Diversity of belief

There is a post here: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/08/2015/fans-try-bringing-diversity-of-thought-to-sci-fi-literature-and-that-scares-liberal-elitist-gatekeepers-to-death/ which via a comment has brought some visitors (hi!) but which was originally from here: http://chicksontheright.com/blog/item/30184-fans-try-bringing-diversity-of-thought-to-sci-fi-literature-and-that-scares-liberal-elitist-gatekeepers-to-death

It is yet another spin on the Sad/Rabid Hugo Kerfuffle and it has nice idea behind it. I know I’ve promised a Karl Popper post and have not yet delivered but one of Popper’s key ideas is the notion of an Open Society. Essentially a society in which ideas can be discussed freely and evaluated by individuals. Although the notion is political in nature it is closely tied to Popper’s epistemology which avoids dogmatic certainties and instead relies on a more evidential and provisional notion of truth. An open society is one that can adapt and change when reality runs counter to expectations.

So there is potential for an interesting claim there: perhaps a claim that the Hugo awards have become dominated by a single set of ideas and that this has stifled the dialog of ideas that the genre of SF/F is unique at providing. Sadly the article is largely just a rehash of same complaints and semi-truths. Even so there is enough to go on to consider whether the Puppies brought a diversity of ideas with them.

In terms of the banner award of Best Novel the answer is no. The Puppy nominees for best novel are OK books but don’t contain any new or particularly interesting ideas that an interested reader won’t have read before. Whatever Skin Game or the Dark Between the Stars have to author as novels might be, new and original ideas are not their strength. Beyond the novel and into the other works there are arguably some interesting ideas in Kary English’s Totaled and Lou Antonelli’s On a Spiritual Plain has a somewhat original take on death but neither are presenting ideas that would have been shut out of recent iterations of the award. John C Wright’s stories have some interesting ideas but each of his works intentionally invoke other stories and classic themes of fantasy and science fiction. Even the notion in One Bright Star to Guide Them of an adult returning to a fantasy world they met as a child is not new or an idea that the Hugo nomination process would avoid.

Looking over the categories it possibly only the the Best Related Work category that could even come close to representing an attempt to introduce more diversity of ideas. Of those the Hot Equations is unexceptional in its ideas, Letters from Gardner is primarily an autobiographical account of the writing process, The Science is Never Settled contains some original ideas but only when the author gets himself confused and the less said of Wisdom from My Internet the better. That really leaves only John C Wright’s Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth as the soul puppy contribution to ‘diversity of ideas’. So was that work the payload of all this angst ridden process? That seems unlikely and it runs counter to the other claims made by puppy supporters that they were trying to AVOID politics and heavy message fiction.

I guess we can just chalk it up to another spin of the Puppy narrative.


Why Science is Never Settled – a review of part two of the essay

My review of Part 1 of Why Science is Never Settled by Ted Roberts can be found here.

Part 2 Is focused more on the fallibility of science. Like Part 1 it lacks focus or connection with a unifying argument. In some ways it acts more like an appendix to Part 1, with a look at various different issues in depth.

Part 2 is split into several major sections:

  1. Scientists are human, too – which looks at human failings and spits in science but primarily concentrates on the pressure on academic scientists to ‘Publish or Perish’
  2. Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics! – which looks at statistical analysis and failures by scientists when conducting statistical tests.
  3. The vaccine controversy – a case study on the Andrew Wakefield affair (which I discussed in my first review)
  4. The problems of peer-review – a look at issues with peer review with links to some notable cases.
  5. It’s a process, not a conclusion – which ironically acts as a sort of conclusion to the whole essay but oddly isn’t the last section.
  6. Internet memes and the love of science. – which is basically just some complaints about the Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/IFeakingLoveScience (the title of the site isn’t “feaking”). You can safely skip that bit.

I’ll go through the sections in turn to varying degrees of detail. Continue reading

Why Science is Never Settled – a review of part one of the essay

Reviewing two (here and here) of the Best Related Work Hugo nominees made me realize I had to do at least one more. Why Science is Never Settled by Ted Roberts is an essay on the scientific method. It isn’t science fiction and it isn’t appalling but it isn’t good. Unlike The Hot Equations it isn’t trying to apply science to science-fiction but unlike Wisdom from My Internet it is not just awful rubbish whose only resemblance to a book is pagination. Roberts has written about his views on the Puppy kerfuffle here.

The essay is in two parts. Part 1 discusses his general view of the scientific method and Part 2 discusses more particular issues. This review covers Part 1 only – partly because it became quite long and unwieldy and partly because the character of the piece changes. A review of Part 2 is here. In places I will refer to sections from Part 2 in this review.

Overall it is a weak essay but with some good to fair parts. The writer is a working scientist with obvious experience with statistical analysis, experimental method and peer review. He clearly is giving an informed insider’s view of science that gives an overview of the processes involved. It does give insights into the writer’s own thinking and it may have been better presented as a set of ruminations on the topic of science.

If we review it as an example of Best Related Work it is a definite technical fail. It’s connection with science fiction is that the author writes some fiction and has had non-fiction published by Baen books. Been is a publisher of SF/F and is spoken of more favorably by the puppy campaign than Tor books.

It is more fair to review at as an essay on science without reference to the Hugo Awards. I’d don’t have strong feelings about strongly policing award categories for taxonomic exactitude and so I’m putting aside the question for the moment of whether it counts. Instead I’ll consider it in terms of its content.

I’ve seen reviews elsewhere that have treated this essay kindly – giving it a passable rating as something you might give to somebody as an introduction to the methodology of science. I would suggest that would be unwise as its faults are many.

Overall it lacks focus: there is not a clear view point that the author tries to establish. For much of it he seems to be dancing around various issues. There are coy references to some topic which suggest that the intended audience is a right wing one (e.g. the title echoes claims by political supporters of action on climate change that the science is settled i.e. that the debate should now be about policy rather than whether anthropogenic global warming is occurring). Having a right-of-center viewpoint is not in itself a problem but it not a viewpoint that the author actually develops or discusses but rather vaguely eludes to.

At this point it is best if I work through the essay in stages. I will use indented italics for quotes from the text because the ‘blockquote’ style provided is a bit hard to read for lengthy chunks of text: Continue reading