Knocking Down Pseudoscience

Published: Monday, October 22nd, 2012
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Bad Science

Ben Goldacre

Turn on your TV to any sort of infomercial channel, and you’ll see ‘health’ products being peddled to you left, right and center. Whether its magnets being used to enhance your height, or foot-baths ‘drawing out toxins’, this sort of parlour quackery suckers in millions of customers constantly.

Bad Science demolishes such pseudoscience with a deft hand, containing that dry British wit that has become so famous among the UK’s various scientists and skeptics. Author Ben Goldacre is himself a bit of a household name in Britain, with his newspaper column (also titled Bad Science) in The Guardian. Bad Science

Bad Science

Bad Science

is an offshoot of that, serving as a sort of expansion of the topics covered in that column, be it all sorts of ridiculous, unscientific (and often times, expensive) hocus pocus treatments, and the irresponsible media that promotes it.

Bad Science doesn’t just about dissecting why those exercises you were told to do before doing a task that requires thought are bunk, but also goes into the history of various pseudosciences that still exist to this day. There’s even a chapter dedicated to the history and analysis of homoeopathy that’s worth the price of admission alone. This book isn’t a “point and laugh at the fools for being suckered”, but rather an explanation on why perfectly rational people are fooled into buying into something that is so seeming obvious in its falseness (There’s even a chapter entitled, “Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things.”.

But Bad Science isn’t an entire book just dedicated to just showing you why putting candles in your ear to draw out toxins is a ludicrous idea, oh no. Pick up one of the later editions of the book which include the previously omitted chapter, The Doctor Will Now Sue You (excluded, interestingly enough, due to a libel lawsuit Goldacre was facing at the hands of a vitamin pill entrepreneur during the time of the book’s publishing), a rather shocking and disgusting expose on the corruption within the pharmacology industry. It should provide more than enough vitrolic material for those in the mood for getting mad, and of course, some ammunition for tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorists.

While Bad Science does tend to get slightly technical every now and then, don’t be put off by the occasional graph present. Bad Science is through-and-through a book by a scientist targeted at a science-loving general public. By reading this book, you’ll not only feel smarter for not having bought those Feng-Shuei crystal balls for your living room,but will finally understand what placebo means, and how powerful it can really be.

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Don’t turn a blind eye to this page-turner

Published: Monday, October 15th, 2012

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Blindness

Jose Saramago

1995

Books that play on incredibly common fears can be hit or miss,

Blindness

Blindness

the ‘miss’ resulting in cliches being doled out constantly in a poor attempt of coming off as being genuinely disturbing. Fortunately, Jose Saramago, one of Portugal’s most-revered writers, is more than skilled enough to dodge such pitfalls, in Blindness, one of his most internationally well-known, Nobel Prize-winning works. Blindness focuses on a set of characters; a doctor, his wife, and various characters they encounter in an entire country struck by an epidemic of “white blindness”, which is exactly as it sounds. The doctor’s wife is the only person unaffected by the white blindness, thus putting to test that old proverb, “In the land of the blind…”.

The book has a lot to offer to those looking for a plain psychological thriller, as well as those interested in an examination of the human condition. The present theme of humans, rather than the pandemic, being their own worst enemy will certainly draw parallels to various zombie fictions, such as Romero’s Dead films. In the vein of Romero, Saramago’s book contains more than its fair share of critique on human nature. The entire book is rich with such post-apocalyptic imagery, be it the slow but sure unknown origins of the pandemic, to the characters struggling more against other humans than the challenges of the disease. To put it succinctly, it’s zombie fiction without the zombie.

The book has an interesting style of writing, as though all the events within the book are paraphrased. There are no ‘quotes’, no dialogue, no inverted commas present throughout. The characters of the book lack names (for stylistic purposes, they are given monikers based on who they are, or what their physical appearance is), but not motivation or personality. The Doctor’s Wife is particularly interesting, being the only person to have not gone blind in the epidemic. The pressure and obligation to solve everyone’s problems due to her advantage can easily make one think of a hero’s obligation to society, raising the question, how important is your own happiness over that of others? The book examines this easy to describe yet undeniably complex issue with great detail.

Blindness is as far as a book can get from being light. The book is full of murder, chaos and destruction, as should a about the breakdown of society. Regardless of how squeamish you may get while reading, it is important that you keep on going. Good fiction will always provoke your emotions, and this book does more than its fair share. You will not only feel sadness, anger and disgust, but also a feeling of inner-conflict, the inability to decide whether various actions committed by the characters are justifiable. Blindness is morally grey. Blindness is frightening. Blindness is important and well worth the look.

