Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Daniel Silva's The Unlikely Spy

I'm a huge fan of Daniel Silva's novels. The Unlikely Spy, his first novel, is more uneven than his previous books, as first novels often are (On the Road, for example,) but it's a fun WWII spy vs. spy suspense with great, deep characterization.

Arthur Vicary, a professor, is somewhat impressed into service in intelligence by his friend, Winston Churchill. His enemy, though he does not know who she is or even, at first, that she exists, is Catherine Blake, a deep-cover mole who has been inactive since the beginning of the war. She's also been coerced to serve, though with the ruthlessness one would expect from the Nazis. This makes her an ambivalent villainess, which makes for a far more interesting book than if she were merely a Mauser-toting, stiff-arm-flapping, knee-jerk honey trap.

Here, Silva begins his explorations into the damage that a human psyche must acquire before the person can truly become a spy and a murderer. It's an interesting question more fully explored in Silva's later books about Gabriel Allon.

The plot is a basic one: can the Axis discover whether the D-Day invasion will be at Calais or Normandy, and can the Allies stop them from discovering it? No one ever went wrong with a strong plot.

Because this is not billed as alternate history (like *The Plot Against America* by Roth,) you can kinda figure out the ending. Luckily, this book is about the ride, not about the end point.

Highly recommended.

TK Kenyon Author of Rabid: A Novel and Callous: A Novel

Saturday, September 13, 2008

NIH Fights Congress

For the last few years, the number of scientific papers freely accessible has been steadily rising because NIH has required (or at least actively solicited) grantees to allow free access to grant-supported papers one year after their initial publication.

This access is crucial for journalists and for citizen scientists who want to read the primary literature and judge results on their merit rather than relying on brief abstracts.

Most researchers have little access outside of their narrow field. For instance, a virologist might have subscriptions to major virology journals but might have a hard time gaining access to a paper in a cell or molecular biology journal, even though that paper might be quite similar to what s/he is working on.

The free access of information, especially information based on research funded by taxpayer money, is essential to research and to society. I hope Congress does not stymie the NIH's gallant attempt to spread knowledge.

Original article from Science Magazine: http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2008/911/1

Some members of Congress would like to overturn a controversial new policy that
requires scientists with grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health
(NIH) to post their papers in a free online database. Today, an important House
committee grilled NIH about the policy and floated a proposal that scientific
publishers say is needed to protect their products.

Three years ago, NIH
began asking grantees to send the agency a copy of their accepted, peer-reviewed
papers so that it can make them freely accessible in its PubMed Central archive
within 12 months after they are published. But compliance was so poor that
proponents of the idea persuaded the House and Senate panels that set NIH's
budget to tell the agency to make the policy mandatory (ScienceNOW,
11 January).

NIH says compliance has risen to 56%, or about 3300 papers
submitted each month, since the rule took effect in April. (The agency could
potentially suspend the grant of an investigator who ignores the policy but is
so far relying on less punitive measures, such as reminders). Meanwhile, some
commercial and society publishers, such as the American Physiological Society
(APS), have complained that the policy infringes on their copyrights and will
put them out of business by cutting into their subscription base.

Now the
publishers have found allies on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, chaired
by Representative John Conyers (D–MI). At a 2-hour hearing of the Subcommittee
on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, Conyers and others
questioned the need for the policy when the public can already obtain the papers
through a subscription or at a library. Moreover, most journals make their
content free after 12 months.

NIH Director Elias Zerhouni defended the
policy. He argued that PubMed Central is enhancing the papers by linking to
molecular databases and other papers. "The real value is the connectivity,"
Zerhouni said. He also claimed that "there is no evidence that this has been
harmful" to publishers. In response, APS Executive Director Martin Frank, whose
society publishes 14 journals, disagrees, telling Science that some journal
editors believe the new policy is leading to "fewer eyeballs coming to their

A bill introduced today by Conyers and two other members would bar
any federal agency from requiring "the transfer or license" to the government of
a paper that has been produced in part with nongovernment funds--a reference to
the publisher's costs for peer review and production. The Fair Copyright in
Research Works Act (HR 6845) would mean that neither NIH nor any other federal
agency could require grantees to submit accepted papers to a free archive.

There is no companion bill in the Senate, and Congress is not expected to
act on the legislation before it adjourns later this month. Jonathan Band, a
Washington, D.C., attorney who represents the American Library Association,
which favors open access, says the bill's sweeping provisions are a fatal flaw.
"It goes far beyond the NIH policy. It limits a lot of what the federal
government can do," he says. But the keen interest the House Judiciary Committee
showed today in the topic suggests that the debate is not over.

