Digging Through Some Old Files….

…I found a bunch of stories and outlines from decades ago. Most, I remembered instantly once I saw them, a couple evoked a major ‘huh?’ response, as in, I have no memory of them at all. It’s weirdly encouraging: not only have I averaged about 150K words/yr on this blog, I also wrote maybe 200 pages of stories and outline long before this blog. So, I guess I’m a writer by the simple fact that I do, in fact, write. Now, if I can only complete the novels and publish them – that’s the plan! Anyway, for kicks:

“I have no memory of this story…”

A. Untitled Novel Outline, 8/9/90, 15 pages + diagram, handwritten. A chemist working for the National Oceanographic Institute gets involved with some illegal gold mining on the ocean floor. Insane chase scene involving a submersible and two ships. He gets the girl. I remember it being a ton of fun writing the outline. I even have a sort of roller-coaster diagram for the chase scene.

B. Notes from a writing workshop I attended, 7/8/90. No longer applicable, if they ever were.

C. Penultimate chapter to a Sci Fi novel about a run in with some insectoid star-faring race. Undated. Only about 6 pages, the escape scene. Remember having written a lot more on it – maybe it’s in this pile someplace. [update: nope.]

D. Thelma and Me. 8/95. Only 3 pages long, one of my favorite stories. Maybe I should throw it up here, since it’s hardly more than flash fiction? The 1st person protagonist notes that the odometer on his ’57 Chevy BelAir convertible, which he bough new with money from his first job out of high school, is about to hit 500,000 miles. Babying this car has been about the only thing he’s ever done right in his life.

E. The Great Desert Valley, CH 1 of Earth Wars, which is perhaps a misleading title – it was intended as a set of stories about what might be called real ecology. Think I started it in response to all the nonsensical anthropomorphizing of nature, so I started writing more ‘true’ stories. In this story, I try to recount what it would have looked like when one of the periodic refloodings of the dried-out Mediterranean basin took place – from the perspective of the life adapted to living in an extreme desert basin. Whatever destruction we might think we’ve done to the environment, Nature has done and will do much, much worse.

F. The Last Sabre-Toothed Tiger, CH 2 of the above. A story of how exquisite adaptation can spell death when conditions change. A story I don’t see in this pile is my favorite from the set: about a lighthouse cat that completes the extinction of some shorebird, by the simple accident that the lighthouse keeper had a cat, and the rock the lighthouse was on was also the only place where the seabirds bred. All the creatures – man, cat, bird – act innocently according to their natures, yet extinction of one of them results.

G. Sets of song lyrics. Did I mention that I used to be a (frankly, terrible) part of a number of garage bands? Well, I did. And I tried my hand at songwriting, with some minimal success. So in this pile are the lyrics to a bunch of songs, a few of which I recall and even set to music. In my last band, did get one number I wrote into the rotation – people seemed to like it. I am of the ‘melancholy to sad lyrics set to bouncy music’ school of songwriting. These would need some *very* bouncy music to counterbalance the depressing lyrics.

H. Undated, untitled handwritten outline, 4 yellow legal pad pages long, of some wild adventure that kicks off with a priest killing a teenage soldier. Absolutely no idea where this came from. The notes are largely incomprehensible now, e.g., “Grain rotting in the fields, on the shelves, (Bali??)” Must have had something in mind….

I. Whole folder full of Earth Wars stories, dates 12/14/1989! Printed out on a dot matrix printer, on paper with little perforations. Call in the archeologists! The outline/table of contents shows 19 stories. In the actual printout, there’s the lighthouse cat story, and a story about elephants creating grasslands from forests (you knew they did that, right?). There’s one 20-page story called The Last Cave Bear, which has to do with the encroaching ice sheets 125,000 years ago, a sort of border conflict between cave bears, who were going extinct around this time, and people, who were learning to adapt to much harsher conditions during the glaciation. It’s a really sad story. And then, the concluding chapter is Ut Animalia, a wild tale of an elderly Latin American priest serving at the ruins of a church while his mind slips away. Due to the constant revolution, he hardly ever sees anybody – but the animals of the surrounding jungle start to make the church their home.

Maybe half an inch of paper devoted to a 30+ year old project. Huh.

J. The Talley, an 11 page long short story, undated, but printed out on the same dot matric printer, so around 1989. This one is marked up, as a draft awaiting revisions. The 1st person narrator has recently been widowed; he teaches piano. On his walk home from visiting his wife’s grave, a woman whose talentless, uninterested tween son takes lessons from him, corners him. Potentially interesting things ensue.

K. Ut Animalia has it’s own folder! An incomplete draft – don’t think I ever finished it.

L. Prime Directive. Another dot matrix era bit of – ??? In this folder there is a wide piece of perforated lined paper labeled “Character/Plot Development Chart” broken into squares, characters on the left, characteristics across the top, with little tidbits in each box. Wild.

I have no memory of this.

Then, an outline, regarding a sort of graduate-level field trip to Borneo to investigate the natives. I have a character named Higgins (‘just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins!’) and a bunch of grad-school rabble. The title comes from, I suppose, the absurdity of the Star Trek Prime Directive. Then, there’s an opening chapter, where the students reveal themselves to be Trekkers.

What could I possibly have been thinking? The character outlines show a conflict between science, which doesn’t ultimately care if the people being studied live or die, a practical recognition that you might have to choose between saving the culture and saving the people, and a character who cannot see that choice.

And that’s it for that set of files. There are only two projects/stories I remember that aren’t in there – one, called The Pearl, about the gaslighting that goes on inside a truly messed up family, written in 1992, and an untitled parody of sex researchers in the wild. That last one involved an enlightened feminist sex researcher doing field work, in Borneo again, I think (I had recently read the excellent Into the Heart of Borneo, by Redmond O’Hanlon, so had Borneo on the brain), trying to discredit the claims made by her major competitor, who happens to now be the lover of her former boyfriend. So she retraces the steps in her enemy’s landmark and tenure-securing masterpiece, attempting to replicate/discredit, as it were, the ‘;findings.’ Thus, she finds herself trying to get laid in the jungles of Borneo.

All the characters involved are utterly jealous, possessive, and needy, while of course rejecting the very idea that sex might lead such feelings. Hilarity ensued via the write-ups from the field getting published in, I think, the Atlantic? wherein the ‘researcher’ recounts her experiences, basically, trying to get laid by a bunch of tribesmen, who, as shines through her reports despite her lofty language, think she’s a curiously insane white lady best kept at arms’ length. I particularly remember writing her discussion on the desirability of pendulosity in breasts, and how it could not be that the difference between her breasts and the breasts of her competitor had lead to her failure in the field….

