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The Alternate View
Jeffrey D. Kooistra

REVIEW OF KICKING THE SACRED COW

It was a sunny summer day in 1997. I was in the backyard with my father-in-law assembling a new swingset for my kids when my wife Dorothy called to me from the back door. "Jeff, you have a phone call. James Hogan. Do you know him?"

Well, the only "James Hogan" I’d ever heard of was James P. Hogan, one of my very favorite science fiction authors starting from when I was in high school. But we’d never met, nor even communicated, and I couldn’t think of any reason why a blue supergiant SF star like him would be calling a puny red dwarf like me.

I answered the phone with "hello," and he said, "Hello Jeffery, this is James Hogan."

"Which ‘James Hogan?’" I asked.

"Oh, the writer," he replied with that accent of his.

And I thought, "Holy shit! James P. Hogan is calling me!"

As it turned out, he had recently read my fact piece "Paradigm Shifty Things" in that year’s June Analog, and he was struck by how my thinking paralleled his own. We both recognized that in many cases we’d been oversold on just how established certain "established facts" in science actually are.

During that conversation, Hogan told me he was working on a non-fiction book called Truth Under Tyranny which would expose the actual truth behind many scientific controversies. It is my proud and happy privilege to review that book for you now under its published title of Kicking the Sacred Cow: Questioning the Unquestionable and Thinking the Impermissible. [From Baen Books, 2004, ISBN 0-7434-8828-8]

One thing that puzzled (surprised, maybe shocked) me during that phone conversation with Hogan was that he was a mainstream science skeptic like me, for this was not the James P. Hogan I knew from his early books. In the Introduction, Hogan explains how his views evolved. On page 3 he says, "The picture of science that I carried into those early stories reflected the idealization of intellectual purity that textbooks and popularizers portray." However, his earlier idealistic understanding of how science works was brought back down to Earth by the nuclear power controversy.

What it was Hogan figured out from that controversy is summed up succinctly on the bottom of page 3 following into page 4. I will quote him at length, because this describes exactly the sort of thing that has led others of us long-time science cheerleaders to become critics instead. He says: "It wasn’t just political activists with causes, and journalists cooking a story who were telling the public things that the physicists and engineers I knew in the nuclear field insisted were not so. Other scientists were telling them too. So either scientists were being knowingly dishonest and distorting facts to promote political views; or they were sincere, but ideology or some other kind of bias affected what they were willing to accept as fact; or vested interests and professional blinkers were preventing the people whom I was talking to from seeing things as they were. Whichever way, the ideal of science as an immutable standard of truth where all parties applied the same rules and would be obliged to agree on the same conclusion was in trouble."

He adds on page 5 the following, four sentences which every scientist, science fiction writer and/or reader–hell, every citizen–should understand about science and scientists: "Whatever science might be as an ideal, scientists turn out to be as human as anyone else, and they can be as obstinate as anyone else when comfortable beliefs solidify into dogma. Scientists have emotions–often expressed passionately, despite the myths–and can be as ingenious as any senator at rationalizing when a reputation or a lifetime’s work is perceived to be threatened. They value prestige and security no less than anyone else, which inevitably fosters convergences of interests with political agendas that control where the money and jobs come from. And far from the least, scientists are members of a social structure with its own system of accepted norms and rewards, commanding loyalties that at times can approach fanaticism, and with rejection and ostracism being the ultimate unthinkable."

I know: I’m almost halfway through this review and I haven’t gotten to any of the sacred cows Hogan kicks. But the merits of the book cannot be separated from Hogan’s reasons for writing it. He, like me, loves science, always loved science, and continues to love science. He, like me, hasn’t become critical because he now hates it. Rather, he is ashamed of it when its practitioners fail to live up to their own professed standards. Hogan’s willingness to look at other views from outside the mainstream of acceptability does not arise from an inability to understand "real science"; it comes from understanding science in a deeper way than many scientists do. His willingness to consider "heretical" views does not arise from a lack of skepticism; it comes from being more skeptical of accepted science than most people are used to.

With the aforesaid firmly in mind, we proceed to the sacred cows.

The body of the book is broken into six sections. In section one he goes after Darwinism, in section two, modern cosmology, and in section three, relativity theory and the ether. These three sections tend to be more technical than the other three, questioning scientific orthodoxy with scientific evidence either ignored or unappreciated by the mainstream. Section four deals with the Velikovsky controversy, section five with environmentalist ideology "masquerading as science," and section six with AIDS. Although Hogan also brings scientific evidence to bear in kicking the cows in these last three sections, the issues raised are more concerned with the sociology of science than are those in the first three. Because of this, they also will bring the most hate mail, since everybody "knows" DDT killed the birds, and everybody "knows" HIV causes AIDS, with far more certainty then they "know" that the Universe started in a Big Bang.

