April 14th, 2005


Science and sex

coalescent reminded me that I've been meaning to blog this for a while but it got buried in the thesis panic: Het Grauniad ran an article fairly similar to my competition asking for single things that are essential for people to know. Incidentally, gnimmel, if you're reading this, you haven't claimed your prize!

So the Guardian asks What is the one thing everyone should learn about science?. Of course, being a national newspaper they asked famous scientists rather than random people on my flist, but it's very much the same kind of idea. (Though my competition started off from science I didn't restrict it quite so much.) It's interesting how people have interpreted the question; some of them are quite meta and want to tell people things about science, whereas others pick scientific facts, ie observations about how the world works as interpreted by science.

I don't like a lot of the suggestions in the article. Some of them are very much playing up to damaging stereotypes of what science is. Science in some people's statements is coming across as a sort of peevish old man who wants to keep people from believing anything that gives them comfort or joy, whether religion or spirituality or the paranormal. Very Gradgrind, really. And that very much ties into the other stereotype, that science is a list of Facts that are True because they're handed down from on high and not to be contradicted. Which basically makes science hard to distinguish from dogmatism. So I rather like Ridley's: Science is not a catalogue of facts, but a search for new mysteries, and Maynard's paraphrase of Popper: Erecting hypotheses that can be falsified, and designing experiments capable of doing so, is the hallmark of the true scientist.

Perhaps a similar exercise is misia asking What's your definition of "having sex"?. She gets some very interesting and provocative answers. It seems to me that in some contexts at least it's a fairly important question, and certainly it's a word that pretty much everyone needs to use conversationally some of the time, and there's really very little consensus on it.

So, anyone want to try a soundbite short definition of either science or sex? Or both, if you're feeling ambitious. It's something to ponder, anyway.

Minor annoyances

Things that are annoying me right now:
  • My work email seems to have died.
  • My CivII game is beset by a really pointless but costly stalemate of a border war.
  • A potentially interesting discussion chez ozarque on gendered language and religion has degenerated into people making really ignorant statements about Hebrew names for God which I can't even be bothered to correct. Frankly, a discussion that starts out being about Judeo-Christian theology is probably not going in the fruitful directions I'd hope for.
  • It has taken me about 6 hours to do some really simple clerical tasks, and as a result I'm too late to return my bookies to the library before their due date.
And I'm posting about it because I peeved about my email dying just when I'm feeling communicative. But actually life is good in general. Wasting 6 hours and being no more than mildly irritated about it is a symptom of a very happy state, I feel.
  • Current Music
    James: So long Marianne
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Book: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Author: Susanna Clarke

Details: (c) 2004 Susanna Clarke; Pub 2004 Bloomsbury; ISBN 0-7475-7055-8

Verdict: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is short of perfection, but certainly original and worth reading.

Reasons for reading it: The whole world seems to be raving about this, both mainstream and genre people. What absolutely convinced me I had to read it was papersky's review though.

How it came into my hands: Lochee library. Lochee is this grotty little suburb where people tell me I shouldn't go after dark (OMG! It's full of poor people! Run away!), but it's a really good place for books, particularly SF/F. I happened to be there and wandered into the library not really expecting to get much beyond better than average romances, but it turns out that since I was last there they've acquired JS&MN, and The Life of Pi and The Autograph Man. So that nicely took care of my reading list for the next several weeks.

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Anyway, JS&MN is an absolutely gorgeous piece of escapism. Reading it really felt like discovering a new world, which is a great achievement in a novel.

On a slightly related topic, AllConsuming is being revamped right now, so all my old links to book information are broken, and it doesn't seem to list UK published books at all, and it's generally not very functional. Since JS&MN is a big Publishing Phenomenon, I've linked directly to the official publicity site for this review. But if AllConsuming doesn't sort out its teething problems I may have to go back to linking to Amazon, which would annoy me.
  • Current Music
    Lightning Seeds: Marvellous
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