March 31, 2017

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, March 2017

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Check Wendig, Invasive
Mind candy technothriller, drawing on obviously-loving research into ants. Fun enough, but takes its own oracular pronouncements about The Future a bit too seriously.
Alice Dreger, Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science
This is Dreger's apologia pro vita sua. I like her more abstract conclusions or reflections about the proper roles of scholarship and activism, and on freedom of expression generally, but I believed that stuff already; and she's very sound on the creeping take-over of universities by administrators as a threat to academic freedom. All of this makes me inclined to trust her. So...
If you believe Dreger's accounts of the various controversies she's gotten involved in, she is a flat-out heroine on behalf of truth, justice, and the American way. (I say this with absolutely no irony or sarcasm whatsoever.) It is very unfortunate that I don't see any way in which I could responsibly make up my mind about this without re-investigating every damn thing. §
Juliet Marillier, Dreamer's Pool
Mind candy fantasy, set in Christianizing Ireland. (The Celtica is not too overwhelming.) --- Sequel.
Harry Collins, Are We All Scientific Experts Now?
Collins is a sociologist of science who has spent many years studying the physicists searching for gravitational waves, and, in doing so, has developed some very interesting and persuasive-sounding ideas about different forms of expertise. In particular, he distinguishes usefully between the knowledge needed to actually contribute to a scientific discipline, and what's needed just to interact with its practitioners. To put it much more vulgarly and dismissively than he ever would, "interactional expertise" is the ability to bullshit your way through a discussion. (Cf.) This little book is partly him expounding his ideas about different forms of expertise (unhelpfully but harmlessly arranged in a "periodic" table, with no actual periodicity), and partly also an expression of worry that the cultures and polities of the developed world are coming to dis-value scientific expertise in all its forms. That worry is a bit rich, considering his larger theoretical commitments*, but sound and welcome. This is a small, well-written little book which I warmly recommend to anyone interested in either expertise or science as a social process. §
*: Collins has long advocated an out-and-out relativism, arguing (I paraphrase only slightly) that we should realize that science is always just a cover for the temporary outcome of local political struggles, because this conclusion is so overwhelmingly established by reliable empirical studies by social scientists. This absurdly self-undermining thesis does not, fortunately, make much of an appearance in this book.
Update: More Collins, on closely related matters.
Jane Haddam, Quoth the Raven
Mystery. This was the first book by Haddam I read, back in 1995 or 1996. My memories, despite being old enough to legally drink, are pretty accurate, though I had forgotten exactly whodunnit. It may have helped that the culture-war campus politics which forms part of the background have moved very, very slowly.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; Commit a Social Science; The Collective Use and Evolution of Concepts; Tales of Our Ancestors; The Progressive Forces

Posted at March 31, 2017 23:59 | permanent link

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