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Autumn 1997

go to contents of current issue contents.jpg - 1911 Bytes "It makes us all sound so bloody intelligent!"
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All Us Apes and other scientific wisdom from Ockham's Razor, Ed. Robyn Williams
ABC Books, pb, RRP $A16.95
Ockham's Razor is a science program on Radio National during which guests give short, scripted talks. Peter Manning, ex general manager, responded to tapes he heard with, "It makes us all sound so bloody intelligent!"

If you were given a chunk of time on national radio, what would you talk about? It's a science show, but science is all around us, so that's a wide open field. You could talk about the dog that saved your life, about applying the discipline of philosophy to the study of the paranormal (wake up Muldohr!), you could talk about the present, the future, or the past.

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Robyn Williams collected an esoteric group of academics, practical scientists and more to speak on the show, Ockham's Razor. The talks were scripted, which enabled the speakers to polish their essays. And they were presented to us, the great unwashed mundane population, so the essays had to be interesting, engaging, and accessible. Judging from the collection in this book, the speakers succeeded in this.

All Us Apes is a collection of a few of the short essays that were presented on Ockham's Razor. They vary considerably in subject matter but they are all well written, clearly thought out and, maybe, enlightening.

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Clearly work is, for most people, not just a source of income, … but … a certification of competence, of being wanted … Barry Jones on the employment revolution.

Because the essays are short this is the perfect book to read on public transport or in any odd bits of time you have during the day. Short pieces require a good deal of discipline to do well, they must have good content, with a simple structure, and they must be very clear. In a short essay there is little opportunity to revisit a statement until you communicate it properly - it has to be clearly stated the first time. The essays are excellent examples of brevity, perhaps brevity is required for wisdom as well as wit.

"In 13 years, 3,000 HIV positive cases were recorded in Victoria. Total funds spent on Victorian AIDS education and prevention work per year $5 million."

"…we can estimate that in any year there will be 16,000 clinical and subclinical cases of anorexia and bulimia in Victoria alone." (In Scandinavia a study … found that as many as 15 per cent eventually died) "Total funds spent annually on prevention of Victorian eating disorders - $50,000."

"In America, … more people die of eating disorders in a year than die of AIDS."

- Jonica Newby on Anexoria Nervosa.

Jonica Newby puts Anorexia Nervosa into perspective while Jonathan Stone writes about how women and their choices are addressing the problem of overpopulation - two examples of female choices, one to enhance life and one to destroy it.
Educate her, the lesson seems to be, and she will reduce her fertility. Jonathan Stone on the effect of educating women on the population.

There are essays on soil conservation, polio, epilepsy surgery, paranormal activity, and more. They are supposed to be controversial, the traditional 'think pieces' of journalism.

We need to use twentieth century tools to make sure that the jury is hearing evidence that's safe for them to hear…. Eric Magnusson on the presentation of science in the courtroom.

The language and concepts are very accessible, and the ideas wide-ranging. This book is suitable for all ages, if you have a bright kid, buy this book. If you like something a bit better than mental stodge or escapism, then this book is definitely for you.

Ali Kayn

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