159 glossy pages of color-illustrated creationist nostalgia … All the old favorites are here — fossils saying no, all the Icons, flightless Ubx flies, irreducible flagella, even that irritating homology-is-circular thing. There are no new arguments, no improved understanding of evolution, just a remastered scrapbook of the old ideas patched together in a high-gloss package pre-adapted to survive the post-Dover legal environment.
Metscher goes on to note that
[e]verything about this book is designed to avoid the legal obstacles that have impeded previous anti-evolution efforts. Foremost is the meticulous omission of all red-flag words and any direct statements of the nonscientific conclusions it proffers. And it is surely no coincidence that this book came out just as a number of states began passing legislation allowing supplemental materials for teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolutionary science.
This is the sort of material that the DI has in mind when it is pushing for the use of supplemental textbooks in places like Louisiana and Oklahoma. As Metscher states, the book’s
effect in schools will be to teach students that the process of science consists of fatuous discussions using context-free quotes and no cogent treatment of any clear questions. Together with new state education bills allowing local groups to push this stuff into classrooms, it will help dilute and weaken the already thin preparation students receive for dealing with a world full of information they need to be able to think about.
The review ends with some good practical suggestions for what you can do to strengthen science education in your state. Please do read the piece.
<HT to the folks at the NCSE>
It is always cute when the anti-evolutionists (in all their guises) try to do history; witness here, for example. Veteran observers are not surprised to find them trying to warp history (see here, here, here & here for that). Nowhere is this warping more evident than in how DI-hacks such as John West & Richard Weikart have promulgated a meme linking Darwin to Haeckel to Nazism. This has been clearly dealt with by a number of historians (see references herein and read Robert Richards’ latest book on Haeckel). Equally as resilient is the idea (also held by West & Weikart) that American eugenicists at the start of the 20th century were inspired by Darwin (who was himself, they claim, sympathetic to eugenics) and, thus, Darwin was culpable for American eugenic policies. Historian Mark Borrello dealt with this when debating West back in 2007 and, of course, someone with even the most facile knowledge of history knows that eugenics pre-dated Darwin by quite some time. But let’s look at one American eugenicist, Charles Davenport, and his book Heredity in Relation to Eugenics.
I’ve had the pleasure of working behind the scenes in a number of natural history museums. While a grad student, I had an office in the Natural History Museum in Dublin, spent a good deal of time every year in the collections of the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and a month at the Natural History Museum in London. As anyone who has spent time behind the scenes will tell you, not only are all the really cool specimens kept away from public view, but museums are populated with some very strange people! Richard Fortey’s latest book, Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum (Knopf, 2008) offers a wonderfully entertaining and evocative depiction of life in the London museum. He covers the the history of the museum and its collections, the people, and the political skirmishes as administrators wrestled control of the museum away from the scientists and into the hands of businessmen.
Fortey’s central message is important: the sort of basic (often morphological) systematic and taxonomic work that is being done in museums is important and should not be diminished by administrators’ love of “sexy” techniques or charismatic taxa. Our intellectual landscape is being shrunken by the ever-increasing trend to turn museums into sites of performance and tourism rather than of research. Fortey is visiting ASU in February for the IISE‘s annual public symposium (Looking for Life: Adventures and Misadventures in Species Exploration), and will – no doubt – touch on these issues. I will, unfortunately, miss his visit because I will be in Oklahoma that week.
Those familiar with museums will recognize many archetypal figures. Members of the public will get a wonderful insight into what goes on behind the scenes. I highly recommend this book.
John hasn’t read Origin. Not *this* John. And certainly not this one. It’s this one – and what he proposes to do is blog while he reads the first edition of that work. I have to say I approve of the use of the first edition – subsequent editions are a little murkier and lack the freshness of expression that makes the first such a wonderful read.
John expresses some slight shame at having not read Origin before. I don’t think that’s really a problem (or surprising). Biology students rarely read Origin and similarly physics students rarely crack open Principia; scientific education rarely encompasses exposure to the classic scientific texts (although I have argued in the past that they should). The important point is that we have moved beyond Darwin and, though appreciative of what he started, we need to realize that evolutionary theory has become much richer and much better established than in Darwin’s day. It is only the cdesign proponentists who seem not to realize this.