The full title of section one is "Humanistic Religion: The Rush to Embrace Darwinism." I’ve always known that Darwinism is a religion because I come from a religious background so I recognize religion when I see it. It is harder for people without this background to notice this because they have to rely on their own (usually) flawed caricature of what religions and religious people are like to make the comparison. Consider what that popularizer of Darwinism Richard Dawkins said (as Hogan quotes him on page 16): "It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)." Dawkins probably never noticed that his statement is every bit as religious as it would be if a Fundamentalist preacher said it, but simply substituted "God" for "evolution."

What is most valuable about section one is that Hogan brings to the debate his perspective as one who was once a true believer, but is now skeptical, yet without becoming a "creationist." He presents a compact yet reasonably thorough discussion of where evolution falls short as a theory of origins, touching on the usual problems cited by critics, like the failure of the fossil record to support evolution the way it was expected to, and the "irreducible complexity" of the cell revealed by modern molecular biology. Granted, one chapter in an iconoclastic book shouldn’t make you up and discard your earlier belief in evolution, but it should make you see that some people who don’t believe in evolution are far from being ignorant, stupid, or insane.

Section two is a useful summary of modern cosmology and what is wrong with it. Hogan covers briefly some of the same material covered at length in another book I reviewed in my April 2003 column, that being Hoyle, Burbidge, and Narlikar’s A Different Approach to Cosmology. Hogan explains how the Big Bang model came to be accepted, and how later work, often ignored by the mainstream, has offered simpler, less epicylic, explanations for how galaxies formed and why there is a universal, uniform 2.7K background radiation. If you want to know what will be accepted mainstream cosmology ten or fifteen years from now, and you don’t have time for the Hoyle book, this section will go a long way toward meeting the same need.

Section three correctly states the true position of those non-cranks who have objections to relativity theory. As Hogan puts it (page 113), "The objections are not so much to the effect that relativity is ‘wrong.’" Rather, ". . . the premises relativity is founded on, although enabling procedures to be formulated that correctly predict experimental results, nevertheless involve needlessly complicated interpretations of the way things are."

As in the previous two sections, Hogan does a nice job of summarizing the accepted view and explaining why some have problems with it, and what their alternative explanations are. But in writing a brief chapter like this, one must include some things and ignore others. I was a bit disappointed because if I had written it, I would have included other people and other ideas than those Hogan chose. For instance, in that same April 2003 column, I reviewed two books by Oleg D. Jefimenko, which show precisely how relativity is simply the inescapable result of the finite propagation velocity of electromagnetic interactions. Yet Jefimenko gets no mention from Hogan.

Section four is called "Catastrophe of Ethics: The Case for Taking Velikovsky Seriously." If you’ve heard of Velikovsky at all, it is likely negatively, as just some nut case who thought he could explain the miracles of the Bible by having Venus somehow shot out of Jupiter in historical times. Hogan himself used to think essentially this, but later actually read Velikovsky’s books and discovered that what the man was and said in reality were essentially different, and a great deal more reasonable, than the simple disparaging caricature suggests. This chapter will not turn you into a Velikovskian, but it will show you just how unscientific and untruthful even scientists will be when defending against incursions on their turf.

Section five is one of my favorites. Therein Hogan gives an accurate–as opposed to the usual hysterical–assessment of the dangers of global warming, ozone depletion, radiation, asbestos, and most eloquently, the pesticide DDT. For me, his discussion of how and why DDT came to be demonized and discontinued is the most disquieting. Apparently, there is not and never has been any reason based on legitimate science for banning DDT. This was already known in 1972 when then EPA Administrator William Ruckleshaus ignored the scientific evidence and banned DDT for, as Hogan’s sources report he himself said, political reasons. Because of this, millions die each year from malaria.

In section six Hogan argues that, contrary to accepted dogma, HIV does not cause AIDS. I’ve been suspicious of this claim myself, and I thought the AIDS fact article in the October 2004 Analog read more like propaganda than science. But the ins and outs of AIDS research are outside my areas of either expertise or interest. However, on page 314 Hogan asks: "Where is the study that proves HIV causes AIDS?" He knows of no definitive answer to this question, and neither do I. If you have the answer, send me the reference, or better yet, the paper itself, and I’ll pass it on to him.

In short, get it, read it. You may not agree with Hogan, but you couldn’t find a more levelheaded person to introduce you to both interesting and important heresies.

This book is one giant Alternate View.

With a vengeance.