Tag: Review

Books books books

Oh, the reading. I’ve currently got ‘The Hollow Men,’ ‘Oddzone’ and ‘Absolute Power’ on the go (and that’s just the Aotearoa Conspiracy Theory material).

Vicki Hyde’sOddzone‘ (New Holland, Auckland, 2006) is, for me, a mixed bag. I probably know just a little too much on the subjects it covers for this to be useful; I either know more detail than the chapters cover or the critical thinking material is just a little too thin (for someone who, in the words of the FHG, is a ‘professional critical thinker’).

I also have some small but niggling issues. On what is really a very minor matter Hyde claims that UFO just means Flying Saucer (p. 36), which isn’t a given (although I do approve of her using UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena)). On a far more important issue I think she a bit of sneaky trick. It’s towards the end of her introductory critical thinking chapter.

Hyde presents what appears to be a logic puzzle and then states that amongst all the answers people have come up with to it, virtually no one ever claims the answer is that she is either lying or mistaken (p. 28). I don’t think this is a particularly fair trick to play on people; if you pose a conundrum (her label) most of your audience is going to think that it is solvable (even if it requires a piece of clever thinking). Psychologically, I think it is fair to say, we write off the possibility that the person posing the conundrum is lying (that there is an answer); indeed, the way the conundrum is posed makes it look as if it can be answered. A response of ‘You’re lying’ doesn’t seem to solve the puzzle.

(The other response she thinks should be offered, ‘You’re mistaken’ also seems to be psychologically locked off because, at least in her case, if you’ve asked someone to come along and give a talk to your group you’re not expecting them to be (overly) mistaken in their thinking…)

Now, Hyde is right to say that we should be sceptical (at some appropriate level) in regards to the utterances of others (we should, at least, admit the possibility that some testimony is false), but the conundrum she poses isn’t the right kind of example to teach this important lesson. This is because the conundrum doesn’t solicit the principle in the right way; people who hear it are, I suspect, going to feel just a little cheated by its solution. Which is a pity, because, overall, the chapter is quite good as an introduction to some core principles of critical thinking and if I decide to teach another introductory course on scepticism in the near future I’d be keen to use it.

(I’m also somewhat curious as to whether Hyde really thinks the example belongs in that chapter; it’s printed as an aside and part of me wonders whether it is there to fill the book out rather than as an illustration vital to the discourse. Then again, this might just be a reflection of my prejudices about layouts coming to the fore.)

Thoughts on Peter Knight’s ‘Conspiracy Theories about 9/11’

(My notes on the paper)

Well, this all fits in nicely with my recent paper (which is a tad awkward in that I’ve had this article for ages and only just got around to reading it). Knight’s thesis in ‘Conspiracy Theories about 9/11’ is that, at least with respect to 9/11, Official Views and Conspiracy Theories are highly similar in relevant ways and that this is especially true when it comes to the attribution of the notion of the agents behind the event(s) being explained.

Knight uses Hofstadter’s term ‘demonological’ in respect to these agents and argues that both sides of the debate feature demonised agents. Now, we can interpret this in two ways. They are demonic ala godlike or demonic ala evil and manipulative.

The first interpretation would act as a possible criticism of my paper; sometimes people do intend to present godlike conspirators because that is what they believe in. I think my replies probably still stand, however.

The second interpretation acts as support, in a way, to my paper. These agents are presented as demonological; evil and manipulative. This is rhetoric, however. It is the result of a particular way of presenting material politically. Now maybe the myth of the American system seems widely believed in, but I suspect it is believed in much the same way as the omnigod thesis.

Knight’s article works, I think, precisely because of its tight and narrow scope. Come the revision of the paper into the introduction of the thesis I shall incorporate my comments upon his paper into it.

So Say We All

(I forgot I hadn’t published this…)

So, ‘Battlestar: Galactica’ the best show on TV you are probably not watching, is coming to an end after four seasons, with the lead writers claiming that this means they can finish off their story arc and provide for an exciting finale.

The fans, for some reason, are pissed.

There is something very odd about fandom in that fans will fight and fight and fight for a show to survive even when the architects of that show think it would be better otherwise. Yes, some shows get cancelled before their allotted time and some shows only begin to express their greatness as they come to a close, but, by and large, a lot of shows live on too long (I’m looking at you, last season of ‘Buffy…’).

There was a great mini-series in the UK called ‘Ultraviolet’ (not related to the recent film of that name) about a modern day vampire conspiracy. The story had a very definite beginning, middle and end and was commissioned for a second series. Some fans were astounded by the writer’s claim that he had exhausted the ideas of the show and that he wanted to go onto something new, even going so far as to propose their own, frankly quite terrible, plot ideas for a further six episodes.

