Tag Archives: book

The importance of books for kids

Here’s a nice video where Lisa Bu describes the importance of books in her development.

She  talks about her cross-cultural experience and how books have helped here understand both her original culture and her new culture.

Her talk reminded me of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s experience. She describes in her book Infidel how growing up in Somalia she managed to read some English books. Although these were  basically crappy novels they did open her mind to another culture.

Even within a country and a culture books can do a lot to open children’s minds up to the possibilities of their future life. It is really sad that many homes do little to provide reading material for children. But even disadvantaged children can get access to books through their schools, library and helpful adults outside the family. 

Books are important for kids.

Lisa Bu: How books can open your mind | Video on TED.com.

Your chance for a free book

Expert WitnessHere’s a chance to win a book from SciBlogs NZ. The book is Anna Sandifords Expert Witness. It describes what forensic science is really like, and shares tales from the forensic front-line in New Zealand and overseas.

Go to Code for Life’s post A forensic scientist tells it like it is – free book to give away for a review and details of the giveaway. To enter the giveaway just comment after the review giving one question you would ask if you met a forensic scientist.

(I don’t see the expiry date so recommend you be in quick).

Anna blogs at The Forensic Group which is also syndicated at SciBlogs NZ – Forensic Scientist.

Protecting yourself against bullshit

Here’s a very useful book for those who often get into debates with people who attempt to diss science. Its called Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole. The author is philosopher Stephen Law.

It’s quite a short book – it’s purpose is to help the reader identify arguments and techniques used by the irrational to defend their beliefs. In short, the bullshit that can often suck people into the “intellectual black holes” of irrational belief.

The author aims to unpack and explain some strategies used by people who are “powerfully committed to some ludicrous system of belief.” Strategies used to construct “an impregnable fortress . . . . around even a ridiculous set of beliefs, rendering them immune to rational criticism and creating a veneer of faux reasonableness.”

Law concentrates on eight strategies and povides his own name for these in the following chapters:

  1. Playing the Mystery Card
  2. “But It Fits!” and The Blunderbuss
  3. Going Nuclear
  4. Moving the Semantic Goalposts
  5. “I Just Know!”
  6. Pseudoprofundity
  7. Piling Up the Anecdotes
  8. Pressing Your Button

I am half way through reading the book and recommend it. His discussion of the “scientism” ploy and analysis of the bullshit used to attack Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion were spot on. I also liked his Chapter 3 on Going Nuclear – he has an early version on his blog – see Going Nuclear. A version of Chapter 6: Pseudoprofundity is also on the blog.

Anyone with a passing interest in internet discussion will immediately recognise these strategies. They are generally a sign of weakness, but are often  used to bamboozle discussion partners.  This book will help people to understand what is going on and how to handle such bullshit.

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The Magic of Reality for young people

This is something we need more of – science books for young people.

And chances are this one, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, will be good. The author, Richard Dawkins is a fellow of both the Royal Society and The Royal Society of Literature. He has a proven track record as an author of popular science books.

And the illustrator, Dave McKean, has illustrated many award-winning books.

It will be published in September or October. There will also be an audio version read by Richard Dawkins and his wife Lalla Ward.

You can get an idea of Dawkins approach to communicating with a younger audience from his A prayer for my daughter (see Dawkins’ prayer for his daughter)*. Or you could watch his Growing Up in the Universe. These are Richard’s 1991 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children. Available on DVD.

I can think of a few young people who will be getting this new book for Christmas.

*You can download a pdf file of A prayer for my daughter. Or if you have an eBook Reader or Kindle here are ePub and Mobi files.

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Secularism is important

Book Review: The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism by Paul Cliteur

Price: US$26.95; NZ$53.97
Paperback: 328 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (September 7, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1444335219
ISBN-13: 978-1444335217

It’s funny how some people allow their emotional reactions to interfere with their understanding of, and reaction to, words and their meaning. Almost 40 years ago I had a problem posting a letter to an address in the former East Germany. The women behind the counter in the post office refused to accept it because its address included the words “German Democratic Republic.” While she muttered things like “Soviet Zone,” and I was expecting her to starting foaming at the mouth, her colleague had to take over and provide me with the correct stamp.

Some people react the same way to words like secular and secularism. They equate these with atheism, or “worse.” So they animate their definitions of such words by their personal aversion to denial of their gods.

Pope Benedict XVI often warns of the “moral dangers” of secularism and many theologians and apologists wilfully equate secularism with attempts to destroy or eliminate religion.

Definitions and common understandings of words are important- especially where there is emotional baggage. So the first chapter of Paul Cliteur’s book is welcome – and probably necessary. “Atheism, Agnosticism, and Theism” reviews the possible definitions of these words and argues the case for a consistent and accurate meaning – taking 50 pages to do so.

And far from secularism being hostile to religion Cliteur sees it as “an essential precondition for the free development of religion. . . . It would be a serious mistake to consider the values espoused in the secular outlook as in any way inimical to religion or the rights of religious believers. On the contrary, secularism is the only perspective under which people of different religious persuasions can live together.”

The book devotes much of its content to justification of free thought. Chapter 2 argues that criticism of religion as central to free thought.

Continue reading

Destroying mystery?

Sometimes I hear the opinion that science is a kill joy. That by discovering how reality work it destroys the “mystery” of things. I have always thought that shallow. After all, improving our understanding of the world produces a great and awe-inspiring narrative. On the other hand – if you love mystery and the unknown – well science should be very satisfying to you. Every time science discovers an answer it inevitably produces new questions.

I think Christopher Thomas Scott expressed this well in his book Stem Cell Now. He said:

“Some say that biomedical science moves too quickly; it intrudes too deeply into the natural world, and sooner or alter, there will be no mysteries to solve. On that day, we will lose our innocence, and perhaps our humanity. However, there has never been a shortage of awe-inspiring challenges. Every time we uncover a mystery, another awaits us. We pursue knowledge about biology and our relations to nature as naturally as we breath. We do so because our acts and efforts generate hope – hope for legions of parents, children, husbands, wives, and friends who need those cures. The optimism that we can improve life and relieve suffering is our humanity.”

A great sentiment. And a great book. It describes the current status of stem cell research and the problems faced by US scientists in this area. It also gives an outline of the politics involved and summarises the ethical and moral arguments used by both the proponents and opponents of this research.

Open mindedness

Meanwhile – here’s a great video about open mindedness.It looks at some of the flawed thinking that prompts people who believe in certain non-scientific concepts to advise others who don’t to be more open-minded. As such it really exposes the faulty logic of opponents of scientific knowledge like creationists.


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