10 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Christine M. Janis
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This book was recommended reading for an independent studies course in "Dinosaurs in Science and Culture" for which I had agreed to be a faculty consultant. I initially had high hopes for this book, as it purported to look at an interesting topic: the history of catastrophic ideas in science, starting from the catastrophic views from a religious perspective that dominated pre 19th century science, moving on to the post-Lyellian scientific dogmatism of uniformitarianism, the catastrophic views from outside of mainstream science that came into popularity during the mid 20th century (e.g., the sinking of Atlantis, Velikovsky, etc.), and finally the surge of neocatastrophic thinking in the past few decades with the rise views among the scientific establishment that extraterrestrial events could play a role in organismal extinctions.
However, while I found the earlier part of the book interesting, if a little pedantic (but note that I have no special expertise in this area besides a vague familiarity, and memories of reading Velikovsky as a teenager), I was deeply disappointed in the coverage of the more recent events. As someone Who Was There, the coverage is neither a good scientific synthesis, nor a good history of the science, but instead a rather bland recitation of various views garnered primarily from secondary or tertiary sources (such as "The Book of Life"). I will admit that Palmer lays out the astronomical backing to the changes in paleontological thought quite well ---- the increases in 20th century of our understanding of astronomical events that could led to earthly catastrophes (evidence of comet-causing craters on the earth, the moon, and other planets, and knowledge of the vast array of junk circulating within our solar system). But the coverage of the paleontology is mediocre, at best.
For a start, the text throughout is peppered with illustrations of some of the major players (from Plato, through Cuvier, to Raup). But these depictions are, except in some rare exceptions of the author's own photos, drawings made from oft-published photographs (at least for the 20th century players) that bear an uncanny resemblence to the images constructed from those "etch-a-sketch" boxes that you see in shopping malls. Is this because the author (or the publisher) did not want to pay for the photographic copyrights?
These illustrations lead one to believe that the author will consider the role of the various personalities in the history of the ideas, but this far from the case. OK, so one can't go and interview Lyell, but one can certainly interview some of the modern scientists (or people who knew them). One reads about various players in the extinction debates as if they were mere ciphers in the production of scientific facts. We are given no notion of how personalities shaped the role of scientific advancements. Palmer's ignorance of who the scientists actually were as players in the history of neocatastrophism is perhaps best illustrated by his referral to Jack Sepkoski (the paleobiologist whose database and statistical analysis was so vital to the growth of present-day ideas about extinction events, see comments below) as "John Sepkoski" ---- this is akin to writing a treatise on the history of rock-and-roll and referring to "Mike Jagger".
If this test fails as a good history of science document, it also fails as a good account of the science. The chapters on mass extinctions, especially the end Cretaceous one, issues relating to dinosaur extinction, lack the appreciation that dinosaurs are among the least of the problems in understanding this event, and that explanations that fail to also account for the decimation of marine life (especially the plankton) are largely worthless. Palmer is also apparently unaware of how problems with fossil sampling lead to considerable problems in interpreting any information that can be gleaned from the geological record.
Finally, the fact that Palmer fails to fully appreciate the biological side (versus of the astronomical side) of events leading up to the acceptance of neocatastrophism in paleontology is best illustrated by his placement of the chapter on "Cyclic Processes and Mass Extinctions" in a completely different, subsequent, section to the one that contains the "Catastrophes and the History of Life on Earth". One can read the earlier section and come away with little notion of how the more modern arguments differ fundamentally from those proposed by Velikovsky except, perhaps, for the fact that the more recent players had a better understanding of the laws of physics (little wonder my students confused the names "Velikovsky" and "Sepkoski").
Palmer largely fails to convey how the construction of data bases on the occurrences of fossil taxa in time and space, and the growth and accessibility of computerized statistical techniques during the latter part of the 20th century for their analysis, was the underpinning for the use of the fossil record in testing competing ideas about gradualistic versus catastrophic extinctions, and that it was the apparent nature of periodicity of extinctions in the marine fossil record that led to serious proposals from astronomers about how extraterrestrial events may been a key cause in earthly affairs. This is Palmer's Nemesis, indeed.
For a far superior, and easily accessible, account of the end Cretaceous extinctions, and the history of ideas in the development of notions about this event, I recommend the book on "The Evolution of the Dinosaurs" by Fastovsky and Weishampel (Cambridge, 2004), especially the recently updated second edition, although the authors are careful to avoid the type of character analysis of the players that would be important in an actual history of science tract.
