Tuesday, August 12, 2008

M I Mayfield's "On Handling the Data" (short story, science fiction, free): A sobering look at human reaction to "facts" from "experts"

Quote from short story titled On Handling the Data by M I Mayfield

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding Science Fiction, September, 1959.
Rating: A
Download full text (from Project Gutenberg).

Very beautiful story. And very much near the top on my all time best stories. Makes a light reading, but raises both smiles & thought provoking issues.

Story summary.

Story is in the form of a bunch of some half dozen letters from Jonathan Wellington Wells to Dr Robert Von Engen - letters spread over the period of a year. Jonathan is a graduate student of biology; Robert is a well known mathematician. Robert has written some papers, hypothesizing similarities in the way brain & computers process data; that's what got Jonathan talking to him.

Gist of Jonathan's letters is: hard laboratory data he obtains empirically & with a lot of care tends to be self-conflicting, except when he has been clued to expect a certain kind of result. Through the story, he runs through issues, brainwashing, & social conciliation we all go through when "growing up".