I think I stopped when I realized: there is no way to parody this. Anything I think of has probably been done, in all seriousness, by some maniac or other. But it was funny, you’ll have to take my word for it…

That was fun. Back to the actual WIP.

Lawncare and Leprosy

Just looking for a catchy title for more exasperation.

As a distraction from the steady rain of naked emperors and their fawning sycophants and courtiers and the sheep they intimidate into line, I’m putting in some serious lawn care time, and writing. Only partially effective. What’s sticking in my brain is the awareness that about 90% of my relatives are firmly on the Corona Train of Doom. These are for the most part well educated and intelligent people, who seem to firmly believe they are ‘following the science’ that they’ve never looked at and wouldn’t understand if they did. They just so *certain* they’ve got a bead on things.

This item is something you can buy, in bulk if necessary, from actual trophy retailers. And it seems to be assumed that getting this trophy would not only not increase the juvenile suicide rate but rather actually make a child feel *good*. These people 1) are not from this planet, and 2) have never won anything worth winning in their lives.

A seriously cultivated lack of self-awareness. I’m thinking masks are the ironic completion of the participation trophy culture. You want to be an outsider? Someone who doesn’t even get a participation trophy, that proves that the authority figures love you as long as you, well, participate?

(Aside: I am in some ways a very competitive person, mostly manifested in sports. What seems missing from the equation: Running the real risk, sometimes even near-certainty, of losing is a huge part of what made it fun and satisfying. If you win, it’s worth winning; if you lose, you went up against good competition and got to prove yourself, even if just to yourself. The worst thing: playing in games you’re supposed to win easily. Winning is thus nothing to be proud of, while losing is embarrassing. Didn’t these people ever see “A Nice Place to Visit”?)

Several times now, I’ve drafted letters to the family explaining why me and mine are not panicking, why we don’t wear masks or social distance unless we will get innocent people in trouble for it (like a church or a store – it’s not their fault, but they will be made to pay). But – I always, so far, stop before sending it. I just don’t know if it will do anything other than increase the already significant distance between me and mine and these particular relatives. Maybe it’s an act of mercy? I just don’t know.

Writing suffered greatly this week, as I was busy and distracted after a very productive weekend. Picked it up again this morning, and added another maybe 2,000 words to It Will Work. Started in on the ending, just barely scratched the surface. At 12K words at the moment. I am paying the price for not having done enough thought-smithing up front – the end, which I thought I had worked out, is a little bit gappy, holey like an old rag. Thus, I’m setting myself up for fairly monumental rewrites just getting it to flow and not leaving massive holes. Oh well – first novel, the important thing is to get stuff down. On, Teb! On!

The Saga of the Back Lawn doesn’t get much ink around here, and not only because I can practically hear your eyes glazing over through the interwebs. It’s neither as much fun nor as picturesque as the Endless Brick Project of Doom. Here goes, if you’re feeling penitential: when we bought this house lo these 25 years ago, it had a pretty decent back lawn, certainly adequate for anything you’d want a back lawn for, such as running and rolling around on it with children.

Then, back in 2005, made the large, perfectly clear with 20/20 hindsight, poor decision to put on an addition. At the time, home prices were ridiculous and rising – no matter how well I did financially, a home better enough than what we had to make it worth moving was just too big a stretch. But those same factors made it easy to borrow a ton and add on, so we did – and got it done just in time for the housing market to collapse. So, our starter home is our home, at least until we move out of state.

So, second major error: hired a long time friend of my sister’s as the general contractor. He’d done a bunch of work for her, she seemed happy with him. He lied about his licensing, was always sharing fantasies about timing, and was just a slapdash horror. Part of his style was to simply use the back lawn as his staging area, and just destroy it. Not talking just about killing the grass – the soil here is quite clay, and, when they were done, it was packed down as hard as rock, and covered with crap. I couldn’t bring myself to pay any more money at that point, and so, for several years, the backyard sat, a useless disaster. Finally, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, I was up to tackling it. It’s only maybe 40′ X 30′, so it’s not like a major project. Cleaned it off, amended the soil some – but didn’t, alas, rototill the living heck out of it.

So, every year since, I try to do something to improve the lawn. As of last spring, it looked pretty good – right up until the end of May, when the warm, dry weather kicks in and the 1/4″ root depth before it hits solid clay means it mostly dies off. By the end of the summer, it’s pretty pathetic. It looks great in April!

This year, after surveying yet another dreary looking lawn, decided what the heck, let’s get serious. It had rained enough that I could dig in the clay, so I picked the ugliest patch, about 6′ X 20′, and just dug it up by hand, turned the soil, added manure and gypsum, let it sit for a few days, then seeded and watered it. Total time invested might be 5? 6? hours. So far.

If this works, I’ll do another similar patch next year, and it 2-3 years, should attain lawn Nirvana. Right?

As I type, I can see a bird on the lawn eating seed. This, I can stand – anything short of a significant flock is unlikely to eat enough to make any difference. BUT: if I had the appropriate verminator, I’d be shooting some squirrels. Damn things have to dig anywhere I’ve loosened the soil – garden, planters, pots, and now, lawn. I hate squirrels. At this rate, my new patch of lawn will be pock-marked with squirrel holes. Furry little bastards.

Next week, I’ll see if I have anything less trivial to write about.

Update Schmupdate.

Yes, I’m still alive.

A. Spring is almost here. My seasonal affective disorder – the fancy, victim-centric way of saying sunlight and warmth make me happy – is crashing to a halt. Yay me. California is very beautiful. It’ll be hard to leave.

Doing a little garden prep.

Stuck some flowers in some planters. Yay me.
View from the front porch, soon to be much greener. Turned some beds, laid down some fresh compost and bark.
Like the Dutch angle? Peaches blooming; Apricots working on it. Cherry & pear not yet. Tiny bb sized figs peeking out.

The Insane Endless Brick Project of Doom lurks, but I need to do work on the lawn and paint the house, too….

B. On the writing front, been watching Successful Indie Author Five-Minute Focus by Craig Martelle, the 20 books to 50K guy. He recently did a thing on how many things one should work on at once. Short answer: it depends, but he finds three things the most he can productively work on at once, and must have one as the primary focus with a deadline. This seems about right to me, and pretty much what it has boiled down to.

