Ben Goldacre is a UK Physician. He has written two books on this general subject: the shorter Bad Science and the longer Bad Pharma. He is a good writer with a cutting sense of humor. Unlike most doctors (GPs anyway) he knows a thing or two about statistics and probabilities.
Blythe N. and Dave H. know about my disdain for chiropractors. During our radio days, their disdain for nutritionists turned out to be just as strong. Ben would concur.
Goldacre fires broadsides at the usual targets such as homeopathy, as well as a few lessor known examples of bad science, like brain training, detoxing, and the anti-oxidant scare. And like many other skeptical publications, he takes a close look at placebos and regression to the mean, the life blood of quacks everywhere.
Good vs bad science is easy to recognize, even for the cognoscenti, and for every study, there is an opposing study. To deal with this, a check list protocol was set up called JADAD a meta-analysis protocol was built on JADAD called the Cochrane Collaboration. These two ideas allow the truth to eventually come out. It is likely, for example, that the recent reversal on cholesterol was based on this method.
Surprisingly for some, he poo-poos placebo based trials, as this is often a dodge. Researchers test their products (i.e.: drug) against placebo, the lowest possible standard, and not against the best product on the market at the time.
A major warning from the good doctor: If anyone expresses anything with respect to diet in terms of certainty, they are full of crap. He debunks another myth by stating that most of modern medicine is, in fact, evidence based.
Here are some fun real-world examples (think big tobacco) of cheating in the business of drug science.
Or do what the NFL did: set up its own bad research; establish a self-published journal; and then stack it with doctors on the take (see League of Denial).
Both Bad Pharma and this book go into some detail on this topic. One solution, which is not yet been adopted, is to register experiments before they start. This forces a priori documentation of experiment protocols, success/ fail criteria, etc. and would go a long way toward eliminating some of the manipulation that goes on today.
The books closes with a discussion of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) fiasco. Ben has a few kind words for Jenny McCarthy et al.
This is must reading for all skeptics.
The book follows the money.
6th century: Indulgences created to raise money. Full absolution granted to Crusaders; partial to Crusader helpers. You could even pay to have your relatives placed on the fast track out of Purgatory. And donations made The Rosary more powerful.
16th Century: Leo the X sells indulgences for sins not yet committed (the sin futures market)
19th Century, Gregory XVI needs more money so he borrows from the Rothschilds, who are Jewish in the extreme.
Pius IX tears down the Jewish Ghetto walls in Rome to appease the money lenders. It did not matter much, Jews were forbidden to move anyway.
Pius then sold Vatican bonds, freed himself of the Rothschilds and rebuilt the ghetto walls.
In 1858, a housekeeper secretly Baptized a Jewish kid. Pius found out and kidnapped the kid and raised him Catholic!
Early 20th Century. Leo speaks out AGAINST separation of church and state; freedom of the press, and religious tolerance.
1929: Pius XII signs Lateran Accords with Mussolini (an atheist). The church was suddenly tax exempt on just about everything, even property taxes.
Nogara is tasked to manage Vatican money and everything changes. Money begets money. The Curia expands rapidly. To raise more money, they occasionally declared a year to be "Holy", and begged for more dough. The church indulges in arbitrage.
1935: The Vatican has its fingers in every aspect of the Italian economy. Only the government owned more property. But lending money at interest is still naughty!
1930: The Reichskonkordat deal with the Nazis is signed. 1/3 of Germans were Catholic. Money from them for the Church money was deducted was deducted at source. The Vatican was rich!
The War: Despite tangible evidence of the Holocaust, the Pope refuses to speak out about anything! At the core… money. The Pope found his voice after the war ended. One Father (Juricev) said during the war that it was not a sin to kill a Jew or a Serb… as long as they were older than 7! Too many sins to enumerate here. The Vatican did business with blacklisted countries during the war. They learned how to launder money.
1942: Nogara creates the Opere di Religeone (the IOR, aka the Vatican Bank). The only bank with its own country (and vice verse), unrestrained by borders or pesky audits.
1943: The Vatican is heavily into the Insurance business. Jewish policy holders were rarely paid out.
