Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Summer Slump and Book Recommendations

Summer is here and the slump has begun. Not really... overwhelmed by work in various forms, I completely lack time for writing anything coherent about multitudes of stupidity and gullibility we face daily in our lives.

I would like to write excessively about an ad I saw in a local Polish cultural center about a person, who claims, can "read God", tell you how to reconnect with your loved ones in heaven and extend your life in some magical way. To top it off, that person, in his ad, written in extremely bad English, boasts that he does it all for only 40% of profits, sending the other 60% as a spiritual gift to some mistical place. No kidding! What a bargain!
Or, along the same lines (different name, same BS), I would love to write about the complete nonsense of Reiki, and its scamming ways, making people pay for something that does not exist. Reiki, being an eastern version of therapeutic touch (TT) has no scientific background behind its claims, as famously demonstrated by Emily Rosa in 1998. Yet, right next to the guy who can "read God", I saw an ad from a Reiki master, claiming all kinds of benefits, for a price, of course.

Unfortunately, no time for all this due to work engagements. Luckily, Kindle does wonders, and I was able to read two excellent books that I would like to recommend to everyone:

1. "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming" - Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway
What an excellent overview of the last 50 years of anti-science propaganda, from tobacco industry, acid rain effects, ozone hole and the Star Wars program of the 80s, to the global warming denial, all courtesy of the same people and the same special interests. This book is extremely well written and can hold your interest for hours, presenting facts and connections you would not suspect existed. It is interesting and frightening at the same time, to remember the 80s, when we first started hearing about the ozone hole and how we were damaging it. It felt like the doomsday was upon us, that soon, we would not be able to leave the confines of our homes on a sunny day. When solutions were proposed, I remember various companies and whole industries crying how it'll kill the economy and bring another doomsday on us: the economic one. Yet, after an unprecedented international cooperation, we were able to come up with solutions, ban a few dangerous substances, replace them with better and safer ones and avert the disaster.
Today, we face similar problems with anthropogenic global warming and yet the same people create distractions and false "skepticism" to stall any solutions. Without those solutions, not us, but our kids will face a very bleak future, a future to which they will no doubt adopt, but at what costs? And, they will have only a handful of people to blame, with general public and some media following bad science, propaganda and distortion of facts.

2. "A Universe from Nothing" - Lawrence Krauss
If reading about "long, long time ago, far, far away" is your thing, I highly recommend this book. Lawrence Krauss, a leading cosmologist and theoretical physicist of our times, explains how our Universe (along with possibly, billions of others) came to be, literally out of Nothing. The real Nothing, as it is explained in the book, much better than I could ever do. Where we come from and where we are heading are also topics of discussion, and while it is good to know that we possibly live in the best times (give or take a few billion years), the end for us does not look great, so enjoy your time here. This book is maybe a bit less accessible that some other popular science books ("A Brief History of Time" comes to my mind), as it does include some math and physics, but Krauss makes it rather easy to digest and his style is very engaging and entertaining, given the subject that ends with (spoiler alert!) doom and gloom...