TK Kenyon, http://www.tkkenyon.com/
Author of RABID and CALLOUS: Two novels about science, faith, and humanity, with some sex and murder.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Book Review Review Contest

Have you read some of those bitter book reviews that Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, etc., publish? Some of them seem like the reviewer didn't read the novel or else they completely missed the point.

Here's your chance to review a review. Write a review (under 1000 words) in the style of a literary review, but make it a review of a review, and post it in the comments, here. Sign your name or make up your own mocking pseudonym.

Here's an example:

"In this snarky review of *Great American Novel* by Random A. Kunati, the anonymous reviewer makes both factual and grammatical errors.The review appears to be written based on a misreading of the jacket material and myopic observance of the cover art, leading the reviewer to the impression that *GAN* is a memoir about growing up a gay Goth in Texas. *GAN* is, in fact, a satiric fantasy about vampire unicorns in Iraq. While minimal scanning of the novel would have rectified this egregious error, the reviewer appears unable to see beyond their own hairy ass. More illiterate than illustrative."

Best Review Review wins bragging rights, and I'll publish it in this blog!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Upon Reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

When I was researching material for CALLOUS, which has a serial killer/psychopath in it, I read other novels with Sk/psychos as major characters so I know what has been done.

Ellis has obviously done his research, and did it shockingly well, on what it is like to live inside the head of a serial killer. He has perfect pitch for characterization, even for this cacophony of a character.

Patrick, Ellis's POV character, is a psychopathic serial killer living in 1980s NYC. The book opens with an absolutely fabulous first page: Patrick riding in a cab with a friend, listening to his shallow friend, and noticing the scenery in NYC, including a quote from Dante's Inferno spray-painted on a wall. It's one of the best first pages I've ever read, and I've read a lot of novels. It perfectly painted the scene and dropped us into the head of the character. I could have forgiven a lot after that first page, but I didn't need to.

Patrick Bateman is a psychopath and a high-functioning paranoid schizophrenic. Less than half of serial killers who are caught are later diagnosed with (or, perhaps, falsely display) schizophrenia. (That was a statistical note. I think the book is better for Patrick's schizo disorder.) Ellis paints a perfect portrait of a psychopath: paint-deep. That's all the deeper that psychopaths are. Inside, they're just an imperturbable deep blue hole of sterile water. There's nothing alive in there. Ellis uses materialism and fashion-consciousness as Patrick's cover for his deep hole of nothingness. The ephemera of brand names and fashion clothes and shoes and jewelry and fashionable restaurants and fashionable foodstuffs (endive!) and quippy comebacks and one-up-man's-ship concerning hipness and coolness were exhausting, which were exactly how they were meant to be.

The sadistic violence, at first, was almost a respite from the banality of Patrick's life, until it, too, became repetitive and boring, which is exactly how Patrick sees it.

That's the brilliance of this book. It's a deep, deep portrait of what it's like to feel nothing. Ellis is Jane Austen, delving into the lack of soul.

The note that I found absolutely rang true was when Ellis's POV character, Patrick, has a rare event: an adrenaline rush. Recent research into psychopathic personalities indicates that they have very low arousal levels. Nothing scares them. That's the problem. The fact that Patrick has it when he's trying to get reservations as a trendy restaurant highlights Patrick's inane, shallow character.

One caveat: I can't watch Sex & The City anymore, because all 4 characters now seem as shallow as Patrick Bateman with their shoe and restaurant preoccupations. Or eat endive.

TK Kenyon
Author of Rabid: A Novel and Callous

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kunati Book Publishers Wins Huge Award

The publisher that published my two novels, RABID and CALLOUS, has won one of the largest awards that an indie book publisher can win.

Kunati Book Publishers was honored with INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR AWARD at BookExpo America in Los Angeles, California on May 30, 2008, by FOREWORD MAGAZINE, one of the five dominant trade magazines in the book publishing field. Joshua Corin, a Kunati author, accepted at BEA on Kunati's behalf.

The new honor was created to celebrate ForeWord's tenth anniversary and to recognize Kunati's innovation and fearlessness. Kunati, a year-old publisher, produces book trailers for every new release, maintains a blog, and encourages its authors to blog and actively participate in marketing their books. The publisher currently has several movie deals in the works, and its roster of authors includes Pulitzer Prize winner John E. Mack.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

HIV/AIDS Vaccine: Mission Impossible?

