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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

V for Vendetta
David Lloyd, Alan Moore
Progress: 28/296 pages
Broken Angels
Richard K. Morgan
Progress: 266/468 pages
Introduction to Topology
Bert Mendelson
Progress: 10/224 pages
Basics of Plasma Astrophysics
Claudio Chiuderi, Marco Velli
Progress: 58/250 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 454/700 pages
A Student's Guide to Lagrangians and Hamiltonians
Patrick Hamill
Progress: 7/180 pages
Complete Poems, 1904-1962
E.E. Cummings
Progress: 166/1102 pages
The Complete Plays and Poems
E.D. Pendry, J.C. Maxwell, Christopher Marlowe
She Stoops to Conquer and Other Comedies (Oxford World's Classics)
Henry Fielding, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith
Progress: 164/448 pages
Gravitation (Physics Series)
Kip Thorne;Kip S. Thorne;Charles W. Misner;John Archibald Wheeler;John Wheeler
Progress: 48/1215 pages
Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments - Alex Boese Boese presents a catalogue of truely bizarre experiments, giving a short essay on each and collecting them into themed chapters. The book is intended to be humourous and it is, in places, but the technique used for the jokes hardly varies throughout and if read in just a few sessions, becomes repetative and palls. Some of that humour is also, in my view, in poor taste; jokes about dogs that have been repeatedly shocked with electricity don't make me laugh.

This leads directly to the other problem with the book; most of the experiments described aren't merely weird, they are ethically questionable (or just plain inexcusably sick-minded) or display incompetance or stupidity on the part of the investigator(s). (As an aside it is amazing how many over extrapolate their conclusions.)

Boese sometimes acknowledges this and addresses the matter, but in many cases blithely describes the whole thing without commenting on the ethical issues - maybe he isn't as sensitive as I am to these matters. Ethics matter in most of these experiments because they are all either surgical or psychological in nature. I can see why investigators in these fields must now put proposals to an ethics comittee - a goodly number of these experiments would not take place if put forward today.

Writing a supposedly fluffy piece of "look at what they did and laugh" journalism about such unpleasant matters makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm also unlikely to ever volunteer to take part in any psychological experiment - but then, will I even be asked? I could have unwittingly taken part in several, already.

I remind myself that this book concentrates examples of bad practice and most researchers would not wish to be associated with the people discussed and I don't suggest you avoid this book. Read it, instead, to learn how far some will go in the pursuit of knowledge.