Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Book vs Movie: Casino Royale – What’s the Difference?

In the latest instalment of the What’s the Difference? series, the CineFix team have broken down the Ian Flemming novel and Daniel Craig movie, Casino Royale.

Unfortunately Casino Royale is not one of Bond novels I’ve read. The change between generations is very marked when reading a Bond novel, the little changes like letters and radio to texts and mobile phones (cells to US people) are expected. But the social change that has occurred is the biggest noticeable difference, mostly with the role of women and minorities in society. Felix Leiter being African-American in the movie? Vesper Lynd being the intellectual equal of Bond? These are not things that Flemming would have imagined for his world.

I like Daniel Craig’s Bond and think that Casino Royale was a shot in the arm for the long running series. The gritty take on things was needed after the cheese that was Die Another Day (etc). And you can’t help but love any film that has Eva Green in it. With rumours flying that Craig’s Bond will be no more, it will be interesting to see what the next take on Bond will bring us. Will the producers push back to a suave Connery take on Bond, or a tongue-in-cheek Moore version, or an in-between like Brosnan, or something really lame and poorly written like Dalton and Lazenby’s outings?

Whatever happens with the Bond series it is clear that the social update to the novels will continue.

When Science Fiction Became Science Fact

One of my favourite science blogs, From Quarks to Quasars, had a great post from Isabelle Turner that I needed to share. Take a look at the things from science fiction that became science fact, and wonder whether it was prediction, influence, or just wishful interpretation on our part.


Book review: Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

Dexter Is Dead (Dexter, #8)Dexter Is Dead by Jeff Lindsay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If Dexter is Dead, does that mean alliteration dies with him?

The final instalment of delightfully dismembering Dexter sees the titular protagonist in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, which really means the cops aren’t trying very hard. His friends and colleagues – the ones that are still alive at least – have abandoned him, his sister Deb thinks he is getting a dose of karma, and Detective Andrews is doing his best to frame him. Good thing he has a brother. And Brian never causes problems in Dexter’s life.

As a huge fan of the Dexter novels – the TV series: meh – I have been looking forward to reading the final Dexter adventure for some time. I’d like to say the anticipation set me up for disappointment, but I’m pretty sure it was the series running out of steam. That isn’t to say that Dexter is Dead isn’t an entertaining read, more than it doesn’t hit the normal highs I’ve enjoyed from the earlier novels in the series. Which means that finishing the adventures of Dexter now (or a book or two ago) was probably a good idea. Dexter’s luck finally running out, hammering home some of the central points that many have missed previously (yes, Dexter isn’t smart), and finally (spoiler alert…. from the title) killing Dexter, was important for the series.

I’d say this book is mainly for fans of the series who want closure. It is just a pity the end wasn’t a highpoint.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, #1)Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever wondered if werewolves are sexy? Apparently it isn’t just Rule 34 that has the answer on that question.

Moon Called is the first in the highly successful Patricia Briggs series. Mercy Thompson is the local mechanic, a shape shifter, and a lightning rod for trouble. First a runaway with problems starts work at her shop, bringing his problems with him. Then her friendly neighbourhood werewolves get dragged into the start of a civil war. And then it seems the local witches and vampires are involved. Then Cthulhu rises… Okay, I made up the last bit.

Patricia’s Mercy Thompson series are not normally the sort of book I would choose to read. Being a guy, I have these prejudices about sparkly vampires, sexy werewolves, and novels clearly aimed at that market. Which is stupid on my part. The Moon Called has as much in common with Twilight as Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. In other words, I could have enjoyed this series earlier if not for my misplaced prejudice.

This was a fast paced novel that was highly entertaining. One thing that stood out to me, though, was the novel kind of ended without really finishing the story. This made the ending feel a little unsatisfying, but at the same time it felt like a more natural story, especially for a series. I suppose it is refreshing to have a novel unafraid to not have an epilogue or tagged on final chapter that ties up all the loose ends. And this open-endedness doesn’t feel like a deliberate setup for a series, rather it feels like a genuine limited world perspective: we don’t get to know everything because the characters don’t know everything. I will be reading many more Patricia Briggs novels.

View all my reviews

The continued war on e-books

Stupid meme is stupid.

Stupid meme is stupid.