The Independent recently asked the provoking question: Should we end the quest for an HIV vaccine? A vaccine for HIV will certainly be based on a revolutionary idea.

The Problem

One of the major problems with HIV-vaccine research is that CD4+ cells like monocytes and macrophage express an IgG Fc receptor. Thus, any antibody that sticks to HIV is internalized via the FcR into the CD4+ WBC, and thus the WBC are infected by the tagalong HIV. Even antibodies that are "neutralizing" in a Petri dish increase infectivity.

Thus, I was not surprised when the recent Merck HIV vaccine study went terribly, horribly awry, actually increasing the likelihood of infection and leading to earlier death in vaccinated individuals.

No Solution?

Any antibody-stimulating vaccine will have this problem, assuming an IgG response. Passive immunization with F(ab') fragments might meet with a better result.

Should We Stop?

Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, said in The Independent's survey: “Most people’s immune systems hold HIV in check for years before they develop AIDS. A small number of HIV-infected people seem never to develop the disease. There are also documented cases of individuals who have been repeatedly exposed to HIV, but have not become infected. If scientists can work out the type of immune responses that protect these individuals, it might provide vital clues about how to create a vaccine.”

The above data that Berkley notes is indeed reason for hope. However, a traditional vaccine will not evoke the anomalous immune responses that are so rarely observed.

TK Kenyon
Author of CALLOUS: A Novel, ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640226 ) a story about free will, neuroscience, fate, Schrodinger's Cat, and the End of Days.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Amazon Oops!

Amazon has made a tiny little mistake and is offering my new novel, CALLOUS, for sale ahead of its May publication date ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640226 ) . When RABID was released last year, Amazon sold out and even sucked dry its wholesaler, so they had to backorder the book from the distributer and it took a couple weeks to get the fresh meat.

If you want to read CALLOUS any time soon, muscle your way to the head of the line and snatch a copy from some milquetoast's virtual shopping cart now!

TK Kenyon

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Callous Book Trailer

My, oh my! It's the new book trailer for my next novel, Callous, due out in May.

TK Kenyon

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Five Worst Catholic Cardinals in the US re: Clergy Sex Abuse

For all those believers who think that atheism leads to immorality and crime, let us not forget that the Catholic Church is guilty of widespread concealment and even fostering of child sex abuse.

The following press release by SNAP (Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests) today listed the following five cardinals as the most complicit in concealing child sex abuse by the religious. In this, they are accessories after the fact because they concealed a crime rather than reported it to authorities.

Five Worst Catholic Cardinals
1. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago
2. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles
3. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston
4. Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston
5. Cardinal Edward Egan of New York

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago

-- In August 2005, Fr. Daniel McCormack was questioned by the police because of
abuse allegations. Two months later, the Chicago lay review board recommended
that George suspend McCormack. George refused, kept silent and let his
chancellor promote McCormack. Three months later, police arrested McCormack
again. During those last few months of his active parish ministry in Chicago's
inner city, McCormack molested at least three boys, the district attorney said.
(One of the children, prosecutors say, had been assaulted "on an almost daily"
basis.) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/09/national/09priest.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
McCormack has pled guilty to child molestation. Later, records
obtained by victims' attorneys showed that in 1999, a school principal reported
accusations against McCormack to archdiocesan officials. Nothing was
done. Adding insult to injury, five high ranking church officials closely
involved in this fiasco have since been promoted. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2008/01_02/2008_01_24_Hogan_TheCardinal.htm
The female veteran school principal (who was the only archdiocesan staffer
to call the police) has, however, been fired. Church authorities refuse to say
why. http://reform-network.net/?p=606 -- While the McCormack
case has received some attention, George has displayed shocking callousness,
recklessness and secrecy in other, post-2002 cases. Perhaps most notably, within
months of the adoption of the so-called 'reforms' in Dallas, George knowingly
and secretly let a convicted predator priest (Fr. Kenneth Martin) work in the
archdiocese and live, part-time, with George in George's mansion. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news5/2003_03_02_Falsani_PriestsCase.htm