Lastly, John worries about being a “Darwinian.” I will just once again state that I am not a Darwinist, or for that matter, a Darwinian. The theory I use may be, but I am not. (Parenthetically, a session that I’m involved with for an upcoming conference seems to be gelling around discussing who the “Darwinians” actually were in the aftermath of the publication of Origin. The answer, it appears, is far from simple.)
Via Cocktail Party Physics, a list of popular science books. Rules are simple: Bold those you’ve read in full, asterisk those you intend to read, add any additional popular science books you think belong on the list (I’ll try and do that next weekend, class prep allowing), and link back to Jennifer (who has never read Origin, horror!). Here we go:
(This review was supposed to appear in Isis in 2001 but for some reason never did. It appears here for the first time.)
Most students of the history of science are familiar with the effect that Lysenko’s application of his political beliefs to scientific research had on genetic research and the economy of the USSR in the middle of this century. Equally well known is the supposed influence of Stephen Jay Gould’s Marxism on his theorizing, and works such as Levins and Lewontin’s The Dialectical Biologist. In the work under review, thirteen contributors from Europe and the United States attempt to examine the pervasive influence of state-sponsored Socialism on the development of science and technology in East Germany since 1945. Using documents from the archives of the East German Communist Party and the Ministry for State Security, we gain useful insight into a number of topics, including the legacy of National Socialism, the effect of the movement of scientists to the West, higher education policy, espionage, institutional such as the Leopoldina & the German Academy of Sciences, and examinations of engineering, chemistry, nuclear research, computer technology & biomedical research. A number of contributions are translated from the original German, and comparative analyses are limited to the FDR, Soviet Bloc countries and the USSR.
The work largely concentrates on the influence of Socialism on the administration of science and technology by the government of the GDR. Little attempt is made to provide an examination of how the theories and work of the various scientists mentioned were, if at all, influenced by their adoption of Socialist viewpoints. An exception to this generalization is Rainer Hohlfeld’s discussion of genetic and biomedical research, yet this too is incomplete in this respect. I suspect that examination of this aspect of the effect of Socialism may prove fertile for future graduate students, as further archives become available and G.D.R. scientists begin to talk about working before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
One must also question how unified a project this volume represents. In her introduction, Macrakis notes a number of editorial differences between herself and Hoffmann, stemming largely from differences in historiographic approaches adopted by the European and American contributors. As it happens, two editions of this work exist – an English version (under review) and a German version (Hoffmann & Macrakis, Naturwissenschaft und Technik in der DDR, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1997) with four extra chapters and an extensive bibliography. One has to wonder why this separation was necessary – particularly as the bibliography (even if largely of works in German) would have been invaluable for future researchers. This reviewer at least would have been interested in one of the omitted chapters.
These points aside, the work remains a useful entry point to the study of the effects of Socialism on science and technology. It is (by admission) incomplete, yet will form a valuable springboard for future researchers – if only because of the areas that remain uncovered.
Macrakis, Kristie; Hoffmann, Dieter (editors). Science under Socialism: East Germany in Comparative Perspective. Xiv + 380 pp., index. Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press, 1999. $55.00. [link]
(This review appeared in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2005)
As human beings, we like to tell stories–we are story-telling apes. As scientists, however, we tend not to see ourselves as telling stories for, we are led to believe, stories are mere fiction. Yet when faced with answering the question of why or how we became story-telling apes, we are often presented with a series of hypotheses with little empirical evidence to distinguish between them. In many ways, Wiktor Stoczkowski claims that it is because we are storytelling apes, and that because stories often represent cultural accretions, we are having so little success in generating a conclusive narrative about hominization.
(A review from Journal of the History of Biology 2004)
In the years following the publication of Origin of Species, George Romanes developed his theory of physiological selection in which he posited that “physiological peculiarities” lead to hybrid sterility between individuals and thus isolation which would allow natural selection to “promote diversity of character, and thus to evolve species in ramifying branches instead of linear series” (Romanes, 1886, qtd. p. 46). He felt that these physiological peculiarities may involve the reproductive system and in a series of works that received a mixed reception from his contemporaries made his case for this mode of speciation. Over one hundred years later, Donald Forsdyke feels that he has managed, in some degree, to finish Romanes’ work.