The Rat Line refers to the Vatican underground railroad for Nazis after the war. The Germans (1/3 of them Catholic) used the Vatican Bank to store stolen loot. The Vatican provided shelter, documents, and money for fleeing Nazis. The Pope even asked for clemency for a leader of the infamous Einsatsgroupen killing squads. Vatican refugees were a laundry list of the worst monsters of the 20th century, including Clause Barbi and Adolph Eichmann. The Vatican was so afraid of the commies they would do anything. For them:
Catholic + Nazi == Fine, possibly misguided, fellow;
Catholic + Commie === Excommunicated bastard
1960: The church owns 120 million square feet of property (tax free). The only sovereign state with more territory outside its borders than in.
Enter the Mafia with Sindona. Sindona was hired to help manage Vatican money. Sindona met Gelli, a business man and Masonic Lodge (called P2) Leader. The Vatican hates Freemasons, because they are anti-religious and partly commie.
Catholic + Freemason == excommunication.
And yet, many Vatican priests and insiders were Masons.
1967: The Italians finally tax the Vatican just a little. By now Vatican holdings are a maze of holding companies, nearly impossible to untangle. But the Vatican did have money in munitions firms, pharmaceuticals (that made birth control pills), and printing companies that made porn.
Marcinkus ran the IOC. He and Sindona were as bent as they come. Enter Calvi (who would ultimately be found swinging from Blackfriar's Bridge), a banker. Also bent. Marcinkus sat on the board of many banks, many of which were off-shore tax havens. Sindona had 48 such companies.
Sindona bought Franklin Bank in the US (18th largest), which would eventually go down as the biggest bank failure in US history. Meanwhile, Sindona spent 5.4 million on the Nixon campaign in '73. Marcinkus and Sindona would play pat-a-cake with Italian and US justice for years. Sindona was given a Man of the Year Award by the US Ambassador to Italy.
The IOR had 175 million in Calvi backed off shore companies. Sindona blackmailed Calvi into helping him.
In 78, a Pope dies; A new Pope (John Paul I) is elected who promises change, including firing Marcinkus; That Pope is (almost certainly) murdered; The Pope's murder was covered up; And a new Pope (Is the Pope Polish?) John Paul II came in.
The Pauline Monks affair breaks. Monks stole millions; and spent it on the usual (fast cars, loose women, etc). Their guilt was beyond question. The Pope issued a decree to stop the Vatican investigation. Another cover up
Sindona, Calvi (Blackfriar's Bridge) and Marcinkus were the top of a rouges gallery of criminal assholes. Sindona was a mob connection; Marcinkus ran the IOR; and Calvi was mob and off-shore bank connection.
The collapse of Franklin Bank had many repercussions. Judges and prosecutors killed.
Sindona; faked his own abduction went on the run; got caught; got tried; and then was poisoned in prison.
Meanwhile Calvi was in financial trouble. He tired every source he could, but his fate was sealed. More facts about P2 (the Masonic Lodge) came out. Lots of members all over the Vatican, police and government.
The Vatican was in bed with an investment bank called Ambrosian's, run by Calvi. The Vatican denied this, but proved to the banks biggest debtor. When this bank collapsed, the Vatican told the Italians to shove their material witness requests.
The rest of the sordid tale is low-lighted with the Vatican's reply to the world when accessed of crimes. They ranged from: (silence), "It is the nasty media", and "How dare you. This the church." to "Fuck off… we are a sovereign country and we answer to nobody." That is, they claimed diplomatic immunity. In one instance, the Vatican sang and danced when they were serves with papers. Two years later, investigation ongoing, the Vatican said it ignored the papers because they did not come in a diplomatic pouch.
Marcinkus was teflon. He out-lasted many Popes. He was under indictment for a long time and could not leave the Vatican. He was due to be fired by John Paul I, but the Pope was murdered (and the murder covered up) just before it was to happen, Whew… that was close. He ended up at some shitty little parish in Arkansas or some such.
John Paul II was useless.
Benedict (Ratzinger) was senile. He ducked every issue (and there were shitloads of them) until the report about gays in the Vatican came out. He could not take it and quit. Among other sins, he refused to sanction a priest who diddled 200 deaf boys!
Pope Francis has made huge strides in cleaning up the IOR.
He has made controversial statements about gays and rape victims.
This is all to his credit, all of which was cancelled out when he refused to cough up the names of defrocked pedophile priests from the UN Child Protection branch. The church even allowed some convicted priests to return to duty! The Vatican has spent 4.5 billion on abuse settlements, 1.5 billion of which was lawyer's fees.
Meanwhile, the Vatican owns gobs of real estate and has tons of money (some of it Nazi gold) all raked off of money laundering.
I was watching a documentary on earthquakes about 9 days ago, based in part on this book. I ordered the book and started reading two days later.
