Sep 09 2007

Dawkins' TV Show

Highly recommended is Richard Dawkins' documentary on Channel4 called "Enemies of Reason", which is available on Google Video
Part 1 Part 2

Dawkins, I would say, practices a bit more patience than I am used to seeing him display. Additionally, the camera work is rather striking for a documentary produced for television. I wonder if the Brits are simply at a higher level of professionalism with their non-fiction TV, or whether Dawkins has an especially talented team. It's certainly difficult to imagine this program being made for broadcast American television, based on the obviously skeptical content. The closest is John Stossel, who is significantly more sensationalist and superficial, and is tucked away on Friday evenings among the ordinary fluff of 20/20.

I have a few reservations about Enemies of Reason. Firstly, I think it unfair to ascribe the credulous relativism of woo-woo peddlers to post-modernism. Although Alan Sokal and Dawkins rightly point out that many people who claim truth is relative go under the moniker of "post-modernism", the name is in my mind misused. Post-modernism is a largely aesthetic reaction to the Modernist movement, and hardly an assertion that 'truth', as we understand the word, is what you make of it.

As with all of Dawkins' titles, "Enemies of Reason" is meant to be pugnacious, and is not quite a correct characterization. As he points out, many of these people are not enemies of anything, but merely deluded and superstitious. Not that this makes them less dangerous to society.

I wish Dawkins had spent a bit more time explaining the absurdity of homeopathy, in particular the inverse relationship between concentration and efficacy. He rightly points out that '30C' concentration is one drop of medicine in all the atoms in the solar system, but this is unlikely to be informative to an innumerate person. It might be more effective to simply list other things that are in the homeopathic remedies, such as urea molecules, lead particles, and so on. Why is it that one molecule of one chemical is therapeutic, but the leftover piss of millions of animals has no effect to the imbiber?

Incidentally, I quite like the illusionist interviewed in Part 1, Derren Brown. You can see him at Ebaums playing chess against 7 very good players and winning a majority of the games. Quite a trick.