The Magic of Reality will be out next month in the US. At present Amazon UK doesn’t know when it will be available here.
During a conversation a few weeks ago I suggested there would be merit in going through The Da Vinci Code and editing out all the bits where Dan Brown treats his readers like idiots. Stuff like the horrendous flashback used to explain phi and the redundant repetition of information because he assumes his readers have tiny attention spans. I reckoned I could cull nearly a third of the verbiage and make it a less painful book to read. It still wouldn’t be great, because it’s a dumb premise, but it could be easier to get through. We’d call it Dan Brown for Smartys.
Over the weekend I got thinking about other possible ….for Smatys books. The idea could lend itself to so many better uses than improving Dan Brown’s prose. The series title, obviously, is a play on the ….for Dummies books, and they would serve a similar purpose. Despite their name, the ….for Dummies books don’t assume you’re some sort of idiot. I’ve got Blender For Dummies and it’s a great resource. It presumes the reader is an intelligent person who simply hasn’t used the software before and can grasp the concepts providing they’re explained well. The …..for Smartys books would expect intelligent readers and cover areas where the main, or at least loudest, people talking about them assume their audience are morons and can be lied to with impunity.
Yes, …..for Smartys would mostly cover tabloid fodder and stuff which attracts loud and dissembling deniers. The books would look at claims made around a controversial subject and fact check them, much like blogs such as Five Chinese Crackers do. They would also present the data in cool infographics, just because I’m a fan of cool infographics. Weight would be given to data based upon how many times it had been corroborated, rather than by how much it appealed to the readers presumed prejudices.
Immigration for Smartys would trace the population of the country back through many censuses as well as using Freedom of Information requests to get councils to reveal who gets to live in council houses (just a hunch, but I doubt “newly arrived immigrants” will top the list, no matter what the Daily Mail may say).
Climate Change for Smartys would look at the scientific evidence for and against man-made climate change. It would examine the more outlandish claims made for global warming as well as the those that it’s not happening at all. It would also run a side by side projection for a do-nothing family and a make-a-change family to see who is better off, even if all the evidence is wrong and there is no climate change. The no-changers would keep their car, not bother insulating their house etc. The make-a-changes would trade in for a smaller, more efficient vehicle, which they used less, upgrade insulation, upgrade their heating, install solar panels etc. There would be a comparison of expenditure, which would be easy enough, and a less scientific look at quality of life.
I don’t know if an Evolution for Smartys would be necessary. I’d mostly point people at The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Dawkins can be strident, but he knows his subject and explains it well.
Religion for Smartys would be a tricky one, because some people can’t help but get violent over their choice of deity. I imagine it as a timeline from the earliest known religions through to the present day with pullouts for similarity of themes and recurring motifs. There’d also be a “Who do you hate and who do you love?” section which would list the various things and peoples considered evil or divine across several holy books.
All I need now is a publisher willing to put up the money needed to fund me whilst I do the research and design the graphics.
So, it’s been the first day of the Pope’s long weekend in Britain. He got off to a good start by implying that Nazism arose from atheism and modern secular society is headed down a similar path. It’s basically that old unfounded Christian lament that the belief system which still holds an unwarranted influence over the country’s politics is being discriminated against, but with added “unbelievers are evil!”. Hitler’s beliefs are open to debate, as they are in this comment thread on Richard Dawkins’ site, but a great many Nazis professed to be Christians, the Catholic church’s record during WW2 was less than perfect and it was the godless hordes of Soviet Russia who sacrificed the most to put an end to the evil.
Pope Rat should sack his speech writers and any advisers who thought that spouting this sort of nonsense was a good idea.
A selection of eminent humanists wrote a letter to the Guardian attacking the elevation of the Pope’s visit to that of a state visit, pointing out some of the crimes the Vatican “state” is guilty of and questioning its right to be given the same recognition as real countries. Stephen Fry is justifiably proud of being vilified by the Daily Mail for his signing of the letter. I’m jealous, I’ve long wanted to be hated by the Daily Mail. It’s been one of my ambitions for several years. Sadly I am not as eloquent as Mr Fry, nor yet known, let alone as well known as he. Maybe one day.
The letter also attracted the attention of Stewart Cowan, one of the less enlightened bloggers I follow for entertainment value. Cowan throws around some stupid insults, but makes no intelligent or coherent points and no doubt, in his head, thinks he’s won the argument. In Cowan’s bizarro world family planning, disease prevention, compassion and education are all greater evils than child abuse. Thinking like Cowan’s and the Pope’s is the cause of far more harm than anything done by the people they want to blame.
Described as a 'train enthusiast's paradise', this semi-detached house has gone on the market for £105,000 – complete with its very own 1,000ft railway in the back garden.
The extensive miniature display features passengers waiting on the platform and a handmade model village.
The centre piece of the track is a huge Koi carp pool with bridges and waterfalls, where workmen can be seen maintaining the tracks.
If you were invited to address Benedict XVI during his UK visit, what would you say to him? Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman, Claire Rayner, Ben Goldacre and many more take part in our Pope quiz. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman
These eye-opening images bring the devastation of the Blitz into the modern world.
As a nation reflects on the 70th anniversary of one of the most brutal examples of 'total war' these montages blend vintage black and white shots of the carnage of 1940 with colour images of the same locations today.
One image shows a huge crater next to the Bank of England in London – perfectly merged with the same location as it looks today to bring home the dangers and privations that affected every Londoner – and indeed the inhabitants of most of Britain's major towns and cities.
Scientists say they've carried out the first rigorous analysis of dance moves that make men attractive to women.
The researchers say that movements associated with good dancing may be indicative of good health and reproductive potential.
"When you go out to clubs people have an intuitive understanding of what makes a good and bad dancer," said co-author Dr Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at Northumbria University, UK.
"What we've done for the very first time is put those things together with a biometric analysis so we can actually calculate very precisely the kinds of movements people focus on and associate them with women's ratings of male dancers."
A junior civil servant has been “put on other duties” after distributing a memo with some silly, and quite funny, suggestions for events to mark Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK in September.
The Foreign Office has apologised for a “foolish” document which suggested the Pope’s visit to the UK could be marked by the launch of “Benedict” condoms.
Called “The ideal visit would see…”, it said the Pope could be invited to open an abortion clinic and bless a gay marriage during September’s visit.
The document went on to propose the Pope could apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.
It listed “positive” public figures who could be made part of the Pope’s visit, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and 2009 Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle, and those considered “negative”, such as Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.
If anyone should be apologising at the moment it should be the Catholic church, for so many things I won’t even start listing them.
Scientists on the most important things people should know about science.
Richard Dawkins Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at the University of Oxford, and a science writer and broadcaster
I wish everyone understood Darwinian natural selection, and its enormous explanatory power, as the only known explanation of “design”. The world is divided into things that look designed, like birds and airliners; and things that do not look designed, like rocks and mountains. Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed, like submarines and tin openers; and those that are not really designed, like sharks and hedgehogs. Darwinian natural selection, although it involves no true design at all, can produce an uncanny simulacrum of true design. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant.
Antony Hoare Senior researcher at Microsoft Corporation
I would teach the world that scientists start by trying very hard to disprove what they hope is true. When they fail, they have a good reason for believing what they hope is true, and can even convince others of its truth. A scientist always acknowledges the possibility of error, and is less likely to be mistaken than one who always claims to be right.
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