Bullspotting: Finding Facts In The Age Of Misinformation by Loren Collins (book review).

December 27, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More

Author Loren Collins hails from Atlanta, Georgia and as he admits in the introduction to this book, ‘Bullspotting: Finding Facts In The Age Of Misinformation’, he was living under a delusion as to the reasons for the American Civil War until he did his own investigations and found it was all to do with stopping the black slave trade. He sees this as the turning point in his own life that people can be misled by misinformation and wrote this book with a line on how this is done over the Internet. Mind you, on our side of the pond, that sort of information is old news but a clear indication that even in places like the ‘informed’ USA (I’m not excusing my sarcasm here, it’s just scary how poor the history lessons are in the southern states, let alone in the northern states) can be led by its own ignorance. Then again, considering how many books by authors out there who think they are telling the truth, any form of ignorance can be led by having someone who mirrors your own opinion. No wonder we Brits think the USA is in a bit of a mess to put it politely.

Bullspotting

By profession, Collins is a lawyer, not a scientist. I have to make an argument here about this because Collins attacks the authors of various pseudo-beliefs as not being qualified in what they are writing about and it would be hypercritical not to point out that he isn’t neither. According to his history on the back of this book, Collins’ biggest bugbear is against the ‘Birthers’ who contest that twice elected US President Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii, something he does spend some time fuelling his arguments against them in these pages. From our perspective, that lost any credibility and was dismissed several years ago. The same for the likes of Brit David Icke, another of his examples, whose beliefs look like a poor man’s version of ‘V’. From the out-set none of us believed him.

Anyway, before I digress further, it felt a bit weird realising on some things, Collins hadn’t got it quite right on scientific matters, let alone as simple a thing as common sense.

Let’s deal with the latter first, although they are related. Common sense depends on your mind following a logical path. If you stood on a hill and looked out in any direction, things would vanish into the distance. Now, is that the limit of your eyesight or that the Earth is, y’know, on a curved surface or round ball. I mean, if you walk down the road a few more miles and climb another hill, you would get the same result. No doubt this is what causes the flatearthers their belief that the Earth is fundamentally flat because that is what common sense would indicate. What it doesn’t take into account is the sun, moon and stars moving across the sky. Something has to be rotating and if it isn’t the sky then it has to be the ground we walk on, which means it’s not flat because the sky is larger. This next step means that the Earth has to be a globe, so how do we stay on it? If you put a small coin on a large ball and move it, the coin will fall off. Can common sense explain gravity without knowledge that a much larger mass will always attract a smaller mass to it? The scientific principle as discovered by Isaac Newton came from watching an apple fall from a tree, yet this is something many people have seen before but not made the connection.

This is where Collins goes a little askew. He thinks scientists come up with a hypothesis or theory first rather than develop it from something they observe and need to explain. The tricky part is ensuring that any hypothesis takes into account everything that is associated with it and any experiment to prove it can be tested by and get similar results by other scientists. Hands up any chemistry students who never got totally perfect results to some class experiments simply because the elements used weren’t totally pure. That’s something that would definitely cause suspicion from the luddites.

I should point out that Collins does examine the flatearthers beliefs further into this book but doesn’t really address the problem that people don’t see the bigger picture or that in many case, religions holds back change. After all, without religious intervention, Galileo’s assertion that the Earth orbited the Sun would have had an earlier influence on the growing course of sciences. Indeed, the key religions at the time were determined that the Earth was the centre of the universe and everything above, rotated around it and kept that belief amongst their faithful for a couple hundred years or so and declaring heresy against anyone who said otherwise. Considering these days we know other scientists than those who are accredited with breakthroughs have come up with similar results, it does make me wonder how many unsuccessful scientists tried to change matters and quietly killed before Galileo made his mark.

Something that comes out of this book is how easy it is to manipulate people with a disposition to being a little paranoid and turn them into bigger paranoids. It goes for the suspicious in that they think things are being kept away from the public eye. As Collins frequently points out that for some of these conspiracies to work it would need a lot of people in on it and that someone will eventually admit the truth.

To some extent, I can agree with that but the real question is whether it will happen in our life-time. One only has to look at the surgeon’s photo of Nessie or those fairy photographs that the two girls fooled Arthur Conan Doyle and the general public for over fifty years to realise it can happen. After reading another Prometheus book, ‘Head Shot: The Science Behind The JFK Assassination: Expanded Edition’ by G. Paul Chambers that I reviewed a couple months back, looking at the forensics of John Kennedy’s assassination, it doesn’t take much to go along with the evidence pointing out Oswald wasn’t standing where the bullets came from. Some conspiracies don’t need many people and that a low number involved can keep a secret for all sorts of reasons, especially when it comes to a loss of face or jail or execution if discovered. If people already have a strong belief in anything, showing them to be wrong means a lot of the time, they’ll dig their heels in and stay in denial. Collins examples of these should make you think but I doubt if these believers are the type of people who will read this book.

In many respects, I wish Collins had tackled this book from a lawyer’s perspective and his arguments based on legal evidence and why many beliefs and manipulations would never stand up in court for lack of substantial proof. His examples of testament given under hypnosis accepted in court are clear examples of how easy it is for people to say anything required in that state.

None of the above doesn’t mean Collins doesn’t have some interesting things to say and it will make you stop and think about your own level of gullibility on some matters but it still doesn’t tackle that important detail of getting those entranced by such beliefs to question it themselves.

GF Willmetts

December 2012

(pub: Prometheus Books. 267 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $19.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-634-4)

check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com

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Category: Books, Science

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (2)

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  1. avatar Loren says:

    First off, thanks for the review. As a first-time author, it’s really nice to stumble across positive reviews from people who don’t actually know you personally.

    There is one thing in the review I wanted to respond to, where you wrote “This is where Collins goes a little askew. He thinks scientists come up with a hypothesis or theory first rather than develop it from something they observe and need to explain.”

    I thought I addressed this on p. 17, albeit briefly: “Hypotheses, after all, are essentially the operation of common sense. We look at existing data and patterns, and we draw a tentative conclusion. Some hypotheses turn out to be correct; many don’t. Common sense is the same way.” I suppose I could have explained the scientific process better at the top of p. 16, and if that’s what muddied the waters then perhaps I should have phrased myself differently.

    • avatar UncleGeoff says:

      Hello Loren

      Rule of thumb is never trust friends and relatives to give an honest opinion to any book you write. Very rarely will they do a proper dissection without risk of upsetting any author.

      If we relied on common sense, as I pointed out in the review, we would be tninking the Earth was flat. If anything, the nature of being a scientist is making sense of reality.

      Geoff

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