I thought myself fairly knowledgeable on earthquakes, but I was wrong. Mostly because most of what we know we have found out in the last decade or two. The book is written as a sort of detective novel, leading up to its big conclusion.
Many people of my age probably think that we are in a largely earthquake free zone. Geologists thought so too, but wondered why the Cascadia had not had a large quake when every other part of the ring of fire did. They rationalized that our rocks are slippery so stresses can be relieved regularly. After Sumatra and the 250,000 dead there, interest picked up in Cascadia. Could a Magnitude 9 quake be in our future too?
In the olden days, lo, several decades ago in the sixties, plate tectonics was only just gaining acceptance. In the eighties, lasers were used to measure distances between points to see if the earth was moving. This was expensive and difficult. Then GPS came along. Geologists were not interested in GPS coordinates per se, they were interested in how far apart two rock-fixed points were. This was cheap and easy. Soon tons of data was pouring in and computer simulation started taking off. The other thing they did was to look for evidence of past quakes in multiple different ways. They found it.
Spoiler alert… We are due. The Juan De Fuca Plate is now called the Cascadia Subduction Zone Fault and it has let rip every 400 years or so with a massive quake. The last was 400 years ago.
If you live in the interior, you are laughing. If you live on the coast of Vancouver Island, you are fucked. Depending on the nature of the shaking, many buildings in Vancouver (esp brick and mortar "medium-rises") will collapse. In the worst case scenario, the entire west coast of North America from LA to Alaska may be hit hard. The expected tsunami would hit Crescent City like a hammer, and would probably do significant damage in Japan.
It is a good story. The evidence of the turbidite cores, tree rings, oral histories, ghost forests etc all come together nicely. The upshot is that we should be spending more on earthquake preparedness and building reinforcement.
One nice sub-story came from a ten year old British girl in Phuket who had been taught what to look for. She spotted the signs of an incoming tsunami. She convinced her parents and saved her family.
Cascadia is Sumatra. The death toll will be lower, but the damage worse. The good news is that while earthquake prediction is still a dark art, predicting what tsunamis will do is becoming relatively easy. For example, next time, we will be able to tell the Sri Lankans to bug up (not out) even if they are on the lee side of the island… which actually got hit worse than the weather side did. You will have to read the book to find out why.
Ordinary Men, Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution; Christopher Browning; 1998; 268 pgs
Just about everyone who is aware of the depths of Nazi evil have asked themselves this question: How could a modern, civilized nation sink into barbarity and, if I were there then, would I be shooting Jews in the back of the head too?
This book is about the latter half of that question. Its conclusions are drawn from trial transcripts, modern testimony, Nazi records and psychology experiments (specifically the Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram's faked electric shocks experiment). Putting aside the notion of souls, this is basically a nature/nurture argument. One thing is certain, if we are just talking statistics, the answer to the question would seem to be "Yes. Being generous, three out of four of us would be pulling the trigger".
The Order Police 101 Battalion consisted of about 500 men. All but a few officers were born in the first decade of the 20th century. The average age was 39. In other words, old enough to know better. Virtually all were conscripted. Many were cops before the war. During the war, they shot 38,000 men, women, and children, and rounded up and deported 45,000 to the Treblinka gas chambers. Some men were set aside for labor. The standing order, SOP if you will, was to shoot children, women, and the infirmed where they stood. The bodies were left for other Jews or town folk to clean up. Others were marched out to nearby forests, forced to dig their own graves and then were shot in the back of the head at a range of inches. The descriptions are very grisly and graphic.
One interesting fact about all the participants in the Final Solution: There is no evidence that any one was censured for refusing to kill unarmed people, despite claimed fears to the contrary by many of the perpetrators at trial.
Most of the Battalions work was done as the Germans transitioned from the psychologically damaging shooting of Jews to the easier, out-of-sight, out-of-mind deportation to the gas chambers.
Killing 1,000 Jews in a single town was a typical one day action. In the first such action, the commanding officer asked if any of the 500 men would not want to participate. A dozen stepped forward. Others would find ways to avoid the work. None were punished for avoiding this work. The actual shooting was often fobbed off to blood-thirsty, anti-Semitic Hiwis, volunteers from Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and elsewhere. But 80% (a number that correlates well with the Stanford Prison Experiment) did pull the trigger. Liberal amounts of vodka were distributed to the men to ease their guilt.