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles

In 2005 or 2006, LA church
and school officials were questioned by police about current child sex abuse
allegations against John Malburg. Malburg was a Catholic high school principal
from a politically prominent family. The archdiocese didn't suspend him. They
told no one about the investigation. Six months later, Malburg was arrested and
criminally charged. Parents asked church officials "Why didn't you tell us? Why
didn't you suspend him?" Cardinal Mahony's PR man told the LA Times "Law
enforcement told us to keep quiet." The next day, in the LA Times, prosecutors
said they never made any such request. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2006/11_12/2006_11_19_NBC4_ArchdioceseChurch.htm
, http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news5/2006_11_17_Hong_CorruptionTarget.htm In
just nine months, police say, Fr. Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, sexually assaulted at
least 26 boys in Los Angeles. In August 2007, long-secret church records
about Aguilar were publicly disclosed. According to the New York Times, the
documents showed that then-Msgr. Thomas Curry "tipped off" the accused pedophile
priest who then fled to Mexico to avoid criminal prosecution.(An LA district
attorney said Curry "facilitated" Aguilar's flight.) Aguilar went on to molest
kids in Mexico later. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2006/09_10/2006_10_21_McKinley_AccusedPriests.htm
Curry is now one of Mahony's auxiliary bishops. Despite public pleas to
discipline Curry, or at least speak out about Curry's irresponsible secrecy,
Mahony said and did nothing. · For years, Mahony stayed secretly let
an admitted child-molesting cleric live in his archdiocese (in a picturesque
religious complex overlooking the ocean), despite the cleric's being wanted on
criminal charges in Canada. In 2005, when SNAP and others demanded that Mahony and his colleagues turn Franciscan friar Gerald Chumik to law enforcement, he
let Chumik move from Santa Barbara Mission Church in Santa Barbara to
Missouri. For 14 years, Chumik has been a fugitive from his native
Canada. SNAP leaders believe this needlessly put children at risk and is a
clear violation of the much-touted Dallas Charter which all American bishops
adopted in June of 2002. Elected district attorneys rarely feud in public
with powerful religious figures. But in October 2005, (more than three years
after Mahony pledged "openness" about child sex abuse and cover ups), Los
Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said "Three years ago, I urged
Cardinal Mahony to provide the fullest possible disclosure of evidence of sexual
abuse by clergy. Despite two court rulings ordering full disclosure, Cardinal
Mahony continues to claim 'confidentiality privileges' that no court has
recognized." http://da.co.la.ca.us/mr/archive/2005/101205a.htm?zoom_highlight=clergy

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston

In November 2007, a victim reported
having been sexually abused by Fr. Stephen Horn between 1989 and 1993. DiNardo
found him credible and suspended Horn. The Cardinal, however, kept the
allegation and his determination secret from parishioners, police and the public
for two months, despite US bishops' repeated pledges to act quickly and openly
with credibly sex abuse allegations. Finally, in mid-January, DiNardo disclosed
his action. (The delay gave Horn, a credibly accused molester, ample opportunity
to fabricate alibis, destroy evidence, intimidate victims, threaten witnesses,
or even flee the country, as some pedophile priests have done.) Part of
DiNardo's secrecy and delay occurred in the weeks between when the Pope
announced that DiNardo would be named a Cardinal (October 2007) and when DiNardo
was promoted amid much pageantry (November 24). Some Houston Catholics have
speculated that DiNardo didn't want the news of Horn's crimes to 'rain on
(DiNardo's) parade.' Weeks ago, SNAP wrote DiNardo, urging him to explain
and apologize for his secrecy. SNAP has urged the cardinal to visit parishes
where Horn worked and emphatically beg victims and witnesses to come forward,
get help and call the police. He has not responded to either the letter or the
request. When he was a bishop in Sioux City Iowa, DiNardo similarly
mishandled the Fr. George McFadden case in Iowa, only disclosing the allegations
against this predator priest long afterwards.) Beginning in the 1990s (and
likely longer), Sioux City church officials knew of repeated charges of child
molestation against McFadden, an admitted abuser, dating back into the 1960s.
(DiNardo was Sioux City bishop starting in 1997.) For at least five years (and
even later), DiNardo had the chance to disclose McFadden's hurtful actions to
police, prosecutors, parishioners, and the public, and to keep McFadden from
other vulnerable children. He stayed silent. According to the Des Moines
Register, "The confessed child molester continued to hear confession and say
Mass daily over the past decade at the Cathedral of the Epiphany, Sioux City's
largest Catholic church.) http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news/2002_06_23_Rood_ChurchSecrecy.htm
McFadden is accused of abusing more than 25 girls and boys in dozens of
civil lawsuits. Despite his alleged 'treatment' and 'retirement' in the 1990s,
he continued to function as priest until 2002. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news5/2008_01_14_Kever_PriestRemoved.htm
, http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2008/01_02/2008_01_14_Quinn_ChurchOfficials.htm

