Profile for Benjamin Crowell > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Benjamin Crowell
Top Reviewer Ranking: 756,836
Helpful Votes: 2

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Amazon Communities.

Reviews Written by
Benjamin Crowell

Page: 1 | 2
pixel
Darwin On Trial
Darwin On Trial
by Phillip E. Johnson
Edition: Paperback
62 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars dishonest and shallow; offers no alternative, Oct. 28 2000
This review is from: Darwin On Trial (Paperback)
This book is dishonest because Johnson tries to misrepresent many normal scientists as having doubts about normal science. Over and over, Johnson quotes Stephen Jay Gould's criticisms of traditional evolution as if they were criticisms of evolution itself. In fact, Gould is simply trying to argue for punctuated equilibrium rather than evolution at a constant rate.
This book is shallow: Johnson has apparently only read the popular-science literature. Virtually all of the book is written as if Gould's and Dawkins' popular books constituted the entire literature on evolution.
Once again we hear the tired creationist argument that evolution only occurs within species, when the fossil record shows clearly that new species arise from old ones, e.g. horses and rhinos arose from a common ancestor. One wonders at the dismal picture of the history of life implied by this within-species view of evolution: God created dinosaurs, trilobites, and humans simultaneously, but later decided arbitrarily to extinguish the vast majory of species. It's all downhill. With no mechanism for replacing extinct species, one can only imagine that the world will end up with no life at all. The idea also doesn't work because there are no clearly definable species among obligately nonsexual organisms such as bacteria.
Finally, this book offers no real alternative to evolution. Instead, Johnson suggests allowing supernatural causes and faith-based reasoning into science. If supernatural science had anything to offer, then presumably it would have resulted in a consistent, useful body of scientific knowledge. It hasn't. There are as many types of creationism as there are creationists, and that's the way it will remain until they admit that empirical evidence is the only way to tell whose theory is right.

Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
by Michael J. Behe
Edition: Paperback
54 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars badly researched, argument goes nowhere, Oct. 27 2000
Behe's argument boils down to a complaint that he can't imagine the last evolutionary step leading up to certain complex biochemical systems. Well, that's not terribly surprising since he's a protein chemist, not an evolutionary biologist. Basically he went and wrote a book outside his own field of expertise without doing his homework. He makes a big point out of how there have been absolutely no papers published about huge areas of biochemical evolution, but he's just wrong (see, e.g., responses at [...]
And even if one was ready to buy his argument that there was a problem with biochemical evolution, what he's proposing is to admit faith-based reasoning into science. What's going to happen next -- will scientific papers have to be peer-reviewed by witch doctors? Will we have to start considering whether astronomy research is consistent with astrology? Will geology papers be reviewed by flat-earthers?

Timeline
Timeline
by Michael Crichton
Edition: Hardcover
114 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

2.0 out of 5 stars lame story, lame characters, June 9 2000
This review is from: Timeline (Hardcover)
As a former Yale graduate student, at least I had something in common with the (overly numerous) characters, but they still didn't hold my attention. The story was pretty pointless, and by the end I didn't care what happened. Skip it unless you're desperate for shallow entertainment. He does get extra points for ridiculing Yale's imitation gothic architecture.

Waiting: A Novel
Waiting: A Novel
by Ha Jin
Edition: Hardcover
50 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful human portraits, June 9 2000
This review is from: Waiting: A Novel (Hardcover)
Beautifully written and very moving, the characters in this book are portrayed with the utmost sympathy and yet without rationalization or romanticizing. I have a hard time understanding some of the negative reviews that complain the book is too long or goes nowhere. It was much more of a pleasure to read than a lot of the lowbrow genre fiction I read for entertainment. I never felt that there was a single wasted sentence.

The Ugly Little Boy
The Ugly Little Boy
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars great story, June 9 2000
Wow, Asimov and Silverberg really know how to tell a story. This is the best sf novel I've read in a long time.

