May 15th, 2009

Flames of Vanity

Tuning in

On the train ride back from grading tonight, I made good inroads into Ben Goldacre's Bad Science. I was really enjoying it until I completely stumbled over a sentence that began "Throughout history".* Then, secure in an instance of shoddy history, I felt gullible. It's a book about reading critically, and that one phrase made me realize I'd been reading it uncritically. The rest of it may be entirely sound, but I'd fallen right into the collegial teacher-student relationship implied in its friendly, easy-to-read didacticism, and, being entertained, feel I failed to think.

On the bright side, I felt entirely tuned in yesterday when an insult delighted me. Two teenagers, passed me on the street in bright sunlight when, just past, one muttered, "Ginger nut". And I got it. I knew what it meant! I knew that it was meant to be an insult, and I not only knew that, but I was paying enough attention to hear it in the first place! I was proud of my cultural indoctrination, having been raised without this apparently frequent English baggage. Rarely are insults so pleasing.

* p. 64 "Throughout history, the placebo effect has been particularly well documented in the field of pain, and some of the stories are striking."