Sunday, February 27, 2005

Hogan: Kicking the Sacred Cow—Iconoclasm Is Never Pretty


If you have a taste for serious icon bashing, James P. Hogan's Kicking the Sacred Cow is a well-spring. In the same volume, Hogan presents arguments on the far side in some of the great science debates of our time: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design; AIDS, Medicine vs. politics; Big Bang vs. Steady State; Environmentalism, Policy vs. Ideology. He also takes on some not-so-great science debates, like Velikovsky vs. Carl Sagan.

Hogan is better known for his science fiction: The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, for example, or The Proteus Operation. In the last few years, though, he has turned from fiction to the kind of science philosophy-cum-sniping commentary that is found in Sacred Cow. In fact, many of the arguments in this new book are reworked and updated versions of the essays in Rockets, Redheads & Revolution and Minds, Machines & Evolution.

The arguments Hogan puts forth are well-reasoned, and he does make an attempt to present all views fairly. But as he warns us, everyone in the debate has a point of view, and his is decidedly contrarian. In discussing Darwin, for example, Hogan alludes to the reasoning of Richard Dawkins, Michael Rose and Daniel Dennett (pro-Darwinian evolution) without completely describing their position. This creates a straw-man which Hogan can then dismantle quite easily. Hogan states in the final paragraph of "Humanistic Religion: The Rush to Embrace Darwinism" not his conclusion, but his premises:
Some defenders of the Darwinist view evade the issue by defining science as the study of naturalistic, materialistic phenomena and the search for answers to all things only in those terms. But what if the simple reality is that some questions don't have answers in those terms? taking such a position, science could end up excluding itself from what could be some of the most important questions confronting us.
"Garbage In, Gospel Out: Computer Games and Global Warming" is easily the most enjoyable section of the book. It opens with a pertinent quote from Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? and hain't that a big enough majority in any town?
Following this salvo, Hogan successfully demolishes three environmental crisis claims: global warming, ozone depletion and the horrors of DDT. This section builds substantially on those presented in his earlier two science-article compilations. The arguments are well-documented and supported in this case by main-stream science. In exposing the shaky foundation of global environmentalism, Hogan has done an excellent job.

In contrast, "AIDS Heresy in the Viricentric Universe" is pure icon-smashing, and not much changed from the contention published in Rockets, Redheads & Revolution. A Nobel-nominated viral specialist (Peter Deusberg) has proposed that AIDS is not a single infection caused by a specific virus, but a collage of disorders. Hogan puts this together with the fact that the AIDS numbers "just don't add up", and concludes that a medical industry short of a polarizing disease after polio has blown the AIDS problem out of proportion. Hogan comes into this issue firmly convinced that AIDS is not an viral epidemic, and nothing he learns convinces him otherwise.
When you need a billion-dollar propaganda industry to tell you there's a problem, there's not much of a problem.
In short, the book is sometimes informative, sometimes amusing, and sometimes infuriating. If you have the first two volumes of Hogan's essays, you won't find enough new in this book to justify buying it. If you haven't encountered Hogan's non-fiction before, though, I can recommend it. Have fun—but don't take it too seriously.


Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 9:42 PM  

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