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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
by Mark Haddon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Watch out for the propaganda, 9 Mar. 2011
I think this is a pernicious book because of its attack on what the author calls "intuition". He interrupts his fictional narrative to give us his views on the superiority of rational thinking to any other kind. He uses a game-show example to demonstrate how you can make a decision by mathematical evaluation of the data, and claims this example shows that "intuition" is always wrong. He is wrong about that, and in any case this aggressive philosophical disquisition is out of place in a novel, especially one aimed in part at children. He almost seems to be saying that his autistic hero is superior to ordinary people, because he always thinks rationally and is not influenced by emotion.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 6, 2011 8:07 PM BST


The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
by Tressall Robert Tressall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

9 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Socialist Paradise Explained, 14 Jan. 2011
This book often appears on lists of The World's Great Books - personally, I found it totally unreadable, because of its pervasive tone of class hatred. However, the helpful introduction led me to read in full the key chapter, in which the vision of a Socialist Paradise of complete equality is explained. Everyone should read this chapter, because it shows how unrealistic the whole vision is.

The author, as a good Socialist, believes that rich people are 'selfish' and that 'the workers' are not. The truth is that all people are selfish, and want to be richer than they already are. That is what gets things done, and makes society work. Under socialism, it is banned - that's why socialist societies don't work. Vietnam is a thriving country today, only because the Vietnamese have dismantled their socialist institutions, and returned their 'collective farms' to private ownership. They didn't work. Now they do.

The second unrealistic assumption the author makes is that a socialist government will always act totally in the interests of the workers, and be completely incorruptible. Step forward, Marxist leader Robert Mugabe...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 31, 2016 9:00 PM BST


Alternative Science: Challenging the Myths of the Scientific Establishment
Alternative Science: Challenging the Myths of the Scientific Establishment
by Richard Milton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science is not scientific enough, 8 April 2010
This book was originally called Forbidden Science - a better title, I think. Richard Milton's main theme is that professional scientists today are forbidden to venture into unconventional subject areas. He gives an example of a television programme in 1994 about "cold fusion" in which a distinguished American physicist was interviewed with his identity disguised, in silhouette. He was afraid that his reputation as a scientist could be destroyed if he were known to be connected with that forbidden subject. Milton proposes that we are living through an era of academic intolerance, in which many American and British universities have been infected with a scientific fundamentalism as virulent and pernicious in its way as contemporary religious fundamentalism.

Another example is the book A New Science of Life that was published by Rupert Sheldrake in 1981. The editor of Nature, John Maddox, ran an editorial saying that "this infuriating tract... is the best candidate for burning there has been for many years". This deeply unscientific judgment did not do any harm to the reputation of the late Sir John Maddox, who died in 2009. On the contrary, he was admired and honoured for his ruthless defence of scientific orthodoxy.

Milton admits that there is a need to protect science against cranky and half-baked notions. The peer review system is designed to be a tough test which research results must pass to be published. But he shows that the system has a built-in bias against radical new ideas. Even Maddox admitted that Watson and Crick's groundbreaking paper on DNA might not have survived peer review. Milton gives some interesting examples of the resistance to innovations that are now familiar, such as the marine steam turbine and powered flight. The Wright brothers had great difficulty in convincing people that flying was possible, despite their practising over an open prairie in full view of a railway line.

Milton looks at a number of phenomena which could be of great scientific interest, including some "paranormal "ones. He exposes the activities of self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy, such as the Committee On the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), who reject evidence for these phenomena on the grounds that a materialist, reductionist explanation will ultimately answer all questions. Something like telepathy, which seems to defy any explanation within that paradigm, is dismissed out of hand. This hardly shows a spirit of open-minded scientific exploration; Dr Lewis Wolpert of COPUS is quoted as saying: "Open minds are empty minds".

Milton's argument is that science, as practised today, is not scientific enough. He also questions whether conventional research always serves the interests of society; medical research often takes little account of patients and GPs, its end-users. "Scientific research is the last great area of public expenditure where the end-user has no voice at all".

This book is well researched and cogently argued, and deserves to be widely read.


Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

15 of 94 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars More rationalist propaganda, 22 Feb. 2010
This book starts with a rather touching story of someone who, after reading Dawkins's fearless demolition of religious belief in his previous books, felt that life was not worth living any more. For a brief moment is seems that Dawkins is about to show his warmer and more human side. Fat chance! Before the end of the page, this story has become a "challenge" typical of what is so often "flung at" science, or at Dawkins - which is the same thing.

Dawkins presents himself as a defender of reason and truth, but he is not telling us the truth about the boundaries of science. Science aims to be objective, its findings based on verifiable experimental evidence, and therefore to free us from the tyranny of opinion. Outside science, opinion runs riot. Dawkins makes great play with this distinction, choosing examples of obviously loony opinions for emphasis.

Ideally, scientific evidence should be unambiguous and easily interpreted, and when this is true, its conclusions are unassailable. Unfortunately, a lot of evidence allows for divergent interpretations and opinions, especially in Dawkins' own science of evolutionary biology. Dawkins is a "gradualist", and in this book he argues passionately against the "saltationist" views of Stephen Jay Gould. This is a quarrel that has been going on since Darwin's day. If the science of evolution is objective, surely these scientists should have resolved the controversy by now? As it hasn't, Dawkins is just giving us his opinion. And there are many phenomena dismissed by Dawkins as "superstition" where he flies in the face of sound scientific evidence to the contrary. He is a propagandist, not a scientist, and this book is just a continuation of his usual rant. For Dawkins fans only - sadly, there are plenty of those.
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 22, 2016 6:52 PM GMT


13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
by Michael Brooks
Edition: Paperback

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, 3 Nov. 2009
How very sad that so many people who haven't read this book should rate as "useful" such a dismissive review by someone who doesn't appear to have read it either. The reviewer seems to have looked at the blurb, and concluded that the book is some kind of attack on science. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is strongly pro-science throughout, and never suggests that the scientific mysteries it describes cannot be resolved by further scientific work. I found it most illuminating. The author, as a journalist, is not afraid to cover controversial, not to say taboo, subjects such as cold fusion. This of course must be highly irritating to worshippers at the church of science, but it makes the book all the more interesting for less prejudiced readers.