C. With that in mind, top focus: It Will Work, with a self-imposed deadline of June 30, 2021. Added a couple thousand usable words plus a bunch of outlining and a little research (mostly, looking up names – the names are mostly plays on words from Mauri mythology and Greek. Because they are.) It’s up to 10,000 useable words as of today.

The backup projects are Understanding Science and Black Friday, the first of which is on hold until I get stuck/finished with It Will Work, the second of which I’ve done a little more research on and some additional outlining, but is basically in the bullpen warming up. So, I’m still enthusiastic. My in-bed-as-I-fall-asleep reading is Morte d’Arthur and the Mabinogion, for that Arthurian book, so I’m mentally working on that as well, even if putting nothing in writing yet. And I’m making a habit of thinking through plot points if I wake up at night and can’t get back to sleep. Works both way: by not thinking of the current and accelerating Fall of Western Civilization, I get back to sleep faster, and I have in fact worked through some plot points. Win-win!

Hit my first (since getting on this current writing jag back in January) wall: On It Will Work, got stuck on how to deal with the inescapable infodump I need in the middle chapters. There’s just some critical backstory/worldbuilding that has to take place, no way around it. I’ve tried to be clever about working needed information into the story more or less naturally, but this was not happening here. After sleeping on it, just had one of the minor characters tell the protagonist something about the history of my aliens, then will have some action, and then have some other character tell him the rest. All in all, it’s going to be about 3,000 words of backstory/worldbuilding spread across maybe 10,000 words of story. Just reading it back, it doesn’t seem like too much – but what do I know about writing books? The 1.5 million+ words I’ve written over the last decade are 90% blog posts…

D. Speaking of blog posts, keep adding to the drafts folder. I was, in fact, writing posts over the week I’ve been gone – just not finishing and posting posts. Because I started thinking, and, well, what good ever comes of that?!?

Minutia and Writing Updates

No excuse for boring you, my loyal readers, with this, but here goes:

A. Trying to keep up the momentum, I’m switching back and forth between 3-4 writing projects. When I get stuck on one, just switch. Don’t even think about, just keep writing, with the goal still being 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories ready to go (to an editor, most likely) by end of June. And that science book. Anyway, what’s in the hopper:

Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: Right around 10,000 words, on temporary hold. The comments, especially from Dr. Kurland and some of the commentators here, made me think – always dangerous. The question is not so much what science IS – which can be approached, I think, from several valid angles – but rather, in what sense should a layman care what science is. It will do little good to be technical accurate if my imagined reader doesn’t see any point to it. Ya know? So, I’m letting that one stew for now.

Working title “It Will Work” the first 6,000 or so words of which appeared on this blog as a series of flash fiction posts. (CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6 CH 7) I couldn’t seem to stop writing this, right up until I could, and it got the second most positive comments of anything I’ve written here, (1) so it seemed primed to become a short novel. It was one of the three novels-in-development in the Novels folder I set up back in January. At about 8,000 words at the moment.

Always told myself I needed to settle on an ending, so I knew where I was going with this – even though the 7 fragments were each tossed off totally seat-of-the-pants. Well, just today I started outlining what the kids these days might call the Boss Battle, the final test of Our Hero – and, it rocks so hard. Want to talk stupid? I was getting choked up telling my wife about it. I wrote it long before the current insanity, but, given the current insanity, it all makes so much more sense. As far as a “things done got blowed up good” by bombardment from space and aliens in power armor scene set on a distant moon of a far-away planet can be said to relate to current events. (answer: quite a bit, really.) Anyway: got the finale & denouement outlined, and am in the middle of the middle section. My only fear, if you can call it that – if I keep the pacing such as it has been so far, I’ll wrap it up in +/-30K words. Don’t want to stretch it simply for the sake of stretching it, but do want at least 40K words – Pulp Era novel length. Not a real problem until it is….

The White-Handled Blade – the Arthurian YA novel set in modern day Wales, the first 25% of which is the novella several generous readers here beta read for me a couple years ago. Currently sits at about 13K words. This one is exciting, but I want to do more reading in Arthurian legends and outline a longer path, as in, a potential series, before maybe writing myself into a corner. The story as it stands now is little more than a free retelling of the Lynette & Lyonesse story as told by Malory, ending right before Gareth makes his untoward advances toward Lyonesse. So, obviously, I would continue along those line BUT I want to introduce more stuff that will let me go in any number of Arthurian directions. I already have several of the important knight (reimagined as middle-aged academics, because I find that amusing), so, in future works, it will be easy to take some side-trips to Scotland or the Orkneys or Cornwall or France. I want to keep Lynnette as the heroine, because I like her, and she was designed from the ground up as someone the reader could relate to: she’s fiercely devoted to her older sister, loves but has trouble communicating with her dad, gets snubbed and bullied at school, can hold a grudge, but never gives up and is as brave as needed to rise to the occasion. And is otherwise a blank slate, so there’s nothing in the way to seeing yourself in her shoes.

So I’m rereading Malory and reading the Mabinogion for ideas. The farther back in time one goes, the crazier the legends become, such that getting a glimpse into Malory’s world – 15th century retelling of much older stories -is a lot easier than getting into the world of the Mabinogion, which are thought to be older still. Even Malory requires a bit of gymnastics to get into the moral mindset of people who seem to kill each other rather gleefully at the drop of a biggin, but not like the Welsh tales. And then there’s the French version…

Speaking of writing something I didn’t set out to write and would have never imagined writing, it seems YA fiction is mostly characterized as follows:

  • no sex
  • no swearing
  • not too much gore

Which, frankly is a pretty fair description of anything I’m likely to write. On the other hand, Hunger Games is about children killing each other for the amusement of the powerful – I’d take a lot of sex and swearing before I’d consider that entertainment…

Anyway, it seems to be common industry knowledge that YA readership includes large numbers of adults who are just sick and tired of all the gratuitous sex and swearing and violence in mainstream stuff. So, from that point of view, pretty much anything (well, except this) I write would qualify, but I have never consciously tried to write YA. I’m putting in plenty of what I hope to be interesting non-childish philosophical and political and moral stuff. So – huh? Anyway, I’ll have to be careful of how I market this stuff. Studying up on that in parallel. Hope to get back to it soon, but it’s It Will Work is on the front burner at the moment.

Longship, the working title of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (wait! doh!), some sections of which I’ve thrown up here on the blog, is the one that has both been percolating in my mind for a decade or two AND the one I’m having the least success in hammering into a actual novel or 4. On the back burner.

