ineffective.

The idea that questions surrounding the placebo effect mean we shouldn't double blind left me scratching my head. We _should_ be pursuing the placebo effect. But we still shouldn't license expensive, possibly dangerous meds that don't work _better_ than the placebo effect. What's the problem? I did not understand.

The sex and death chapters quote the right people (Roughgarden, Bagemihl, in sex). But the summary is still warped towards the standard explanation of sexual reproduction. Frustrating, but expectable.

The remaining chapters were interesting and I had no strong wtf response to them, other than a little surprise that Pons and Fleischmann are being rehabilitated. Yay! That whole process went by a little too quickly if you ask me. And since I was hanging out in the physics building at the UW during the relevant few years, I think I can say, that went by a little too quickly. Should it be big money science? I doubt it. But it should not be killing careers of people who are doing careful work.

Should you read it? I doubt it will hurt you. You might learn something. A library will probaby have a copy for you to read.
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