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston

Last month church officials disclosed that, for the second year in a row,
O'Malley is in violation of the US bishops' child sex abuse prevention
policy. Much in the policy is meaningless public relations, SNAP is
convinced. But O'Malley's breaking one of the proven, practical requirements
that help prevent abuse: training kids how to avoid or stop being victimized.
Roughly one in five Boston Catholic children is not receiving this
training. Every child is supposed to receive it. Worse, O'Malley tries to
dodge responsibility for this clear, egregious refusal by blaming pastors and
parishioners. But O'Malley's had six years to persuade colleagues to weaken
the national abuse policy, devise alternative programs, or get on board (and get
his employees on board). He's done none of these three steps. Nor has he
disciplined a single individual for flaunting this national requirement. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2008/03_04/2008_04_11_Hamm_AbuseVictims.htm http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2006/03_04/2006_03_10_Levenson_88Victims.htm In
a 2006 case with disturbing parallels to many of the hundreds of Boston
pedophile priest cases, O'Malley moved very slowly and gingerly against a
prominent Catholic hospital official who faces multiple allegations of sexually
harassing employees. A high ranking human resources official at the
hospital "accused O'Malley of improperly interceding in the investigation to
help (the accused), giving him advance notice of the probe, providing him with
an adviser, and telling of the reprimand before consulting with the board,"
according to the Boston Globe.
The cardinal's actions ''have made a
mockery of the investigation. It is nothing short of shameful," she
wrote. "Perhaps most troubling" was what she called the ''near absence" of
concern for the women complainants that she said was shown by the church
hierarchy. http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/05/21/omalley_reprimands_caritas_chief/
Cardinal Edward Egan of New York

Less than two months ago, the New York Post reported "The former principal
of a
prestigious Catholic high school who resigned amid allegations of
images on his work computer was allowed to stay on the job for
nearly five
months after a priest wrote the New York Archdiocese accusing
him of serious
misconduct." http://www.nypost.com/seven/02282008/news/regionalnews/diocese_let_school_big_slide_99632.htm http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/nyregion/28hayes.html In
2003, Egan became the first US prelate to refuse to say mass for the
Catholic, hand-picked, distinguished lay panel chosen by bishops to
look at the
church's child sex abuse crisis. According to the New York
Times, Egan also
"interfered with" and prevented the US bishops' 'watchdog'
on clergy sex cases
from speaking in his archdiocese.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation's
oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for
17 years and have more than 8,000 members across the country. Despite the word
"priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of
all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers.
Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NPR's Interview of Kristen Byrnes, Global Warming Denier

Morning Edition on NPR recently produced a puff piece about Kristen Bynes, blogger of Ponder the Maunder, a blog dedicated to refuting the idea that global warming is a man-made phenomenon.

While the issue of a 16 yo kid becoming a leading global warming contrarian is devastating for the contrary view's validity as a scientific theory, and it seems that she indeed attended a short course at UGoog in Climate Science to arrive at her pre-ordained conclusions (which is the complete antithesis of how science should be conducted,) and that NPR is succumbing to natural selection by lowest common denominator, it seems that there is more to this story.

Personally, I’m not sold on the whole idea of global warming, man-made or not. I used to be. I was upset by the enormous amounts of CO2 that we humans were venting into the atmosphere, just like we exhaust raw sewage into our oceans, etc., etc., etc. And, you know, it seemed warmer, discounting that horrendous Iowa winter of 1995 when temps hit -40F and the Iowa River froze over. You can eliminate outliers in your data, as long as you can account for them, or at least make a nice statistical argument for ignoring them. It seemed that the consensus of the scientific community is that man-made global warming is a threat, and I generally go along with scientific consensus unless there’s a valid reason to doubt, and it had better be a good one. I don’t like the contrarian position.

I do, however, like data. Hard data. Preferably raw, pre-crunched data.

Here’s what changed my mind on global warming: I read that horrible anti-GW novel by Michael Crichton, which so sticks in my mind that I can’t recall the title, and I thought that his novel was so badly written that surely its conclusions can be tossed aside with great force. Crichton is both a horrid novelist and merely an MD.

(Yes, I am arrogant to snark so widely. I hold a fiction MFA from Iowa, where I received many prizes, and have published two well-received novels. During my PhD work in microbiology, I taught medical students in a Midwestern medical school. They’re great at memorizing things but, let’s face it, medical school does not reward original thought nor critical thinking. Their exams are multiple-guess. So, I’m snarky and arrogant. Crichton has loads more money than I have and a huge house on Kauai. He can take the shot.)

