ScienceSkepticism

Books, books, books!

I can’t help myself. I can’t stop. I am gorging on books. I just picked up Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer and Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh this morning. I’m irritated because I have to teach a knitting class tonight, so I can’t spend all day reading both books. One will probably have to wait for the weekend.

I’m planning the reading selections for the summer and fall right now. Next week we’ll start Ghost by Alan Lightman. Then Rebecca will pick up with a reading selection in July while I am in Lithuania. Then we’ll likely be reading two books written by Skepchick readers and two books recommended by Skepchick readers. We’ll also be reading Proust Was a Neuroscientist because I can already tell I am going to love this book: I read the introduction and the conclusion in the bookstore this morning. (Yes, I often read the last chapter of the book after the first chapter, and then I go back and read the middle. I do this more with nonfiction than with fiction.)

I’ll be posting the interview with Mick O’Hare, author of How to Fossilize Your Hamster soon. I did want to interview some readers of this book, but no-one contacted me. So here are a few questions for you to answer in the comments as a group interview:

This is not a quiz! It’s just some questions that I think are interesting, and I hope you do, too.

Do you think How to Fossilize Your Hamster does a good job of making science interesting to the general public? Why or why not?

Do you think this kind of science book can help people improve their critical thinking skills?

What was your favorite experiment? Did you do it, or just read about it?

Did anyone do all of the booze experiments? Did you make it through them all without drinking enough to make you puke?

Do you think skeptics can become cool the way geeks have become cool? What would it take to make this happen? Do you have any idea how geeks became cool, because I sure don’t! Bizarro.

That’s it. I hope you enjoyed this book as much as I did. It was light, loaded with science, and had a twist of lemon.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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9 Comments

  1. I gotta admit, Jonah Lerner bugs me every now and then when he complains about “reductive materialism” or “materialist reductionism” or “reductionist neuroscience”. Saying “reductionism” to me is like saying “chicken” to Marty McFly. It’s one of the surest ways to provoke me into full-blown SIWOTI Syndrome. See here for my reasons.

  2. I – am – a – materiuhl – girl. Materi-uh-uh-uhl…

    Yeah, I know what you mean. But he seems to be a reductionist/materialist but he can’t think of any better way to describe his thoughts. I’ve had similar problems clarifying my own thoughts on this topic. Of course I will have to read the rest of the book before I come to a conclusion about it.

  3. Now, I do think there is value is calling people out on what Dennet calls “greedy reductionism,” but that’s generally a case of simply jumping the gun-getting a toehold on a really complex phenomenon and extrapolating that understanding far beyond where a little testing and common sense would suggest its applicable-neuroscience and genetics seem to be the biggest repeat offenders.

  4. “Materialist reductivism” seems to be the newest means of shaming those who won’t humor magical thinking.

    When the curtain was pulled back and the mighty OZ was revealed to be a little old man pulling at levers, who in their right mind would conclude that perhaps OZ was still real? When germ theory came into it’s own, who in their right mind would’ve argued that perhaps evil spirits were nonetheless the cause of disease?

    It’s right up there with hurling accusations of scientism and logical positivism at anyone who maintains the necessity of supporting claims with evidence.

  5. Agreed, Zamboro. I was just suggesting that what he might mean was more along the lines of the endless streams of neuroscience conjecture that pin a complex behavioral system or genetic signalling network on the simple level of a single neurotransmitter or single codon polymorphism, and, given the complexity of the system at hand, inevitably (and unsurprisingly) turns out to be wrong, and instead depends on the subtle interactions of numerous elements, and looking at a level smaller than the system isn’t helpful.

    Reductionism vs. “holistics” or “vitalism” or whatever is nonsense. Greedy reductionism vs. systems thinking is a genuine scientific concern.

  6. I wish I had more time to read. I like it when I travel because I can read on the plane and in the airport. The rest of the time, I’m screwed. I only just finished Wiseman’s Quirkology a few days ago, on my SFO trip. I suck.

  7. When the curtain was pulled back and the mighty OZ was revealed to be a little old man pulling at levers, who in their right mind would conclude that perhaps OZ was still real?

    Well, of course the Great and Powerful Oz was still real! He was just appearing in the form of a little old man, similar to how he previously appeared as a giant head, a beautiful woman, a ball of flame, a horrible beast, and a disembodied voice. Sheesh, at least do some research before trying to tear down my beliefs.

  8. “Do you think How to Fossilize Your Hamster does a good job of making science interesting to the general public? Why or why not?”

    – Yes and no. Its coverage of “what’s happening” in each experiment was great, and it clearly explained the science behind the results. However, I still think the book would be something people already interested in science would pick up – but the experments that kids can do (alone or with adults) seem like things I would’ve gotten excited over when I was younger. Teachers should get into this book and consider using it for elementary, middle, and high schools.

    “Do you think this kind of science book can help people improve their critical thinking skills?”

    -Definitely. Not all of the experiments I did ended up with the correct results. But it I was able to investigate how I screwed up or maybe didn’t have the right materials. Using the explanations, I got the science behind it, even if I was too incompetent to recreate the experiment.

    “What was your favorite experiment? Did you do it, or just read about it?”

    – Complete collapse, because it involved a little danger and was a miniature example of forces that act on a large scale. I just read about it – it is the one where water is heated inside a container, and the cap is put on. The container (a can in the experiment) begins to buckle and crush. What I love about this one is how it shows the earth’s atmospheric pressure affecting something. It isn’t a very large section, but I think it is an important one. Other than having to equalize one’s ears in a swimming pool or when rising in an air plane, when else do we get to experience this vital (but invisible) part of our existance. It also reminded me of the fascinating explosive decompression accident on the Byford Dolphin diving bell (interesting read on Wiki).

    I did something with beer, that ended up having wonky results, but I got a glass of beer out of the deal – almost did the one with rum, but only had dark rum. So, didn’t get anywhere close enough to a fun time with the alchoholic experiments.

    And I definitely think skeptics are gettin cool. I think people are getting fed up with the woo – and more people are starting to listen. As with the book, detailed explanations help people get into it sometimes. The every-day-ness sort of feel from the book shows how accessible, fun, and colorful explaining something scientific or mathematic can be.

    I really liked the section on “how to fossilize your hampster” actually. It goes on about having to traverse caves and volcanic regions, making a point that you’re probably not going to be able to do it – but, hey, this is the science behind it, if you really want to try :)

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