Finally, Black Friday is another bit of flash fiction fluff (well, 1400 words, so not exactly flash fiction…) that seemed ripe to expand, so I’ve been outlining that one, too. Have put in some work on it, but not in the form of adding to the wordcount.

B. This brings me to another consideration: The science and education stuff (remember that education stuff? I seem to have forgotten) I will publish under my own name. However, if I’m hoping to actually make a little money off the SF&F stuff, it would seem prudent to market under a nom de plum. I’m under no illusions that I’m anybody important, but underestimating the pettiness of our self-appoint betters is a fool’s game.

On a related note, I’ve taken a few baby steps towards hardening my superversive presence online, including a Brave/Duckduckgo browsing combo, a protonmail account and staying off Google as much as I can. I want to go :

  • secure VPN
  • secure website hosting

Just want off, as much as possible, the Bidenriech’s surveillance network. A know I guy…

C. The 16 year old Caboose just mentioned that his favorite books include a book on spiritual teachings from the perspective of a demon, a book on politics from the perspective of rabbits, and a post apocalyptical novel about a monastery.

Kids these days. I asked him what about that book about the short dude with hairy feet trying to return some stolen jewelry? He laughed.

D. Slept 8+ hours straight last night, the first time that’s happened in months. Felt very good. Been getting 4 -6 hours most nights since the Crazy Years became manifest – wake up, can’t go back to sleep, get us and try to do something. I could get used to that.

E. Got a few hundred more bricks. The neighbors who I, being a solid California suburbanite, hardly know, have twice now over the last few years of the Great Front Yard Brick Insanity and Orchard Hoedown, have, unbidden, offered me bricks, because I’m the guy with the brickwork. So, dude around the corner had this pile of bricks he wanted gone – 6 1/2 wheelbarrows full. Maybe a short block away.

One Load 3, I think it was, I came off the curb a little too hard and bent the metal wheel supports (it’s a cheap and old wheelbarrow) such that the wheel now rubbed against the underbelly of the tub section. I was able to brut-force them straight enough so that I could limp that load home.

So, had to repair the wheelbarrow. Two bolts that hold the handle arms to the tub section, which I had replaced a few years back with a couple far too long bolts I had lying around, had worked themselves very loose then rusted into their new loose positions. This made the load likely to shift from side to side as you rolled – no biggie with a load of dirt, dangerous and tiring with a load of bricks. But the bolts were carriage bolts, so there was no easy way to grip the head from the top. After a applying a bit of WD-40, tried to grip the excess bolt with plyers while using a crescent wrench to tighten them up. The first nut moved a little before the plyers had shredded the threads on the bolt and would no longer prevent it from turning; the second budged not a whit. Jury-rigged the ugliest solution: took some heavy wire, bent it unto a U shape, then crimped it onto the bolts between the nut and the tub – one on the side I’d gotten a little tighter, and two one the side I’d been unable to move.

And – it kinda works. Reality often fails to suitably rebuke me for my stupid ideas, thereby encouraging me to keep coming up with more of them. It’s going to get me killed someday…

Next, for the bent arms: Cut a scrap of walnut into two maybe 8″ pieces, placed them behind the bent arms, clamped them until the arms were more or less straight and in contack with the wood, then drilled some wholes and put in some tiny screws to hold it all together.

And – that worked, too. Now have a much more stiff structure and a couple inches of clearance between the tub and wheel. See what I mean? If these slapdash ideas keep working, I’m going to keep doing them.

Next step: replace the 16+ year old cheap and falling apart wheelbarrow. Once some stupid repair idea fails to work, that is.

Picturesque old wheelbarrow, with lots of freshly stacked bricks in the background. Those with sharp eyes can perhaps spot the much too long bolts where the handles first encounter the tub, and even the thick wire crimped on them; the gratifyingly straight struts connecting the wheel to the tub. Yes, I took a picture of my wheelbarrow. At night. Just to throw up on the blog. Yep. Really did that.

F. Got the front yard orchard cleaned up, pruned, fertilized, mulched, copper-sprayed, and watered, not in that order. So, that’s done for now. Next, finish the brickwork, paint the house, get it fumigated for termites, replace the dying major appliances, put in this year’s vegetable garden, marry off a son on the East Coast in May, and goodness knows what else. And teach a couple history classes. Shaping up to be a busy Year 63 for me. And write two novels, put together two books of short stories, and write a book on science – in my spare time.

Yes, I am freaking INSANE.

  1. Most positive comments: One Day. Heck, even Mike Flynn liked it enough to comment – I’m still blushing.

The Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be a Gullible Rabbit. Preliminaries

This is the third of three preliminary chapters before we get to the meat of things. I organized this on the fly, so I’m not in love with there being three chapters, in effect, before Chapter 1. This can be cleaned up later.

Preliminaries

First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.

– Feynman

This short book addresses an increasingly desperate situation: the near universal state of scientific illiteracy among virtually all Americans. This state of profound ignorance of what science is and how it works is especially prevalent among those think themselves highly educated. Scientific illiteracy is complete among those who say they ‘believe’ or ‘trust’ or, especially, ‘effing love’ science.

To anyone with an even modest grasp of what science IS,such claims are embarrassing. If the truth of the previous sentence isn’t instantly clear, this book is for you.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

– Aristotle

The first step is the hardest: to intelligently evaluate a claim made in the name of science, one must exercise the intellectual and emotional discipline needed to suspend all emotions and political feelings. Put another way: we should want to know what a thing is before speculating on why people feel and act the way they do about it.

The typical practice, seen everywhere, is to FIRST consider the politics of the source of the supposed ‘science’: was it stated by a politician or public servant or journalist who shares my political persuasion? Is it the position of the political party I identify with? Then it is trustworthy. If from someone of whose politics I disapprove? It is, by that fact alone, judged untrustworthy. Everyone has seen this; almost everyone has done this.

We humans are also very much prone to fear. We very prudently want to know about any danger we should avoid, and fear is the natural reaction to danger. Unfortunately, we humans are also very bad at assessing risk. Another thing everyone has seen, often in the mirror, is someone who will worry about minor risks while ignoring major ones. We see people – or are people – who won’t taste the cookie dough because it has raw egg in it, but will drive 85 on the freeway or ride our bike without a helmet or carry around way too much weight. We’ve done those last things most of our lives, and no longer even think about it; but we just heard about the (microscopic) danger from raw eggs, so that requires action. Fear will cause us to underestimate familiar risks and overestimate novel risks.