The weakest chapter is the one on free will. The author experiences a demonstration that shows that "free will is an illusion", according to the scientist in charge. He is so entranced by the sensational implications of this proposition that he fails to ask any pertinent questions about it. The demonstration certainly seems to show that volition is more complicated than it seems to a non-scientist, but anyone who has read Antonio Damasio will understand that already. Clearly experimental psychology is one of the present author's weaker areas - he is much stronger on the physical sciences, and as most of the book sticks to these, it is well worth reading.


Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
by L. Wolpert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Prejudiced and sloppy, 3 Nov. 2009
A fine example of the self-indulgence of the established author - a sloppily written book that would never have been published had the author been unknown. I wanted to see what Wolpert had to say about telepathy, which he bundles up into a vast miscellany of "irrational" ideas including beliefs in ghosts and UFOs. So I knew he was "against" it, but telepathy HAS been tested experimentally, and there is quite a lot of scientific evidence to consider. Wolpert knows this, and he outlines one well-known experimental procedure. He then quotes ONE paper - which found that telepathy is a real effect! He goes on to say that someone (unnamed) has examined this paper and found that the experiment was flawed. Of course, he doesn't say in what way it was flawed, because he is just making it up. His real objection to telepathy is that there is no known mechanism for it - therefore it doesn't exist. His refusal to take the evidence seriously shows that he is no scientist, but someone with an immovable prejudice. Of course his pals Dawkins and Wiseman put in an appearance too... Readers who share this gang's "materialist, reductionist, atheist" prejudices may find them pleasantly reinforced by this book. Readers who want to learn something new should look elsewhere.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2010 8:56 PM BST


Milou En Mai [1990] [VHS]
Milou En Mai [1990] [VHS]
VHS

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, 30 Jan. 2009
I loved this film when I saw it in the cinema, and I'm still waiting for it to come out on DVD. Beautifully played and directed, it is very funny and engaging.


Northern Portugal Car Tours and Walks (Sunflower Landscapes)
Northern Portugal Car Tours and Walks (Sunflower Landscapes)
by Paul Burton
Edition: Paperback

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lovely book, but not reliable in detail, 6 July 2007
This is a beautifully produced little book with excellent pictures and interesting text. It covers northwestern Portugal - the vinho verde country and the western half of the mountainous Peneda-GerÍs national park, one of Europe's last wilderness areas, plus a bit about Porto and the Douro. I used this book when I visited the area in May 2007. As a guide for motor tours it can be recommended. Three tours are described - of course they cover only a selection of places in this extensive and beautiful area, but the selection is judicious and the tours are worthwhile. Coverage of accommodation is very limited, though. And the small format means that the fold-out road map lacks something in detail - it's useful nevertheless, being more accurate than the Michelin road map of the region in several places.

As a guide for walking, I found it less helpful. There was little evidence of footpath maintenance or waymarking by the Peneda-GerÍs national park authority. Many of the paths are overgrown, and some landmarks have disappeared. The Portuguese have not yet taken to mountain walking in a big way, and there are few tourists in this region, outside Porto - so the paths are very little walked. The good news is that you will probably not see another walker. The bad news is that you may not be able to find the paths described either. The walks in the book originated in the 1980s, and although they have been revised, including some updating for the 2007 edition, a lot of things have changed and the updating is not thorough, to judge from my experience.

The walk descriptions seem precise and detailed at first reading, but when you try to use them you will wish that they were more so. When the authors say "the path soon becomes clear" it would be extremely helpful to know if this means in 10m, in 100m or in 500m... A major fault is that no map references are given - it is standard practice in modern walk descriptions to give references, and now that walkers are likely to carry GPS sensors they are essential. Distances between points are not given either - instead, walking times are provided, and these are based on the authors' own walking speed - readers are expected to correct these to their own walking pace. This outmoded method still has its adherents, but it can hardly be recommended today.

The publishers provide an on-line update service. This is not as helpful as it sounds, because the updates are largely provided by users who take the trouble to write in. Such users are very few. Sometimes the authors do provide new information, but it is clear that they are not re-walking the routes on a systematic basis, since some landmarks shown on their maps have completely disappeared. If you wish to do some mountain walking in this wonderful area, you should expect route-finding to be difficult.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 2, 2010 10:40 AM GMT


Tangos and Dances (+bonus DVD)
Tangos and Dances (+bonus DVD)
Price: £21.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cool Tango, 1 Dec. 2006
The success of Astor Piazzola has taught us to associate tango music with the bandoneon, but here we have tango without its evocative wheezing. Instead we have elegant arrangements for solo violin and orchestra. Perhaps surprisingly, the tango flavour still comes across strongly in this selection of famous and lesser known melodies, and Piazzola's own compositions lose nothing in the translation. Excellent music and a most enjoyable disc.


Isso E Bossa Nova
Isso E Bossa Nova

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest bossa CD, 14 Dec. 2005
This review is from: Isso E Bossa Nova (Audio CD)
This is Leila's tribute to the bossa nova era, and everything about it is superb. Leila is my favourite singer in the world, and this is my favourite CD of all time. Of course she sings only in Portuguese, but don't let that put you off. Great songs, great arrangements, great singing. Buy it!


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