Dizzy with Success

In the Cities in Flight science fiction novels, the US develops the spindizzy, a faster-than-light drive that relies upon an obscure (and, unfortunately, nonexistent) connection between electromagnetic and gravitational forces. The drive had the nice property of working more and more efficiently for larger masses, which led to it eventually being applied to whole cities: New York, zooming through the Galaxy at warp 9.

As the story goes, the spindizzy is developed in the US in 2018, and some people (without government permission) use it to leave an increasingly-totalitarian society and settle habitable planets in the stars around  Sol.  Shortly thereafter, a totalitarian government takes over the entire Earth (The Bureaucratic State) and immediately bans spindizzies, because they make escape all too easy.

In 2375, the spindizzy was independently rediscovered on Earth.  This must have happened because the ARM cops did a bad job.  You can make knowledge so forbidden that fewer and fewer censors actually understand what they’re trying to suppress – which must eventually lead to failure.

In much the same way, we have arrived at the point where the typical young informaticist working in human genetics does not even know that there are between-group intelligence differences that his results might explain. So he publishes – and nobody stops him, because even the referees don’t know.  Marcus Feldman and his flying squads would never have made such a mistake.

I used to think that knowing more was the only path to progress, but that ain’t necessarily so. When ignorance is Blish, ’tis folly to be wise.

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16 Responses to Dizzy with Success

  1. reader says:

    What did you think of the spin on this paper? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18288194

    And what recent papers might have been scuttled if referees were more familiar with group differences? Studies of deleterious mutation burden? Suppressing those would mean giving up on publishing whole genomes, among other things. And deleterious mutations are important to understand for disease. It’s hard to imagine the arguments made for such a blatant sacrifice of medical benefit, in order to avoid dangerous knowledge.

    • harpend says:

      This is known in the trade as the “White Man’s Burden” paper. They found more protein-changing variants in Europeans and came up with an absolutely crazy bottleneck scenario to (try to) explain it.

      Never occurred to them, apparently, that they were seeing ongoing selection and sweeps in the new outside-Africa environment (which BTW was known from other papers).

  2. The S.J.G. Factor says:

    I can think of someone else who may be dizzy, but not with success.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Jay_Gould

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/turn_in_one's_grave

    A potential new power source?

    Still, he fought the good fight while he could and did a heckuvalot for our “increasingly totalitarian society”.

  3. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    No doubt the Outsiders will save us from ourselves.

  4. bob sykes says:

    No doubt the Outsiders will eat us.

  5. TWS says:

    To Serve Man

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      Sure, but that was written by Damon Knight, not Blish or Niven (and I don’t think Knight has written anything in the Man Kzin War series, either, where the reference to the Outsiders comes from, and Greg referred to both Blish and Niven–the ARM reference.)

  6. dave chamberlin says:

    Back in my squandered youth I wasted years of my life reading science fiction. If the name had been accurate, science before fiction, than I would still be reading it. But writers of science fiction are whores, fiction that will entertain always trumps plausibility. I suppose there are a few science fiction books out there that go about things the right way, for example actual footnotes explaining why the author thinks his furure world is possible, but I am not going to waste my time looking for one book out of a thousand.

      • Sideways says:

        Looking at Egan’s first published book on that list, it sounds like it fails Chamberlin’s (very, very odd) test rather spectacularly.

      • Olof says:

        Yeah, I should probably have linked directly to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schild%27s_Ladder .

        Or how about this, from http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/INCANDESCENCE/Z/Hatchet.html :

        “A few reviewers complained that they had trouble keeping straight the physical meanings of the Splinterites’ directions. This leaves me wondering if they’ve really never encountered a book before that benefits from being read with a pad of paper and a pen beside it, or whether they’re just so hung up on the idea that only non-fiction should be accompanied by note-taking and diagram-scribbling that it never even occurred to them to do this.”

      • dave chamberlin says:

        I suppose I am very very odd to have notions like what’s wrong with the reading public, shouldn’t books that are nonsense be a small sub category of reality based books rather than the way things are, non fiction books being a small sub category of fiction books. But then again I wonder shouldn’t it be your dick you wash after you go to the bathroom rather than your hands. Afterall it’s your hands that have been touching things all day while your penis has been safely tucked into a fresh pair of underwear. If you frequently pee on yourself then I think it is safe to say you have bigger problems than dirty hands. Yes, odd very odd, but am I wrong.

  7. typal says:

    ‘Don’t know’, ‘ never occurred to them’.
    Are you sure about that? I think that typically they know, they are ignorant only of their own motivation for ignoring the group difference perspective on genes: cognitive dissonance.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Most really don’t know – I’m sure about that.

      • typal says:

        They surely know what the group differences are said to be. The average starving young academic with crumb snatchers doesn’t know about the scientific support for group differences because he doesn’t WANT to know that it’s more than erroneous folk wisdom.

        When folk wisdom is a better guide than ‘the typical young informaticist working in human genetics’ the truth has an image problem.

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