For the past 50 years, if not longer, we have been daily assaulted by claims that the science says we’re all going to die from a variety of ever-changing causes if we don’t promptly act NOW. These claims are framed to make us as frightened as possible. The hedging and restraint that are the hallmark of most good science are omitted when the claim is proclaimed – our doom is certain in a way that nothing else in the future is certain. Don’t fall for it. Do not be afraid; at least, suspend that fear until you’ve got a good grasp on the evidence.

What I’m here calling political beliefs are actually something much more basic, as discussed in the previous chapter: we all want to belong. We all must pay attention to what the other people in our peer group or tribe say, because the risk of being an outcast is felt to be too high. Our need to belong is a fundamental trait of our species, more fundamental than any love of science or, indeed, truth, and so it is only natural that we check with our group’s beliefs before forming our own,

This need to belong, while hardly a bad thing in and of itself, can lead us far astray, if not balanced against a love for truth. We spend 12, 16, or more years in school, where we’re much more likely to get into trouble for failing to conform to the group than we are for failing to learn anything. After years of such training, we tend to see the world as this place where authority figures decide and transmit to us what we ought to believe. All that’s left to us is identifying the correct authority figures – and they are eager to tell us who they are. There is no shortage of people vying for that job.

This habit of picking a team or a tribe and then using that tribe’s beliefs to filter what is allowed to be considered THE science has a name: Lysenkoism. Don’t follow Lysenko, that’s not a happy story.

When you express passionate belief in ‘the science’ which you have not independently worked to understand, it’s not just that you are parroting your chosen authority figures, it’s that all you are capable of is parroting your chosen authority figures.

You can think for yourself. Try it, you may like it. This book is intended to help.

It’s not going to be easy to find the courage to swim past the emotional bait and risk defying your tribe. I can only say, after K in Men in Black: “Oh yeah, it’s worth it… if you’re strong enough!” In order to understand science, or, indeed, in order to understand anything of any complexity, you have to want to understand it. It’s work, but it’s worth it. The alternative is to allow yourself to be blindly lead. History, especially modern history, is largely the tragic stories of people who imagine themselves the best educated, most enlightened, most moral people ever swallowing whole whatever their leaders tells them and whatever their peers profess to believe. We like to imagine it’s only stupid rubes who fell for the obvious (to us) manipulations of the tyrants and ideologues of the last couple centuries, when the sad truth is that it was the cream of society, the professors and professionals, the doctors and lawyers, who were always in the lead in accepting whatever they were told to accept. The more your position in society depends on the good opinions of those around you, the more susceptible you are to the wiles of the snake-oil salesman, who will always strive to hold exactly the position of respect needed for his scam to work. Alas! Historical illiteracy is nearly as complete as scientific illiteracy.

What is needed, and what this book aims to supply, are a few basic principles, a few rules of thumb, as it were, to help us laymen sift through the incessant, shrill claims made in the name of science. Science is not, and never has been, about trusting scientists. Science has always been about evaluating evidence. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgments can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, and from show.

– Feynman

Writing Update, etc.

A. Now am working on the “What Science IS” chapter for the Understanding Science book. The first three preliminary chapters are or soon will be posted here for your review, dear readers. Probably combine them into one chapter, edit them down a little to remove repetition.

The What Science IS chapter is challenging. What I want is to engage my laymen target audience, and give them an understanding of science that will allow them filter out the high-level nonsense. I doubt the utility of going the Popper route of falsifiable propositions for my purposes – you gotta think too hard, and have more philosophy than your average bloke to really get your head around the basic concepts – at least, I think you do. If I start right in laying on the philosophy, years of government training – schooling – will kick in and their minds will perform an auto-shutdown. I think. (Math triggers the same routines in the properly schooled.)

Along a similar vein, I wrote a little ‘three kinds of knowledge’ section, then set it aside – as basic and, indeed, essential as this distinction is, I fear I will loose my imagined target audience one sentence in. Can I frame up a discussion of necessary truth, conditional truth, and art (techne) that doesn’t trigger a flight response? The necessary truth part I’d limit to math and logic – no need to go any deeper for my purposes. The important part is the recognition of CONDITIONS on all scientific knowledge, and, more subtle, how those conditions (mostly) need to be expressed in order for science to have any weight.

Then comes the point that art/techne/technology is really, really good and, for most of us, much more true – more BELIEVABLE – than science claims. Our computers and cell phones WORK – that’s their primary characteristic of interest. That working is far more convincing and interesting, for most of us, than any scientific syllogisms based on conditional observations of more abstract, less immediate phenomena.

I can say that observation of the orbit of Mercury or of starlight bending around the sun during an eclipse proves relativity – OR I can say: without relativistic adjustments, the GPS in your phone wouldn’t be near as accurate. Which is more convincing? I could say: some thermodynamic laws govern how much a given gas will cool down when it expands, and show some math – or I can point out that refrigerators work. Which is more convincing?

I gather from a lifetime of interactions with people that few wondered, as children, how that refrigerator worked, or how those huge generators in dams worked. The fridge was totally baffling to me; I figured dynamos must make sparks or something. That all these man-made things work is probably as much a driver of my curiosity as the wonders of nature. But is that pertinent here?

So, in the current draft, I went with: Science is the study of the metrical properties of physical bodies – a sound, if subtly complex, definition that seemed better to address my goals. What this definition does is put the focus on the observation of physical things, specifically, things that can be measured. Not our opinions or feelings about what we observe, not things such as other people’s feelings, which can be (maybe) observed but not measured.

I planned to use this approach to hammer home the (obvious?) point that science simply cannot dictate policy. There is no “this is what we came up with when we measured some properties of physical objects, therefore you must do X.” There are a whole lot of steps being left out in such an assertion, chief of which is a clear statement of the value judgements and moral assumptions that always underlie claims we must do something. The laws of physics say we must fall if we jump off that cliff, but they don’t and can’t say if we should or should not jump off that cliff. Falling once you jump is science and outside any subsequent act of your will; deciding to jump is not.

The subtilty lies in cases where sciences have developed by studying the metrical properties of physical objects without overtly measuring those properties. Geology is an example suggested by a reader. Early theories were developed without too much explicit measurement. Example: for plate tectonics to be true, the Atlantic Ocean must be expanding. And so it is – at exactly some number of millimeters per year, within some plus or minus. Once that measurement has been obtained, we now can back into how old the Atlantic Ocean is, within limits. Similarly, biology started by simply observing the difference between various plants and animals and describing the different characteristics, but soon moved on to measuring those characteristics, such that we know African and Indian elephants differ in size: height, weight, ears, tusks, etc.

