We asked journalist and blogger, Wendy Grossman, to comment on her current work and ideas that have influenced her…
Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
I don’t have any ideas of my own; I steal everything from other people. But I’ve been thinking about a book I’m interested in writing: a skeptic’s guide to the (technologies of) the future. In technology circles there’s so much optimism that we can conquer all the ills of man – aging, death – and achieve all the things science fiction authors wrote about in the 1950s – space travel, artificial intelligence, synthetic life. Many of these dreams are as old as humanity, but so many people who are inventing the stuff we use daily really believe that we can tackle these things…and it’s intriguing to try to work out whether they’re right.
What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
I tend to admire ideas in action more than just ideas on a page, so I’d have to name Simon Singh and his willingness to risk his own money and livelihood to fight back against the libel suit brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association – and to use that as a springboard to launch a national movement to reform libel law.
What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
The book I started with in skepticism was the incomparable Martin Gardner’s Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus, and that still seems to me an excellent place to start, partly because it covers many different topics so you can begin to understand what distinguishes science from belief, but also because Martin Gardner is such an intelligent writer on every topic he tackles. When I was growing up he was an inspiration to whole generations of mathematicians and scientists in the US because of what he did with his mathematical games column in Scientific American in the 30 years he wrote it – he was the first to cover so many topics inmathematics that are now embedded in things we use every day.
And finally, each year we ask everyone involved – audiences as well as speakers – one question. Charles Masterman, Liberal Party politician and journalist, asked in his book The Condition of England 100 Years Ago: “What will the future make of the present?” What is your answer to this?
I hope they will look back at our time in bewilderment at the anti-scientific things that people believe the way we look back at medieval times and laugh at some of the beliefs they had. But credulity seems to be part of human nature, so I imagine that in the future people will have their own set of bizarre beliefs that the even further future will look back and laugh at, too.
Wendy Grossman is a journalist, blogger and folksinger. In 1987, she founded the magazine The Skeptic in the United Kingdom and edited it for two years, resuming the editorship in 1999-2001. As founder and editor, she has appeared on numerous UK TV and radio programmes. She has written for Scientific American, the Guardian and theDaily Telegraph, as well as New Scientist, Wired and Wired News, and the Inquirer for which she wrote a regular weekly net.wars column. www.pelicancrossing.net.