There are many reasons why they did what they did. Almost all are rationalizations. Projecting the blame onto the ones who give the orders; thinking of what they did as merciful; blaming the Jews for passivity; concern for future employment as a reason not to shoot; antisemitism; and so on. But the biggest reason was peer pressure. This is not really what I expected. Like most, I assumed the killers were young, stupid, brainwashed Hitler youth. Not so.
Perhaps this is the reason the only group I have been a part of was a group that hated groups.
Do not think that the Germans were unique in their behavior, Think My Lai or ISIS.
I had one small nit with one supposition of the book. The author argues that there was no real self-selection bias in the battalion. I would argue that cops in general are predisposed to hierarchies, the exercising of power and deference to authority, Any many of the Order Police were cops before and after the war.
This book is hard to read. Just as the killers got inured to killing, the reader gets inured to reading about the killing. But it is important that we have a good understanding of the ugly side of human nature. It is relevant today. Consider ISIS; the drug war in Mexico where beheadings have become common place; the cult of personality in North Korea; Iran and Saudi Arabia and sharia law; the killing fields of Cambodia, etc.
I strongly recommend this book if you have any interest in the subject matter at all.
I continue my research into religion. News flash: it is still stupid! If you want to find out more about Islam, this book is a good place to start.
In my youth, I read a lot of science fiction. Many plots would feature a radical religious sect not unlike Islam as the main "bad guy". I have always been conscious of religion trying to tell me what to do. Now I see this SF plot unfolding on a global scale. What really bugs me is the hypocrisy of the piously religious who brush off the terrors of Islam with moral relativism.
You have probably seen Ali on TV. She is hard to miss. She was born a typical rabid kill-the-infidel Muslim. She escaped an arranged marriage and made it to the Netherlands. There she as elected to the Dutch parliament. Now she is an atheist, a lecturer at Harvard, and advocate for Islam reform. I say she is hard to miss because she is thin, pretty and about 6 feet tall. She has written the other books which I have note read: Infidel; Nomad; and The Caged Virgin.
If you thought Islam was barbaric, rest assured you are correct. Where she grew up, every Friday was marred by stonings, beheadings and limb removal by sword. At that is the tip of the iceberg,
She is an excellent writer, despite English not being her native tongue.
Basically, she argues that Islam is still a barbaric religion. Christianity was born inside the Roman Empire. They had to go along to get along. Their book was written by men, and therefore subject to debate, but it is still holy. Christianity and politics do not mix. Islam also has two other thorny problems. Unlike Christianity, it lacks any kind of hierarchy. That is, the is no pope to sanction or condemn an imam. The second is that the Koran is literally the last word of god. Mohammed wrote the Koran as a direct instrument of god. The Bible was written by men. The Koran, as the literal last word from god, is absolute, The Bible is haggled over all the time. Believers in the literal last word of god are, for obvious reasons, hard to reason with. Once a Muslim accepts this one point, everything else follows from it and that Muslim becomes the equivalent of a blood thirsty fundamentalist Christian. For these people, their goal is simply to take over the world.
In a sense, you can argue that Islam is religion as it would have itself: An absolute belief system with answers for everything, that is enmeshed in politics, has laws for everything, and any deviance is crushed, usually to death. In their world, you can die for asking a single innocent question, such as "Why pray five times and day, and not four?"
In the US, an irrational battle of labels is waging. Remember Ben Affleck blowing a gasket when someone even mentioned Radical Islam, shouting "racist" and "Islamaphobe"? Obama wont utter the phrase. And yet it is accurate and neutral in tone.
Ali argues that moderate Muslims (she calls them Mecca Muslims) must take a stand, reform Islam, ban jihad, and bend to "western" values. Period.
Moral relativism be damned, this is an evil religion. If someone who shouts "Allahu Akbar" while killing an innocent, that person is a Muslim, regardless of protestations to the contrary. And it is other Muslims who must recognize this and stop them. Actions speak loudly, and in this case, we must define our groups by their actions. We cannot tell what they think.
Ali goes over her history quickly as it is covered in her other books. She is risking her life and is a remarkable woman. My list admirable women includes Vashti McCollum, Elizabeth Warren, and others, and now Ali.
"The wandering bands of Sapiens storytellers were the most important and destructive force the animal kingdom ever produced."
This phrase appears early in book. It is another book about the rise of human kind on this Earth. It is similar to Guns, Germs and Steel and A Brief History of Everything.
I read it mostly for the early history: the invention of languages, stories, religions, gods and kings and such. In that respect it delivered.
