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Thomas De Vries (Surrey, UK)

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UFO's Caught on Film: Amazing Evidence of Alien Visitors to Earth
UFO's Caught on Film: Amazing Evidence of Alien Visitors to Earth
by B J Booth
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars A Coffee-Table Book, 20 Jan. 2013
This is a book containing over 70 high-quality photographs (mostly in colour) of Unidentified Flying Objects. The compiler, Billy J Booth, claims to have a technical degree, and he maintains a website [...] devoted to pictures of UFOs.

There are five sections based on chronology:
- 1870s - 1940s ( 4 pages of photos) The oldest photo was taken in stereo in 1870. The photo taken in 1940, during the "Battle of Los Angeles", does seem to show that there is something there.
- 1950s - 1960s (12 pages of photos) includes a McMinnville photo, the Lubbock lights, and the Salem lights of July 1952.
- 1970s - 1980s ( 8 pages of photos) includes Gulf Breeze, and the Canary Island sightings of 1976.
- 1989 - 1999 ( 6 pages of photos) includes Grangemouth (1991) and the Belgian Triangles.
- 2000 - 2011 (40 pages of photos) A very mixed bag, considering the ease with which photos could be faked by now. Several pictures appear to show clouds or holes in clouds. Curiously, the irregular object seen at Moonta, Australia, in 2007 looks similar to that seen in Avare, Brazil, in 2005.

Unfortunately the accompanying text is generally short on details for the sightings - presumably on the grounds that fuller accounts would turn it into a different sort of book. However, that means that it is impossible to evaluate the pictures; believers for the extramundane (not-of-this-world) theory, and those for the mistakes-and-hoaxes theory, can easily find evidence to back them up, while those with an open mind will find the book unsatisfying. It's good for placing on a small coffee-table, though.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Mexico
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Mexico

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contains Almost Everything, 30 Dec. 2012
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Item reviewed: 2008 edition

This book of 408 pages includes: Introducing Mexico, including a potted history (about 50 pages); Mexico City (over 60 pp); Mexico Region by Region (about 160 pp); Travellers' Needs (hotels, restaurants, shopping, outdoor activities, about 70 pp); practical and travel info (about 20 pp), plus a good index and four-page "phrase book".

This is more illustrated than conventional guidebooks such as Lonely Planet. With those guidebooks, when you arrive at a major sight, you have to read or reread an essay of say five hundred words, and at the end may still be confused as to where exactly things are. DK's brilliant innovation is that instead they provide a labelled diagram, a bit like an aerial photograph, that orients you immediately and shows you where to go for the most interesting items. Of course this takes a lot of space so it's only done for major attractions, i.e. some cathedrals and museums, and significant native sites. The latter make it feasible to visit places such as Teotihuacan and El Tajin without hiring a guide.

Another innovation is the illustrated diagrams of sightseeing walks, which make it much easier to locate the places of interest, and much harder to get lost, than with other guidebooks. Of those I tried, Taxco, Guanajuato and the Zocalo area were the most memorable.

I suppose it is inevitable that any guidebook will be judged to have missed something by the traveller; in my case, I thought they could have expanded more on that unique canal-dominated suburb, Xochimilco. If you have more than 48 hours in Mexico City, it's a must.

As can be seen from the page allocation, the Guide is particularly strong on Mexico City and its environs. Mexico is a large country, so if you are going touring as I did, then the only other thing you need is a motoring atlas; but if you are confined to a small area then clearly any national guide represents overkill and it is better to seek information locally.

DK Eyewitness Pocket Map and Guide: Dublin
DK Eyewitness Pocket Map and Guide: Dublin
by Collectif
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable, 24 Dec. 2012
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I find that full-size guidebooks are unwieldy and take up a hand when visiting new places. This book is genuinely pocketable, so it is easy to put away and take out again as required.