(Another book review, this time from 2002 and the Journal of the History of Biology. Both books are still in print and worth reading)
The simplicity (and adversarial nature) of the phrase "science versus religion" belies the diversity of ways in which these two fields of knowledge can, and do, interact. Thanks to the work of Ian Barbour, four modes of interaction are now generally accepted (conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration). It has been realized that in these post-1859 times, religion has had to face the radical reconfiguration of the human experience that appears to be required by the acceptance of modern scientific theories such as evolution, quantum mechanics, and electromagnetism. However, within such an arrangement, one must ask how science is, if at all, modified by religious beliefs. As John Hedley Brooke notes in Science in Theistic Contexts, we must avoid essentializing "science" and "religion," and imagining that our current boundaries would be acceptable to the scientists of times past. The two works under review offer potent illustrations of how scientific theory and religious belief have in the past influenced and affected each other, and we thus have no reason to imagine that this will not be the case in the future.
There’s another one of those book lists circulating – a list of 100 works of which it is claimed that the average American has read only six. Whether that is true or not (and Chad doesn’t believe it), the list contains the usual mixed bag of works.
Below the fold is the list; bolded works were read and finished (31), italicized were either not finished or are compilations (8).
(Another review that was published a few years back, in this case in Isis in 2001. Alter’s book is still in print and still worth reading.)
Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was written in a vivid style and, as such, is frequently studied as much as literature as scientific text. Particularly notable is Darwin’s use of analogy and metaphor. In the work under review, Stephen G. Alter focuses on two of Darwin’s literary devices – the metaphor of the tree and the analogy between languages and species – and in so doing demonstrates how both the supporters and opponents of transmutation used ideas and images from linguistics to present their case.
(The following is the text of a review I wrote that appeared in Journal of the History of Biology in 2000. As both of the books are still in print – and the Gould book is his exposition of Nonoverlapping Magesteria – I thought the review was worth posting.)
Most of us are familiar with the icons of warfare between science and religion, and have grown up hearing the stories of Bruno, Galileo, and Scopes. The two works under review offer differing viewpoints on the relationships between science and religion, and are aimed at differing audiences. Conkin’s volume is part of an academic series examining the place of intellectuals in American life, while Gould’s work is in a popular series in which “America’s most original voices tackle today’s most provocative issues” – issues including Jones v. Clinton, Tiger Woods, and the Disney empire.
Above all, Sedley lauds the Timaeus. It is a ‘uniquely rich and seminal text’. It is ‘the most influential of all Plato’s works, and probably the most seminal philosophical or scientific text to emerge from the whole of antiquity’. And ‘it could hardly be denied that Plato had been stunningly successful in explaining the natural world as the product of craftsmanship.’ Well, I deny it with both hands. Plato’s efforts are not stunningly successful: the Timaeus is a dismal commixture of pseudo-science and cod philosophy (and it is written in disgusting Greek). ‘Is this science or fable?’ Sedley asks of one passage, and gives a darkling answer. He does not consider a third possibility: that it is guff. The Timaeus is incontrovertibly a text of the first importance, as Sedley says, ‘seminal’, but from its seeds grew rank and stinking weeds.
That said, I’m looking forward to reading Sedley’s book which Barnes later describes as “golden”.
Via BikeMonkey I see that DrugMonkey had a "106 Books of Pretension" meme going last October. Namely, "the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users." So here we go – what I’ve read is in italics, what I never finished is struck through:
The Telegraph has a list up of the top fifty "best cult books," a category they describe as:
the sort of book that people wear like a leather jacket or carry around like a totem. The book that rewires your head: that turns you on to psychedelics; makes you want to move to Greece; makes you a pacifist; gives you a way of thinking about yourself as a woman, or a voice in your head that makes it feel okay to be a teenager; conjures into being a character who becomes a permanent inhabitant of your mental flophouse.
Below the fold are the top 50. I’ve indicated those (19) I’ve read with italics. Feel free to make suggestions for additions.