March 28, 2007

Science and Authority

I'm currently reading Survival of the Sickest, but found this review to be so true and emblematic of the problem with...well...just about everything from the media to Islam to global warming scientists with agendas - that is, a dearth of impartial and competent authority (surely it's ever been so but it seems especially pronounced these days due to lousy leadership; democracies tend to get bad leadership for reasons explained here):
Now, the book's target audience is clearly educated lay readers such as myself. I know very little about evolutionary aspects on medicine. But when I approach an interesting new field, I don't want to learn the controversial ideas of a fringe maverick. I want to know the current consensus among respected scholars, just like I don't like to turn to maverick plumbers, maverick dentists or maverick auto mechanics for a professional opinion.

Moalem's maverick status means that reading the book feels like walking on thin ice: whenever he says something that surprises me, I wonder, "is this accepted knowledge or a controversial hypothesis? What do non-mavericks in the field think?"

I don't know to whom I might recommend this book. Certainly not to a layperson like myself: too much uncertainty and speculation. And a professional scholar in the field is likely to know most of what Moalem says already. The ideal reader would be someone between these groups as to their level of expertise: perhaps a student of medicine or biology, as optional sweetener for a reading-list otherwise dominated by the stolid views of non-mavericks.

No comments: