Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Introductory Argumentation

Okay, so my parents met at a debate tournament and my dad is a debate and interpersonal communication professor who has taught at CalTech and USC as well as four other lesser known SoCal colleges.

I've also spent the last six years arguing with people on the internet about LessWrong, medical pseudoscience, and how to do basic research (hey, go get a lit degree if you want to learn how to do research go get a humanities degree).

All of that is to tell you that I'm probably not the audience for Dave Levitan's Not A Scientist. It's a really decent introductory book for folks who are getting sucked into family arguments about science on their FaceBook feed. It's just a baby little stepping stone for horrid gremlins who are online ten hours a day (like me).

That said, it's fine. It has some useful and very specific examples that you can draw from if you want to point out how someone's argument is disingenuous or misleading. There are lots of damn decent studies cited and the attribution is off-the-wall awesome, which I really appreciate.

It's a perfectly acceptable book for someone who is starting to get frustrated by arguing the validity of science with assholes online who does not yet have a list of reliable studies to link and refer to in those sorts of arguments. It's also very simply written and it's an easy read that illustrates the value of understanding and trusting science without getting too deep in the weeds of graphs, charts, and theories that do legitimately confuse a lot of people.

Actually I'll say the "blame the blogger" section of the book is probably its best asset because of that. Sometimes it's better to say "that statement you're making is based on a blog written by someone who has no expertise in the field and who frequently publishes crank statements on a bunch of topics" than it is to provide a meticulously researched refutation. (Also it's not an ad hominem attack if you're questioning the veracity of a source - saying "you can't trust Alice because she's a jerk" is not the same thing as saying "you can't trust Bob's knowledge about teapot theory because he hasn't researched teapots and doesn't believe the moon exists.") So that chapter is a useful reminder for everyone.

It's fine. It's just not really for me.

     - Alli

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dodos died for a reason - they were too slow

Hey so The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. was the first book I started reading this year and it took me until July to finish it because I fucking hated it.

Which is a little shocking considering my well-documented appreciation for Neal Stephenson. Nicole Galland co-authored the book and while it's tempting to blame her for what I didn't like that's not really fair because a) I've never read her other stuff and so I couldn't tell you if I like her style or not and b) most of what I didn't like felt like Stephenson bits that weren't landing.

I really dig maximalism done well but this felt like maximalism done badly - it became a slog, it got boring.

Maybe that was because it was supposed to be a journal and collection of documents and the bits of Stephenson's style I like the most are in the narration. Maybe it's because the majority of the book is from the perspective of a character who I feel is really poorly written. Poor Dr. Stokes. I wanted her to be really well written, I wanted to like her - it's clear she was supposed to be sympathetic but she was written as indecisive and insecure and passive-aggressive in a way that was really frustrating to read.

Also the big bad of the book feels poorly developed and everything sort of dissolves into a nonsensical rush in the last 50 pages. Plenty of people have talked about Stephenson's denouement allergy and the fact that he likes to cut things off right after the climax and maybe this book illustrates why that's the case - everything after the last big action scene was kind of shit.

Anyway, long story (and jesus it was around 800 pages and it was a slog for once I'm sympathetic to people who think he's long-winded and dull) short I didn't like this book and actively resented the time I spent reading it and should have stopped after the first hundred pages didn't grab me because I don't feel any better having finished it except that it won't drive me crazy for not making the effort.

Fuck this book.