Mailvox: defining science

BR emails to inform us that the definitions of the various elements of science in TIA have proven useful:

Vox, the definitions of science that you developed in TIA have been very useful. I recently described climategate to some friends like this: Fraudulent Scientistry was finally tripped up by established Scientage. Scientody takes a bow, and Science itself is none the worse for it. The discussion that followed was priceless.

Of course, I can’t take any credit for the development of the tripartite science definition. That was the Fowl Atheist’s work. I merely provided the nomenclature and publicized the concept, a Dawkins to his Darwin, if you will.

Creating a literary ghetto

To everyone’s surprise, Julianna Baggott blames sexism for the fact that women seldom write great or award-winning books:

I could understand Publishers Weekly’s phallocratic list if women were writing only a third of the books published or if women didn’t float the industry as book buyers or if the list were an anomaly. In fact, Publishers Weekly is in sync with Pulitzer Prize statistics. In the past 30 years, only 11 prizes have gone to women. Amazon recently announced its 100 best books of 2009 — in the top 10, there are two women. Top 20? Four….

What are the stereotypes that drive these biases? Over the years, I’ve developed many theories. Let me offer one here.

I often hear people exclaiming that they’re astonished that a particular book was written by a man. They seem stunned by the notion that a man could write with emotional intelligence and honesty about our human frailties. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be experts on emotion. I’ve never heard anyone remark that they were surprised that a book of psychological depth was written by a woman.

That last sentence summarizes the writer’s problem; psychological depth != literary greatness. That being said, one wonders who she would propose as the female equivalent of Dostoevsky, or even Poe. Now, it’s worth pointing out that female writers often win awards in SF/F, but that’s partly because there are some very good authoresses such as Lois McMaster Bujold, Theresa Edgerton, and Tanith Lee active in the genre, and partly because the SFWA’s Nebula Award has a propensity to devolve into a popularity contest, (see Catharine Asaro, 2001). But I suspect the main reason women write fewer great books is because they simply don’t make the effort to do so.

There’s nothing wrong with rewriting Tom Brown in a fantasy setting, but greatness does not lie that way even if massive sales success does. There’s nothing wrong with writing silly vampire pre-porn for silly teenage girls either – although it would be illegal on aesthetic grounds and punishable by death by sugar overdose if I were ruling the universe – but it’s readily apparent that literary greatness is not on your list of objectives if you’re writing about sexy dead and/or furry things.

The problem isn’t that women don’t write “write with emotional intelligence and honesty about our human frailties”, it is that they don’t tend to write about much else. While there are an increasing number of 40-something male writers who are making a career of doing this sort of narcissistic writing – Dave Eggers and stunt writer A.J. Jacobs spring to mind – the fact is that great literature requires more than navel-gazing, sexual daydreaming and gossip, no matter how well written that navel-gazing, daydreaming and gossip might be.

In any event, the only award that truly matters is the one that time conveys upon an author. No amount of awards or sales are going to turn Harry Potter and the Banquet of Boredom, The Picasso Crossword into works of literary greatness. If you try to accomplish something original, you will probably fail to reach the heights, but if you don’t even try then you definitely will. Summa Elvetica probably hasn’t sold one-tenth as many copies as the worst-selling novel published by Tor last year; it didn’t win a single award or even receive a single review in any literary publication. Given the limitations of the author, it may not even be as good a novel as any of those published by Tor. On the other hand, can anyone argue with a straight face that any of those books attempted to do even half of what was accomplished, let alone attempted, in SE?

Now, note that I’m not complaining in the slightest. As evidence, I will point out that one can’t give a book a title like “A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy” without knowing that practically no one is going to want to read it, to say nothing of throwing in all the untranslated Latin. I could not possibly care less what a literary world of readers who consider Dan Brown to have produced the best of the year’s best happens to think. I am simply observing the industry realities, not arguing that anything should be changed in order to accomodate my idiosyncratic preferences. The industry has already changed enough over the last three decades, as its increasing bias towards various elements preferred by female editors and readers continues to drive young men away from books and towards computer games that still respect the heroic tropes.