Book or movie? Do Androids Dream vs. Blade Runner

Published: Monday, October 8th, 2012

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Review

Philip K. Dick

Doubleday, 1968

A lot of us are familiar with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, one of the most acclaimed yet polarized sci-fi movies ever to come out. Some praised it for its exploration of some interesting philosophical talking points…what truly defines human? Are we truly who we think we are? Others criticized the movie for its slow pace and heavy-handed romance. Nevertheless, the film has made an impact on popular culture, with its amazing set and prop design, continuing to give

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (later republished as Blade Runner)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (later republished as Blade Runner)

inspiration to designers.

Naturally, most are aware that the film is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which, interestingly enough, had a movie tie-in edition sold as Blade Runner in some markets), and are quick to discount reading it in fear of it being too similar to the movie. After all, watching Blade Runner is around 2-3 hours (depending on which edition of the film you decide to watch) of your time, but the but book is much bigger investment.

Truth be told, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve seen Blade Runner, because DADoES is really its own thing. While the book and the film possess some fairly superficial similarities, character names, locations, the two couldn’t be any more different. Infact, the basic premise of Rick Deckard, a LAPD bounty hunter assigned to hunt down escaped androids (or ‘andies’) is really the only similarity that exists.

While Blade Runner’s characters are given more room for exploration than its universe, DADoES dedicates enough time for both, and as a result, explores some more of Philip K. Dick’s philosophical chestnuts besides the ones seen in Blade Runner; the true existence of self, the deceptions brought on by the hands of established authority, and, not to mention, a dissection of the reason for said deceptions being needed. To explain what content of the book discusses the above would be giving away too much, to say the least.

It honestly would be difficult to write this article without comparing the book to its movie cousin, but selling the differences between them is unfortunately what will get most to read this book. While the 1968 publication date might have some people finding some of events in the book quaint or dated, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is nevertheless a truly unique novel that cannot be properly experienced in any other adaptation. Any avid reader should have this book on their to-do list. I trust the avid sci-fi readers have already finished it.

Book explores the problem with African aid

Published: Monday, October 1st, 2012

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Dead Aid
Dambisa Moyo

D&M Publishers Inc., 2009

So, how do you solve the dire financial situations of Africa? If ‘aid’ was ready to leap off your tongue, then this is definitely the book for you. Or even if it wasn’t aid, you should still read it. Actually, it doesn’t matter what you think, read this book anyway.

So what exactly IS Dead Aid about? Well, to put it simply, it refutes what has been hammered into our minds by countless charity events and World Vision commercials, that aid is the end-all solution to resolve Africa’s worsening political and economic climate. Author Dambisa Moyo refuses to soften the blow

Dead Aid

Dead Aid

when she says that African Aid simply doesn’t work. Those who accusingly jump at aid detractors as heartless simply do not understand the way aid is handled in Africa. Moyo reveals how African nations that receive an unending supply of annual aid actually experience negative economic growth, and how a lot of aid money is often funneled into the pockets of various despots with Swiss bank accounts, and how countries like Botswana, which received minimal aid, is the leading African nation in terms of economic and societal growth.

So, aid doesn’t work, right? Then what CAN be done? Not to spoil anything, but one of the first things suggested is investment, rather than donation. Moyo creates a rather tragicomic story that nevertheless parallels with real-life incidence wherein a well-meaning Hollywood celebrity donates thousands of mosquito nets to an African country, running a local mosquito-net maker out of business. Through this simple story, an example of why investment supersedes mere charity.

Moyo’s style of writing is interesting. While without bias, citing her claims (very well, I might add, the bibliography is a whole other world of extra reading) properly, there is nevertheless a hint of frustration present in the writing, as though the author, looking at the examples she was citing, was growing irritated with the realization that despite all these counterpoints against the way aid is handled, it still continues.

This book is an excellent read for supporters and detractors of aid. It not only gives a fresh perspective from the views of an educated (Moyo has a Ph.D in economics from Oxford University), native African, but also provides ammunition for those wishing to debate against how the current state of African aid. Even if you aren’t the one to pick debates, the book is an interesting (and relatively light, at around 154 pages, excluding the bibliography.) read that should be checked out.