One myth the book explodes is the idea of primitive cultures as being more in touch with and more cooperative with nature. It is not true. Every human group, everywhere, wasted no time in bending the environment to its one uses, and grabbing all the low hanging fruit as fast as they could, lest the other guy get it. Think the death of the North American mega fauna and the hands of the native populations.
It takes on what the author calls "romantic consumerism"… the general idea that you life is best served by jetting all over the world and getting exposed to as many cultures as possible. It also attacks cultural relativism for the evil that it is.
The author made an interesting observation about religions in general. They can be broken down into three gross categories: Many gods (polytheism); Two gods (dualism); And one god (monotheism).
Polytheism is marked by a laid back attitude. If you meet someone who believes in another god, no problem. You just add it to the list.
Dualism is marked by conflict: Creator versus destroyer; good versus evil; heaven versus hell.
Monotheism (i.e.: the big three) is awash in the blood of the non-believers.
Roman Catholicism is kind of an odd-man-out. They believe in one god with three faces (father son and holy ghost). They embrace dualism with God versus Satan. And they are also polytheistic in that they have hundreds of saints, and each saint has its followers. Practically speaking, "saint" is just another word for demigod.
The author uses the phrase "the exception that proves the rule" incorrectly and more than once. Truth be told, few people know how cliché is intended to work.
It has some interesting observations about money and credit. The author argues that the British obtained global imperialist domination over France because they paid their bills and were a good credit risk. Credit at the time was a new concept that the French failed to appreciate.
The last few chapters get into philosophy, happiness, and extrapolating the modern world out into the future, a most dangerous game.
An easy read, with the occasional bit of humor.
I finally got around to reading this book. It has been on my to-read list for quite some time. Part of the reason I put it off is that I felt I knew the science and the scientific philosophy fairly well (I did) but the book looks at many other aspects of the battle, including: religious perspectives, the media, politics, education and so on. The font is small, the leading tight, and the pages large, so this is a longer read than you might expect.
Part of the reason for its length is that major portions consist of chunks of pro-creationism texts, followed by contrary science positions. Ironically, one of the concerns about creationism is that it survives on the "balance" argument. That is, you are not "balanced" if you do not present "scientific creationism" along side the science of evolution with equal weight in the classroom or the media. And yet, this book goes to some lengths to show the other side. Of course, doing so is necessary in an analysis such as this. However, I often found myself reading something I thought was wrong, only to realize it was the opinion of a creationist, not the author, and is rebutted in the following section.
I read this book to hone my understanding of the arguments, especially the stupid arguments that one can expect from the "other side". I was especially interested in ID (Intelligent Design) arguments.
The last BC skeptic's meeting was a debate between a creationist (Richard Peachy, a part-time science teacher) and an actual science teacher (Scott Goodman). The actual science teacher won. However the audience was absolutely stacked and packed with religion believers hocking tapes, books, and such, about how the Earth is only 6,000 years old. They probably saw the argument in a different light. And they got to flog their propaganda. We were used.
The opening chapters of the book get into the basics of scientific philosophy and provide a primer on evolution. While not mentioned in the book, it is worth noting that the oft used tag line for evolution, "Survival of the Fittest", is a meaningless tautology. Add the word "offspring" and it works.
Consider these four terms and rank them in importance:
Facts, Laws, Theories, and Hypotheses.
In fact, this order is the usual one assigned by lay people, with Facts most important, and Hypotheses least important. Scientists rank them from most to least important like this:
Theories, Laws, Hypotheses and Facts.
The next chapter is a primer on the history of religion and religion's perspectives on evolution. There are actually quite a lot of them, running from "God did it all in a trice" to " The science is true (e.g .: the Earth is 4.5ish billion years old) but god is always invisibly tinkering and setting things in motion". There are at least a half dozen different flavors of creationism and religious evolutionism. Trying to address them all is a cosmic game of Whack-A-Mole. And like the mythical Hydra, if you kill a mole, two slightly different moles pop up in its place.
The US is unique in that it is one country with 50 different policies on science and evolution education. If you are educated in Kentucky, you might not get exposed to evolution at all until you reach college and decide to take an applicable course. And Kentucky is not unique. The BC skeptics once had an ex-cult-member and lawyer address the group. I chatted with him after the fact and was surprised to learn he heard of evolution for the very first time when he was 30!
Chapter five digs into the fight to eliminate evolutionary teaching from science classrooms. Unbelievably, this battle continues to this day.