Baggott’s article indicates that we should expect to see the same pattern at work in literary awards that we are presently seeing in the awarding of university degrees. Female writers will eventually get their statistical due and make up the majority of literary award winners in time, but no one outside what will have then become a female-dominated literary ghetto will give a damn because the substantive value of the awards will have been destroyed by the very process of the desired transformation. As I predicted back in 1995 (this 2007 Ben Bella piece was simply a reworking of a proposed article for CGW that editor Chris Lombardi described as the most insane piece he’d ever read for the magazine), the next great art will not come from academia, Hollywood, or literature, but from the game industry. Imagine, for example, if Rob Pardo had been a genuine intellectual in the Tolkein mode and harbored ambitions of doing more than Warhammer Fantasy Battle meets Everquest.

I still like fantasy. I still write fantasy. In fact, SE fans may be pleased to learn that I’m presently working on a map for the next book. But I read very little of it these days because so much of it is derivative, predictable, trivial, and boring. There is more astonishment and daring in a single Call of Duty mission – and every MW2 player knows to which mission I’m referring – than there is in any twenty SF/F books published today.

Red flag waving

Given how Congress is already working to preemptively protect the big banks, it sure looks as something large and furry this way comes:

To close out 2009, I decided to do something I bet no member of Congress has done — actually read from cover to cover one of the pieces of sweeping legislation bouncing around Capitol Hill. Hunkering down by the fire, I snuggled up with H.R. 4173, the financial-reform legislation passed earlier this month by the House of Representatives. The Senate has yet to pass its own reform plan….

It authorizes Federal Reserve banks to provide as much as $4 trillion in emergency funding the next time Wall Street crashes. So much for “no-more-bailouts” talk. That is more than twice what the Fed pumped into markets this time around. The size of the fund makes the bribes in the Senate’s health-care bill look minuscule.

It would appear Barney Frank and the House Financial Services Committee are expecting Wave 3 in 2010 too.

Dinosaur science

The OC suggests a new theory that explains the disappearance of the dinosaurs. “I wonder how all those dinosaurs managed to get to Titan in order to die and leave those vast oceans of volatile liquid hydrocarbons?” But the answer is so obvious. Rockets. It’s dinosaur science and the global consensus of astrosaurinauticists is totally settled.

The bracing -180°C temperatures prevalent on Titan mean that water ice acts more the way rock does here on Earth, and the liquids filling the seas and lakes are hydrocarbons which would be gaseous here – methane, ethane and such – though of course we humans like to liquefy and store them under pressure to run our barbecues, patio heaters etc. Just as water does here, however, the patio-gas seas evaporate when conditions are favourable to form clouds and fog, which subsequently rain down as LPG elsewhere. Earth and Titan are thus the only bodies in the solar system with surface geology moulded by movements of liquid.

And clearly, Earth and Titan are the only bodies in the solar system to have been colonized by spacefaring dinosaurs; the Sea of Krakens must have been their sacred burial ground. But this discovery of dinosaur space travel is even more significant than the OC imagines, since it could have incredible ramifications for biology as well… my hypothesis is that Man was not only bred, but uplifted by these spacefaring dinosaurs as well, hence the sudden increase in cranial size that paleontologists find so puzzling. Because artificial selection is known to be so much faster than natural selection, the Dinosaur Science hypothesis offers the perfect solution for Young Earth Creationists, Evolutionists, UFOlogists and Pan-Spermians alike. As for the Chicxulub and Barringer sites, it is now apparent that those were the dinosaur equivalents of Cape Canaveral and Volograd.

And now we have finally have the answer to the nature of God. Saurian.

Now I’m just wondering if the Nobel Committee is going to have to hold off another year on awarding me the Physics prize for the discovery of Dark Vapor, since obviously establishing such a ground-breaking scientific theory of this multidisciplinary significance will have to take precedence.

Beautiful dessication

Given his penchant for discord and experimentation, I never, ever thought David Sylvian would again approach the music of Gone To Earth or the lyrics of Secrets of the Beehive. Rain Tree Crow was good, but it wasn’t the same. And yet, he somehow managed to combine elements of my two favorite albums in Atom and Cell on Snow Borne Sorrow.