Do you love the smell of books?
Do you prefer the feel of paper?
Do you feel slightly superior to others because you paid for the hardcover?
Do you grasp at any excuse to deride e-books and the people who read them?
Well, I have found the article for you!

Recently on Mental Floss an article entitled “5 Reasons Physical Books Might Be Better Than E-Books” sought to comfort snooty readers who wanted ammunition to fling at e-book readers. In the proud tradition of deriding any new technology as bad (see e-books, e-cars, driverless cars, etc), this article introduces us to some research that is wonderfully out of context for the intent of the article’s argument. Let’s dig in.

Though e-book readers have become a more common sight around town, traditional books still have their evangelists. According to The New York Times, e-book sales have been falling in 2015. Print definitely isn’t dead. In fact, according to some research, it may actually be a better choice for some readers. While scientists are still trying to tease out exactly how digital reading affects us differently, here are five ways e-books might be inferior to their dead-tree cousins.

When deriding things it is always best to reference another article that derides the same thing. In this case the article references the wonderfully misleading NYT piece on e-book sales slipping. Pity that the sales didn’t slip… That’s right, the NYT misrepresented a slowing in e-book sales growth as a drop in sales. And did they mention why readers were stating a preference for paper? Yes. Hidden in the article is a little quote about how publishers had been protecting their paper sales by inflating e-book prices. Now, my economics is a tad rusty, but I’m pretty sure making something more expensive when there are direct substitutes on offer results in a decrease in sales of that item and an increase in the sales of the substitution item. At least, that’s what I’ve heard…

In a study of middle schoolers, West Chester University researchers found that students who read on iPads had lower reading comprehension than when they read traditional printed books. They discovered that the kids sometimes skipped text in favor of interactive features in the e-books, suggesting that certain multimedia in children’s e-books can be detrimental to the practice of reading itself. However, the researchers noted that some interactive features in e-books are designed to enhance comprehension, and that those might be more helpful than game-type interactive graphics.

This is a fantastic study in how multitasking is terrible for concentration and thus impacts reading comprehension. iPads have all sorts of cool stuff on them, including little notifications telling you that your friend just liked your latest picture of your meal. And building those distractions into the book being read: sounds like a great idea! What this study doesn’t do is support the idea that e-books reduce reading comprehension.

Similar results were found by a small study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center that consisted of 32 kids reading e-books and print books with their parents. It found that “enhanced” e-books might be distracting. Kids who read enhanced e-books—ones with interactive, multimedia experiences—were more engaged with them physically, but in the end they remembered fewer narrative details than those who read print books or basic e-books [PDF].

Don’t read the link. Don’t read the link. You read the link: didn’t you. Leaving aside the tiny study size for a moment (a point the study authors acknowledge), the study itself supports the points I made above about being distracted whilst reading. And if you look through the study you see a great little chart that showed the comparison of reading comprehension – expressed as story details recalled – was actually superior in basic e-books than in print books or enhanced e-books.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 10.13.19 am

The findings of the study were literally stated as:

The enhanced e-book was less effective than the print and basic e-book in supporting the benefits of co-reading because it prompted more non-content related interactions.

Odd that the “e-books are bad” article failed to highlight this finding…

Another study of adults also found that e-books can be hard to absorb. The researchers asked 25 people read a 28-page story on a Kindle and 25 to read the story in paperback, then asked the readers to put 14 events from the story in chronological order. Those who read the story on a Kindle performed worse on the chronology test than the book readers, though they performed about the same as print readers in other tests. Earlier research by the same scholars, from Stavanger University in Norway, found that Norwegian 10th graders also remembered more about texts if they read them in print rather than on a computer screen [PDF].

Finally we come to a study on actual e-books on an actual e-reader versus their dead tree counterparts. Of course I’m again blown away by the sample size of the study, a massive 50 people. That should easily extrapolate to the rest of humankind. The linked article doesn’t give us much information, but I found a better one, and it has this summary:

In most respects, there was no significant difference between the Kindle readers and the paper readers: the emotional measures were roughly the same, and both groups of readers responded almost equally to questions dealing with the setting of the story, the characters and other plot details. But, the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.

I’d link to the original paper, but it is behind a paywall. Suffice to say that the error margins were pretty big (even the paper readers got 34% of the plot points in the wrong order). And this was a short story, something that shouldn’t be that difficult for any reader. So this probably says as much about the story as anything. They’d need far more stories and participants to get a good idea of what is going on. But I will concede that reading on paper vs e-reader vs screen is definitely a different experience and has an influence. What that influence is, positive, negative, or just different, needs more research.