So, I set out on my own course of study at UGoog. I expected to quickly dismiss Crichton’s objections with data and confirm the majority opinion. It seems like an overwhelming opinion. I figured it would take an hour.

Here’s what I found: the global warming data is terrible. The methods that collected the data that produced the scary graph that we’ve all seen (where temperature spikes up in the 1970’s) are beyond shaky. It’s really bad science. I read the whole UN report, and the data that is cited in the prologue, which everyone reads, is a minor part of the whole report. Only surface temps, and only those in major urban areas, are going up. Atmospheric temperatures are not. This is to be expected by the “heat island” effect, where asphalt retains more heat than soil and re-radiates this heat at night.

Personally, I’m on the fence. The data behind GW, whether man-made or not, sucks. Here’s the problem: whenever you say that the data sucks, people jump on you like you insulted Jesus. They label you a “denialist” and, rather than debate the data, accuse you of wanting to rape the planet.

The global warming debate has moved from the arena of science, where one is free to debate data, methods, and conclusions, and into the area of religion, where one must adhere to dogma or else risk retribution.

That’s a huge problem.

When I published a short blog post about this (http://science4non-majors.blogspot.com/2007/11/hoax-of-global-warming-john-coleman.html ), I got hate mail. Not refute mail. Not argue mail. Hate mail.

Even though my blog post encouraged recycling and conservation, people accused me of trying to destroy the planet.

The debate about global warming must return to being a debate, not a tirade, not a crusade, and not a sermon.

TK Kenyon

Author of RABID ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640021 ) and CALLOUS ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640226 ): Two novels about science and religion, with some sex and murder.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Religion and Science: Arch-Enemies?

Science education does not seek to preclude or inhibit religious faith. Science is a different subject than religion. Science is concerned with the natural world and universe, not the supernatural or theological. Most scientists will deny that science destroys faith in a Deity or Deities.

However, the study of science introduces people to ideas that are at odds with what religious organizations promulgate as true. This occurs most often when religion intrudes into the domain of science and not vice versa. When religion states that it has the answers to scientific questions, such as when the Bible states that the Earth is flat (All quotes, KJV: Daniel 4:10-11, Matthew 4:8) and immobile (Examples: I Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1,) science disproves these hypotheses by definitively showing that the Earth is neither flat nor immobile.

Thus, science contradicts many edicts of religion when religion ventures out of its territory.

Science truly undermines religious faith, however, because it teaches people to think. Science teaches people to search for testable, real-world answers to problems and questions rather than rely on superstition, magical thinking, or laziness.

When asked, "Why is the sky blue?" a person of faith can only answer that God decrees it or formulate an inaccurate scientific answer. A person with some science background understands water vapor in the air refracts incoming sunlight toward the blue end of the visible light spectrum. Scientific endeavors, such as rockets and telescopes, have shown that there is no solid firmament above the Earth, as the Bible states.

When asked, "Why did I get sick?" a person of faith can only answer that God willed it, while a microbiologist could isolate the bacteria or virus that caused the infection and provide antibiotics or antivirals to eliminate the infection.

At a magic show, a person who relies on faith to explain the world can only marvel at the wonders. A person with a scientific background notes the smoke and mirrors and the rabbit under the podium, noting that the hat must have a removable panel.

When confronted with horrors in the world, a person of faith can only say that God willed it, perhaps to give Christians something to do. They might pray for God to provide food for the starving. A scientist, however, creates fertilizers, dams, or new strains of drought-resistant crops.

Science teaches people to think of logical, physical causes for events. This makes people less gullible.

By making people less gullible and less intellectually lazy, yes indeed, science undermines religious faith.

TK Kenyon, http://www.tkkenyon.com/ Author of RABID and CALLOUS: Two novels about science and religion, with some sex and murder.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Framing Science:" But Is Science Innocent?


First, PZ Myers, noted and eminent science blogger and professor, was not admitted to a pre-screening of the film Expelled!, an ID drive-by documentary on evolution, and blogged about how he was thrown out at the whim of the producers. (Previous post: here.)

Myers's guest, Richard Dawkins, was admitted without fuss (as the producers probably did not recognize him, and when asked to show identification, he produced his British passport under his legal name, "Clinton Richard Dawkins.")

It must be noted that both Myers and Dawkins appear in the film Expelled!, for which they were interviewed under false pretenses, and the piecemeal editing of their interviews was journalistically unethical.