The book divides central Dublin into 3 sections: North of the Liffey, SW Dublin and SE Dublin. This works reasonably well so that you can easily find what else there is to see in the area you happen to be in. Of course, if you're not staying in the centre, you have the problem of relating your start and end positions to the city centre.

The foldout map of the centre is very good. It includes from the Museum of Decorative Arts in the west to Connolly Station in the east, and Dublin Writers' Centre in the north to Iveagh Gardens in the south.

With most guidebooks, when you arrive at a major sight, you have to read or reread an essay of five hundred words, and at the end may still be confused as to where exactly things are. DK's brilliant innovation is that instead they provide a labelled diagram, a bit like an aerial photograph, that orientates you immediately and shows you where to go for the most interesting items. Of course this takes a lot of space so it's only done for major attractions - in this case, Trinity College, Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral.

There is a "Further Afield" section with suggestions for places outside the centre such as Phoenix Park, and another section called "Day Trips outside Dublin" for destinations such as Dun Laoghaire (a train ride away).

The publisher's puff above, which claims "rich in recommendations for the best hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and nightlife", is obviously written from a standard template. Restaurants, pubs and shopping, yes. Hotels and nightlife are not mentioned, as you might expect in a pocket guide.

Kuhn vs Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science (Revolutions in Science S.)
Kuhn vs Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science (Revolutions in Science S.)
by Steve Fuller
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bitter Polemic, 24 Dec. 2012
Item Reviewed: Icon Books Edition (hardback), 2003.

The author has written from a sociological (in this case, read ideological) viewpoint on matters in the history and philosophy of science. Contrary to the western intellectual traditions of history and philosophy, he takes "is" to mean "ought" (i.e. he implicitly assumes that, unless otherwise indicated, a description of how something *is* done is simultaneously a prescription of how it *ought* to be done). Also, for him all acts (or failures to act), whatever the original intentions, have a political dimension.

Fuller's agenda is to portray, against all appearances, Popper as a left-wing hero and Kuhn as a right-wing authoritarian. The reason for the latter, it would appear, stem from his reading of Kuhn's history of science as being prescriptive rather than descriptive - and he doesn't want to admit to liking the presumed prescription. He starts off in a reasonable tone, describing the single academic meeting of Kuhn and Popper. He descends into a rant; finally, in the last chapter, he plays the Hitler card and compares Kuhn to the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger, laying great stress on similarities that are in fact largely circumstantial.

Fuller is outraged by the military-industrial complex (which he identifies Kuhn with) and its alleged corruption of science. He wants to know why Kuhn never incorporated postwar developments in his work (though he concedes that Kuhn had an interest in science as pure inquiry). It may be just as well that Kuhn did not treat of contemporary developments, because (a) the resulting hullaballoo from scientists would have exacerbated the science wars, and (b) with his is-means-ought tendency to interpret, Fuller might have experienced coronary distress.

Fuller admires the Marxist sociologist Theodor Adorno, and makes a positive comparison of him with Popper (even though those two men thought they differed considerably).

This book is not easy to read, and some familiarity with the work of Kuhn and Popper is essential. There is no index (which it needs) or list of references; however there is a good section on Further Reading.

Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes
Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes
by Walter Gratzer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable and Good for a Chuckle, 24 Dec. 2012
Item reviewed: OUP paperback, 2002.

This book contains 181 stories (average about 2 pages long) culled from all the sciences (including maths and medicine), without organisation. Generally these are anecdotes and potted biographies. The vast majority were new to me, but some are quite famous, like the discovery of Neptune, Kekule's dream of a self-devouring snake, and the Diderot-Euler confrontation (Euler gave an algebraic equation, and then exclaimed "Therefore God exists! Reply!". Gratzer also rightly points out the doubts about the story).

If there is any moral to this collection, it is that science sometimes advances by thud and blunder rather than by careful forethought. Occasionally, there is even a thud without a corresponding advance - in 1927 Julius Wagner-Juaregg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the "cure" of insanity by infecting patients with fevers.