Even the historical sciences are looking at measurable properties, even if they don’t start of measuring them, they eventually do.

The above is the sort of thing I might throw in an appendix or end note.

Anyway, I need a bit of a break from this science stuff, so:

B. Turned to the Novels in Process folder. On each of the three items in the stack, I need more planning done. An honest (as honest as I can be) assessment: one I could conceivably finish in a few months – it just needs some outlining to get it from where it is at to where it needs to go, so I don’t meander too much getting there; the other two are going to need a daunting amount of planning and research. On the one that’s been percolating for a couple decades now, I work as I try to fall asleep at night – I try to wrestle it into a series, chop it into 3-4 pieces, deal with the already large cast of characters, and try to make the ‘science’ less ridiculous. Mostly, it’s a matter of organizing the various climaxes, or inventing some, to get it into manageable stories. I add to my notes when I think of it.

So, I thought: I need another short novel to put into the hopper from the ‘ideas’ pile, one that I can get done in less time with less anxiety. (hahaha.) So – picked a flash fiction (1400 word) story that reads like the first chapter in a “world’s going to hell, unlikely heroes rise to the occasion” adventure. Our Heroes hunker down from an evil government takeover, jury-rig some awesome tech, outwit the government lackies, and overcome impossible odds, culminating in a glorious showdown – that sets up a sequel.

My model, from a structure POV, is just good ol’ Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel, which is a pretty solid Dent style story I’ve always loved and admired: every chapter, Our Heroes are put into deadly danger, each worse than the last, with the stakes getting higher with each turn of the page, until THE ENTIRE PLANET is threatened!

I’ve long wanted to try my had at something like that. Once, many years ago, I wrote a fairly long outline (long hand, in a notebook) for a crazy story along these lines, with bad guys pretending to fund deep-sea research out of the goodness of their hearts, using Our Gullible Hero to find some valuable mineral deposits around some deep sea vents, then abandoning the submersible with him and the girl he’s long had a crush on at the bottom of the ocean, once they got what they wanted. A wacky escape, with proper heroics and comeuppances ensued. Boy gets girl. It was stoopid fun – at least, writing the outline was. Wonder what happened to that? I think we started having kid right around that time, so I set it aside…

Anyway, along those lines. So now I’m reading a Homeland Security document on shopping mall vulnerabilities. Because of course I am. For essential background! I swear!

C. The front yard orchard & garden needs pre-spring prep: cleanup, fertilize, copper spray, lay down some more mulch, repair/improve some raised beds. Get a few more flowering plants for the boarders. Last year, lost all my front yard viny vegetables to an insane aphid/white fly infestation followed by that nasty mold that seems to love squash. So, no front yard squash, cucumbers, etc. this year, as that stuff tends to linger in the soil for years.

Back yard needs work. Lawn needs aerating and reseeding; garden needs weeding/prep; need a few flowers for some planters. The usual.

D. Meanwhile, deferred maintenance keeps piling up: the sun beats on the house’s south-facing walls, which are now peeling and cracking. I got paint, but now I need to clear away obstructions, get some scaffolding (2-story), do a ton of prep, and then get on it while I still can. Sure, you can hire a painter, but I figure this is the follow-up to the Great Brick Insanity: something I can do for a few hours at a time, finish a wall, clear and prep the next, so that, over a summer, with my son’s help, I can get it done. A lot less hands and knees work than bricks. (Still have some brickwork to finish too, but I’m not thinking about that now. I. Am. Not.)

I’m insane.

E. I need to write two history test, one each for the 8th and 9th graders, for tomorrow. What I’m I doing writing here? Later!

The Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be a Gullible Rabbit. Taming the Beast

This is the second of three preliminary chapters before we get to the meat of things. I organized this on the fly, so I’m not in love with there being three chapters, in effect, before Chapter 1. This can be cleaned up later.

Taming the Beast

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

– Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist and legendary Cal Tech teacher

We humans – you, me, everybody – have some limitations and predilections we need to overcome, or they will rule us. In the words of Agent K in Men In Black:

The person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it!”

If we are to be that smart person, we need to find a way to separate ourselves out from the dumb, panicky, dangerous herd we belong to, at least for as long as it takes to consider an idea or proposal. If we can’t or won’t do this, we are not free. We will be slaves to the opinions and emotions of other people.

Most of us are more or less reasonable and open-minded when talking with people one on one. But no matter how vehemently we deny it, few of us can resist the pressure to conform to our peers. While we – you, me, everybody – may flatter ourselves that we’re oh so open-minded, educated, and fair, the evidence suggests that’s not quite true. After reading this book, I hope you start listening for the dead giveaways that you are being told to conform to your tribe rather than look at evidence and listen to argument. Conforming is easy, and gets you a pat on the back and gold star; thinking things through for yourself is hard, and is unlikely to make you any friends within your tribe.

Since this is a book about science, let’s frame this up in terms of Darwinismi: The environment in which our ancestors evolved was tribal. Not one of our ancestors survived and reproduced without the cooperation of others of our ancestors. Therefore, Natural Selection has hard-wired into our DNA a desperate need for a tribe, simply because those without a tribe had little if any chance of reproducing, and thus, in the cruel world of Darwin, ceased to be ancestors to anybody.

Right after breathing and eating, our next most important drive as humans is to belong, to be in a tribe. That’s where we grew up, where we will find a mate, where we find those who will defend us. It is thus completely natural and to be expected that, when an unfamiliar idea slouches into view, our first instinct is to look to the people on our right and left and see what our tribe thinks, and accept that view. Why risk our standing in the tribe over something as abstract as an idea?

And it is, instinctually, the smart thing to do. We need our tribe – being without it is a terrifying prospect. By comparison, truth is most definitely an acquired taste – but it is essential for our thriving in the real world that we acquire it. Watch a group of dogs sometimes. They regularly perform little rituals to reestablish and confirm their membership and standing in their little pack, everything from tail wagging to butt-sniffing to rolling over to show their throats. Then watch people. You think all our little social rituals aren’t as based in instinct as what you see your dog do around other dogs?

The trouble begins when someone we instinctively identify as a member of our tribe wants us to do something. They could present careful arguments and attempt to persuade us – but that’s both uncertain and time-consuming, and besides the point, from their perspective. They want us to do something, not just to win an argument.