After some brouhaha, Matthew Nesbit, a professor of communications, blogged:
"As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education. Dawkins and PZ need to lay low as Expelled hits theaters. Let others play the role of communicator, most importantly the National Center for Science Education, AAAS, the National Academies or scientists such as Francis Ayala or Ken Miller. When called up by reporters or asked to comment, Dawkins and PZ should refer journalists to these organizations and individuals."
At the risk here of being arch, isn't "communications" what people who flunk out of business major in?

More to the point, Nesbit is utterly wrong. He compares the evolution vs. ID debate to politics, comparing Myers and Dawkins to, "Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support."

This comparison is a fallacy.

Science is not politics, which is convincing a majority of the people that your political theory is the correct one to vote for on the day of elections in the majority of the voting districts. Politics seeks to create consensus.

Science is the truth. Myers and Dawkins should not be compared to Power and Ferraro, but to Galileo, Darwin, and Copernicus. No matter what the ID guys believe, they're wrong. Convincing more people that creationism is valid will not make it less wrong. Religionists' balking at evolution is just another example of irrational, superstitious flailing.

Nesbit's whole philosophy, "Framing Science," in which mostly non-scientists try to reconcile science with religion, which are several systems of contradictory and unsubstantiated beliefs, is a waste of time.

Yes, we should try to break it gently to religionists that they've been utterly wrong all these years, but eventually, the obvious truth of science will prevail. It's only a matter of time, another scientific concept.

I admit, when I saw Nesbit's blog and its title, "Framing Science," I thought it was a provocative anti-science blog, like when the cops "frame" someone for a crime. Perhaps that wasn't the best moniker for their movement. You would think that a communications major might have thought of that.

Another non-scientist "framing" guy, Chris Mooney, blogged that the PZ Myers controversy is giving the film loads of free publicty, is thus counter-productive, and also suggested that Myers should refrain from more discussion.


Nesbit's post led PZ Myers to this sputtering reply, which is perhaps less eloquent than his usual posts but heartfelt, in which he said in part, "Fuck you very much, Matt. You know where you can stick your advice."

Again, scientists are not politicians, who strive to form consensus or convince voters, or religionists, who seek to silence the opposing viewpoint.

People should go see that film and laugh at it for the dreck it is. The public should understand that Dawkins and Myers were interviewed under false presenses (the film makers told them it was a documentary about science and education, not a religion drive-by of evolution,) and with shoddy journalistic ethics (including the old trick of setting the camera and the interviewer at 90 degrees to each other, and thus the subject looks back and forth between the camera and the interviewer, producing a "shify-eyed" effect that is associated with lying or unreliability.)

Scientists seek the truth, and when we find it, we tell other people the truth. If there are contrary opinions, we debate the evidence and logically decide whose model is more accurate.

That's the problem with non-scientists like Mooney and Nesbit. They're operating in the rhelm of opinion, not truth. They're seeking to sway people with propaganda, not evidence and logic. They're using the enemy's faulty weapons against the enemy, who designed them, have the blueprints, and know where the weak points are.

Evolution is model with huge amounts of scientific evidence backing it up.

Sure, all models are wrong, but some models are useful.

Evolution is a useful model. It explains the past and, contrary to what ID guys will tell you, it accurately predicts future results.

ID and creationism in general do not accurately predict future results, except perhaps that creationists lie to themselves and others and will continue to do so.

Mooney and Nesbit are in the wrong on this issue.

Myers and Dawkins should not shut up.

Scientists tell the truth. Politicians and religionists seek create consensus or to silence the opposition. Pandering to their illogical and ignorant views will only endow them with a false sense of superiority, to go along with their false view of the universe and their false beliefs.

To PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins: Once more into the breach!

TK Kenyon

Thursday, March 20, 2008

PZ Myers, Distinguished Science Blogger, Expelled from EXPELLED

There's a new creationist movie called Expelled, and eminent science blogger PZ Myers was waiting to get in for a screening.

A cop pulled him out of line and told him that he couldn't go in and that he had to leave the premises immediately, or he would be arrested.

But wait! There's more. There's so much more. I laughed so hard that I had an asthma attack. A bad one. And then I read it again.

Read THE REST OF THE STORY at Pharyngula.

Oh, man, I wish I had been there.

TK Kenyon

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

This well-written book explores an interesting diversion in the course of 20th century America.

In Roth's alternate history (though I'm sure he would despise that genre term as much as TC Boyle rails against "science fiction" in his preface to "A Friend of the Earth,) Roth imagines what if Charles Lindbergh had run for and won the presidency in 1940. Lindbergh was reputed to be a vicious anti-Semite, and in this piece of fiction, Lindbergh subtly sets out to assimilate the Jews into pork-eating, Saturday-working Americana.