The Scopes trial is well known from movies and plays. It was the trial of the century at the time. Scopes himself was actually a sacrificial volunteer, chosen because he had few ties to the community, and could thus bear excommunication from it. He was chosen by the ACLU to challenge anti-evolution laws. The Tennessee Supreme Court ultimately reversed the Scopes conviction, which also killed the ACLU's attempts to kill the law (no conviction means no avenue to appeal). The Monkey Trial only made things worse. States doubled down on the issue. New and more subtle attacks on evolution were devised. The language was twisted too. Think about the phrase "scientific creationism", an oxymoron if ever there was one. It was followed by "Intelligent Design (ID)". Most of these approaches failed, so creationists fell back on "equal time". That is, teach creationism along side evolution as an alternative. That failed (it violates the Constitution) and so they fell back on warning labels in text books, wrongly claiming the evolution is only a "theory".
A word on a word: Theory. When Perry Mason has a theory, it means he thinks he might be able to convince a court that his view should prevail. Here, "theory" and "opinion/guess" mean the same thing. In science, a "theory" is a broad perspective that ties together many aspects of data, observation, branches of science, and, usually, mathematics. General Relativity, Newtonian Mechanics, and Evolution are such theories. And they are all true (with some caveats).
Intelligent Design (ID) is the best that creationists have to offer at the moment, and the book goes into detail on it over a few chapters. Intelligent Design, and its hand-maiden Irreducible Complexity, are subtle arguments. In Darwin's day, the argument was: What use is half an eye? Even Darwin knew the answer to that: Any eye is better than none at all. The common example today of ID is the flagellum. This is the twirly thing at that back of some bacteria, making them mobile. But clever scientists have though of step-wise ways of getting to that too.
Intelligent Design was tested in Kitzmiller versus Dover. Dover is a town in Pennsylvania. Dover lost and ID was deemed thinly veiled creationism. Creationism is still fighting and still losing.
When all else fails, creationists fall back on "balance", or "equal time". This is fine in a political argument, but it is the kiss if intellectual death in a scientific one. Scientists, and people in general, must be able to discard discredited ideas, or we will be debating them forever.
The book goes on with chapters on the legal, educational, public opinion, and scientific issues associated with creationism, using a collection of writings from various authors. They present creationist arguments followed by science's rebuttals.
This is a very detailed book. It focuses to a degree on education since the author is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. If you want to understand creationism issues, you should have this book in your library.
Most of the counter arguments to evolution come from the Discovery Institute. It claims that it is scientific in its criticisms, but they do no research, publish no papers, gather no evidence, and spend all their time trying to shoehorn biblical rubbish into the curriculum of US schools.
One last word about Creationism and the Law. Judges are not well equipped to make decisions on issues of science. A group of judges asked Robert Park, a well respected physicist, to tell them the difference between BS science (pseudoscience) and real science. I have just acquired a copy of his book on the subject: Voodoo Science. I shall comment on it soon. Mr. Park wrote an article for Chronicle of Higher Education (2002) that listed seven signs, or "tells", of bogus science and gave it to them. This list was used, and still is, as an aid judges.
I published a list of sixteen such warning signs in the BC Skeptics newsletter in 1989. My list has now worked its way into courseware curricula around the world. My list included all of those expressed in Mr. Parks list. NB: I am not suggesting he stole my list, only that I got there first by 13 years. More on "The List" to come. Regardless, I was chuffed to see that parts of "my list" have made it into US jurisprudence.
The final chapter deals with what people believe around the world. I am happy to report that Scandinavia (Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway) are four of the top seven countries that believe in evolution. Canada was not surveyed. Turkey beat out the USA for dead last.
As I mentioned, this is a long a detailed read. Some of it is hard to read. I refer mostly to the cut-and-paste discussions from creationists. Their convoluted logic makes my brain hurt. It is also a must-have reference book if you want to take the subject seriously.
David Frum is a Canuck, and the son of Barbara Frum the well known journalist. He is also now a US citizen, a conservative, a one time Republican, and the author of Trumpocracy.
Trumpocracy was written in the first year of DJT's evil reign. This latest book was written over the intervening years. I read the first book because I wanted to read a conservative view point. Ditto this time around. Like all books about Trump, one is constantly reminded of his past sins… sins that tend to loose their identities in the avalanche of additional malfeasances.
"The rooster that took credit for the sunrise was outraged to be blamed for the sunset."