The book is very readable. There is a good index. Gratzer expects a certain degree of education or knowledge in his readers - French quotations are untranslated, and it is necessary to understand some scientific concepts such as resonance. Given that, I feel justified in pointing out his historical error on page 52: Rome was a republic in 212 BC; it was the Roman commander Marcus Marcellus, not an emperor, who unsuccessfully gave the order to spare Archimedes during the storming of Syracuse.

To close this review, Gratzer quotes this career advice from Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin: "Do not undertake a scientific career in quest of fame or money. There are easier and better ways to reach them. Undertake it only if nothing else will satisfy you; for nothing else is probably what you will receive."

The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-deception and Human Frailty
The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-deception and Human Frailty
by Walter Gratzer
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's Always Possible to Fool Oneself, 24 Dec. 2012
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Item reviewed: OUP paperback, 2000.

This book contains 11 chapters, each relating to an episode or episodes in the history of science where a scientist or scientists manage to delude themselves. Langmuir's Rules are often referred to. The author is a professor emeritus of science at King's College London.

Chapter 1 is about Rene Blondlot and the discovery of "N-rays", which only he and a few others could see.

Chapter 2 describes some misdiscoveries in biology, including mitogenic radiation and the case of the midwife toad, made famous in a book by Arthur Koestler.

Chapter 3 deals with some similar claims in physics. It introduces Irving Langmuir, a Nobel prize-winning chemist whose hobby was the detection of what he called pathological science. Langmuir produced a set of rules by which such science could be recognised.

Chapter 4 is about the remarkable properties of polywater, which turned out to be due to insufficiently clean apparatus and self-deception.

Chapter 5 is a collection entitled "the Wilder Shores of Credulity" - animal magnetism, electrical generation of mites, and the paranormal.

Chapter 6 relates the cold fusion fiasco.

Chapter 7 deals with medical fads. Gratzer pronounces that medicine, while based on science, is "based as much on superstition as logic". He writes "The training of medical students still does not predispose to scepticism or an open mind in the face of text-book authority." Unfortunately, that is precisely the criticism of scientific training today. It's easy to fool oneself in one's own discipline.

Chapter 8 reveals some distasteful episodes of nationalistic ill-feeling among scientists, particularly between France and Imperial Germany.

Chapter 9 details the effects of Soviet state intervention in science. Communism was regarded as an overarching science that subsumed all other sciences, which allowed opportunists to take advantage by promoting their own cockamany ideas. Chief amongst these was Trofim Lysenko, who did enormous damage to Soviet genetics (and food production).

Chapter 10 is a fascinating exploration of science during the Third Reich, combining racism, Horbiger's Welteislehre, and other daft pseudoscience.

Chapter 11 provides a brief overview of the eugenic movement.

The book is quite readable. There is a good index, and notes and further reading for each chapter. Gratzer expects a certain degree of education/knowledge in his readers - you are expected to know what anfractuosities are (don't ask).

And what of Langmuir's Rules for pathological science? Essentially, don't believe any experiment where the effects are just barely detectable. Of course, the world's best scientists, being ahead of the game, frequently perform experiments of this kind. Further information is provided in the only known talk Langmuir gave on this topic, on December 18th, 1953 (this can be found on the Web). Under pressure in the Q&A session, Langmuir said to follow Pasteur as an example. The historian John Waller, in Fabulous Science: Fact and Fiction in the History of Scientific Discovery, reveals what was at that time brushed over - Pasteur continued to fight even when the best evidence was against him. So the real answer for the scientist is to fight for what you think is correct rather than following the herd - the opposite of what Langmuir says. It's easy to fool oneself that science is a cut and dried business.

The Alchemy of the Heavens: Searching for Meaning in the Milky Way
The Alchemy of the Heavens: Searching for Meaning in the Milky Way
by Ken Croswell
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Introduction to the Milky Way, 24 Dec. 2012
Item reviewed: paperback edition, 1995

This is that rarest of things, a genuinely popular book on astrophysics, which non-astronomical scientists have read to learn from. The writing is very clear and easy to read throughout.