Interestingly the study of reading PDF texts on a screen vs paper texts in high school students showed why scrolling is a terrible way to read anything. Scroll down to read more about PDFs sucking.

While e-book textbooks are often cheaper (and easier to carry) than traditional door-stop textbooks, college students often don’t prefer them. In some surveys of college kids, the majority of students have reported preferring print books. However, a 2012 study from the UK’s National Literacy Trust of kids ages 8 to 16 found that more than 50 percent of children reported preferring screen reading [PDF].

It is odd to start a point and then go on to disprove it. E-book textbooks being cheaper, easier to carry, and in some surveys preferred by the majority of respondents, seems to me to be the opposite of “not great”. The preference for paper textbooks claim comes from a survey of 527 students, yet is immediately refuted by the UK survey of 34,910 students. I wonder which one is more representative of how students feel about textbooks?

In the comments of the Mental Floss article, someone made a good point in regard to the format of textbooks. Oftentimes the textbooks are PDFs, which brings us back to the point about scrolling, and adds the problem with taking notes. Clearly the format of the e-book plays a big part in how people feel about them.

Staring at a lit screen can be tiring for the eyes and the brain. A 2005 study from Sweden found that reading digitally required a higher cognitive workload than reading on paper. Furthermore, staring at LED screens at night can disrupt sleep patterns. A 2014 Harvard study found that people who used e-readers with LED screens at night slept worse and were more tired the next day. So, if you’re going to go for an e-book, go for one without the backlight.

Now let us talk about how bad e-books are for your brain…. Sorry, did I say e-books when I meant LED screens like your iPad and computer? Silly me. Having bright light, especially from white background screens, shining in your eyes at night isn’t a good thing. But that is about as related to e-books as X-Factor is to talented singers. So the message about changing your screen setup for night viewing only really applies to readers if they utilise a backlit screen for reading.

And now that we are at the end of the article, let’s throw in some information for the pretence of balance in the hopes you will ignore the headline and main article points:

However, all this may not mean that reading on a Kindle is really going to melt your brain. For instance, reading an e-book on a computer is a much different experience than reading on a Kindle, which is specifically designed for consuming books. So, too, is playing with an interactive e-book on an iPad, compared to using a simpler e-book device that only presents the text, with no opportunities to click away into digital distractions.

This really does appear to be information that would have been better presented in the context of the “e-books are evil” points above; doesn’t it. Throwing in this sort of context at the end rather than in the discussion of the study findings is a cheap tactic, a ploy that sees important information left until after you have already formed your opinion on a subject, or just plain stopped reading the article. This information has far less chance of being retained than the others points made earlier in the article, thus the article has created the bias they were after (deliberately or otherwise).

And some studies have found that part of the difference between the way people absorb information from e-books versus paper might be due to approaching e-books differently—in one test, participants didn’t regulate their study time with digital books like they did with paper texts, leading to worse performances. It’s possible that our expectations of e-book reading—as well as the different designs of the digital reading experience on a computer or iPad or Kindle—might affect how we approach the text and how much effort we put into studying them. As generations of e-book readers evolve, and people become more accustomed to the idea of sitting down with a digital textbook, these factors could change—for better or for worse.

These are all good points, again made at the end of the article rather than at least being hinted at throughout. And unlike the main points in the article, these are unreferenced. Are these points from the studies already referenced (some are) or some other studies that aren’t worth mentioning? In the former, you would expect these points to have been raised earlier in the article in the proper context, in the latter, this feels like an attempt to downplay the statements as less important than the referenced points above. Either way we are left with the sentiment “change is scary” rather than “change is change”.

Hopefully this breakdown of the Mental Floss article shows just how disingenuous many of these anti-technology articles are, especially the “e-books are evil” articles. I’m not trying to say that e-books are what everyone should be reading, or that our forests are now saved from Dan Brown. There is clear evidence that our changing technology is changing the way we read and absorb information, and this transition period is still a learning phase as to how and if we will change our reading preferences. But negative preconceived ideas about e-books (or technology) don’t help in communicating about the change that is happening.

Book vs Movie: V For Vendetta – What’s the difference?

