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The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465005079
ISBN-10: 0465005071
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The provocative premise of this short book is that even as we appear to be awash in information, governments and industry are restricting access to knowledge by broadening the concept of intellectual property to include things as diverse as gene sequences and sales techniques . According to Laughlin, the right to learn is now aggressively opposed by intellectual property advocates, who want ideas elevated to the status of land, cars, and other physical assets so the their unauthorized acquisition can be prosecuted as theft. With examples drawn from nuclear physics, biotechnology and patent law, Laughlin, a Nobel laureate in physics, paints a troubling picture of a society in which the only information that is truly valuable in dollars and cents is controlled by a small number of individuals. But while Laughlin poses urgent questions, he provides neither in-depth analysis nor potential solutions. Many intriguing arguments—for example, that electronic technologies such as the Internet, which inundate us with useless information, are not instruments of knowledge dissemination at all but agencies of knowledge destruction—are offered but none are usefully explored. (Oct.)
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From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Al Gore, in his Assault on Reason, elevated our consciousness of the sharp decline of reason, logic, and truth in public discourse. Physics Nobel laureate Laughlin (A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down) delves deeper into the problem, focusing on efforts to sequester technical knowledge using the cloak of a freely available information-rich world. With humorous honesty (it can be fun to think apocalyptically from time to time), Laughlin uncovers the barriers scientists, engineers, and laypeople encounter when they try to learn how the world works by standing on the shoulders of giants, the discoveries of others. Intellectual-property advocacy and voluntary self-censorship are creating gaps in our records of knowledge. Legislatures are criminalizing understanding and speech, because it is easier than criminalizing behaviors that challenge economic stability and national security. While this short essay can sound like the ramblings of an old man, his argument is profound and not easy to dismiss. Strongly recommended for academic and public libraries.—James A. Buczynski, Seneca Coll. of Applied Arts & Technology, Toronto
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 186 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (September 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465005071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465005079
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #743,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
THE CRIME OF REASON is about how knowledge sequestration and commoditization are destroying [or can destroy] individuals' intellectual and creative potential, thus harming society as a whole. For example, intellectual property law [i.e. knowledge restriction law] has expanded exponentially since the 1970s. More particularly, many forms of technical knowledge have actually been outlawed, with knowledge of nuclear technology being the prime example and test case. There is a very real danger, which Laughlin suggests is already manifest among young scientists today, that our most brilliant minds will be left impotent by a legal framework that disallows them from understanding the world around them, or from even attempting to understand it.

This is a strange book. Unlike some previous reviewers, I think the subject is extremely important and deep. Laughlin, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, utilizes an unforgiving sort of analytical reasoning that is often hard to follow. His logic is stated so directly, and with so little elaboration, that the ideas end up being ambiguous. He suggests thoughts and conclusions, but often fails to elaborate enough to make them clear.

Ultimately, I think the book ends up giving the subject short shrift. This is a musing book, and, probably to the author's horror, I would suggest that it is a little bit intellectually lazy. There is a sort of arm-chair philosopher's self satisfaction in the reasoning which does the reader little good and the author little credit. The sections of the book about hard sciences and technology are the most interesting and convincing, while the ones about society and economics are the least.

Laughlin is obviously brilliant, and it is fun to ride along with him, following his thought patterns, as it were.
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This is the second fascinating Laughlin book I've read, and the author continues to deliver insights. I find that parts of the books are so good I'll have to read them twice because the degree of knowledge he compresses into a few paragraphs is amazing, for example, in the opening pages of this book. I can also give my highest recommendation to his book "A Different Universe".

By looking at legal or economic forces that limit intellectual debate the author raises a topic which many hoped had receded into history. As a student of the philosophy of science I read about how Galileo and Renaissance scientists encountered persecution. Another scientist, Descartes, emigrated to Holland to find intellectual freedom and went on to discover knowledge at the foundations of modern science. While Descartes is often called a French philosopher, his most important writing and math was done in the city of Leiden, The Netherlands.

In "The Crime of Reason" the author is accurate in describing contemporary problems for intellectual freedom, but the solutions he proposes seem to be only partial solutions. He has clear ideas for reforming patent law but, as he writes, the laws are becoming more entrenched with time. Several topics he raises about genes being products of Nature and not technology are central to the Green movement, especially on the ownership of crop seeds and genetically altered crops. However, on nuclear energy he seems to over-emphasize censorship for national security reasons and overlooked funding cuts.
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Format: Hardcover
In this jeremiad against the stifling constraints of commercialized culture, Laughlin writes, "At the dawn of the Information Age we find ourselves dealing with the bizarre concept of the 'crime of reason,' the unsocial nature or outright illegality of understanding certain things."

A widespread attack on Enlightenment rationality, he gloomily asserts, threatens to end in the criminalization of learning. More and more, the act of reasoning something out for yourself is potentially a crime.

The author contends that the Information Age should be called "the Age of Amnesia." The Internet promises a wide dissemination of useful information, but paradoxically there has been a steep decline in public accessibility of important information.

Laughlin explains the problems clearly and well, but provides little hope and virtually no solutions to the crisis.

About the author: Robert B. Laughlin is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Physics at Stanford University, where he has taught since 1985. In 1998 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the fractional quantum Hall effect. He has also won the Oliver F. Buckley Prize, the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Physics, and the Department of Energy's Earnest O. Lawrence Award for Physics. The author of A Different Universe (2005), he lives in Stanford, California.
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He makes very good points, over and over. And sometimes he does get sarcastic which, I thought, did not help.Seemed to be mostly about governmental and institutional pressures NOT to study certain subjects like nuclear tech which could lead to trouble. Glad I read it tho it doesn't affect the popular scientist.
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