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Some links, especially to newspapers, expire after two or three days. Notify us of broken links and we will repair or remove them.


Science, Fiction, and points in between

Wed 15 Mar 2000

Salon profiles physicist Robert Park, skeptic, activist, and warrior against pseudoscience, and his forthcoming book Voodoo Science : The Road from Foolishness to Fraud (Oxford University Press).

Park has seen only one episode of "The X-Files," at his son's urging, and was duly unimpressed, except for one small detail: the poster in Fox Mulder's office depicting a UFO, with the slogan "I want to believe." Therein lies the secret behind the pervasiveness of pseudoscience: People want to believe, and they will distort and deny the facts any way they can to support a belief. "Many people choose scientific beliefs the same way they choose to be Methodists or Democrats or Chicago Cubs fans," Park writes. "They judge science by how well it agrees with the way they want the world to be."
Salon 15 March

Time Magazine for March 20th has an article [not online] about the popularity of romance novels. Almost 1 of every 5 books sold is a romance novel, it notes; and of 1,963 romances released in 1998, 6% were 'paranormal romances' with futuristic or magical themes. The article also mentions that ''Other genres -- mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi -- attract no cultural stigma...''

• Robert Wright notes the passing of William Hamilton, the biologist who developed the theory of kin selection and explained, perhaps, why love evolved.

Slate 14 March

• The New York Times explains evolutionary psychology for you.

• Michael Dirda on book collectors.

Collectors -- that doomed race -- will sometimes admit that they prefer to daydream over book catalogues rather than take down a treasured volume from their shelves and actually Open It.

• The French have quite a challenge discussing the Internet without compromising their language; the Académie Française wants to refer to e-mail as la messagerie électronique and to call Web surfers internauts.

The Economist March 11th-17th
(via Slate)

• Edward Tenner (Why Things Bite Back) and John Horgan (The End of Science) debate Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. Horgan:

Who is Gladwell kidding? Scientists have been harping on so-called nonlinear effects for decades. Nonlinearity is the basis of catastrophe theory, chaos, complexity, self-organized criticality, punctuated equilibrium, and other scientific fads.
Yet Tenner thinks the book is well-done: ''If Gladwell's examples seem self-evident in retrospect, that's a feature, not a bug.''
Slate 13 March

• Novelist Geoff Dyer on Reader's Block:

The strange thing about this is that at 20 I imagined I would spend my middle age reading books that I didn’t have the patience to read when I was young. But now, at 41, I don’t even have the patience to read the books I read when I was 20.
LA Weekly March 3 - 9

Mon 6 Mar 2000

Nonfiction & Literary Reviews

§ Salon, March 6, 2000
Annie Murphy Paul reviews A General Theory of Love: Love and the New Science of the Emotional Mind, a book by three evolutionary psychologists (and practicing psychiatrists), Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon.

Our romance with logic and reason, they contend, has obscured the fact that underneath our cerebral conversation and witty banter, we're still primitive creatures, hungry for the touch of another's skin and the sound of another's heartbeat.
This gives us a chance to recommend Alain de Botton's New York Times Magazine essay from a couple weeks ago (13 Feb), The Schopenhauer Method, which considers the writings of the 19th-century German philosopher as a self-help manual on love. ''Helpful Thought No. 3: Accept Suffering. We Don't Do This to Be Happy''. De Botton doesn't use terms like evolutionary psychology, but he might as well; ''Schopenhauer's ideas can be valued as one of the earliest attempts in Western culture to cure us of love by trying to understand what love is at a biological level.'' [The exact link is variable; if the above doesn't work, go to Search and in the Extended Search box type in ''botton''.]

§ New York Times Book Review, March 5, 2000

  • Alan Wolfe reviews Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point; he finds its central premise unpersuasive.
  • A.O. Scott reviews Doctorow's City of God: ''The ideas are certainly there... But where is the novel?''.
  • Frederick Busch reviews Thomas Mallon's Two Moons, a book about ''nothing less than the vastness of the universe and the wish to be immortal'', a novel that ''abounds in rewards''.

§ Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2000

  • Caroline Fraser's front-page review covers several books about animals, including Irene Maxine Pepperberg's The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots.
  • Daniel J. Kevles reviews Matt Ridley's Genome.
  • A long review of Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine by Martin Gardner, who suspects its central thesis is fad science.

§ San Francisco Chronicle, March 5, 2000

  • Christopher Hawthorne reviews The Tipping Point.
  • Cynthia L. Haven reviews Beowulf.

§ Boston Globe, March 3, 2000

  • Ellen Clegg reviews A Natural History of Rape.

Wed 1 Mar 2000

• Brutus. 1 is a 'computer blueprint' that is fed characters and facts of a story, and generates up to 500 words of prose. But only tales about betrayal in academic settings.

CNN 29 Feb

February Aether Vibrations
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