In this outing for the CineFix team they have covered the classic graphic novel and movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta.

So, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of the Alan Moore graphic novel V For Vendetta – yeah, yeah, I know: sacrilege. I actually gave up on it about a third of the way through, as such it is hard for me to compare the book to the movie. Actually, that’s not true, I can compare how entertained I was, since I enjoyed the movie and couldn’t be bothered finishing the book. That should say a lot.

Moore distancing himself from all adaptations of his work is odd, but completely understandable given it is based upon having watched* The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. That was the film that caused Sean Connery to quit acting, which gives you some idea of just how bad that movie was. But you are still left with his admonishments of adaptations, like V For Vendetta or The Watchmen, that were good films (IMHO) and captured the essence of the source material. Like most of the book to movie adaptations discussed in the What’s the Difference? series, when you see the breakdowns of differences you can completely understand why the changes were made. The example in this video was of Evie’s character arc to help the audience empathise with both her and V in a shorter format. The book and movie occupy different spaces, have different constraints, and are often made at different times for society.

Which is why I find Moore’s stance – or is that complaints – on adaptations of his work to be a bit precious. I mean, he was, and I quote, “getting money for old rope” as well as a much wider exposure as an artist. He has managed to influence popular culture (The Killing Joke was the primary reference material for Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker). Not much to complain about. Unless the movie studios paid him in beard trimmers.

*Being a little flippant here as he was also sued over accusations that someone else’s script was plagiarised.

Book reviews: The King’s Deception by Steve Berry

The King's Deception (Cotton Malone, #8)The King’s Deception by Steve Berry
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Have you ever wanted a thriller to star not one, but two book store owners? Well, this is the novel for you!

That’s right, our favourite book seller is back in action. This time Cotton Malone is caught up in a CIA operation called King’s Deception. See what Steve Berry did there? Cotton and his son Gary get caught up with the CIA, SIS – better known as MI6 – and The Dedalus Society’s deadly spy games. King’s Deception is their game and Cotton has to blah blah the McGuffin surrounding Elizabeth the First before the blah blah.

I’m a big fan of Steve Berry’s novels. They are always entertaining and well thought out thrillers. Berry is the writer Dan Brown wishes he was, but then takes a swim in his pool of money to console himself. As is typical with this genre, Berry seamlessly mixes the modern day with the historical McGuffin in a plausible and interesting manner. But for me, I found this to be one of Berry’s weaker novels.

My main fault with the book was that it was a story being recounted between the narrator and reader analogues, with the first and last chapters book ending the actual story. I hate this sort of story telling. It always feels hackneyed, even in films. At least flashbacks only last a short time, this is like having 95% of the story be a flashback. In this case you could cut the first and last chapters out and it would be a perfectly reasonable novel, so the additions of these parts feels superfluous.

Despite that criticism, the book was entertaining and would rank 4 stars, but I’m giving it 3.5 stars. I’m taking half a star off for the book-ends on the actual story.

View all my reviews

Book vs Movie: Psycho – What’s the difference

Another great instalment of CineFix’s What’s the Difference? series. This time it is the famous Hitchcock film Psycho and the novel it was based upon.

Some interesting differences in the storytelling, aren’t there! The most interesting was the way Hitchcock sets up his viewers to empathise with the victim, Mary/Marion, as much as possible, whilst also moving away from the cliché of Norman being a chubby-loser. My highlight from the video is the revelation that the book, and obviously the subsequent movie, were based upon a real murderer. I suppose skin is pretty durable stuff, it would be a shame to just throw it away.

Common Myths


Found at From Quarks To Quasars.
Original and larger version.

Book vs Movie: Alice in Wonderland – What’s the difference?

Another great instalment from the CineFix team. And don’t worry, they didn’t do the Depp/Burton movie comparison. Dodged a bullet there.

I can’t claim to have read all of Alice in Wonderland. I can’t even claim to be much of a fan of the movie; Disney animation or otherwise. My main reason for not liking either is that this is a classic example, and possibly the progenitor, of the “and then she woke up” ending. My wife dislikes the book because it lacks a point and is boring and waffly. Since it is a “classic children’s book” it could explain why kids used to hate reading: thank FSM for Harry Potter!