A nice pithy line.
Fun Fact: One of the Trump success factors that Frum points to is the Sinclair Broadcasting Company. It is Trump friendly and owns 40 percent of the US TV market. This where many Americans get their news.
They and the Trump acolytes praise the only president to never crack 50% approval in a reliable poll.
Frum was critical of the Mueller report which never lived up to expectations. They made five errors that assured failure. One: Mueller was only interested in prosecutable crimes. This meant no investigation of Trump possible debts to Russia. Two: He seemed to feel ignorance of the law was an excuse (this saved DJT Jr in the Trump Tower meeting). Three: He narrowed his investigation to the 2015/2016 election cycle. Four: He looked at people near Trump, but not Trump himself who refused to testify. And five: He refused to promote evidence that Trump could not be prosecuted for and therefore could not respond to (because he was the president). The upshot was we learned very little about Trump and his entanglements.
Frum spends some time discussing the Republicans tendency to cheat. Voter suppression, stack the courts, and gerrymandering being the primary means. The Republicans feel they are good and right, therefore whatever they do to maintain power is good and right too. Kavanaugh helped decide that the gerrymandering, an undemocratic and evil practice, was State business.
Frum discusses the "deep state". Like many things Trump, it is the opposite of what it should be. In the old days, the "deep state" were those with secret power who used clandestine ways of thwarting the government. Under Trump, it means the opposite: the legitimate use of power to thwart Trump.
As much as I hate to admit it, occasionally Trump is right. The only example I am aware of was the large numbers of asylum seekers at the US southern border. It is a fact that most of them were not legitimate asylum seekers under international law, and letting them onto US soil to apply for asylum would have many negative consequences.
Frum is basically upbeat. Trump must go, and the US must react to this near disaster. He offers the following solutions: Publish tax returns; Kill the filibuster; Make DC a state; Adopt a modern voting rights act; Deter gerrymandering; and Depoliticize the cops.
He argues that better immigration control can unite the nation. He also goes on to argue that the US must address climate change. His suggestions are worth reading, and are far more plausible than AOCs Green New Deal (AOC argues for more state ownership which puts the regulators and the regulated under the same roof). He also argues that China needs to be handled better. They have not been playing the game according to the rules.
Fun Fact: The Grand Old Party (GOP… Republicans) is younger that the Democratic Party.
In his final words, Frum argues that the GOP is so out of touch that it must reform or die. He makes no bones about Trump. He absolutely deserved impeachment. And he absolutely deserves to feel the full weight of the law when he leaves office.
America can come out of all this a better nation. The first step is to remove Trump from office.
Like most books of this type, this was a quick and easy read. It is insightful and hopeful at the same time as it is gloomy and reflective of the nation's exhaustion.
The errors referred to are design flaws in ourselves. I have always found this topic interesting. We think of ourselves as the peak of creation on Earth, but this is far from the truth when the details are examined. We are not the best at anything except thinking. All of our other traits speak more to a humanity being a jack of all trades, rather than being especially good at anything in particular.
Some of the issues discussed were familiar to me. The most common example of a design flaw is the human eye. It has two problems: myopia and wiring. Many of us are near sighted because our eyes are not the right shape. But more interesting is the wiring of the eye. We have our photo receptors at the back of the retina. In other words, the light we see must punch its way through a cell to get the receptors on the other side, a process that introduces distortions and dimming of the light. In addition, the wiring is also on the wrong (front) side, again blocking the light. All the wiring comes together at one place and then plunges through the retina to get to the optic nerve. This results in our famous blind spot. At some point in our history, nature flipped a coin on eye design when the design chosen did not matter. Then we evolved and discovered our mistake. Mollusk eyes do not have this flaw. Evolution can develop very complex structures. It is very good at that. But when it makes a mistake, it has no capacity to undo the error. Rather, it introduces workarounds or just tolerates the inconvenience, as long as it does not hamper reproduction.
Our hands and feet are full of useless bones that now just cause trouble. Our knees are very susceptible to injury, as any athlete who has blown his ACL will tell you. Our spine is designed for a creature with four walking legs. It started to change when we became knuckle walkers, but back aches are common, and for some, debilitating. The shape of our spine is a kludge stacked on two more kludges. Our air hole and our food hole are side by side, making choking to death possible. We breath in and out through the same hole. This is very inefficient in that stale and fresh air mix all the time. This is called tidal breathing. Think of breathing exclusively through a hose. If the hose is more than a few feet long, you will suffocate. Birds do not have this problem, which allows them to maintain a much faster metabolism. Beating wings is hard work that requires gobs of oxygen. Our brains and hearts are well protected, but one good punch to the throat and you will die. Our sinuses too have not caught up with upright walking. They now drain up, which causes blockages, running noses, and infections.
