Sunday, July 19, 2015

A. K. Dewdney. Yes, We Have No Neutrons (1997)

     A. K. Dewdney. Yes, We Have No Neutrons (1997) Nine examples of bad science, well told and well analysed. N-Rays as an example of wishful thinking misleading the investigator. Freud, theorising with no data and no testable predictions. IQ as a misunderstood and misappropriated concept, which still messes with people’s minds. SETI as an hypothesis with no hope of sufficient data to ever test  it.  Neural nets, a metaphor gone awry; plain Turing machines do better. Cold fusion, where ambition and inadequate experiments led to a gamble that didn’t pay off. Biosphere 2, poor design based on a grandiose vision. Rushton’s (and other sociologists’) misreading of the bell curve.
     The history is fairly told and complete, the analysis clear and on occasion harsh. Dewdney tries to be polite, but Freudianism and IQ mania have both caused harm, and he lets his anger show. A good book.
      Update on SETI: recent observations of planetary systems suggest that most stars have planets, which provides an estimate rather than a guess for one the terms in Drake’s famous formula for the probable number of intelligent aliens. But Earth-like planets seem to be rare, and those in a life-promoting orbit rare still, so the odds are if anything more clearly against our ever hearing from any aliens that re certainly out there.
Worth reading, as an example of clear reasoning as well as entertainment. ***

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