The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind

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Overview

"Many of us believe that in our modern, Internet-enabled world, information is more freely available than ever before. But according to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Laughlin, this is a dangerous delusion. We are surrounded by mounting volumes of advertising and spam, but a great deal of truly valuable information is increasingly classified or designated as private property. More and more, a flash of insight can become a patent infringement or threat to national security. More and more, the act of reasoning for oneself is becoming a crime." Laughlin argues that we have unknowingly made a collective decision to relinquish our intellectual rights. A passionately argued book, The Crime of Reason offers a stern and timely warning that this decision may lead America into a new Dark Age.
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Editorial Reviews

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It has become commonplace to attribute the rise of modern civilization to the free exchange of information and scientific data. But according to Nobel physics laureate Robert B. Laughlin, recently that free flow has become dangerously impeded by restrictions. Dr. Laughlin asserts that patent infringement claims and national security prohibitions have roped off ever increasing areas of biotechnology, cryptography, and computer software design. He warns that continuing public apathy about this trend raises the possibility that we could be entering a new Dark Age dominated by disinformation and military-controlled technology. A sobering wake-up call.
Publishers Weekly

The provocative premise of this short book is that even as we appear to be awash in information, governments and industry are restricting access to knowledge by broadening the concept of intellectual property to include things as diverse as gene sequences and sales techniques . According to Laughlin, "the right to learn is now aggressively opposed by intellectual property advocates, who want ideas elevated to the status of land, cars, and other physical assets so the their unauthorized acquisition can be prosecuted as theft." With examples drawn from nuclear physics, biotechnology and patent law, Laughlin, a Nobel laureate in physics, paints a troubling picture of a society in which the only information that is truly valuable in dollars and cents is controlled by a small number of individuals. But while Laughlin poses urgent questions, he provides neither in-depth analysis nor potential solutions. Many intriguing arguments-for example, that "electronic technologies such as the Internet, which inundate us with useless information, are not instruments of knowledge dissemination at all but agencies of knowledge destruction"-are offered but none are usefully explored. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Al Gore, in his Assault on Reason , elevated our consciousness of the sharp decline of reason, logic, and truth in public discourse. Physics Nobel laureate Laughlin (A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down ) delves deeper into the problem, focusing on efforts to sequester technical knowledge using the cloak of a freely available information-rich world. With humorous honesty (it can be fun to think apocalyptically from time to time), Laughlin uncovers the barriers scientists, engineers, and laypeople encounter when they try to learn how the world works by standing on the shoulders of giants, the discoveries of others. Intellectual-property advocacy and voluntary self-censorship are creating gaps in our records of knowledge. Legislatures are criminalizing understanding and speech, because it is easier than criminalizing behaviors that challenge economic stability and national security. While this short essay can sound like the ramblings of an old man, his argument is profound and not easy to dismiss. Strongly recommended for academic and public libraries.-James A. Buczynski, Seneca Coll. of Applied Arts & Technology, Toronto

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465005079
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/22/2008
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert B. Laughlin is the Robert M. and Anne Bass Professor of Physics at Stanford University, where he has taught since 1985. In 1998 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the fractional quantum Hall effect. The author of A Different Universe, he lives in Stanford, California.

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Table of Contents

1 The End of Innocence 1

2 Dangerous Knowledge 9

3 The Master Cryptographer 25

4 Games of Chance 41

5 Patently Absurd 55

6 The Nuclear Precedent 69

7 The Facts of Life 85

8 Clone Wars 101

9 Spam Spam Spam Spam 119

10 The Troubled Utopia 135

Notes 151

Index 181

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