The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards"
The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards"
by Alfie Kohn
Edition: Hardcover
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.06

3.0 out of 5 stars rigid "us" versus "them" outlook, June 3 2000
As a community college physics professor, I found Kohn's book interesting in some ways but unhelpful in others. He's right on target with his criticisms of bad textbooks, rote memorization, and "drill and kill." However, he forces every issue into his predetermined framework of "us" (people who agree with Kohn) and "them" (the traditionalists). Many of the real issues that cry out for reform are not being realistically addressed by either camp:
(1) The factory model. Both Kohn and the traditionalists implicitly buy in to the factory model of education, in which everybody has to move at the same pace because that's the speed of the conveyer belt. The traditionalists try to speed up the conveyer belt, but can only achieve that by turning learning into an exercise in memorization. Kohn wants to slow down the conveyer belt, condemning bright students to a day in school spent explaining things to their slower peers. In my opinion, the solution is a return to tracking.
(2) Quality of teachers. The traditionalists don't want to address this because improving teacher quality would cost money, which is anathema to their politically conservative values. Kohn hardly mentions it either, which is amazing in a book of this length. In the sciencies, there's a long history of failed reforms of the type Kohn describes, precisely because so few K-12 teachers are qualified to teach science.
(3) Textbooks. Traditionalists don't want to admit how bad textbooks are. Kohn never wants to have a child read a chapter from a textbook -- apparently even in high school? As a boy in the California public school system, I never even had _access_ to a textbook in any subject outside the three R's. At least the traditionalists recognize that schools need more books.
(4) The disorganization of the curriculum. Although Kohn pooh-poohs the popularly accepted idea that fuzzy-headed reformers took over education, there's more than a grain of truth in it. As a boy, I never saw any hint of a system when it came to subjects outside the three R's like science and history. Kohn is correct when he says standards should be far less detailed, but there is indeed a need for standards.

The Cambridge Companion to the Saxophone
The Cambridge Companion to the Saxophone
by Richard Ingham
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 33.86
22 used & new from CDN$ 25.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not a useful reference; anglocentric, May 31 2000
The title of the book makes it sound like a general reference book on the saxophone. Instead, it's more like a collection of idiosyncratic essays with a distinctly nationalistic point of view. If it was going to be a useful reference work, one thing it would need is a good index, with entries broken down better. ("Reeds," for example., gives a list of 20 page numbers without subheadings.) Loads of space is given to obscure English saxophonists and composers. Many of the articles need fleshing out, e.g. the part about mouthpieces doesn't say anything about the numerical system used to describe them. It's also topheavy with advanced stuff,e.g. a chart of altissimo fingerings and discussions of microtones, but no ordinary fingering charts or trill fingerings. Classical players had better not depend on this book as an introduction to jazz, since it doesn't discuss any of the jazz issues about tonguing or triplet feel.

Understanding Basic Mechanics
Understanding Basic Mechanics
by Frederick Reif
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 86.51
24 used & new from CDN$ 2.14

4.0 out of 5 stars a parially successful attempt at textbook reform?, Feb. 14 2000
Let me start by saying that I haven't read the book from cover to cover, nor have I taught out of it. Anyhow, I like the fact that it does away with all the baroque trappings of the typical physics textbook and focuses on basic principles. The workbook provides support for active learning methods, which is sorely lacking in books like Halliday. I'm just a little worried that its dry, mathematical style would not go over well with students. Also, I feel the approach is too relentlessly deductive -- students learn best by reasoning from the specific to the general, and it is wrongheaded in my opinion to claim to derive the conservation laws from Newton's laws.

Heart of the Comet
Heart of the Comet
by Gregory Benford
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars ok story, but too long and contains questionable science, Feb. 2 2000
I would have enjoyed this a lot more if it had been half the length. The characters are all defined by their nationalities and scientific specializations and not much else. I have a hard time buying one of the main ideas, that humans could become symbiotic with extraterrestrial life forms over a period of only a hundred years. Evolution just doesn't happen that fast.

All Tomorrows Parties
All Tomorrows Parties
by William Gibson
Edition: Hardcover
47 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars Bad story. Bad style. Bad characterization. Bad book., Jan. 13 2000
This review is from: All Tomorrows Parties (Hardcover)
The story goes nowehere. The characters are all one-dimensional, and we're inexplicably supposed to feel sympathetic to a character who is a professional assassin (and also kills people without pay whenever they bother him). Gibson also overlays the assassin's actions with a patina of Taoist pop-psych worthy of the worst Hollywood scripts; any self-respecting Taoist ought to be insulted. The climax is insufferably lame -- as if a fight and a disaster somehow brought resolution. I also can't stand Gibson's style, which is like a mix of bad Hemingway and Discover magazine. Why's he so allergic to the verb "to be"?

Page: 1 | 2