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The Secret Anarchy of Science: Free Radicals Paperback – 2012
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It is interesting to see that what goes on in scientific research is more like the TV show "House" than "Marcus Welby".
The PR campaign that the scientific community has promoted has really worked in conveying a view of what goes on as something much
different than reality. A true "reality distortion field".
According to Brooks, in Science anything goes. The competition is so tough and the prizes so valuable that no punches are pulled. Drugs, lies, fraud, politics - all are part of the game. He exposes famed personalities from Newton to Einstein - showing how human they all are; and how the successful ones never hesitated to break the rules. Most of us have heard of Newton's famous statement on '..standing on the shoulders of giants', but we would not have heard of his skill of stomping down other scientists!. Any literate person would have heard of Einstein and his E=MC2 equation, but it is unbelievable to hear that he could not fully prove it in spite of eight attempts!!
Well researched and narrated in a fast pace, this book beats most fiction novels. I was enthralled at the stories, though in the beginning some of the `exposes' did give me a shock. But as I proceeded in the book it was clear that the author's intentions were honorable - the objective was not to deride the scientists but show that they are human just like the rest of us. Being an expert in one discipline does not make a person super human - nor does that expertise translate into other areas. I was also surprised at how `close minded' experts are and how difficult is for new ideas to break though - even in a field which is supposed to foster open thinking.
Brooks goes on to explain how to encourage more youngsters to get into Science and exhorts the Scientists to play a more activist role in causes that they believe in. Highlighting scientists like Carl Sagan, Brooks shows the important role that Scientists can play in formulating public opinion. However Brooks seems to get a little carried away on the benefits of drugs like marijuana or LSD to expand the mind's horizons - I am not convinced whether that was as important as he makes out.
I should hasten to add that the book is just not a bunch of `hot' stories. Excellently weaved through these stories, the author brings out beautifully a number of scientific breakthroughs and their impact on society. This is a science book that one can gift to any youngster to read!. It would also not hurt scientists to read it either.
From the text:
"In fact, several major developments in physics that made the bomb possible occurred as a result of an irrational, unpredictable - some would say unscientific - moment of revelation or inspiration" (Brooks, p. 31).
These are not words that usually flow so freely from a scientist. In fact, these words infer the opposite of science. No scientific breakthrough just happens—Science is rational, predictable, and has nothing to do with the supernatural.
I’ll provide the definitions/synonyms for his choice of words just to be a little clearer.
Irrational: groundless, baseless, unfounded, unjustifiable
Unpredictable: unforeseeable, uncertain, doubtful
Unscientific: not in accordance with scientific principals or methodology; lacking knowledge of or interest in science
Revelation: the divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence or the world
Inspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative
Brooks uses heightened ‘mystical’ words, such as “revelation”, but inferior, or ‘unscientific’ words when describing substantiated and well documented cognitive processes.
A second example: “Were Snyder and Fermi’s experiences unusual? Yes, in that scientists do not make such significant discoveries every day. But if we restrict ourselves to the realm of significant scientific discoveries, the answer seems to be no: they invariably come from apparently nowhere” (Brooks, p. 33).
Really? Nowhere? What kind of scientist says this?
I had to go find my cognitive psychology textbook for reassurance:
“A problem occurs when there is an obstacle between a present state and a goal and it not immediately obvious how to get around the obstacle” (Goldstein, 2015, p.336 & 359).
“Problem solving, for the Gestalt psychologists, was about (1) how people represent a problem in their mind and (2) how solving a problem involves a reorganization or restructuring of this representation” (p. 336).
“[P]roblem solving is not simply about getting an idea in a flash of insight, although that may happen, but about having a base knowledge that makes the idea possible” (p. 359).
When Brooks uses the word revelation, I, instead, think of insight. These people who made breakthroughs were not random people, they were physicists and other scientists that had been working on these problems for a very long time. When they ‘suddenly’ discover or solve something when not working on the project in that moment, this is called insight, where specialists reconstruct what they know into solving a problem—This is the process of problem solving. Furthermore, it can be difficult for specialists, such as physicists, to solve problems that require more creative and mental flexibility (outside-the-box) due to their strong base knowledge.
He used his authority within the scientific sphere making things seem more 'clear' to the lay public, but rather flagrantly misinterprets known scientific processes whilst instead provoking mystical explanations in place of known scientific processes.
Also, somewhere Brooks refers to Einstein as a “mystic.”
Let's now think of the word 'mystic': “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.”
Einstein couldn’t have been more of the opposite of ‘mystic’…
"Much unfortunate confusion is caused by failure to distinguish what can be called Einsteinian religion from supernatural religion. Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is not the only atheistic scientist to do so), inviting misunderstanding by supernaturalists eager to misunderstand and claim so illustrious a thinker as their own" (Dawkins, 2006, p. 13).
“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation” (Angela Carter).
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought” (George Orwell).
“Mastery of language affords remarkable power” (Frantz Fanon).
Brooks, Michael. (2013). Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science. New York, NY: Overlook Press.
Dawkins, Richard. (2006). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Goldstein, E. Bruce. (2015). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience, 4th Edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Most recent customer reviews
From what I know about this book's thesis, it seems to be an extremely valid expose.Read more