Book Review: Fat, Fifty & F***ed by Geoffrey McGeachin

Fat, Fifty & F***ed!: A Fast & Furious NovelFat, Fifty & F***ed!: A Fast & Furious Novel by Geoffrey McGeachin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Expletives in the title? Yeah, let’s dash a few letters out, wouldn’t want anyone to realise someone wrote a “naughty” word.

The story follows the adventure of Martin Carter, a bank manager in a small dying town. Martin’s life is a huge disappointment, so instead of buying a sports car he robs his bank and goes on the run. Pursued by a security agency, meeting all sorts of interesting Aussie characters, and trying to find the elusive perfect breakfast, Martin does the midlife crisis in style.

As a long time fan of Geoff McGeachin’s writing, it was a pleasure to pick up one of his humorous novels again, after reading his award winning Black Wattle Creek. Can’t have humour in a book and have it win awards. There are rules. Fat, Fifty and Fucked is Geoff’s first novel and sets the template for his irreverent, humorous, fun, and foodie writing style that his Alby Murdoch novels utilised. I also think Geoff captures the stereotypical Aussie characters and humour in a way that few other authors manage, even if some would find this off-putting, despite how he doesn’t go the full Alf Stewart.

Great yarn: well worth a read.

View all my reviews

Book review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Potatoes and Pirate-Ninjas: the reason you will read this book.*

I’m late to the Mark Watney appreciation society, since I only heard about this book as a result of the movie trailer. I guess at least I didn’t find out about the book after watching the movie and wondering if it was based on anything. The blurb essentially sums up the novel “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.” There you go, premise done.

To say I enjoyed this book is an understatement, as I usually hate novels that try to be hard sci-fi. I mean, if I want to read a physics text book I’ll grab the one on my shelf, not some of the “plausible” made up stuff that hurts my needless exposition aversion gland. So to find a hard sci-fi story that manages to be so entertaining was no small feat. The humour was a big part of the reason for the enjoyment. I felt that this addition was very important to not only the characterisation of Watney the space-nerd – because nerds are normally only funny to laugh at – but also in how too many novels would have taken the same premise far too seriously.

So now I’m looking forward to the movie. This should adapt very well to the big screen, and Matt Damon seems like a great choice for Watney. Hopefully Ridley Scott won’t go all Prometheus with The Martian and we’ll have a great adaptation.

Edit: The wonderful From Quarks to Quasars posted about the Real NASA Technology seen in The Martian. Check it out to get your geek further on.


* Because you’ll wonder what the hell those things could possibly have to do with a book about Mars.

View all my reviews

Fastest Ships Ever Created

Below is a wonderful infographic that compares a selection of the fastest ships ever created. Very cool.

The Fastest Ship in the Universe : How Sci-Fi Ships Stack Up
The Fastest Ship in the Universe : How Sci-Fi Ships Stack Up Created by: FatWallet.com

Worth heading over to the original page for the discussion section. Highlights include which ships were missing, and a better estimate of the Heart of Gold’s top speed.

One of the annoying things about movies

With the recent spate of superhero movies it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even the superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.

Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by his fingertips whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses his grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from his grasp.

We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own bodyweight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their bodyweight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.

The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight for more than a few seconds, especially not if they caught themselves from a fall. Elite grip strength can be measured a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.

So let’s just assume that our generic action movie has an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a sexy 55kg. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two normal sized adults are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.

Which brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, the 55kg gravity lover isn’t exactly heavy. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy, not designed for easy lifting – no obvious knurled handles – and there isn’t a lot of leg drive happening when you’re dangling from the side of a building by your fingertips. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.

Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.

Book vs Movie: X-Men Days of Future Past – What’s the difference

The latest instalment of Cinefix’s What’s the Difference is out. This time they tackle the ridiculously named X-Men: Days of Future Past.

So this is one book in the book vs movie series that I haven’t read. Although, in my defence, the Marvel Comic Universe is such an overlapping, rebooted, reshaped, alternate-time-lined, mish-mash of ridiculous proportions that it probably wouldn’t matter if I had. Watching the breakdown it becomes obvious that the screenwriters did a good job of streamlining the plot and picking characters who would work for the movie adaptation. Less clear is why the movie got so lazy with the “and then he woke up” ending.