In eighteen chapters, Croswell describes how we have come to our present views on stellar evolution, and how those views enabled us to work out the characteristics of the galaxy in which we live. The approach is mildly historical, but not so much as to render impatient any readers who might want to get straight to the facts. The historical parts are of course entirely located in the twentieth century, at the beginning of which it was thought that the Milky Way constituted the entire universe.

In 1995, when the book was published, the "Hubble War" was raging between stellar astronomers (who thought that the oldest stars are about 15 billion years old), and cosmologists (whose estimated age of the Universe was considerably younger). Chapter 17 describes the battles. The veteran astronomer Allan Sandage is quoted as saying "I always thought science would be its own best advertisement for ferreting out truth and falseness, but that's not true. It's a political game."

Chapter 18 concludes with a look at the possibility of intelligent life around the closest nearby stars. Croswell is sober and objective here as in other parts of the book. Unlike other authors, who usually have an agenda, he does not rule out alien intelligence, but neither does he see possibilities everywhere. Of course, a tremendous explosion in knowledge about extrasolar planets has occurred since the book's publication, but it invalidates very little that Croswell said.

No maths is involved, although there are graphs and chemical equations. This book assumes that the reader understands concepts such as mass and the neutron. It would probably be hard going for someone without an understanding of science (physics and chemistry) equivalent to about GCSE in General Science. There is a very good index.

No Title Available

4.0 out of 5 stars The Science Fiction of Aliens, 24 Dec. 2012
Item reviewed: Paperback edition

This is a slim volume of 222 pages, written by an IBM scientist. There are 10 chapters about aliens, but since we haven't discovered any (UFOs are discounted), it's mostly about sci-fi aliens.

There is now quite a literature on exobiology, with many books saying the same things. The most different chapters here were chapters 2 (Alien Senses) and 6 (Alien Sex and Humour). Normally one would expect a certain amount of theory to guide the reader as to what aliens might be like. The author brings in the ideas of convergent evolution, and radial symmetry vs bilateral symmetry. He hints at, but does not explicitly state, universals. And that's it. The rest of the time, he describes some examples of Earth life, but mostly aliens from SF novels including his own. This book has now been superseded by the later What Does a Martian Look Like?: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life, which includes more exobiological theory.

The author has a gift for exposition, but nevertheless there are a number of careless or doubtful statements in the text; the most entertaining is the remark on page 11 that the human brain evolved to enable us to run from cheetahs, which conjures up some interesting images. Gazelles do rather better, with smaller brains. There are some good explicit quotations, some of which appear to have been placed randomly. There are also 25 explicit references to the author's own works, which is good going for a slim book. There is a reasonable index, notes on each chapter and suggestions for further reading.

This is clear and easy to read, representing for example light reading matter for a long flight.

Perfect Planet, Clever Species: How Unique are We?
Perfect Planet, Clever Species: How Unique are We?
by William C. Burger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Forget the Copernican Principle, now it's the Goldilocks Principle, 24 Dec. 2012
Do we live in a special place in the Universe, or not? The debate has been joined by William Burger, curator emeritus of a biological and palaeontological museum, who makes no secret of his opinions in the title of this book. There was already the book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter Ward & Donald Brownlee, professors respectively of geology and astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle and supported by Brownlee's colleague Guillermo Gonzalez, in The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery. To give the background, this is an area where militant atheism joins with fundamentalist Christianity; Burger's book is published by a militant atheist publishing house, Gonzalez is an admitted old-earth creationist, and Ward and Brownlee are influenced by Gonzalez.

All the above works purport to show that intelligent life in the universe is very rare, and that we are quite possibly unique in our galaxy. This book compares with the others - it may be that its title is too obviously biased for it to sell as well as the others. The main difference between this book and the others is that this one majors in biology and archaeology, and, as might be expected, these parts of the book are excellent.