So your first lesson here, the first sign something is up, is when someone first assumes a position of tribal authority, and then tells you that to do, repeat, and believe what they tell you are requirements to remain in the tribe. To do otherwise is to belong to the stupid, evil tribe. That’s what almost all demands that you ‘believe’ or ‘follow’ the science boil down to.

That’s simply not how science works. Every study is call for criticism; every finding is conditional, often highly so. Every strong claim in science got strong by withstanding open, vigorous criticism. I mention this, because, of course, the next step for the snake oil salesman is to tell you you’re a stupid, evil person (in so many words) if you even listen to those who might disagree with him. In practice, it’s remarkable how open real science is to criticism. That willingness to consider critics is the glory of science. On the other hand, it’s common, these days, for people who disagree with some policy claim to be accused of being anti-science and to get shut out of public discussions, even if they are PhDs, Nobel prize winners, and otherwise experts. We live in interesting times.

Keep in mind that scientists are people, too, and can only approximate the required levels of honesty and openness that doing science demands. When science works, it’s often the fear of being exposed by their peers more than anything else that enforces whatever honesty there is in any given field. I’m a big fanboy of a number of scientists – Feynman and Darwin are in my personal Hall of Fame – but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to the problems we fallible humans, most definitely including me, are prone to.

Below, I’ll explain what science is, how it works, and how you and I as laymen are not, usually, at the mercy of experts when it comes to science. If you know how it works, it becomes easy to spot the fraud and bullying. The hard part is going to be standing up to your tribe. But it’s worth it, and essential to the creation and maintenance of a free society.

Endnote:

iAnd, being a Darwinian account, it will be a Just-So story. I love Darwin, I really do, but Darwinism is the one science in which any old likely story is accepted as proven, even if there’s little if any chance it could ever be observed or tested. In this case, I – and the many, many others who have made essentially the same argument – have no way of observing the behavior of our ancestors, nor can we devise an experiment that might confirm this lovely theory. Yet, to quote Plato: it is so beautiful that something like it must be true.

The Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be a Gullible Rabbit. Opening Chapter

How about we team beta-read this thing? I’ll throw up chapters as I get them finished, and you all can, in your exceeding mercy, take a look and tell me where things are not clear or otherwise have problems. You will earn my undying gratitude. You can put your comments in the comments, or email them to me.

(To those who offered criticism so far – my thanks, and I will get back to you soon!)

There will be a few preliminary chapters before getting to the nuts and bolts. I need to establish why anyone should care about this, and try to put a crack, however tiny, in the stone certainty of the many.

The table of contents as it now stands, to show the order in which I want to discuss things, followed by a Goals preliminary chapter.

Table of Contents

  • The Goal: Filtering Out the High-Level Nonsense
  • Taming the Beast
  • Preliminaries
  • Chapter 1: What Is This Science Thing, Anyway? A Note on Studies Some Studies to Ponder
  • Chapter 2: Why Should You Care About Science Claims?
  • Chapter 3: The Toolkit Outlined
  • Chapter 4: Appeals to ‘Scientific Consensus’
  • Chapter 5: ‘Believe’ the Science
  • Chapter 6: ‘Trust’ the Scientists
  • Chapter 7: The ‘Science is Settled’
  • Chapter 8: You Are Commanded to Have and Defend a Position as ‘Scientific’
  • Chapter 9: Science Dictates Policy
  • Chapter 10: Thoughts, Feelings, and Other Non-Physical Objects
  • Chapter 11: Model Output Presented as Evidence
  • Chapter 12: Some More Technical Considerations (If You’re Up For It)
  • Who Is This Guy, Who Thinks He Can Tell Me All About Science? About the Author

The Goal: Filtering Out the High-Level Nonsense

Let me break it to you up front: you’re not going to learn all about science from one 200 or so page book. But you might learn how not to get snowed by obvious nonsense masquerading as science. That’s all we’re trying to do here. These days, being able to tell the difference between science and hokum is becoming a more and more important skill. Don’t be a gullible rabbit. Think for yourself.

I’m a layman when it comes to science, and wrote this book for other laymen. You’ll need to go to the experts, and put in the years of work, if you want to know the details of any particular scientific field. Here, we’re only hoping to pass along enough understanding of what science looks like so that you can perform a sniff test on claims that ‘the science’ demands you do or believe something.

I’m here to tell you that those details, as beautiful and thrilling as they often are, are not the problem. Rarely does anyone try to snow us using the actual details of any scientific field. That’s too much work. Rather, the con men and quacks want you to believe them because they speak for science and you’re a smart little rabbit, and you know that you must do whatever science tells you to do, or you’re a bad person. This works, when it does, partly because science – actually, it’s technology, but we’ll get back to that – has delivered to us peons so many life-enhancing and life-saving tools, not to mention all the cool gadgets. iPhones are cool; it takes science to make iPhones; therefore, science is cool! Every snake-oil salesman wants you to think he’s all aglow with the beneficent aura of SCIENCE when he tries to compel us to buy what he’s selling. It behooves us all to be able to spot the snake oil, even, especially, when the dude selling it is wearing a lab coat.

But mostly, these manipulative and abusive claims made in the name of science get accepted because we humans are naturally more interested in our good standing with our tribe than with some abstraction like ‘the truth’ or ‘the evidence.’ We will tend to believe, and think it evil not to believe, whatever everybody else in our tribe believes.

If I am able to make you instantly suspicious of any claims that ‘science has shown’ this or that thing to be true, with the implied threat that you will be a stupid, if not evil, person if you don’t go along, this book will have achieved its goal. Shaming and threatening is not how science works. That’s how fraud, manipulation, and propaganda work.

Writing as Therapy? Eeewe!

Reality check: I’m putting together a book in order to make points that could be listed on 1 page. Is there any chance anyone who doesn’t see the truth in the list is going to see the truth when I pound it in with another 40-50K words? I don’t know, which means – I’m writing as therapy? Icky.

Today, I’m getting twitchy about all the fiction I’m not writing. Need to set aside the Science book soon, just to keep the other stuff moving. In the meantime, I’m getting close to 10K words. Are they 10K good words worth saying, calling for another 40-50K more words? Stay tuned. So far, writing this is – motivating.

Also also, I could put together a page and a half of Feynman and Crichton quotations that say everything I want to say, and have the advantage of often being pithy, witty, and from the mouths of much smarter men. Here, let’s do it:

Feynman first:

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, “Is it reasonable?””

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

“We need to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know.””

“Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgments can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, and from show.”