Book vs Movie: 2001 A Space Odyssey – What’s the difference

The Cinefix team are back once again with their series on movies based on books. This instalment is in two parts and is slightly different. 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t so much a movie based upon a book as much as it was a collaboration between Kubrick and Clarke.

I think the summary in the second video (from about 9:40 onward) encapsulates the main differences between the book and the movie nicely. Essentially Kubrick dispensed with the pedantic explanations and descriptions in favour of stunning visuals and esoteric story telling. Whereas Clarke made that esoteric story telling understandable with all the motivations and insights. I.e. to understand the film read the book, to experience the book watch the film.

Book vs Movie: Watchmen – What’s the difference

Another great breakdown of the differences between the book and the movie from Cinefix. This time it is Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

If I’m honest I’d have to say I prefer the movie over the book in this instance. I liked both, but I thought the changes they made for the movie made for better spectacle and entertainment. Obviously that wasn’t Moore’s original intention, so it is unsurprising that fans were annoyed with these changes. I felt that Snyder’s adaptation remained relatively faithful to the source material whilst also creating a film that cinema goers would enjoy. This is the hard path to tread in any adaptation: making sure the film works but remains true to the source.

Of course Snyder managed to make a film that people didn’t watch in the cinema and that fans of the book complained about. Guess there is just no pleasing some people.

One (of the many) problems of arguing with science deniers

In a recent post I discussed some points about how to spot anti-science nonsense. Pick a subject, any subject, and there will be someone – probably Alex Jones – making an outrageous claim about it. But don’t worry, they’ll solve the problem with items available from their reasonably priced store: $1440 per litre is a bargain price for something you don’t need and doesn’t do as claimed.

Credit: Jason Hymes

Credit: Jared Hyames

Obviously scammers are gonna scam, and anti-scientists are going to not-science. The thing is once you understand that something is wrong you have some responsibility to make sure the misinformation doesn’t spread like a leaky diaper. With great power knowledge comes great responsibility. Which means you have to start discussing science with science deniers. Don’t forget to place a cushion on your desk and wear padded gloves.

Despite having the advantage of science/facts in the argument against science deniers, you have the decided disadvantage that you can’t just make stuff up (despite how tempting and financially rewarding it is). In fact you have to be better informed about not only your side of the argument but also about the science denier’s arguments.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? You have to learn nonsense to talk about science. That makes as much sense as being pro-life and pro-death penalty. Bear with me here. Take this example of climate change denier Bret Stephens arguing against Bill Maher on Real Time:

Bret sounds convincing, doesn’t he? Bret sure thinks so. He makes some vague references to headlines from the 1930s and 1970s as dismissals of current concerns about oceans. Then he references an economic study on environmental policy priorities, all whilst looking very smug and sure of himself. These statements leave Bill at a stumbling point because he has to admit he doesn’t know what the hell Bret is talking about. The video edited out the pant-less victory lap Bret did of the studio, complete with crotch gyrations in Bill’s face, as he screamed “Take that liberal media!”

Now it isn’t a bad thing to admit you don’t know stuff. Nobody knows everything, it is arrogant to act like you do. Arrogance is of course the result of being surrounded by Knowitalls, an invisible mythical creature that looks like a cross between a unicorn and Bill O’Reilly. Anyway, I’m glad Bill Maher admitted he didn’t know about the study; if only he would do the same with his position on vaccination and GM/GMOs. But the admission did make him appear less convincing as he couldn’t directly rebut the points made.

And here is why you need to know what the anti-science people “know”. Take the first points Bret makes about the oceans dying. His two dates mentioned are actually making reference to points unrelated to the issue of climate change causing ocean acidification. The first date was reference to the Overfishing Conference in 1936 about whaling and fishery management (as far as I can ascertain), issues that were addressed by introducing catch sizes, fishing licenses, and the phasing out of whaling. So Bret is trying to justify inaction on climate change to save ocean damage by referencing an environmental concern that was acted upon. What a great argument!

His second date was the 1975 Newsweek and New York Times (and others) article about global cooling. This is a well worn climate change denier talking point/myth that has been thoroughly debunked yet has evolved beyond a PRATT point and become a zombie point. Some myths just won’t die and are constantly in search of brains to infect/affect.

