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What Do You Find at a SF Convention? Ernie Hudson and Corrupted Science, That's What!

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As guests of I-Con at Stony Brook University on Long Island this last weekend, my wife and I participated in the literature track of this sprawling multi-media SF convention that features over 100 writers, actors, gamers, artists, and comic book creators. When you have a science fiction convention this big, part of the appeal is the interplay of subcultures, whether it be Trekkies and anime fans hanging out together or actor Ernie Hudson appearing at the same convention as respected author Peter S. Beagle. The dealer's room at such events is a maelstrom of different influences, with the Long Island Advanced Rocketry Society sharing space with graphic novel vendors, jewelry makers, and clothing sellers, among others. Seeing Hudson was definitely a treat--especially signing autographs for amateur ghost-busters, as above. I've always been a fan of his acting, and think Congo is an overlooked gem of a movie.

But the real treasures of interest to Amazon readers were two books by John Grant, Corrupted Science and Discarded Science, which I found nestled between heroic fantasy trilogies and space operas at one of the book dealer tables...

                 Corruptedsciencelg_4          Disc_science_2  

These are beautifully designed small-sized hardcovers that cover fraud, deception, and hoaxes in science, along with theories that, as the author says, "seemed like a good idea at the time." Both books are absolutely fascinating, and roughly cover a period from just before the Renaissance to the present. What easily could have devolved into a mere listing of facts and circumstances instead becomes something deeper and more profound. Many of these stories are hilarious, but many are also horrifying. Sections in Corrupting Science, for example, include Fraudulent Scientists, Seeing What They Want to See, Military Madness, The One True Book, and Ideology Trumps Science. Along with incisive and often devastating anecdotes that seem to prove we're really more ruled by emotion and a need for fame than by our intellects, Grant makes the point again and again that although science itself has a kind of objectivity, scientists often do not.

In a sense, what Grant has written here is a history of the world focusing on human deception and folly in science. The writing is funny, humane, insightful, and balanced. I think these are my two favorite finds of the year thus far. I will be ordering extra copies for all of my friends and relatives come the holidays.

Comments

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C. S. Inman, I could find out if I'm right or wrong very easily WITHOUT reading it, if only Mr. Grant or someone who HAS read it would please enlighten me on the subject. It is after all an easy enough question to answer: "Well of COURSE! I wouldn't DREAM of corrupting with my OWN politics a book about politics corrupting science! That would make me a total hypocrite and a total fool!"

It would be so EASY for Mr. Grant to say so to me...

if it is only true.

FredTownWard, you're only going to find out if you're right by reading it! So stop yapping and buy it already.

John Grant, I was impressed with your reply. I normally wouldn't read something like this, but I'm going to buy the book BECAUSE of how you handled attempts at Interdrama.

I always like to check both the positive AND the negative reviews of a book that I am curious about but know little about. Of course in so doing one opens oneself to being sold a bill of goods on either extreme, but they can be useful.

On the subject in question I am aware enough of the history of science to know that scientists have quite often fallen short of the scientific ideal and the scientific method when dealing with scientific views they happen to disagree with, and that the record of modern scientists is not much better as they tend to assume. One need only look at the public attempts by Darwinists and Global Warming true believers to shout down their critics to see exactly what I mean. Creation Scientists and Global Warming skeptics may well be wrong, but they deserve better than being treated like religious fanatics,...

especially when the ones so treating them deserve the title far more by their behavior.

As for the rest, I notice that you didn't actually deny offering your opinions on WMD's and al Qaeda in Iraq and stem cell research in your books, but if you did so, I'm afraid my accusation will have to stand. The presence or absence of WMD's in Iraq and the level of cooperation between al Qaeda and Saddam is simply not a question that science can answer or even consider while claiming to be "scientific" while the harvesting of human embryos for scientific research is an ethical rather than a scientific one. If you weighed in as accused on either of these topics in either of these books, then you are a "bad" scientist, no ifs ands or buts.

Only if you did not, do I owe you any apology.

Note to FredTownWard:

Don't you think that, before you start accusing authors of being Nazis, it might be a useful precaution to read the books concerned?

Of the four "faith-based reviewers" you cite (two of whom, it's patently obvious, like yourself chose not to bother to read the actual texts before committing their thoughts to print), exactly zero accuse me of "lunatic leftwing conspiracy mongering, Mengele-like attitudes towards harvesting unborn humans, or completely unscientific shouting down of those with whose scientific views he disagrees". You made those bits up yourself.

Three of the four (including both the non-readers) feel I'm harsh on Christianity, which I assume means they object to the very obvious fact that simply saying a piece of science is approved by the Church does not turn it into good science. If that's "anti-Christian bigotry", then you're going to encounter many such bigots, even among the most devoutly Christian of scientists.

Which leaves one reviewer who, presumably for reasons of faith, feels I don't give the Creationists and IDers a fair crack of the whip. Well, I thought I gave them as fair a crack as I feasibly could. He's entitled to his opinion otherwise. I didn't notice him calling me a Nazi or a bigot, either.

Just out of interest, why did you go straight past all the very favourable Amazon reviews of the two books (including the one on this page) to focus on the unfavourable, agenda-driven minority? It's a question you might wish to ask yourself.

Note to DannRussKett: You'd better sit down for this... Critical reviewers on Amazon with their own agendas sometimes actually _do_ NOT make things up.

If as a careful reader of these two books, you can assure us all that John Grant does NOT engage in anti-Christian bigotry, lunatic leftwing conspiracy mongering, Mengele-like attitudes towards harvesting unborn humans, or completely unscientific shouting down of those with whose scientific views he disagrees, then I GLADLY withdraw the comment.

If on the other hand you CANNOT assure us all of that, then I think we are entitled to draw the obvious conclusion about YOUR agenda.

Note to FredTownWard: You'd better sit down for this... Critical reviewers on amazon with their own agendas actually _do_ make things up. In fact, they even use made-up -- false -- information from others who are like-minded, in their reviews. This is done quite often, in fact, and I would make myself aware of it if I were you.

No need to thank me for your enlightenment. Somebody had to do it, and I drew the short straw.

Mmm, smell the objectivity.

The trouble is that unless the critical reviewers on Amazon are simply making things up, John Grant is guiltier of injecting "fraud, ideology, and politics" into science than most of the people he is writing about.

It is one thing to take a scientifically skeptical attitude towards Creation Science (though in fairness one should apply the same standards to Evolution), it is quite another to engage it anti-Christian bigotry, as John Grant is accused of doing in several reviews.

Moreover, if Mr. Grant has championed, as he is accused of championing in those critical reviews, the leftwing lunatic fringe ravings about WMD's and al Qaeda in Iraq, the Nazi-like viewpoint on (no longer required because of recent breakthroughs in adult stem-cell research) embryonic stem-cell research, and the cult-like "science has reached a consensus" attitude regarding Global Warming skeptics,

then he is as bad as or worse than anyone he condemns.

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