“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist and legendary Cal Tech teacher. These and many other Feynman quotations can be found here.

And now Crichton:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.

In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.

Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

Michael Crichton, Author and MD. From his Caltech Michelin Lecture – January 17, 2003, which can be found here.

One more long thing from Crichton that really drives it home, from the same source:

In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is nothing to be proud of.

Let’s review a few cases.

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth . One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweis demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics” around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory. Goldberger
demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra. The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor—southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result—despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.

The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Thanks, Updates

A. Several of you, my deeply appreciated readers, have sent me comments on A Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be A Gullible Rabbit (I like that title better). If I haven’t gotten back to you yet, it’s because your input a) required actual thought; b) is long; or c) both. Maybe later today.

On the actual text, not counting notes, I’m up to about 6,500 7,200 more or less usable words. Thinking about starting each chapter with a Feynman quotation and a story from science history. For example:

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist and well-known Cal Tech professor

Then, maybe, tell a story – bloodletting, say, how it was the accepted treatment for a dazzling array of medical problems until the end of the 19th century – how it was the “consensus science,” how few dared to question its efficacy, how it probably killed (or at least, hastened the death of) George Washington, a true believer in bloodletting. It only took a CENTURY OR SO for the medical profession to accept the growing pile of counter evidence.

A beast. Much more attractive than the beasts we are among and are constantly at risk of becoming.

What’s occurred to me, in writing this, is illustrated by another Feynman quotation:

We have this terrible struggle to try to explain things to people who have no reason to want to know.

With this in mind, I’ve been working on an opening chapter that dedcribes why anyone should care – why is it not OK to just do as we’re told. File this as yet another item under: things that are obvious to me but clearly not so obvious to very many other people.

B. A major point, perhaps not emphasized enough: it’s OK, in fact, it’s preferred, to simply not have an opinion. If the science is really, truly, over your head, then why do you even have an opinion on it? Perhaps it is a consequence of the way voting is done here in America: we are made to vote for people we couldn’t possibly know, who talk about issues we hardly, if at all, understand. Yet, we seem to be embarrassed not to have an opinion on these people and policies.

Let’s say we humbly recognize that the base science is simply over our heads. What we might do, instead, is talk about the big picture. The obvious example: it would have been nice if, from the beginning, a cost/benefit analysis had been presented on the lockdowns. Clearly, before 2020, everybody, including the CDC, were very adverse to lockdowns, because the cost is so obviously high. Short of Black Death level event, it’s should be fairly obvious that lockdowns should be used very sparingly and only as a last resort.

So, say, instead of incessant panic-mongering based on supposed science way over out little heads, we instead demanded regular updates on the costs in lives, health, and money, of the lockdowns, to be compared to the presumed benefits. I’m imagining it would have been a different discussion. I imagine that’s why it never took place.

Anyway, on most science, it’s meet and just to simply not have an opinion. Evolution – who cares? Some geneticists and biologists, I suppose, but, for the rest of us, it’s simply immaterial. Yet, ‘belief’ in evolution is used as some sort of touchstone. We need to see that for what it is: an attempt to force people into line for the sake of having them in line. Same goes for absolutely everything in cosmology and astrophysics – who cares? Why should people even have an opinion on whether the earth orbits the sun, let alone the red shift and dark matter and so on? It just doesn’t matter.

I’m saying this as someone who loves this stuff. It’s just odd that, socially, you’ll be judged a lot harsher for for expressing any doubt that the earth (despite all appearances) is whipping through space and spinning like a top than you will for walking out on your spouse and kids. The balance here is wildly, insanely off.

C. So, on the chapters, here’s the problem: there are counterarguments (some made by readers – thanks again!) to some of the major points I’m making. For example, scientific consensus is a real thing, with a real purpose. It’s just not evidence. Putting it in somewhat more technical terms: under Kuhn’s distinction between normal and revolutionary science, a scientific consensus is an aid to those doing normal science, but that’s all it is. These normal scientists (who might more properly be called technicians) are working out theories or discoveries they no longer question. The revolutionary scientists – scientists in the fullest sense – are working on stuff that isn’t already understood, on the ragged edges and in the holes of accepted science. The first group, it is supposed, form consensuses around evidence. If this is true, then for us laymen the thing we want to see is that evidence.

Again, the real problems are caused when the idea of ‘scientific consensus’ is used as a blunt instrument to silence us little people and force us into conformity. Sure, some theories we might like as amateurs have been beaten to death by the pros, and so they consider even bringing them up bad form. So? Is that really a problem in real life? Rather, we are lied to to shut us up: it’s the scientific consensus that, unless you panic as we tell you, and do what we tell you, and hand over the power we demand, we’re all going to die!

And so on. Similar issues arise with some of the other points I’m trying to make.

D. We’re into year 3 since I was forced out my job. Good riddance, frankly, it was death by a thousand cuts. Fortunately, for few years there, I did pretty well, so, it’s not the disaster for us it would be for most people. At some point, fairly soon, I need to figure it out. I could semi-retire, teach some school (alternative/home-school co-op, that sort of thing) and write some books. Tempting, Hammy, very tempting. But if I’m doing that, then it would be good to move someplace much cheaper than the Bay Area, perhaps some place a little less azure, a little more crimson? There are probably cantons in China less azure than certain neighborhoods out here… Texas or Tennessee I could handle. Florida – God-forsaken paved-over swamp with weather that makes Texas’s look good. Montana and Wyoming look nice, but kind of flat and cold. Idaho, I hear, has already had it with its ongoing Californication.

Poland or Uruguay might be better, but I’m not that adventurous (although far short of a worse-case scenario might make me wish I were). If I were to dump our suburban Bay Area house, I could maybe get some serious acres and build a 4,000 sq ft house on them – and break even. Depending, of course, and going completely wild/rural. Mamma was from East Texas, and Daddy from Claremore, OK, so shouldn’t I get more the coming home treatment than the damn Californian reception? Please?

I’m imagining aging gracefully on our new family spread, with enough room for the kids and their kids, if things get bad enough for them out here. Big enough house for them all to stay in, and room for them to build their own if the want. Piano room, big greenhouse, garden. My only luxury (the music room is NOT a luxury! Absolutely essential!) would be a nice kitchen. My standards for a decent kitchen are unfortunately high…. Everything else can be standard suburban quality. Enough insulation and air conditioning to ride out the 90% of the time I’m going to look outside and miss California….

E. Went on YouTube, watched a couple videos, and fixed our power mower. I am da MAN!