September 2nd, 2002


Lloyd Biggle, Jr. - The Whirligig of Time

Crackers! I've fallen behind in listing the books I've read....
This is a "Jan Darzek" novel that I'd somehow missed the first time around (it's copyright 1979). It is perhaps not the best of the Darzeks, but it's a pretty good read, and I found a number of the ideas he examines to be worth thinking about. I enjoyed it.
  • Current Music
    Gryphon - About As Curious As It Can Be

200% of Nothing, by A.K. Dewdney

The subtitle on the book cover reads: "From 'Percentage Pumping' to 'Irrational Ratios' -- An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Math Abuse and Innumeracy." That's pretty accurate.

And one of the blurbs on the back cover quotes Arthur C. Clarke:

"In today's world, "innumeracy" is an even greater danger than illiteracy, and is perhaps even more common. Advertisers and politicians exploit is; intellectuals (self-styled) even flaunt it. I hope that this wise and witty book will provide cures where they are possible, and warnings where they are necessary.

"It's also a lot of fun. I can guarantee that 100%."

What can I add to that? Well, a couple of things. It really is an interesting book, and was a surprisingly easy read. However, I think I may have to read it again before too long -- I need to develop some way of internalizing my recognition of many of the math abuses so clearly illuminated here.

Also, I'm having a really hard time understanding why the likelihood of a false positive or false negative on, say, an AIDS test depends on the incidence of the disease in the population I come from. Sounds like voodoo statistics to me. Does this mean I have a different likelihood of a false positive if you consider me as coming from the population of "over-50-year-old white males" than if you consider me as coming from the population of "North American sf fans"? Just doesn't make sense to me.

On the other hand, I have no trouble at all with the fact that the law of averages demands that if I've just flipped a coin 800 times and have obtained 800 "heads," the chances of getting "heads" on the next flip is exactly 50/50.

In any case, the bottom line is I highly recommend this book.

  • Current Music
    Gryphon - About As Curious As It Can Be

Yes, We Have No Neutrons, by A.K. Dewdney

I told you I had fallen behind in reporting on my reading....

The subtitle on the cover of this one is, "An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Bad Science." Well we may ask what that means, so I turn to the Introduction: "What is bad science? To begin with, bad science must be distinguished from fraudulent science. ... A preliminary definition might simply state that bad science happens when someone strays in a fatal way from the scientific method."

This is a quick, fun, and interesting read. It has eight chapters, each of which discusses the errors which produced a particular instance of bad science. The one that may be most familiar to us is Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons's "discovery" of cold fusion (which, though wrong, turned out to be less wackily impossible than I had thought); the other chapters address N rays, IQ, Sigmund Freud's theories, SETI, neural nets, Biosphere 2, and the racial theories of J. Phillipe Rushton.

Not only is this book fascinating and informative, it helps provide us the tools to think about other claims of scientific findings that may not be as scientific as they first appear. And it's actually great rollicking fun to read to boot!
  • Current Music
    Babatunde Olatunji - Drums of Passion and More, Vol. 1