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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Non-Fiction Fail

I've been listening to audio books a lot lately, especially non-fiction. I look at it as a way to expand my horizon, learn new things, and keep myself entertained at work. Recently, I listened to a book that was highly rated, both at Audible and the other online bookstores. The topic sounded interesting, the narrator did a great job in the sample I listened to, so I bought the book.

I made it about halfway through, but barely. I sent out a lot of tweets while I listened to the first half, complaining about this book.

My problem with it was pretty big. Non-fiction should, you know, have facts to support the authors' theory. They didn't. Their idea of "support" was shooting holes in other academics' theories. Maybe they thought by disproving pieces of these other ideas, it proved their own position, but that's not correct. The logic class I had taught that just because A does not equal B, does not automatically mean it equals C. If that makes sense.

Let's say someone claims Susie went to the store with John. Now I say, no, Susie went to the store with Mary. John was playing baseball with Joe at that time. Just because John was playing baseball with Joe and couldn't have gone to the store with Susie does not prove that Susie went to the store with Mary!

Yet this was the type of argument these authors made repeatedly to support their own controversial theory. Sorry, but no. It doesn't work that way.

Their other proof was completely anecdotal, also unacceptable for science. It didn't help that their anecdotes were either removed from the time period they were looking at by thousands of years, but frequently it revolved around species that are related to humans, like the benobo and chimpanzee, but they're not human! It's like comparing apples and oranges! Just because one species of animal does it, doesn't prove that a related species exhibits that same behavior. Yet these authors were willing to discount every similarity to chimps because it didn't fit their theory and yet accept everything about the bonobo because those facts did.

Excuse me?

I was totally open to this theory going in. I thought it would be fascinating to hear the supporting evidence for their idea, but through half the book, absolutely nothing that would stand up to academic rigor was used.

What floored me most, though, were the hundreds (and I do mean hundreds!) of five-star reviews with very few low ratings. Did no one who read or listened to this book notice there was a huge dearth of substantive information presented? Did the authors' editor not notice the complete lack of facts?

I found it very discouraging that a non-fiction book was so lax.