issue 182 - April 1988
Bouquets and brickbats
What is your favourite - and least favourite - invention?
We asked a few of our readers.
(Feminist historian and novelist)
BOUQUET: The boat, because it was the beginning of a whole different way of moving, a new physical sensation that also enabled travel from landmass to land mass never possible before.
BRICKBAT: The atomic bomb. No comment.
(Green Independent Member of the Australian House of Assembly)
BOUQUET: The Granny Smith apple. This juicy green ball of joy emanated from the compost pile outside an old lady's kitchen window near Sydney. With no doctorate in genetic manipulation or corporate sponsor, her action (given a nod and wink from Mother Nature) has created nourishment and happiness for untold millions.
BRICKBAT: The chain-saw. Just over 50 years ago Herr Stihl emerged from the Black Forest with his 80-kilogram labour-saving dream. Now an area of the earth's forests the size of a football field is being mown down every second. The tree is our breathing partner. We would do better to stifle the chain-saw.
BOUQUET: The video tape recorder, because once you can record a medium it has a chance to become an art form. Up to now television was just entertainment.
BRICKBAT: The home computer, because it turns people into morons.
(Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament)
BOUQUET: The washing machine, because I understand how it works.
BRICKBAT: The electric toothbrush, because I find it utterly disgusting and demeaning for humans to be using electricity for such a simple thing as brushing their teeth.
(Writer and film-maker)
BOUQUET: Paper because you can write on it and say complicated things that can then be contemplated in privacy.
BRICKBAT: The atomic bomb, because of the anxiety it causes. Now they've got it they should say when they are going to use it - give us a date, so that we know whether we can take a long or short holiday.
(Botanist conservation activist and TV presenter)
BOUQUET: Contraception, because the world is overpopulated.
BRICKBAT: The rhinoceros horn aphrodisiac, because it kills rhinos and produces more people.
(Chair of One World)
BOUQUET: The printing press, because the written word spreads ideas and knowledge more widely than anything else.
BRICKBAT: Nuclear weapons, because they threaten all existence.
BOUQUET: The washing machine, because it can wash all the kits of my son's football team.
BRICKBAT: The telephone, because the people who you least want to call always do.
Worth reading on . SCIENCE
There is a plethora of exciting books about science. Paul Feyerabend's writing, including Against Method (New Left Books, London, 1975) and Science in Free Society (Schocken, US, 1978 and New Left Books, UK, 1978) have inspired many - and outraged others. Either way his attack on scientific method cannot be ignored.
Brian Easlea's Fathering the Unthinkable (Pluto, 1983) has also fuelled hot debates - and not surprisingly as he links the male-dominated science that has spawned nuclear weapons with men's oppression of women.
The Turning Point by Fritjof Capra (Simon and Schuster, US, 1982 and Fontana, UK, 1983) is a must. This high-energy physicist-cum-philosopher has produced a book which puts modem scientific method in its historical context, declares it obsolete and then provides a vision of what should take its place. It is an extraordinary feat - and an extraordinarily good read.
Betrayers of the Truth by William Broad and Nicholas Wade (Oxford University Press, 1985) reveals the scale of fraud and deceit in scientific research and argues that this tells us more about the nature of science than the nature of scientific cheats.
There are also a number of good books about science and women. A short-list would include Alice through the Microscope by the Brighton Women and Science Group (Virago, 1980) and Smothered by Invention, edited by Wendy Faulkner and Erik Arnold (Pluto, 1985) about the largely negative power science and technology exerts over women's lives. And the hitherto unwritten history of women scientists is finally told in Margaret Alic's Hypatia's Heritage (Women's Press, 1986).
Aborted Discovery by Susantha Goonatilake (Zed 1984) shows how much of modern Western science has been pre-empted by scientific traditions in the Third World, which were themselves disrupted in many cases by Western imperialism. Another relatively unexplored territory of study is dealt with in Anti-racist Teaching edited by Dawn Gill and Les Levidow (Free Association Books, 1987).
Finally, there are two quite different books which reveal how scientists work and think. The first is James Watson's candid account of his, and Francis Crick's, discovery of DNA in The Double Helix (Penguin, 1986). This exposes the Machiavellian world or modern science research with its brutal, dehumanising cut-throat competitiveness. But for a beautiful, magical and intricate novel about chemical elements, people and the pursuit of knowledge there is Primo Levi's The Periodic Table (Schocken, US, 1984 and Michael Joseph, UK, 1985).