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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great idea, disappointingly executed, 30 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional - and What that Means for Life in the Universe (Hardcover)
The book does a very good job of explaining to lay readers the feedback mechanisms that have kept the earth at a liveable temperature for most of its existence, in spite of its sun growing significantly brighter. But it gives a false impression of certainty in its use of evolutionary theory and cosmology to project how many other worlds might hold life.

I think that’s because the book uses the wrong model of the scientific process. It starts with an endorsement of the ‘consensus’ model of catastrophic anthropogenic global warning (CAGW), which involves labelling scientists with differing views ‘sceptics’. That’s not totally unreasonable since the CAGW consensus approach predicts enormous future costs that must be mitigated right now, and so less alarmist scientists must be suppressed. Perhaps pursuing that line, the book also argues that the church burned Giordano Bruno to death not because of his beautiful (but sceptical) insight that the stars are distant suns (and so undermined the church’s claim to omnipotence) but because he was argumentative, tactless and, allegedly a spy!

That gives lay readers the misleading impression that science progresses through tactful committee men & women evolving consensuses, rather than argumentative geniuses slugging it out (e.g. Franklin hiding her breakthrough data from Watson and Crick, and the latter pinching it).

It also turns off those who know that outside of climate science (and maybe geology) science is based on continuous criticism: researchers must publish their data so others can try to replicate it; criticism is welcomed, not suppressed; publishing false data is harshly punished (see CP Snow’s The Search); theories have to be falsifiable; and if they fail are unceremoniously dumped. Karl Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery gives the rationale.

Evolutionary theory uses this ‘proper’ science – of course there’s consensus on Darwinism, but none on how self-organizing entities first developed, and little on how evolution works in detail. However recent advances in DNA analysis are allowing great strides forward. The field will continue to change rapidly because now we can mine evolutionary history from every living species (and a few extinct ones). Cosmology is moving just as fast, driven by ever faster & cheaper computer image processing. So neither area uses the consensus/sceptic model, everybody is chasing the data, many of the people coming up with good ideas have really annoying personalities, and the book’s assumed consensus does not exist.

Finally, perhaps because of a wish to tiptoe around the climate debate, the book doesn't consider the geological roots of human technological civilization. This is arguably a highly unlikely consequence of the current 10,000 year interglacial warming causing us to thrive and the earlier Carboniferous laying down the fossil fuels that fed our industrial revolution and lifted us towards the stars.
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