Asimov v. Adams

Now here’s a real Great Debate: who knew/knows more: Isaac Asimov (bless his soul), or Cecil Adams?

I think CA’s knowledge may be a bit broader than IA’s. I can’t see Asimov delving into the mystery of sperm trees or the prevailence of shoes hanging from phone lines.

If I had to repair my nuclear reactor I’d probably go to Asimov. If I wanted to know where I could steal one, I’d ask Cecil.

As usual, Papabear, you summarise the point in contention so well.

While I can’t say that Asimov ever reached into those subjects, he certainly did span an awful lot of them. Of course, no one can doubt Cecil as the world’s smartest human, but if Asimov were still alive, he’d be a very close second.

I’m sure I will suddenly find my password not working anymore, but I must say that Asimov had more knowledge than Cecil. I offer as evidence that Issac Asimov is the only person to have a title (at least) under every category of the Dewey Decimal System (or so I was told - though it would be ironic for Cecil to tell me this was incorrect)…

It is one thing to write a 600 word colum about everything… Quite another to write a book on everything!

Brian O’Neill
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This seemed appropriate to mention in the GD forum: Asimov wrote an excellent two volume commentary on the bible. It’s fascinating reading, unless you don’t like to have your beliefs challenged.

Not sure how the good doctor Asimov would have responded to “bless his soul” being that he was an atheist. He probably would have thanked you for your kind thoughts. As for who knew/knows more, I’d give the nod to the good doctor. I know that he had an incredible memory, and I know that he wrote on a great variety of subjects. I’ve read (and have) at least 85 of his non-fiction books, and I’ve found them to be excellent.

By the way, Asimov said at least once (kindly) that he knew of only two people smarter than he was: Carl Sagan and Marvin Minsky.

Asimov’s dead. Advantage: Cecil.

Y’know, when I first saw the title of this thread I thought it referred to Douglas Adams …

I think Asimov could take on either of them alone. But could he hold his own against an Adams-Adams tag team? I wonder.

On Jeopardy’s “Tournament of Geniuses” I would bet on Cecil - he would sweep the pop culture categories and score enough on the academic ones (although Asimov would take most of them) to come out on top. But what’s the Final Jeopardy category?

Re :DSC’s mention of Carl Sagan. When the first craft landed on Mars, the first pictures recieved on Earth, showed Mars to be BLUE & quite Earth-like. Our TV commentator, Mr. Sagan, went into a very lengthy explaination of a blue Mars. Shortly, it was discovered that the camera had the wrong light filter in place. When corrected, Mars was RED! Carl cntinued his commentary, red as Mars. Again Mr. Sagan was on the tube during the Gulf War predicting a year-round winter due to the burning oil wells…I vote Cecil!


How the hell did that happen? I don’t know how to generate a “smiley face” & wouldn’t if I could! Is Y2K starting early?

Asimov wrote an excellent commentary on just about everything. Not trivia like Cecil writes about, but the real stuff. He wasn’t out to answer a reader’s question, he was out to answer everybody’s questions about everything. Often times I come across columns of Cecil’s and I think: If only he had read more Asimov he wouldn’t have had all the trouble he had getting the answer. I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendation to read Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. It is excellent. I would also recommend any high school students should read The History of Physics. It is much better than any physics book or teacher you will get. Two months of reading it off and on kept me well ahead of my class, and often my teacher. I work in the children’s room at my public library and Asimov books are to be found everywhere within the nonfiction. A journey upstairs to the adult section handily fills in any gaps in his Dewey Decimal coverage.
While I must say that Asimov has Cecil faroutmatched in pure intellectual superiority, Cecil is not without a place in the grand scheme. He is there to fill in all the gaps that Asimov has left; pop-culture and the weird questions of the deranged lunatics known as The Teeming Millions.

I think my reply is missing a few paragaph breaks. Insert them where you see fit.

You can ban me off the Dope if you want, but ASIMOV is THE winner!

Cecil “fills the gaps”, as HeadlessCow appropriately mentions, but Asimov ROCKS!

Now, if only Cecil could have worked with Isaac in a book ilustrated by Larry Gonick, we’d have all the knowledge in one tome!

