The Greatest Show on Earth Wrap Up

Ok, so I know I said that I would finish reading TGSoE in mid-November so I am little bit late, and for that I apologise. On the upside, in the meantime I read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science which was great, and should be compulsory reading for everyone. I was also pleased to discover that Goldacre is the nephew of Robyn Williams, host of The Science Show on ABC Radio National.

But I digress, back to the topic at hand.

It’s not exactly an original criticism of Dawkins to say that he sometimes has a tendency towards arrogance (can you really blame him, the amount of utter dribble he must encounter on a daily basis?) but there are certain parts of TGSoE that reek of superiority and superciliousness and really put me off. For example:

The scientists patiently looked at every one of the 34 million trees and compared each one with the other 33,999,999 trees. No, of course they didn’t! It would take too much computer time.

FFS Richard, God forbid that your audience may not be as numerate or computer literate as you. What is the point of leading the reader in a certain direction only to make them feel like an idiot 3 seconds later! There are far better ways to educate your audience in statistical techniques than humiliation. Ask Ben Goldacre if you need a hand.

I showed this section to Professor Hodgkin, and he showed me the most recent data…The slope of the line for what I am now calling (without permission) Hodgkin’s Law.

Now come on, you can not expect me to believe that you didn’t inform your ex-student Hodgkin that you were including this ‘Hodgkin’s Law’ in the book. But if what you say is true, and you didn’t let him know, why include the statement in parentheses? Oh Richard, you’re such a great guy naming this law after Hodgkin behind his back. Don’t you just wish you could be there to hear the little fella squeal in delight when he gets a mention in your incredibly popular and influential book?

As much as these two examples (and a few others) really got my goat, the book was not all bad. Far from it. Parts of the book I loved include the Lenski experiment (p117-133), the ‘improbability pump’ (p416), and RNA world (p419). And the way he wrapped up the book by expanding on each part of the ending to Origin of Species, I found elegant and engaging.

I do feel the need to reiterate what I felt when I was only halfway through, and that is that I really don’t know what audience Dawkins wrote this book for. It is my opinion that even a curious or sceptical or borderline creationist would be put off by the tone, and it doesn’t offer a whole lot of new information (if any) to science-minded people who are already atheists/rationalists/humanists.

My review? 7 out of 10 missing links.



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