All entries by this author

Alas, Poor Roses *

Jan 31st, 2003 | Filed by

Oliver Curry reviews a collection of arguments against evolutionary psychology edited by Steven and Hilary Rose. He finds their case unconvincing, to say the least.… Read the rest

Fishy Tomatoes and Moneyish Rockets *

Jan 30th, 2003 | Filed by

Richard Dawkins suggests that subtle judgment is better than gut reactions, and that muddleheadedness helps no one.… Read the rest

Feds to Investigate Biology Professor *

Jan 30th, 2003 | Filed by

US professor, naturally enough, refuses to recommend students who don’t believe in evolution. But John Ashcroft is Attorney General.… Read the rest

Relatively Speaking

Jan 30th, 2003 | By Simon Blackburn

There are philosophers (‘absolutists’) who like to stress truth, objectivity, rationality, and knowledge. Then there are others (‘relativists’) who like to stress contingency, mutability, culture, historicity, situatedness. The first group think that the second group have no standards. The second group are accused of encouraging ‘postmodernism’, or the licentious thinking and bullshitting that goes on in some parts of the humanities. The second group think the first group are conservative and complacent, and that their words simply mark fetishes.

I like to illustrate the way these groups talk past each other with an anecdote of a friend of mine (I apologise to readers of my book Being Good, where I also tell this story). He was present at a … Read the rest

Not Just a Fashion Problem

Jan 29th, 2003 10:37 pm | By

This is a frustrating but typical article about psychoanalysis in the New York Times. It talks about the long time analysis takes and how expensive it tends to be, but entirely fails to address the very serious substantive questions there are about the scientific status of psychoanalysis: questions about evidence, falsifiability, and outright dishonesty on the part of Freud. The news seems still not to have reached the general public, including even the branch of it that writes for the newpapers, that psychoanalysis is not just out of fashion, not just not altogether cool anymore, but rather, largely considered a fraud by scientists in the field.

The article presents a false dichotomy throughout, between cheap and quick fixes on the … Read the rest

Made-Up History *

Jan 29th, 2003 | Filed by

Someone saw some armor sometime and said it was authentic but where the armor is now, no one knows.… Read the rest

Six Years and $60,000 *

Jan 29th, 2003 | Filed by

Imagine what six years reading $60 k worth of decent books about subjects other than oneself might have done…… Read the rest

Just Say No!

Jan 28th, 2003 5:53 pm | By

Since everybody and their dog seem to be sending me anti-war petitions, I thought I’d get in on the act.*

Dear Friend

As the world slides towards war in Iraq, we all feel at times as though we
are powerless. Well we are. But let’s just pretend for a minute that we’re
not. It will make us feel better, honestly.

No-one likes war, right? So we’d better oppose this one, right?

Please send this email on to everyone you know NOW!


We, the undersigned, have no idea to whom this petition is being sent or how
seriously it will be taken. We don’t like the idea of war in Iraq and so are
prepared to … Read the rest

Satire Confusingly Like Real Life *

Jan 28th, 2003 | Filed by

The Onion on pity for skeptics. Sounds all too familiar.… Read the rest

Prisoners are Intentional Systems *

Jan 28th, 2003 | Filed by

Genetic determinists and environmental determinists are both mythical beings, Daniel Dennett says.… Read the rest

What Role For School Targets? *

Jan 28th, 2003 | Filed by

Achievement targets in UK schools may be ‘counter-productive’.… Read the rest

Claiming Darwin for the Left: an interview with Peter Singer

Jan 28th, 2003 | By Julian Baggini

Peter Singer looks a very tired man. It’s not
so much the early morning start of the interview, but the weeks of media scrutiny,
misrepresentation and criticism, which seem to have taken their toll.

Singer came to England to talk about “A Darwinian
Left”, but no sooner had he stepped off the plane than the Daily Express
was reviving the old controversy over Singer’s view that in certain circumstances,
it may be better to end the life of a very severely handicapped baby in a humane
way, rather than use all modern medicine can do to let it live a painful and
often brief life. Singer tried to defend himself on Radio Four’s Today
programme, but in such a brief … Read the rest

Two Border-Crossers

Jan 27th, 2003 9:17 pm | By

Consider two writers and thinkers who are in the news at the moment, one because he’s just died and the other because he has a new book out. The New York Times said of Hugh Trevor-Roper that:

His approach to history was essentially belletrist – based not so much on original research as on wide reading and an ability to bring to bear insights derived from other disciplines on his subjects. He sought to appeal to a wide cultivated audience. In his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor, he defended this approach, saying modern history would have “dried up and perished long ago” without the contribution of economists, sociologists, philosophers, art historians and even anthropologists and psychologists.

Surely his approach is … Read the rest

The Blockbuster Effect *

Jan 27th, 2003 | Filed by

Are books that aren’t likely best-sellers doomed?… Read the rest

Richard Sennett *

Jan 27th, 2003 | Filed by

Works as an academic sociologist, but doesn’t really write academic sociology.… Read the rest

Well Who Did Move my Cheese? *

Jan 27th, 2003 | Filed by

Appropriately acid look at self-help ‘books’. ‘It’s very cheap and obvious to laugh at self-help books (which is no reason not to do so)’.… Read the rest

Hugh Trevor-Roper *

Jan 27th, 2003 | Filed by

His ‘approach to history was…based not so much on original research as on wide reading’ including ‘economists, sociologists, philosophers, art historians and even anthropologists and psychologists.’… Read the rest

Mind Readers on Radio 4

Jan 26th, 2003 8:37 pm | By

A recent Start the Week on Radio 4 discussed not one but two issues that we’ve been talking about here on Butterflies and Wheels. Nancy Cartwright, a philosopher of science, here asserts the trendy notion that the discoveries of science are a product of negotiation and agreement among scientists, and that the idea of universality (of science as well as of any other kind of knowledge) is one we should all be very suspicious of. Fortunately, there is also a working scientist on the premises, who disputes her views. Also present is Germaine Greer, who voices one of my favourite exasperations, with the fashion for gossippy biographies of poets and writers that give short shrift to the mental life of … Read the rest

Hugh Trevor-Roper *

Jan 26th, 2003 | Filed by

The Independent’s obituary of the historian who ‘enjoyed vendettas as well as friendships’, as any historian should.… Read the rest

Steve Jones on Raelian Clones *

Jan 26th, 2003 | Filed by

It’s a failure of education that editors take the Raelian story seriously, Jones says. Cloning is not clowning.… Read the rest