The story is told from the POV of young Phil Roth, the author's doppelganger. Roth has done this in other books, and it's an interesting conceit. It certainly answers that question that all writers occasionally get, "Is {insert a character's name here} really *you*?"

The only thing that it obfuscates is that Roth is, of course, *all* the characters. All characters require, as Marge Piercy so nicely put it, a "blood sacrifice" to bring them to life.

The end of the book is, IMHO, problematic. While there may be some historical support for the tactic Roth imagines, I found it a too convenient motivations to explain away some of the preceding events. And, while it might explain the imagined actions of a fictionalized character, it does not explain why people (fictionally) followed him. I don't find it startling that Hitler was a murderous anti-Semite and conceived the Final Solution, but I find it horrifying that so many Germans blithely allowed it to happen. I think the end of the book could have delved a little deeper into Lindbergh's Willing Collaborators.

TK Kenyon
Author of Rabid: A Novel and Callous: A Novel

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Goodbye, Arthur.

If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run - and often in the short one - the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.

--Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), The Exploration of Space, 1951

All TK Kenyon's Blogs


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Neuroethics: Rational or Emotional?

Marvelous new online, free, open-access journal that everyone should read: Neuroethics.

The first issue includes an unflinching look at the field of neuroethics (as distinct from Bioethics,) and the way that the brain determines ethics and morality.


In the first issue, editor Dr. Neil Levy has written an elegent overview of the field, including a neuroethicist's view of the notorious Trolley Problem, namely, if a trolley is hurtling toward five people on a track, and you hold a lever that will change the track so that the trolley is shuttled onto a track where it kills only one person, should you pull the lever.

Most ethicists and ordinary folks say "yes," for the greater welfare is at stake.

However, if the problem is changed subtly so that your choice is between allowing the trolley to crush the five people or pushing a large, beefy man onto the track to obstruct and stop the trolley, most ethicists and ordinary people will say no, that this violates the man's rights, and you should allow the trolley to slaughter the five people.

Neuroethicists have identified where the real problem is: the difference between these two scenarios is not merely “action,” as the Kantian folks dissemble, but emotion. We do not want to be actively responsible for the death of a human being, and a particular human being (the large, beefy man) at that.

The real problem is: since it is emotion that informs our ethical choices, ethical choices are not rational.

The journal also has a lovely article on “The Popular New Genre of Neurosexism” by Dr. Cordelia Fine, comparing recent mommy-brain books to the painfully terrible science of the 1800’s, in which eminent scientists actually promulgated that women’s education should not be too rigorous because it would divert energy to their brains and away from their ovaries, rendering them sterile. (Testicles, apparently, had an independent energy source.)

This excellent new journal deserves bookmarking. Do it now to avoid the rush.

TK Kenyon
Author of RABID: A Novel and CALLOUS: A Novel, where neuroscience, morality, and murder intersect.

Monday, March 17, 2008

New Celiac Blog!

For those of you who are gluten-free enough to care, I've started a new blog, because what the world needs is yet one more celiac blog.


It is, however, important to me to share the word of health.

TK Kenyon
Author of RABID: A Novel and CALLOUS: A Novel

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Raj, Bohemian -- Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru (whose third novel, My Revolutions, was recently published) has written an intellectual but ultimately dry short story for The New Yorker (March 10, 2008.)

His main character is a first-person, nameless New York trend setter, a la Patrick Bateman, but without the interesting killing sprees of American Psycho. The character discovers that many of the people in his consumer-driven, shallow, trendy lifestyle are actually something like Buzz Agents who "monetize their social networks" because they are "early adopters," and spout buzz lines to their friends whenever appropriate.

Protag feels betrayed because he thought he was hip. He takes a knife to go kill Raj, the first person who he figured out was a buzzer in his social circle, but when he gets there, ennui overcomes him, and he instead succumbs to habitual trendiness.

This is ultimately unsatisfying because Kunzru ends his story with The Shrug. The story falls into numb and mindless violence, or violent and mindless numbness, or whatever.

While I'm no fan of epiphanic fiction, where a story's climax can be summarized as "And then I realized...," or "And everything was blue feathers," a story must end; it cannot merely peter out.

"Raj, Bohemian" is interesting, but essentially numbing. It does not shake you with emotion, which is what the best stories do.

TK Kenyon
Author of RABID: A Novel and CALLOUS: A Novel

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