Democracies burn books

Just a quick one today. I notice this story in the Independent today. Old books (non-fiction, note) pulped in Manchester reference library update. Some of the comments say it’s a storm in a teacup because, as the council spokeswoman said, “The only books which were withdrawn as part of this vital housekeeping exercise were those which were duplicated, outdated or otherwise obsolete.”

Now take a look at the piece I wrote on aposematism many moons ago, based on a book by Stanislav Komárek, whose mission was to uncover the whole history of the subject of animal mimicry and defensive coloration, including drawing on many lifetimes of work by researchers working beyond the “Neodarwinian hegemony” that, often for socio-political reasons, has become all that’s easily available to us now. This meant many hours of searching for solid research work that is rapidly being lost not only to the scientific communiuty, but the world.

He specifically describes how libraries first relegate what is no longer in fashion to the back shelves, then the store-room, and finally to the incinerator. It’s obsolete, you see. The result is that we no longer have any access to the science of the past, and cannot check it – or discover to our surprise that there was challenging data and theory there.

And all that’s left is a reconstructed myth about the steady progress of science from ignorance to truth (which is what we believe this year, of course). The myth is confirmed because the only knowledge left about what science was actually achieving in the past is the history written by the winners.

“A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia,” (David C McCullough). How much more so if it’s the whole world that burns its past.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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