This book might be taken as an exemplar of a certain kind of fashionable tome. Firstly, play to the gallery by insisting that we live on a very special planet, and that we are very clever. Secondly, show how unlikely it is for there to be another planet exactly like the Earth, in exactly the same position in its solar system. Thirdly, show that we wouldn't have evolved anywhere else. Conclude that you can't help finding that intelligent life must be very rare in the universe.

The possibility that we might find another planet special, if we had grown up on it instead, is of course not considered. The possibility that an alien race might be cleverer (or otherwise superior) to us is similarly out of bounds - alien to the mindset of such authors.

Rather than go into a blow-by-blow account of the book, it can be summed up in four controversial phrases: "Glorious Star" (the words appear on p23), "Perfect Planet", "Clever Species", "Scientific-Industrial [i.e. Western] Civilization" (p10). As also do Ward and Brownlee, Burger takes the Goldilocks Principle to a high degree: on Earth, everything is "just right".

The author's emphasis on Western culture (for science) is unfashionable in today's multicultural society, but we must address the arguments, not the fashionability. It is undeniable that the Ancient Greeks were the first historical people to seek knowledge for its own sake; this tradition was eventually taken up, and taken much further, by Europeans in the late Middle Ages and beyond. However, as Burger recognises, it wasn't until the late 19th century that science contributed substantially to technology. Many peoples outside Europe, particularly the Chinese, developed technological societies, i.e. ones where advances are made for gains in power, wealth, or living conditions, but not knowledge as such. However, sooner or later someone in such societies would have noticed that scientific investigations help to bring about technological innovations (which often makes for better scientific equipment, and so on). For us in Europe, adding the time for the Greek legacy to our more recent efforts, it has taken about a millenium (roughly 600 - 200 BC, plus something like 1300 - 1900 AD). If Europe had failed, it might have taken another people five millenia, or ten or twenty, to reach where we are now. This obviously seems enormous, but when viewed against the 10 billion year history of the Galaxy, it's nothing. Burger thinks that religious, bureaucratic and/or military constraints would have prevented other societies from developing science; that sounds plausible until you consider that that has to mean *all* other societies, for all time, and that Europe was/is not entirely free of these constraints either.

In the final chapter, using a variation of Drake's Equation, Burger derives the astonishing figure of 3 to 30 Earth-type planets with intelligent (humanlike) beings and scientific (i.e. Western-type) cultures able to communicate by radio, in the Galaxy. Given the book's tremendous bias, it could make one think that aliens who don't fit the author's prejudices, but are nevertheless intelligent and scientific, might be all around us.

The book is very nicely written, with notes and a good index. Little scientific knowledge is assumed of the reader. It has the merit of appealing to two audiences: the believers in human supremacy, who can simply read straight through, and those who like to think for themselves, who can pause for reflection as they read through a great deal of interesting science.

The UFO Phenomenon: Fact, Fantasy and Disinformation
The UFO Phenomenon: Fact, Fantasy and Disinformation
by John Michael Greer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The First Half is Astonishingly Good, 26 Mar. 2012
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Item reviewed: Llewellyn Worldwide paperback, 2009.

This is a very interesting and well-written book on UFOs. The first five chapters are exceptionally good. Why is that astonishing? Because the author is an occultist and Grand Archdruid, and not a scientist. In fact, this book gives an insight into the potentialities and limitations of non-scientists tackling scientific subjects.

Greer does not indicate, anywhere in the book, that there is any extramental (outside the mind) reality to occult phenomena. He is always clear, logical and scholarly.

In the Introduction plus first 4 chapters, the author traces the history of our perceptions of UFOs. He points out their iconic nature in contemporary culture, and documents the stalemate of UFO believers, who believe anything, versus UFO deniers. The latter call themselves "skeptics" and will believe any - absolutely any - explanation that "explains" a sighting. There is, of course, a more intellectual and scientific wing of the highly amorphous body of ufologists, which includes for example Jenny Randles, but Greer lumps all ufologists together under the lowest common denominator.

