Book collecting as a cargo cult of knowledge

Cargo cult: “A cargo cult is a belief system among members of a relatively undeveloped society in which adherents practice superstitious rituals hoping to bring modern goods supplied by a more technologically advanced society.” Wikipedia

I have a large book collection, more than I can ever read. Yet I still acquire them.  Perhaps a hundred recent purchases are stacked next to my bed.  This is not rational behavior.

But that’s OK, because I am not a slave to rationality. Instead I am happily practicing the superstitious ritual of buying books in the hope of gaining knowledge without actually doing the work required to learn.

But really, I know I don’t have enough years left in my life to master all the knowledge I desire, and when I die, these books will remain as a tedious chore for someone else, and a sad monument to my failure to learn.

We so need real heroes.

Photo from wikipedia

Originally shared by Yonatan Zunger

I am sad to report that on May 19th, Stanislav Petrov, one of the great unsung heroes of our time, passed away at the age of 77.

In 1983, Petrov was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces. On September 26th, at a time of particularly heightened tensions, he was duty officer in command of Serpukhov-15, the central command center for Soviet early warning satellites. Shortly after midnight, those satellites detected five incoming American ICBM’s.

Petrov later said that the pattern of the attack made no sense to him – why would the Americans attack with only five missiles, instead of going all-out? – and so he unilaterally decided it must be a false alarm, and did not report it.

If you consider how risky it would be for a field officer to make such a decision in a normal army, consider what that meant in the USSR under Andropov: if he was wrong, and somehow survived the resulting nuclear war, and perhaps even if he was right and it embarrassed the wrong people, he could have found himself shot in the basement of Lubyanka.

As it was, he was questioned, alternately praised and condemned, and the entire incident ultimately buried until the publication of Yury Votintsev’s (the then-commander of the Soviet missile system) memoirs in the 1990’s. His own wife didn’t know about it until over ten years later.

The 1983 incident was one of the closest points we have ever come to global nuclear annihilation. As later investigation showed, it was caused by an unexpected reflection of sunlight off high-altitude clouds when the satellites were in a particular part of their orbit – a perfectly reasonable sort of bug which, had anyone else been duty officer that day, could have led to the Soviet Union launching a thermonuclear war.

Petrov never considered himself a hero for what he did that day: he was just doing his job. I would say that, if we could all “just do our jobs” that well, our world would be a safer place.

Politics ensured that Petrov would never be formally commended (or even officially praised) for his actions, but if there was ever a man who deserved to be called a Hero of the Soviet Union, it was him.

Thank you, Stanislav Yevgrafovich, and farewell.

Me too

Originally shared by Buddhini Samarasinghe

Me too

My head is reeling from the information overload over the past 24 hours. By now many of you would have seen the linked article, calling out an abuser in our community. I’m writing this to say, I believe the authors, I believe the other victims who have come forward, because he did this to me too. I blocked him about 3 years ago and I thought it was just me he did this to but I am heartbroken to see that there are others he similarly abused. It’s terrifying to read that article and see the same thing he did to me done to others. I can’t even begin to explain what that it feels like.

Scott and I worked a lot on Google Hangouts back in 2012/2013. He was a really good friend at first, and as we got close he talked a lot about his problems. I felt really sorry for him. Now I realise how I was manipulated, I feel sick. I even invited this guy to my wedding – ugh.

Towards the end of 2013, as I was unemployed and living off savings while waiting for immigration paperwork to join my husband in the UK, Scott told me how he can’t pay rent and how he doesn’t have any money for food. I offered to lend him some money but he refused, but kept talking about how worried he is. Eventually he said yes and I lent him $1500 from my savings. A few weeks later he needed more money for something else (textbooks I think) so I again lent him another $1500. He said he would pay me back in a month or so when his student loans came in.

Meanwhile because I was so bored waiting in Sri Lanka for my immigration paperwork, I started writing more and more science posts. Scott invited me to partner on his website Know the Cosmos and I happily agreed, expecting us to be equal partners. But it turns out I ended up doing the bulk of the writing for free while he didn’t really contribute much. It stopped feeling like a partnership and we fought a lot. Eventually I successfully pitched my Hallmarks of Cancer series to Scientific American and he was livid. That’s when the emotional abuse really started. Constant arguments and put downs. He would say things like how naive and stupid I was for giving away my writing for free to Scientific American, how this is not the way to do it etc. It’s partly why I wrote this post ( to address him and anyone else who questioned my decision to write it for free.

Things just reached a point where we could no longer work together. I remember the last Google Hangout we did together where just before we were supposed to go on air, he yelled at me about something I had done wrong. I was on the verge of tears that whole time, it was awful. But by that time I had moved back to the UK and thanks to a stronger support network around me, I was able to remove him from my life. Before that I sent him several emails asking for my loan back, but he never replied. I gave him a week and then I blocked him on all social media, considering the $3,000 as the price I had to pay to have him out of my life.

I am horrified that there are so many other victims. Chad Haney  has a post here ( listing some of the others who have come forward. Please share this out, and please warn others. I had no idea he kept doing this after me, and I wish I had said something sooner rather than waiting until now.

I’m going to leave comments open while I am around but lock comments when I am away because I don’t want derails from Scott-apologists.

H/T to Pamela L. Gay and Rugger Ducky for bringing this to my attention.