In general, I do not want to do book reviews on this website, but this book really pushed me to this point. I purchased the Kindle version back in 2013 and never found the time to read it, until now.
This is a book on science and skepticism of paranormal things, such as alien obductions, healing crystals, etc - all around woo woo. Maybe at a different time in my life I would have enjoyed this, but I found this book to be a complete turn off to me. Not that I do not appreciate science (I love science) or enjoy the skeptic community (James Randi is my favorite), but the book was permeated with this liberal pretentiousness. It wouldn’t be enough to just say that there was an air of this pretentiousness peppered through the book with cheap shots of capitalism and other political targets of liberalism, but a complete chapter is dedicated to politics and that his science with aligns with specific politics.
As books go, this was hard for me to read and I felt like putting it down at several points. I am currently practicing speed-reading techniques and a big one is actually wanting to read the book, which this book made tough. I would say outside of the pretentiousness there was just simply too many run-on sentences and Ben Shapiro style “fact” dropping, as if overwhelming someone with this information hardens one’s argument. For the most part you can skip just about every single quoted piece of text as redundant.
There is a view by Sagan that science is the responsibility of the flourishing we have seen in modern times. I am not discounting that, but science is merely the causal effect of the true underlying cause of why we are flourishing. It was when humans threw off the shackles of mysticism and collectivism to embrace reason. Reason, as an attribute only an individual possess must think and act. Thinking is one thing. Humans have always possessed the ability to discover the very advanced nature of the world around us at the dawn of man, but thinking is not enough… action unimpeded was required. Thinking put into action was a necessity.
The enlightenment occurred before witches were burned at the stake. Why did we fall away from it? Because action was not engrained into the culture of society and the social systems (government) that we live. Without action, thinking cannot truly take form in the world. The United States was really the first nation to set it in a constitution that the individual is free to act in this world. From that point on there was the greatest flourishing ever experienced by humanity ever. So powerful and undeniable the rest of the modern world had to adopt the principles in some capacity.
Science alone is not what makes human flourishing, it is reasoning and putting that reason into action that drives flourishing. The ability to think and act on your judgment without permission from your neighbor, local church or government.
The book is simply smug and pretentious with this liberal tone. It stinks of the idea that science (being pro-science) is aligned specifically with a political view. Sure, there are religious conservatives that are BAD, but that doesn’t lead us anywhere near this liberal viewpoint. Horrible arguments were given by showing a cut in government spending to something science related was BAD. Let us neglect that there is a view that it is not the government’s role is to supply scientists with endless amounts of money to do stuff.
Here is a little quote regarding the free market:
There is a growing free-market view of human knowledge, according to which basic research should compete without government support with all the other institutions and claimants in the society. If they couldn’t have relied on government support, and had to compete in the free market economy of their day, it’s unlikely that any of the scientists on my list would have been able to do their groundbreaking research.
There was hardly a free market prior to the creation of the United States, but it is speculative to assume these things. Sagan goes on to say:
Only about 10 percent of meritorious research proposals in medicine are funded today. More money is spent on quack medicine than on all of medical research.
Of course, there is no listed source here. The idea that more money is spent on quack medicine compared to all medical research is the funniest thing I have ever read.
He goes on:
If free market forces are focused only towards short-term profit - as they certainly mainly are in America with steep declines in corporate research - is not this solution tantamount to abandoning basic research?
This is what passes as the science man’s argument. Profit is certainly not short-term. One needs to think long-term to get profit. America doesn’t have a free market - especially in the space of medicine. It can take near a decade to get a simple drug approved by a government agency (FDA) - how can a business think in short-term profits?
Just to add, as a final note, something that is a little more speculative on my part. I found talk of Stalin’s Soviet Union only to be in disdain of it because of Stalin’s assassination of Trotsky. As if everything wrong with the Soviet Union was merely the communist in charge and not the reality of Stalin and Trotsky being different death apples from the same death tree. Like I mentioned this is speculative because it is not explicitly said, but there is just a tone in the few parts of the book that mention it.
While reading this it really reminded me of Richard Dawkins and his attacks on belief in god. Again, something very smug and elitist, but just stupid gotchas with regards to religion. Things that general people do not even believe to explain their belief in god, but things even religious scholars have dealt with already as arguments go.
The main content of this book seemed like it just came from the tabloids and finding the craziest things in it. Do people believe in tabloid garbage? Absolutely. Do people read their horoscopes? Yup. Does this really impede one from doing science? Are these things really the big issues that are pushing back against science?
At least for that last question, I do not think so. Crackpots always exist and they always have been the butt end of a joke in their community. What about those driving specific philosophy in science that is at its core anti-science? Do we need more feminist woman in specific science because they have intuition that men do not have? What about the natives that can feel the plight of a melting glacier? Or even more crazy, the viewpoints that science (defacto truth) is something that is merely group related. There’s black science and white science. There’s American science and African science. There’s bourgeoisie science and proletariat science, as even promoted by the likes of Marx. Not a peep in the book, just the fear that the crazies have a grip and the media (tabloids) pick up on it. The reality that professors in universities are training a generation of scientists that truth is subjective, and your group is who you are, not worth mentioning.
I suppose this book sort of misses the point. Crack pots are crack pots, which I agree. Are they really the impeders of science? I do not think so. I suppose THEY ARE, if you think that science and government go hand and hand, like church and state. Obviously, you need to convince voters if sucking tax dollars is what you are after. I am not sure if this is what makes the liberal agenda, or this just goes all hand in hand.
Aside from all that smug liberal politics presented, it is just the low hanging fruit that annoys me. Hey, look at me making a stand for science, look at this moron that thinks they were molested by aliens. Come on! Is this all you got? Lazy.