Autumn books: sermons and straw men

We have come to Nature‘s review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion in my Autumn Books series. Nature‘s reviewer is Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University (center for astrophysics and cosmology).

From the review: "I wish that Dawkins, who has a gift for making science — in particular, evolutionary biology — both exciting and understandable to a broad audience, had continued to play to his strengths, which are desperately needed now more than ever as we confront growing attacks on the teaching of evolution, not just in the United States but in the UK and Europe.

Dawkins the preacher is less seductive. And make no mistake: this book is, for the most part, a well-referenced sermon. I just have no idea who the intended parishioners might be. In his preface, Dawkins claims he hopes to reach religious people who might have misgivings, either about the teachings of their faith or about the negative impact of religion in the modern world. For these people, Dawkins wants to demonstrate that atheism is "something to stand tall and be proud of". "

(Please drop me a line in the comments if you don’t subscribe or have a site licence to Nature and would like to know how to obtain a copy of the complete review.)

It won’t have escaped your notice that this book has received a great deal of attention, and is a best-seller in the UK and the USA. I’ll link here to some of the reviews and discussion.

First, here is Frank Wilson’s review in the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Frank reviews Dawkins’ book together with volumes by Francis Collins and Owen Gingerich, in an article "Three scientists take on religion".)

Frank also links here to a an interview of Dawkins by Jeremy Paxton on YouTube. Out of the professor’s own mouth…I began to listen but got distracted.

Maud Newton here writes on Richard Dawkins’ cultural eugenics.

The Millions features a round-up post "Atheism hits the bestseller list", linking to reviews of Dawkins’ and other books in the science/religion vein.

After all that, you probably won’t need to read the actual book.

Network neutrality nuts and bolts

I am told on good authority that the article "Nuts and Bolts of Network Neutrality" , by Edward W. Felton of Princeton University, is an excellent overview of the issues: "concise, well-informed and doesn’t take sides".

As Felton says: "Network neutrality is a vexing issue. Proponents of neutrality regulation argue that the free, innovative Internet of today is threatened and government action is needed to protect it. Opponents argue that regulation is not needed, or will be flawed in practice, or is a bad idea even in principle."

Felton reckons that one of the reasons the debate gets so complicated and polarised is that few people understand the technical issues. His article, therefore, sets out to explain them, in the hope of clarifying the debate. He concludes:

"The network neutrality issue is more complex and subtle than most of the advocates on either side would have you believe. Net neutrality advocates are right to worry that ISPs [Internet service providers] can discriminate—and have the means and motive to do so—in ways that might be difficult to stop. Opponents are right to say that enforcing neutrality rules may be difficult and error-prone. Both sides are right to say that making the wrong decision can lead to unintended side-effects and hamper the Internet’s development.

There is a good policy argument in favor of doing nothing and letting the situation develop further. The present situation, with the network neutrality issue on the table in Washington but no rules yet adopted, is in many ways ideal. ISPs, knowing that discriminating now would make regulation seem more necessary, are on their best behavior; and with no rules yet adopted we don’t have to face the difficult issues of line-drawing and enforcement. Enacting strong regulation now would risk side-effects, and passing toothless regulation now would remove the threat of regulation. If it is possible to maintain the threat of regulation while leaving the issue unresolved, time will teach us more about what regulation, if any, is needed."

The full article is available at this link, as a PDF.