Saturday, September 9, 2017

More Evidence?

There are climate change skeptics, but the publisher of Skeptic flipped on the issue. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, used to believe that climate change was not happening or, at least not human caused. He's changed his mind on this.

Katrina and the superdome. Sandy, with New York City streets under feet of water.

And I'm published in Skeptic, again, with vol22, n2. Reviewing books about fraud and cons. Obviously unrelated. One of the points, in one of the books: the most successful con is the one that is undiscovered.

And I've flipped over Skeptic.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wondering War Woman

Are people who do evil things necessarily evil themselves?
Are all people who do evil things beyond the reach of change?

I liked the movie Wonder Woman --as fiction. In the film, there is evil which cannot be redeemed. Made for a more entertaining story if there's clear heroes & villains.

But, in real life, is it ever the same as it is in a superhero fantasy?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Damaged Care

What if the US Congress had the same health insurance as the rest of us? (They don't).

Saturday, April 29, 2017

What Nancy Drew on

Did you ever read any of the Nancy Drew mysteries? I read book after book, more than fifty of them. I think I learned as much about writing from those books as from English class. But when I recently rediscovered them, I fell in love for a new reason: the cultural currents she "Drew" on. (forgive me).

The earliest volumes were published in the 1930s, when the US was a different place. Did you know that the first two dozen books in the mystery series were rewritten in the 1950s and 1960s to make them more modern? The original versions of the Secret of the Old Clock and its dozen or two follow-ups had Nancy wearing gloves and hats, and this was changed when the books were revised.

Racist stereotypes were also changed. Irish servants. References to a (stupid) black woman as a "negress."

The first detective story, of any type, is generally credited to Edgar Allan Poe in the 1840s. Children weren't really a market for them (or for anything else) until at least half a century after that. Oh, and in the 30s and 40s, Nancy as a strong female character, and a youth, was controversial.

Since the first Nancy Drew novel appeared in the 1930s, and are still being produced, it is now obvious that "Carolyn Keene" is a pseudonym. But it always was: no such person ever existed. Nancy Drew stories were contracted from a publishing company from the very start, with a clause taht the actual author could not receive credit or compensation beyond a small fee.

Some people dream of being given a new car (if not a blue roadster). I dream of being given a bunch of old (or new) Nancy Drew books. I'm a bibliophile and not wealthy (this is not a good combination). Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?

I'd type more, but I want to go back to reading Nancy Drew mysteries. They're really fun!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Whether" prediction works?

Much more snow was forecast. On the news they talked of a foot or more for NYC. We have less than they forecast.

Is this unusual? My very first review for Skeptic magazine, written under my male pseudonym, talked about this. The book was William Sherden's _The Fortune Sellers_ and his persuasive argument was that predicting the future doesn't usually work. That even with better equipment and better training, weather prediction is not going to _ever_ be more accurate than an estimate, and that not for more than a day or two ahead.

Sherden makes the same argument for stock market prediction. People pay big money for stock market prediction, and how often is it right?

Try it: maybe write down for, say, a week, what weather forecasters say, and then write down what happens. How right are they for seven days ahead? For the next day?

Do you own stock? Would it give you confidence to write down what the predictors say, and then, six months or a year later, compare it with what happened?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Skeptic v21n4

Hysteria that even leads to the detention of a child? I'm talking of course about the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 and their aftermath. If y'all haven't already done so, you might enjoy picking up a copy of Skeptic magazine, v21n4, the issue currently on newsstands. It features a book review by yours truly on the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 and their aftermath.

In it I review three books: The Witches by Stacy Schiff, In the Devil's Snare by Mary Beth Norton, and America Bewitched by Owen Davies. Schiff discusses the 1692 epidemic with grace and comprehensiveness, Norton makes a step by step case about why the 1692 trials were longer and deadlier than any other in the colonies. Davies notes that some things haven't changed: it was women who were mostly executed in 1692, and women who were involved in most of the cases since, as late as the 1950s.

Skeptic magazine, by the way, looks to science to explain strange phenomena.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tech allows change?

Why do histories of science discovery include biographies of the discoverer? I found it revelatory when it was pointed out that it was new technology related to glass which allowed the discoveries made via the microscope and telescope.  I feel like I missed this because I was too distracted by text discussing who the discoverers were.

I’m not saying that the lives of the scientists are not worth studying. Discovering, via Keynes, that Newton believed in alchemy is relevant to many questions, the fact that one scientist could do his work because he was wealthy, that another was persecuted while others of his time weren’t due to where he lived, is all worthy of study, for many reasons.

What I am saying is that in trying to cram everything into a textbook, we run the risk of readers getting turned off. I was.

I was.

Most of what I’ve learned about history, and other areas, I’ve learned despite the textbooks.
What if curious children and adults were introduced to the story of science in another way? What if science history was framed by the history of the technology available to the investigators, rather than by the investigators lives?

What if telescopes and microscopes got a chapter, perhaps the same chapter? I didn’t understand it when the ability to see inside of cells was credited to a person rather than to a technology. The person deserves some credit, but since the person was the focus I lost sight of the fact that it was the technology that allowed the insight. Likewise the telescope: Galileo’s place is secure because he used the telescope more effectively than his predecessors, but the larger point, the take away, is that the new technology is what allowed him to see new things.
In an era where science funding is cut, this is not an insignificant point.

There was a Time Magazine special edition that discussed the results of scientific discoveries. The laser, for example, led to new audio/video tech, new eye surgery, and supermarket checkout scanners. This was more helpful for my understanding of the world, or of how science and technology can effect society, than if that discussion had been clogged with names. There was nary a one. So I could focus on the ideas, and I said, "WOW! THAT'S NEAT!"

What if a discussion of modern discoveries and theories was framed around how the cpu --starting with the 4004, say--- allowed calculations previously too complex and lengthy for humans to do? It’s true: in more than one field, calculations that would have taken _teams_ of researchers _years_ to accomplish can now be done in hours or minutes. And in field after field, ---iPhones to mass marketing to the age of the universe to cancer--- this has made all of the difference.

If you want to study how science is done, study how the great scientists worked. But if you want to learn how discoveries changed our lives, focus on the technology. Trying to do both at once confused me and discouraged me. Separating them opened the world to me.

Is it just me?