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Articles by Roberto Perez-Franco

STAFF WRITER
September 7, 2012
Guy Harrison, one of the standard-bearers of the new skepticism movement, has written a book carefully classifying and then mercilessly shredding 50 very popular — and very wrong — beliefs. Ranging in topic from UFOs to the concept of biological races, this compendium of beliefs may very well be a “who’s who” (make that a “what’s what”) of some things some people get wrong. All the usual suspects are there — faked moon landings, Roswell, Area 51, Bigfoot, Nessie — as well as many religious ideas.
STAFF WRITER
September 7, 2012
If you are reading The Tech, there is a good chance you have learned the basics of engineering at MIT. In which case, an invitation to read a book called Engineering: A Very Short Introduction might strike you as — mildly put — unnecessary. If you are the cocky type, you may even be tempted to declare, with a smile and a zinger (“Why don’t you go ask the College of Cardinals to attend Sunday school?”), that this book is not for you. But you would be wrong.
STAFF WRITER
July 11, 2012
MIT Professor David A. Mindell PhD ’96 feels equally passionate about engineering and literature, and has the degrees from Yale to prove it. His obsession with the detailed study of the evolution of technology, though, is evident in Between Human and Machine, a twist-by-twist account of the personal, managerial, institutional, military and even political forces behind the field that came to be known as cybernetics, the modern fruits of which — including computers — have become the cornerstone of our technology and an inextricable part of our lives.
STAFF WRITER
June 13, 2012
Two days after the charter incorporating MIT was signed in April 1861, Confederate forces attacked a military installation in South Carolina. It was the first in a series of battles that would last four bloody years and decide the fate of a nation. Shiloh, Antietam, Vicksburg, Bull Run and Gettysburg are now the stuff of history, names that to this day evoke deep wounds — physical, psychological, moral — in the very fabric of America, many of which are still open. But there was a time when citizens on all sides of the war followed these names for breaking news, which often took the form of written and graphical reports in printed newspapers.
STAFF WRITER
June 8, 2012
The horrifying image of a muddy column of oil rushing incessantly from the earth’s guts into the deep blue waters of the Gulf is forever branded in my memory. As I watched in disbelief the live video feed from the bottom of the sea, showing the Macondo well vomiting poison into the ocean, week after week, impervious to the incompetent attempts of BP to kill it, there was one question that kept bouncing in my head: how on earth did this happen?
STAFF WRITER
June 8, 2012
I remember the exact moment when I realized some of Jesus’ utterances only made sense as poetry. The time was an evening in early January 1994. The place was the public square in Chitré, a small city in Panama’s countryside. While hundreds of youngsters rode their new Christmas bikes in the tropical summer breeze, I — at the time an 18-year-old devout Christian — sat quietly inside my father’s car, reading my Bible under a dim yellowish light. The version was Nácar-Colunga’s direct translation from the original Greek and Hebrew into my native Spanish. I remember the exact passage I was trying to assimilate: Matthew 6:25-34. “Do not worry about your life,” said the Lord. “Look at the birds of the air … Consider the lilies of the field.” And then the inspired prescription: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.”
STAFF WRITER
May 11, 2012
The advice not to judge a book by its cover proves wise in the case of Alex Rosenberg’s latest tome. A fetching title and subtitle, which seem to fly out of the page from a Big-Bangish burst of white over the background of a colorful deep-space image, promise hours of thoughtful and imaginative reading about how freethinkers can enjoy life without resort to nonsense. It’s a beautiful, exciting cover, for what turns out to be a rather dull and overall underwhelming book. The book starts strong, by boldly stating its goal, namely answering the “unavoidable questions” in life. It also demarcates its audience: “This is a book for atheists,” we are told, for “people who are comfortable with the truth about reality.” It is certainly not for “people who believe in religion,” not even for “just doubters and agnostics” that are still undecided. No. It’s solely for those who “have moved past that point” and know for certain that “belief in God is on par with belief in Santa Claus.”
STAFF WRITER
April 27, 2012
A front page for The Onion dated November 22, 1963 reads: “Kennedy Slain By CIA, Mafia, Castro, LBJ, Freemasons.” I’d bet you a nickel that many people find that headline funny. I know it made me laugh. Although the assassination of John F. Kennedy is one of the most traumatic events in American history, the joke works because the reader is familiar with the barrage of wildly speculative and imaginative conspiracy theories that followed the tragedy, regarding the identity and motives of the killer. Yet most, if not all, of the parties mentioned above in jest have been proposed in all seriousness at some point as conspirators in Kennedy’s assassination in hundreds of books and documentaries. Such is the level of ridicule to which assassination theories have sunk in their efforts to seek closure to what is obviously still an unanswered question, and an open wound.
STAFF WRITER
April 20, 2012
Victor Stenger has written a wickedly powerful book, so sharp and heretical that had it been published four centuries ago, the author would have been extra-crispy by the time the nearest bishop was done reading the preface. God and the Folly of Faith, with its straightforward argumentation and encyclopedic scope, is a veritable handbook on the fundamental incompatibility of modern science and religion. In the context of the new atheism movement, Stenger’s book serves as the prosecutor’s closing argument in their collective case against religion. The book’s ambitious agenda, with the simultaneous grinding of many axes (from near death experiences and quantum consciousness to intelligent design and cosmic fine-tuning), takes a toll on the reader. The dissection of the multiple arguments and counterarguments that are currently used to support and refute faith makes this no light reading for a lazy spring afternoon. Albeit peppered with zingers, the work as a whole comes across as what it is: a thick and serious discourse on one of the most important intellectual conflicts in history, very much alive to this day.
STAFF WRITER
April 13, 2012
I grew up in the Panamanian countryside, under pristine skies bursting with stars. Defenseless against the nightly spectacle, I had no choice but to become a backyard astronomer. A Spanish translation of Isaac Asimov’s The Universe (1966) transformed a romantic interest in constellations into a healthy scientific understanding of the cosmos. Asimov’s tome, although dated, satisfied my thirst for cosmological knowledge long enough for me to shift my attention to more mundane things. Two decades went by until I discovered — with a mix of delight and trepidation — that while I was not looking, a third revolution in cosmology, by no means smaller than those triggered by Copernicus and Hubble, was taking place right under my nose, during my lifetime.
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