We then hear Bret reference a Bjorn Lomborg study on best use of resources and where climate change ranked. Very convincing, aside from the fact that it was complete and utter nonsense. See, Bjorn doesn’t accept the actual risks and actual current changes that have occurred due to climate change. So his entire analysis and argument started off from a completely flawed position and was thus doomed to fail to draw any worthwhile conclusions. Actual experts have torn apart his work, particularly his “conference”, here, here and here. But Bill didn’t know this, thus the points made stand unchallenged and as a sort of “valid” evidence.

And this is why it is important to know your enemy. If you know the arguments they are likely to raise, then you can have rebuttals ready. In the case of citing Lomborg’s work you can point out the failings before people have a chance to take it seriously. In the case of old magazine articles, you can point out you only read them for the pictures. But it means you don’t just have to know the science, you have to know the anti-science.

It is also worth noting that Bret reeled off a string of statements that were essentially nonsense dressed up as facts. That is a tried and trusted debating tactic known as the Gish Gallop, and it is very hard to argue against. It takes a lot more energy to redress the nonsense than they take stating it, not to mention time wasted not making your own points. Also helps that science has to have facts on its side, anti-science can make it all up on the spot.

Of course the obvious thing to say here is that the anti-science movement often don’t see themselves as anti-science and will use similar tactics. They will familiarise themselves with the science in order to dismiss it. This is possibly the most annoying part of science communication, those imbedded in anti-science positions aren’t ignorant of the facts, they are wilfully ignorant of their fact-ness.

Book review: The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

The Dying Hours (Tom Thorne, #11)The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always wondered how many professional killers like to stage suicides. Purely on an intellectual curiosity basis of course. Honest.

Mark Billingham’s The Dying Hours is another in the successful run of Tom Thorne crime novels. In the last book, Thorne was bumped back down to uniform and is loving it so much that he starts an investigation into a suicide that didn’t seem right to him. It isn’t long before he finds others that aren’t suicides but part of a hit list for a retired criminal. And that’s pretty much the novel summed up.

Therein lies my problem with the book. Crime novels are as full of tropes and cliches as any other genre and there are only so many plots to go around, it is about using the tropes in an interesting way. Billingham is highly regarded and I’ve heard good things about his work, but this story felt flat to me. There were too many well-worn steps being trod over the course of the novel and it bored me. Reading other reviews there were many long time fans who felt the same way.

If you want a standard crime novel, this will fit the bill. But it might be worth checking out the other books in the series, or other works from Billingham, instead of this one.

View all my reviews

Book review: Back Story by David Mitchell

Back StoryBack Story by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s no book quite like the autobiography, since they are usually biographies with some poor ghost writer having to make an illiterate celebrity (sportsperson) sound interesting. Odd that I’d decide to read an actual autobiography.

Just so we’re clear, this is a book by David Mitchell the comedian, not David Mitchell the award winning author. David Mitchell is a particularly funny comedian from the UK, one part of the Mitchell and Webb team, and Back Story is his tale of growing up and “getting on the tele”. Listening to the audiobook had the added benefit of David telling his story and giving his various rants and jokes the life they deserved.

That’s right, this book is funny from start to finish. Many comedic efforts fail to do this, either trying to squeeze too much out of a one joke premise, failing to be consistent, or having the jokes become tired – more of the same – somewhere in the middle of the book. Ostensibly told as David walks to work one morning, and recounting his life thus far, he manages to pack in a lot of commentary about schooling, university drama societies (Footlights), and the oddities of making shows for TV. And in true David Mitchell style there are plenty of witty insights, comedic rants, and down the barrel jokes to tell the tales.

I generally think that celebrity biographies are symptomatic of what is wrong with publishing and book stores. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to convince the reading public that these celebrities actually wrote the book (because they have heaps of spare time, and are well known for their writing prowess) and that they have something interesting to tell you that the tabloids haven’t already used as filler around those telephoto swimsuit shots. They’ve even managed to convince people that this is what you buy people as gifts, especially Xmas gifts for your dad. I don’t know if this was a big campaign or just one of those things that happened, but it would be great if people could stop pretending that sports people are interesting, are literate, and are actually writing a tell-all-book.

It is probably because David Mitchell is clearly the writer of this book, that the humour and the story told are entertaining yet honest, that I’ve enjoyed this autobiography. Too often in the past I’ve been disappointed with biographies and comedy books, so this was not just a good read, it was refreshingly good.

View all my reviews

Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 963 other followers

%d bloggers like this: