Climbing Mount Improbable is one of many books by Richard Dawkins. The author of “The Selfish Gene” fame. Because that is what popular science is all about. Finding a good analogy, or making a new one that catches on. It’s not about science. It’s about communication. I remember raving about one of his books to a zoologist friend who simply noted that “you know, it takes thousands of other works of solid research for him to cherry pick and make those books such good reads for you.” It is true. Much as I love reading popular science I realise that it is a bit like enjoying the introductory course for university entry in any topic.
But Richard Dawkins has turned into the global symbol of the fight to protect evolution as a theory from naysayers around the globe. Which led him to become the main event at massive atheist gatherings. It doesn’t really matter if he chose it, or the role chose him. I am one of many people that think he is great. As I do of Steven Pinker. For making such enjoyable introductions to topics I may have never wrangled with otherwise. Mainly on language though his most recent book comments on the history of violence. Reminds us of Noam Chomsky, who Wikipedia succintly describes like this: ” In addition to his work in linguistics, he has written on war, politics, and mass media, and is the author of over 100 books.” I can personally testify to the fact that the ones on media (my Masters topic) are way too simplistic. He was out of his league, applying a simple theory to a complex problem. Even if it is true, it is not useful.
It is probably anathema to most readers that I even include Yanis Varoufakis in an article after these great thinkers. But it is the only way I can rationalize his behavior. Here is a Professor of Economic Theory whose most recent book concludes that “while economics has scientific pretensions, it is primarily an ideology that supports the interests of the rich and powerful, and in the process, confers prestige, influence, and money on its practitioners.” Which is a bit like a high priest writing a book which concludes that religion has no claim to any Holy source but is simply a scam for high priests to get money from poor people”! And I didn’t even need to fish around for that quote. He has put it on his blog himself!
That part is fair enough. If you are looking to sell popular science books, self promotion is of course part of the set up. Twitter, Blog, articles anywhere and everywhere. I even read an interview he did about the island of Aigina simply because he spends a lot of time there. A nice tidy article in Wikipedia which I am guessing he wrote himself is nothing to be ashamed of. Quite the opposite, all scientists or public figures would be wise to pay attention to theirs. And taking a public position in the recent elections in terms of being openly for one party and against others is also an admirable trait in my opinion. As is submitting a “Modest Proposal” about the future of the Euro Zone.
Mr Varoufakis does a pretty great job at spreading his views. The BBC (though I am not sure they were happy with his take on their “censorship” of the interview) , BSkyB, Max Keiser and even CNN host his views. The man is a rarity by Greek standards as he speaks and writes in very good English, and is obviously always available for any media opportunity. So he can get away with ludicrous generalisations like this one in an article for CNN: “Whereas in the past we were divided between Left and Right, between pro- and anti-Americans, nowadays America is being seen by almost everyone here as a kindred spirit…”
Really? And you write this Professor Varoufakis on what authority? A journalist with a finger on the pulse of Greek society? A political scientist with some similar claim? A sociologist with some supporting research data or even simply a supporting theory? We could of course blame CNN for not being more careful in their choice of contributor. Or of not editing it out. If you think like the sort of people who follow him you could even make up a conspiracy theory and assume that he never wrote it. (The CIA must have added that sentence…knowing wink…) But this is a small example of a very big problem.
Lacking any sort of communicational skills on a political and diplomatic level, this is what Greece has been relegated to. What our pathetic and wimply academia doesn’t have the balls or ability to do as they are too busy saving their own jobs and fighting to stop anyone from actually judging their performance. We have a part time economist and full time self promoting author “representing” Greece abroad. I wouldn’t mind if he was not so good at it. I don’t dislike what Mr Varoufakis does because it is unclear where he stands. Is he a budding politician? Mainly an author? A media persona on any topic? (Heck, let’s run around the world to the seven dividing lines and do some artsy installations!) Nor because he is taking advantage of his claim to science on one hand to make more persuasive his pretty weak arguments on the political level. (A sin not uncommon to people as great as Noam Chosmky at times – especially when he delved into Media analysis.)
So it is not because Mr Varoufakis is “wrong” that he ruffles my feathers so much. In this day and age, and especially in Economics “wrong” and “right” are not even part our vocabulary. Nor is it simply that it seems rather irresponsible to me that he doesn’t take into account the consequences of his attitude. Spreading fear of an imminent Eurozone collapse most obviously increases the chance of it happening. Doomsayers have always had this advantage. Even with their wishy washy vague language, a quick retrospective look at their work usually indicates how little their predictions bear a resemblance to reality.
No, what really annoys me about Mr Varoufakis is that my country hasn’t got anyone better to represent us on the global media stage. Rather like pine trees gain a foothold in our mountains and sea gulls or goats are the only animals that survive in a lot of our much troubled natural environments. A once wondrous complex country, with natural and intellectual complexity second to none is being turned into a one question entity. And that is the doing of people like Mr Varoufakis.