Her skin was darker than ashes
And she had something to say
About being naked to the elements
At the end of yet another day
And the rain on her back that continued to fall
From the bruise of her lips
Swollen, fragile, and small

And the bills that you paid with were worth nothing at all
A lost foreign currency
Multi-coloured, barely reputable
Like the grasses that blew in the warm summer breeze
Well she offered you this to do as you pleased

And where is the poetry?
Didn’t she promise us poetry?

It’s simultaneously beautiful and harsh. I appreciate a reasonably wide range of music, but I don’t know that I really require anything these days but David Sylvian and Disturbed… and I’d do without Disturbed before Sylvian. The Banality of Evil is nearly as good, although it’s more sinister and smoothly superficial. I love the way he delivers the ominous-sounding “hello neighbor” line.

And the lives that you hold in the palm of your hand
You toss them aside small and damn near unbreakable
You drank all the water and you pissed yourself dry
Then you fell to your knees and proceeded to cry

And who could feel sorry for a drunkard like this
In a democracy of dunces with a parasite’s kiss?

And where are the stars?
Didn’t she promise us stars?

Godless and clueless

This science-related news is precisely why I find the constant atheist whining about nonexistent religious threats to science to be not only spurious, but downright nonsensical:

Berkeley High School is considering a controversial proposal to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them to free up more resources to help struggling students. The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High’s School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley’s dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse.

The average atheist who considers himself to be a strong supporter of science is far more worried about warning stickers on evolution textbooks than he is about the elimination of all science labs and the science teachers who teach them at a major high school. I’ll be surprised if this news gets one-tenth the attention on Scienceblogs that the average evolution-related kerfluffle at a school board does. You may recall that the usual suspects weren’t the least bit concerned about the coming application of Title IX quotas to science either.

It’s apparent that it’s not so much science that the godless self-proclaimed devotees of “science” and “reason” support, but rather scienthology. And being ideologically unsophisticated, they can’t even imagine a threat to science coming from the Left because they wrongly believe science to be inherently progressive. This also demonstrates that their devotion to reason is as tenuous as their supposed dedication to science.

VPFL 2009 Championship

73 Alamo City Spartans
54 Judean Front

Congratulations to Clay, whose Alamo City Spartans continued the VPFL tradition of upsetting the regular season champions and claimed the 4th VPFL title.

As for the NFL, I do not understand the coaching decisions on the part of Caldwell and Childress. I thought the decision of the Colts to stupidly throw away their opportunity to go 16-0 was totally ridiculous and will contribute to their being upset in the playoffs. The Vikings are suffering from overly conservative play calling, a mysterious offensive line meltdown, and defensive injuries to Pat Williams, EJ Henderson, and Antoine Winfield; our star cornerback is clearly still a little off his game after returning from his six-week injury. They could certainly use that bye week, but it looks as if they probably threw that away too.

I’m not sure which was dumber, the predictable first-half playcalling – I called one third-down play-action rollout that the Bears defensive coordinator obviously expected as well – or Ben Leber’s continuous inability to understand the concept of containment. AD’s overtime fumble and Longwell’s blocked PAT both hurt, but neither would have mattered if Leber hadn’t made exactly the same mistake he made last week against Carolina and simply held his position to the ballcarrier’s left instead of attempting to dive in wildly and make the tackle before his four teammates who had the running back pinned to the front and right did. The result was that instead of a loss of two followed by a fourth-down punt, Leber gave Forte a first down that led directly to a field goal. But the worst decision was the one to kick the tying PAT with 20 seconds left instead of going for two. The Viking special teams had been terrible all night, the Bear defense was reeling, and it was a perfect time to put them away. It was a horrendous call by Childress and it reminded me of an equally bad decision by Denny Green to play for overtime against a heavily favored Dallas team. In both cases, the overtime result was the same. The Vikings lost.

Right now, Philadelphia and San Diego look like the teams of destiny. Of course, this probably means that they are the only two playoff teams we can be certain we will not see in the Super Bowl.