Book Reviews at NCSE

If you’re in the mood for some Darwin-related reading, have a look at these four offerings from the website of the NCSE. They are reviews of four recent books about Charles Darwin. I recommend especially the eloquent smackdown of The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin by Discovery Institute flak Benjamin Wiker. Reviewer Sander Gliboff puts his finger on precisely why this was such a poor choice of title:

Using that “life and lies” formula in the subtitle of this anti-Darwin book was not a wise move by Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Wiker. It invites unfavorable comparison to a similarly titled book about a similarly celebrated white-bearded English sage with an ugly nose. I mean, of course, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, by Rita Skeeter, a book within a book in the Harry Potter series.

For the uninitiated: Skeeter is an unscrupulous witch of an investigative reporter. She takes Dumbledore’s own remarks and other peoples’ recollections out of context and makes him seem guilty of everything from racial prejudice, elitism, claiming credit for the accomplishments of others, and manipulating friends, family, and the public, to valuing the greater good over individual rights, inspiring a militaristic and eugenical ideology, and fomenting world war.

In a spooky case of life imitating art, Wiker makes essentially the same accusations against Darwin, using Skeeter’s exact methods. Those methods do not require “facts” to be conjured out of thin air, although both authors are quite capable of doing it. The real trick is to select, isolate, and exaggerate the facts you like, while making the ones you don’t like vanish. Wiker’s favorite way to get rid of them is to wave his hands and pass them off as lies.

Zing! The other reviews treat works of actual scholarship, and are consequently less amusing. Very informative though. It seems my “To Read” list just got a bit longer.


  1. #1 eric
    August 31, 2009

    I’m in the middle of Nonplussed! Mathematical Proof of Implausible Ideas by Julian Havil. There’s probably a number of chapters that will be old hat to you, but you mentioned liking Fermat’s Room and this has some similar brain teasers. Here’s one that was new to me: can you design two casino games, each of which has a less than 50% chance of winning money, but when played sequentially (in any order and in any sequence, so you could play them 1 2 1 2 1 2 or 1 1 1 1 2), yield a greater than 50% chance of winning money?

  2. #2 eric
    August 31, 2009

    oops, that parenthetical should read “in any nonzero amount and in any sequence…”

  3. #3 Eric Thomson
    August 31, 2009

    eric: Sure, if the outcomes of the two games are not independent. 🙂

  4. #4 Jonathan
    September 1, 2009

    What about two identically – balanced roulette wheels, with identical starting conditions and a hermetically sealed box (so no external influence at all). In that case, the first one means you lose your bet most likely, but the second will have the same result so you can win 40x your stake.

    Evil, I know, and technically impossible, but that could count.

  5. #5 KeithB
    September 1, 2009

    Along the same vein, how about two blackjack games, with identical numbers of players, with decks that are shuffled in the exact same order?

    A little more practical than hermetically sealed roulette! 8^)

  6. #6 eric
    September 1, 2009

    No, this does not rely on gaming the randomizer. Assume that the outcome of each game is truly independent.

  7. #7 eric
    September 1, 2009

    I have to apologize, I think my “casino game” mention led people down the wrong track. This is not a set of actual casino games. The “casino” refers to any theoretical game which you play against “the house,” i.e. an opponent with infinite money. Just to make this clearer: the answer to this problem does not rely on waiting for some statistical fluctuation to run your opponent out of money.

    And just for expectation management, I’m not going to publish the answer here (in part because it involves math that I can’t render into plain text). You will have to buy the book 🙂

  8. #8 aussielurker
    September 2, 2009

    Er, wasn’t Jason’s post about Darwin?

    A new PhD thesis suggests itself – Darwin and Mathematics.

  9. #9 Ritchie Annand
    September 3, 2009

    Oh boy! A new book from Mr. Darwin-to-Hitler himself?

    Does it bother any of those bozos – twinge even a single guilty neuron – that they have to lie so freakishly hard and often to promote their views?

    One of these days, some fable about lying, be it The Boy Who Cried Wolf or even Pinocchio is going to be forgotten and overshadowed by the historical tale of these folks.

  10. #10 notedscholar
    September 5, 2009

    I wonder if they will review any of William Dembski’s work, or if instead they will continue in their policy of discriminating against women in science.


  11. #11 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    September 5, 2009
  12. #12 porno izle
    September 5, 2009

    My friends, there are certian times in your life when you are simply forced by events to reevaluate everything you believe and hold dear. For me, now is such a time. I have argued at length that the aggressive tone of the anti-religion books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens does not hurt the cause of promoting good science education. That position is no longer tenable, in light of events coming out of Sedalia, Missouri:

  13. #13 Sikis
    September 9, 2009

    Er, wasn’t Jason’s post about Darwin?

    A new PhD thesis suggests itself – Darwin and Mathematics.

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