But my favorite example is the RLN (Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve). When we were fish, our hearts, lungs (gills) and brain were all up front in the head. The RLN, which now controls the voice box in us, had a short trip to make from the brain and it did so by running past the heart. As tetrapods evolved (we are all tetrapods), the heart and lungs moved away from the head and we developed necks. In humans, as in all tetrapods, the RLN branches off the vagus nerve, loops around the aorta, and goes back up to the voice box. This makes the nerve many times longer than it needs to be, and this is the kind of design flaw evolution cannot fix. Think about the sauropods… those giant long necked dinosaurs like Diplodocus. The RLN in them is on the order of 20 *meters* long… to cover a straight line distance of a foot!
Chapter two dives into our diets. Did you know a dog can live a long and healthy life eating rice and meat alone? They can because dogs manufacture the trace chemicals like vitamin C that they need to stay alive. But not us. A lot of our dietary foibles, like scurvy, are probably a result of growing up in a fruit rich environment. One day, the vitamin C gene broke, but since the environment already had a lot of vitamin C (e.g.: fruit), evolution failed to notice. We are also hard wired for a feast and famine lifestyle. Except we are now in a world of constant feast, which results in runaway obesity.
Chapter three discusses some of the fun that takes place at the genetic level. As most people know, sickle cell disease is a genetic adaptation to malaria. But when a person inherits two sickle cell genes, the result is not good.
One of the most interesting discussions was about how the immune system trains itself. In loose terms, long before you were recognizable as a human, the body set up a bunch of cells as a test bed, then breaks up various endogenous proteins and feeds them to those cells. If the cell reacts, it is killed. The upshot is all the remaining cells know how to get along with each other. Tuning of the immune system carries on for some time after birth. Allergies and auto-immune disorders are the result when this does not work. BTW: Do not buy "immune system boosters". Your immune system is in a state of balance. If you jack it up, you get sick; if you suppress it, you get sick. Peanut and related allergies are on the rise. The "hygiene hypothesis" suggests that this is the result of anti-bacterials and over protective parents. This seems likely to be true. So let your kids get dirty… it is good for them.
The next chapter focuses on reproduction. Why don't the fallopian tubes and the ovaries connect up directly? They should. It would avoid a lot of problems. Human child birth is extremely dangerous for both the mother and the child. Human babies are utterly helpless at birth. Our heads are enormous compared to the small hole we have to squeeze through to get born. These issues are unique to humans. A gnu calf pops out effortlessly for the mother, and is on the run within minutes. It may be that girls mature wore quickly than boys because there are many more things that can go wrong with their bodies. Nature responded by making women mature faster so they are more likely to pop out a puppy before dying.
Cancer is fascinating. If we live long enough, we will die of cancer. We think of the big C as death incarnate. But cancer is necessary for life. Cancer is runaway growth. Growth is what keeps us alive. As we age, our ability to control growth shrinks due to mutation and such, and we get cancer. Without mutation, life would not be possible. With mutation, life is a bitch.
The final chapters went off the rail for me and I only skimmed them. It discusses at length our cognitive errors, such as confirmation bias. I am already familiar with these "errors" and I largely skipped this chapter, and the next, which focuses on the large "why are we here" kind of issues.
This book has its moments, but I thought it strayed from its topic when it came to psychology. It is a good book to draw evolution examples from. In this case, the foot print of evolution is errors and compromises, not design. If all this sounds compelling to you, I recommend the book.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry; Neil deGrasse Tyson; 2017; W. W. Norton and Company; 208 pgs; index
This is a very quick read. Tyson is an decent writer with unbounded enthusiasm for his work. For me, this was mental chocolate: sweet, over quick and familiar. For most readers, however, I think a large percentage of this book will be new information… information that we all should have. It speaks to where we are in the grand scheme of things, but most importantly, it tells of just how grand the grand scheme is. And no, there is no schemer, only the laws of physics. In my life time, the amount we know about the universe has increased many fold. No other people in history have seen this happen. The trend will continue, but as time goes by, the revelations are bound to get smaller and less impressive. In other words, it is a great time to be curious.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.