6 von 17 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
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Perilous Planet Earth (2003) is a useful general textbook on catastrophic quantavolution from the standpoint of an academic biologist. So handsomely produced is the book and by so respectable a publisher that one suspects there must be something wrong with it, and there is. It is one more attempt, and a good show, to sneak the overwhelming new paradigm of quantavolution into Victorian England. I cannot recommend it as a record of the history of the scientific movement of the fringe in its valiant and often mad efforts to crack the barriers of uniformitarianism -- it is too incomplete and strenuously current for that. The author came late upon the battleground, whence most of the corpses had been carried off.
It ignores most rough passages of the stresses in science, that are still occurring, without the full climax in sight, thus serving as a kind of Sunday School version of neo-catastrophism, and often doing this job well. For example, he donates more than his share of apologetics to the frequent efforts of scientists, ordinary and distinguished, to frustrate new theories and experiments. Yet, at the same time he does not take up the many little internecine struggles within science, whose innovators would sell their children to get back at each other for real and fancied intellectual injuriousness.
A favorite device of the author to hold his place in the mainstream of academia, while appearing to be a bold innovator, is to commit ambiguous statements of the following ilk: after some blah-blah,..."very occasionally, an outsider can introduce an important piece of evidence, or a way of looking at a situation that would never occur to a specialist schooled in a particular way of thinking. Even then, intruders should be wary of thinking that they have found a simple solution to a complex, long-standing problem, just as insiders should avoid the trap of believing that no-one without their specialist knowledge can...".. blah-blah. Much space that could be otherwise employed usefully is given over to such boring fence-straddling.
The author's 128 closely packed pages of citations of hundreds of primary and secondary sources without a single internet citation are a scandal when most of the newest science plus the old can be found cited on the Web. Apropos; I recently heard a leading physicist deliver a paper, whose contents, when printed, cited only www sources. It is possible to perceive here a policy of the publisher in cahoots with the author to ignore the web; which is like passing over your daily bread. I find no mention of Ian Tresman, whose yeoman work at building a wonderful world of internet consciousness is unique, and done on behalf of the very society that Trevor Palmer entered as a Johnny-come-lately and whose membership was so flattered by the attentions of an academic biologist that it elected him President for a time. Nor of Jill Abery or William Corliss, industrious bibliographers of the new paradigm. Incidentally this same Society's Constitution gives a vote in its elections solely to Englishmen, although most of its members are Americans and other foreigners; an understandable precaution.)
His huge set of references aside, the author does not treat significantly the spheres of astronomy, astrophysics, anthropology, art history, geochronology, historical chronology, psychology and psychiatry, linguistics, atmosphere, geology (except for lyallism), and non-English language sources (even in his monster listings). The book is unsystematic. It should not be confused with a general or special theory of catastrophism or anything else. Nor is it a disciplined or orderly history or categorization of the sciences involved.
Lest I be thought prejudiced, I should acknowledge that he mentions chapters of one of my twelve books in the field (not the major ones), and, of course, not my web site (nor his dedicated Society's web site nor any other) from which my readers download in a month more text on his subjects than will have been read by readers of his book in a year. (His book is 1,588,093th of the books on the Amazon .com sales list; files of the present author's quantavolution series were browsed or read on well over 27,000 occasions in the single month of March, 2004.) He does give considerable place, however, to Charles Berlitz (The Bermuda Triangle writer), Edgar Cayce, (the seer), Plato and a raft of Atlantis authors, and he duly earns Brownie points for obeisances to the Alvarez articles on the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary.
His treatment of the giant influence in the field, that of Immanuel Velikovsky, who inspired the formation of the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies, is paltry, patronizing, partial, and unfair. A few paragraphs about the adventures of Venus and Mars suffice. He practically dismisses the great work on Earth in Upheaval in two sentences. On the other hand, he does not even mention the bete noire of Velikovskians, Leroy Ellenberg, whose many hundreds of pages of letters, articles, and web essays on scientific theories, scientific struggles, and diatribes against Velikovky and his supporters are better informed than Professor Palmer's work -- something that I must admit with considerable regret. I should, it goes without saying, recommend Palmer's coffee-table textbook over Ellenberg's unbound works, in a first course on quantavolution.
Alfred de Grazia
Center for Studies in Quantavolution
9 April 2004