His history of the UFO phenomenon includes the non-investigation that was the Condon Report. Also the formation of "skeptical" CSICOP, the quick ejection of any real sceptics, and the dissemination, ever since, of a party line on UFOs which avoids real research in favour of dogma. Although the book was published in 2009, its history of UFOs peters out in the 1990's.

In chapter 5, he describes paradigm theory as developed by Thomas Kuhn; I cannot see that the ad hoc methods and theories used by the believers and deniers constitute anything better than, at the very best, protoscience, and cannot be regarded as part of any working scientific paradigms. He considers the "logic" used by both sides - in the case of the believers, confirmation bias leads them to see aliens everywhere. In the case of the deniers, there are three main fallacies: (1) the insistence that evidence for different sides of the argument need to be judged by different standards; (2) Menzel's Fallacy - you must prove your ad hoc theories, but mine are sacrosanct unless you prove them wrong (or, to put it another way, the burden of proof always lies with the other guy); and (3) the Debunker's Fallacy - if you can't work out a known cause for something, then it never happened. Greer acknowledges that the last is a severe problem in science generally.

Thus far, Greer has relied on logic and scholarship, and produced work that would be a credit to authors such as Paul Davies and John Gribbin, were they ever allowed and inclined to take UFOs seriously. From chapter 6 onwards, different skills are needed as he attempts to analyse the data scientifically, and his lack of scientific experience lets him down.

To summarise, we now have a UFO dataset consisting of genuine data, hoaxes, misperceptions including dreams and hallucinations, dodgy hypnotic regressions, and, it soon becomes clear, a certain amount of government-inspired disinformation, all assorted according to various attempts to analyse, almost always biased to fit a prejudice. It appears that many UFO buffs have in fact been intelligence assets. From all this, Greer deduces that (a) there is some minor phenomenon, not necessarily extraterrestrial, possibly related to the postwar rise of spiritualism in the US, that gives rise to foo-fighters and similar reports; (b) this phenomenon, at the start of the UFO era, was co-opted by the US and Soviet intelligence communities to cover up tests of secret weapons (mainly reconnaissance balloons and airplanes); (c) to aid in the general deception, many classic cases, including the Nash-Fortenberry sighting and the 1952 Washington flap (!), were fabricated from whole cloth.

The main problems with his thesis are as follows.

1. An experienced data analyst would not attempt to derive such a hard and fast set of conclusions from a dataset as monkeyed about with as this one.

2. The said analyst would separate the unrelated data sets within the whole, for separate analysis. E.g. with a very small number of exceptions such as the Travis Walton case, alleged alien abductions constitute a separate phenomenon from UFO sightings.

3. The thesis cannot account for any UFO phenomena outside the US and USSR.

4. Greer does not mention what is probably the best piece of evidence for a government-led disinformation campaign, namely the CIA's Robertson Panel. On closer inspection, the Panel's 1953 date does not fit his thesis, the CIA were preoccupied with discrediting UFOs rather than promoting them, and their motive was fear of enemy use of the phenomenon, rather than covering up weapon tests. While Greer might claim that this is just another layer of disinformation, he must deal with all the evidence rather than cherry-pick.

5. In the last chapter, Greer foresees multiple worldwide energy crises which will forever prevent us developing interstellar travel, and hence similarly any aliens will be prevented from the same (!). I wish he had consulted some real energy experts.

There is one last item, not mentioned in the book, to make one think. For several years now, a British computer hacker and mummy's boy called Gary McKinnon has been resisting extradition to the US for attempting to find UFO secrets on American military networks. According to this book, the term "UFO buff" has connotations, to the US government, of "intelligence asset" and "spy", so perhaps that explains why they are so anxious to lay their hands on this harmless guy.

NB John Michael Greer should not be confused with the ufologist Steven M. Greer.

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