As if I needed more reason to like the man. He had me at the title. This is part of the fascinating problem with being an expert in anything: People don’t understand you, don’t believe you, and outright challenge you when you try to explain things to them. Me? I’m not an expert in anything except my own life, the jobs I’ve held long enough, and the occasional segment of popular culture trivia. I’d like to be someday, but that a ways off. However, I do have the great fortune to have befriended experts in various fields of research, study, and practice. Doctors, engineers, professors, and just plain skilled and/or self-taught geeks and craftspeople. To a person, they all have had run-ins with people who will insist that things are not so complicated as these experts make it out to be.
If I tell you that I was once in a two-year relationship with a woman, and it was complicated, you would believe me in a heartbeat. You might take the message that I don’t feel like talking about it from the phrasing, but you would also very literally believe it was complicated. Yet, real, honest-to-goodness experts who’ve spent decades looking into something don’t get the benefit of the doubt when they express the conclusion to a complicated theory. (e.g. Climate change, general relativity, etc.)
Part of it is wonderful. I love that people don’t always accept things blindly from authority. But the sinister side is where people become cynical about perspectives and ideas that are complicated and also don’t agree with their viewpoint, their finances, or their government policy. This is when we start to hear about charges of elitism and ivory towers. This is when you start to hear things like, “If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it.” While there might be a grain of merit in that skepticism and rush to a simple conclusion, it’s ultimately a destructive attitude that lacks the kind of nuance that is really necessary to be informed about certain things.
Well no wonder the book is so huge - it sounds like he’s trying to tackle four or five subjects at once. All of them worthy - but maybe his editor should have turned it into two books.
postmodern academics who call evidence-based policy “fascism” because there is no objective reality.
Until you run into one of these - usually someone who mistakes literary deconstructionism for physics - it’s hard to believe how smug intentional ignorance can get. The best moments in Melvyn Bragg’s invaluable In Our Time podcasts are his explosive reaction when otherwise productive conversations get suddenly derailed into that abyss.
Alan Sokal and Social Text. Just sayin’
(disclaimer: I was a high school classmate of Alan’s and thought he was dang smart back then, too)
Ooooh. How did I not know this was a thing?! Thank you.
I confess to hating the phrase, “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that,” because it is too often the rallying cry of the kind of science writer whose mission in life is to tell us to stop being so darned excited about science, who wants to point out that the news that’s cheered and amazed us isn’t all that big a deal.
Cuts both ways, don’t it? You could neatly replace the words “excited”, “cheered”, and “amazed” there with “terrified”, “frightened”, and “shocked”.
It seems to be a common theme these days that many things are indeed not really that big of a deal, but the 24-hour news cycle isn’t going to fill itself.
I admire what Goldacre is doing, but I’ve always found his columns so awkwardly-written (and in need of a stern editor) that I give up after a few paragraphs. I can’t imagine trying to read a whole book of his writing.
400 pages on a two hour flight? Close to 7 pages a minute. One page every 10 seconds? That’s is indeed a fast read.
Um, 400 pages divided by 120 minutes (assuming he read for the entire two hours) is 3.3 pages per minute, or 18 seconds per page, which is fast, but not unbelievably fast.
I think Cory probably read while he was waiting before and after the flight as well though.
Doh. Yeah, 18 seconds per page. I… I have no excuse.
Goldacre has a great TED talk, which I heard repeated on NPR’s show about TED talks. He talks as fast as Cory reads apparently yet is quite entertaining.
It’s a masterpiece. As brilliant a hoax as The Report From Iron Mountain.
Since it is a collection of previously published work, He probably skipped the ones he has read recently or repeatedly.
Interesting. I find his writing very engaging. I read Bad Science in a couple evenings.
I’m fine with being critical of experts’ opinions, as long as you’re more critical of your own opinions. Otherwise it’s not skepticism, it’s just rationalising your own prejudices.
I love Ben and I’ll buy the book, but I was utterly unable to read this article because of that annoying, intrusive flashing gif. Seriously headache inducing.
Seconded - reading and strobe lights are not good friends.
Yes. What the hell? Had to scroll past so missed a lot of it until I forced myself to go back, whilst holding may had over that section of the screen, in order to read it the adjacent text. Truly nasty piece of web design.