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Reading ‘Brilliant Blunders’

In response to:

Respectable Blunders from the April 3, 2014 issue

To the Editors:

In your April 3 issue you published a letter by Mr. Michael Konrad, reacting to the review by Freeman Dyson of my book Brilliant Blunders [NYR, March 6]. Professor Dyson’s response was excellent, and I wholeheartedly agree with it. I am nevertheless still puzzled by the fact that it appears almost certain that Mr. Konrad never read the book. For instance, I explain very clearly in the book that Darwin’s blunder was not in adopting the theory of blending inheritance. It was in not realizing that with the theory that he had adopted, natural selection would never have worked. Similarly, I discuss in great detail the circumstances relating (or not) Darwin with Mendel, but Mr. Konrad appears to be unaware of that discussion.

He has obviously not read my discussion of Kelvin, since I explain in detail why it was not Kelvin’s neglect of radioactivity that caused him to err in his calculation of the earth’s age (even though that is the reason given in most books). It is absolutely not true that convection would have given a smaller age, and I go to great lengths to explain that. He has also clearly not read my very detailed discussion of Pauling’s blunder, in which I precisely describe the points Mr. Konrad has written about in his letter. Given that I am essentially convinced that Mr. Konrad has not read the book, I find it astonishing that he says, “I would advise a student of science not to read this book.” I can only hope that he would change his mind after he reads the book and the extensive notes and bibliography.

Mario Livio
Astrophysicist
Space Telescope Science Institute
Baltimore, Maryland

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