‘Battlestar: Galactica’ is a show that has an evident goal for its characters; they want to get to Earth. This season they are going to do it. Sure, they could go on for a few more years, dragging it out. I think it’s admirable that they want to tell a complete story and are willing to do it going out on a high rather than trying to prolong the story for as long as possible and then have to cram in an ending at them moment they are told the show is cancelled.

Back to the conspiracies soon. And the One Line Doctor Who Reviews.

One Line Doctor Who Review – Partners in Crime

Well it’s that time of the year again; Doctor Who is back on screens (in Blighty) and I’m going to give one line, spoiler free(-ish) reviews of the ep in question. So, here we go:

Well, David Tennant finally gets a decent opening episode.

A break from your irregularly scheduled programming…

Welcome to the occasional pop culture revue. No Conspiracy Theories today.

So, TV. It’s a companion of sorts; not as exciting or entertaining as the FHG but, well, it fills a certain pop culture-sized gap in my pysche. And TV has suddenly got a lot better with ‘Lost’ being back; I watched the opening episode of season four last night and, once again, I’m hooked.

‘Lost’ hasn’t done particularly well with the audience appreciation, recently; the people who lauded its inventiveness in season one seemed to want, in season two, a show that ‘matured’ and calmed down to become either a standard drama or go full tilt with the SF angle. For me, though, the show has just got better and better, with stories that wow you or make you think the show is going in a direction opposite to that which it is, every episode satisfies. Indeed, I was indignant when ‘The Beginning of the End’ ended after a mere forty-two minutes. I need my bites to be bigger.

When not watching ‘Lost’ I do find myself watching other delights like ‘Pushing Daisies’ (ignore the Herald review, which I won’t link to; the show has legs a-plenty), ‘Torchwood’ (season two is better than season one, but season one wasn’t particularly good…) and, yes, ‘Stargate: Atlantis’ (which is actually quite good; you’re probably just prejudiced because MacGyver used to be in it).

Of course, a lot of my favourite TV scheduling is getting nipped in the bud because of Big Business. Over in the States the Writers Guild of America is striking because the production companies don’t want to give writers an residues on internet revenues for the shows guild members have written for. That’s the reason why Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert have been less funny recently; they are doing their shows unscripted. It’s the reason why ‘Pushing Daisies’ will end after episode eight here without any real sense of conclusion.

If there was going to be any talk of conspiracies it would be here that a wise and assiduous writer would mention that this isn’t really conspiratorial behaviour at all but rather an good example of Chomsky’s notion of institutions acting in conspiracy-like ways whilst not actually conspiring.

And now for some more ‘Torchwood.’ Who knew that Cardiff was the centre of the bisexual revolution?

Pop culture revues will be infrequent. We return now to more standard programming.

Six Basic Mistakes You Make in Reviewing

 It took me a while to get around to reading it, but I’ve just munched through Thomas Kida’s ‘Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The Six Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking.’ Its been getting high praise from the higher-ups in the American Skeptical Movement and I believe it even got a good review in the Fortean Times.  It’s good, but good as in ‘It’s okay but not great.’ Certainly, if you are going to read an accessible book on Critical Thinking you can’t go wrong. It’s a bit breathless in places and there’s a certain inconsistency in his treatment of the weird and wacky. Interestingly enough Kida doesn’t really go into any depth about the problems with appeals to authority because, I think, he can’t. The book rests upon the credentials of people whose expertise he does not explicate. Kahneman, Travesky and Gilvovich are cited ad nauseam and whilst I know how good their work is there is nothing in Kida to tell you that these people are on the cutting edge of the psychological work in ratonality. Had he talked more about appeals to authority it could have made his work more difficult because he relies on authorities for glib statements all the time, but the conscientious reader will notice the lack and think long hard thoughts about it. It has a few niggling errors; he mischaracterises Gossip and Rumour as linear transmission of propositions rather than as complex interchanges, for an example, but, then again, some of the material in the book is so fresh and new, such as the nice, long critique of the thesis in Economics that agents in the market are rational and how playing the stockmarket rather than investing in index funds is irrational. (He also keeps coming back to the invasion of Iraq as a case study in how thinking goes wrong, which will piss off a large number of readers and also date the book in a few years time. It’s also a very American book with long examples to do with baseball and basketball (including some strange terminology issues; in some sections he refers to African-Americans and in others he refers to Blacks) which made it hard to concerntrate, being quite anti-sport…)   Still, the book has given me a number of new tricks to try and pull on my students and it’s also been useful in sorting out what a provisional book of my own should take in and what it would develop. I may well use a section of it as a quick-and-easy primer for my Med School students but I’m not likely to be recommending the text to people any time soon. Then again, I’m in my disillusionment stage of the being a Sceptic and what I really want is to read another book like ‘The Sceptical Occultist,’ which is a fun read and, whilst it has faults galore, works through issues rather than presents them as solved before the reader even turned the page.