Doc Isaac even answered some questions that hadn’t even been asked yet. isn’t that what real science fiction is? More importantly, Asimov himself claimed to be “the World’s Greatest Authority” and I am not going to argue with the world’s greatest auhority.

I watched a documentary on Asimov years ago. He had phenominal output when it came to writing. I can’t remember the exact amount any more, but he could write a book in a day. He didn’t like to relax and kept busy most of the day writing. He knew about what he wrote too.

Asimov also apparently loved making indexes with notecards. He would take over the entire floor of a room and play with all his cards until it worked right. Anyone who can find enjoyment in doing that is at least a couple levels of genius above the rest of us.

I think of Isaac Asimov and Cecil Adams as being good at different things.

Asimov was a very good but not great science fiction writer. He was lucky in getting into the field at just the right time to make the maximum impact. He was (as he admitted himself) not a very good researcher as a chemist, but he was a first-rate teacher of chemistry. Writing science fiction taught him about story-telling and writing. Lecturing taught him how to organize and present a somewhat difficult subject. Thus, when he decided just after the launch of Sputnik that he should quit his teaching job to write science popularizations, he already had all the necessary skills.

He was the best science popularizer ever. He was also quite good at history. (He said in his autobiography that he came close to switching majors to history in college.) In his nonfiction books that were not about science or history, he was very good at the aspects that were closest to science or history. For instance, I consider Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare as superbly readable book on all the sorts of historical, linguistic, scientific, mythological, etc. things that might be mentioned in a thoroughly annotated version of the plays. This is very useful, but there’s a lot of literary issues which the book doesn’t even try to address. Similarly, Asimov’s guide to the Bible was great on historical and scientific background, but I certainly wouldn’t read it for theological instruction.

Asimov was also one of the best essayists. He was great at finding subjects about which he could tell you lots of interesting facts in precisely the space of his monthly Fantasy and Science Fiction essays. I remember one of his essays in which he took a list of the populations of the world’s largest cities and found a slew of fascinating things to say about it.

However, in about a third of his essays, when he talked about philosophical, religious, or political issues, I didn’t in general find him to be very helpful. Even though I agreed with him on some issues, I don’t think he had the skills it takes to argue about those subjects.

And, of course, Asimov was incredibly prolific. I’ve seen a calculation which said that if you count without duplication all the things that Asimov actually wrote (not all the other people’s stories in anthologies with his name on them and not repeated appearances of the same stuff in several books), he wrote more than 200 books worth of material.

I think of Asimov as being an interesting contrast with G. K. Chesterton. Both of them wrote huge numbers of essays (in addition to their fiction and their book-length nonfiction). Chesterton often got his facts wrong, but even when that voided the point he was trying to make, I often found that he had made a interesting attempt at an argument or a useful analogy. Asimov seldom got his facts wrong, but when he tried to make an argument too far from the facts, he didn’t make a very good case.

On the other hand, Cecil Adams is the best “quick study” ever. He can take nearly any subject and with a week of research tell you everything important about it that can be fit into a one-page article. He knows what points in an argument can be dismissed as too implausible to be considered and when there is there is a reasonable case to be made on both sides of an argument. (And let’s not forget one of the biggest reasons that we read The Straight Dope, which that it’s often funny as all get out.) If I absolutely had to have an answer to some question in a limited time and had only Adams and Asimov to ask (yes, ignoring the fact that Asimov is dead), I would certainly go with Adams. But then, Adams has never written any book-length popularizations, and I have no reason to suspect he’d be particularly good at it.

Carl Sagan wasn’t in the same league. He was a good but not a great popularizer. (He was also a good but not a great astronomer.) He got somewhat more credit than he deserved because of his charm and his movie-star-handsome looks. I read his book The Demon-Haunted World not so long ago, and while it was often excellently argued and presented for pages at a time, the overall structure was not so good. Furthermore, he sometimes got his facts wrong and sometimes stretched the facts when he tried to make a stronger argument than the case deserved. His grasp of the history of science is weaker than he thinks it is. As I said, Sagan is still a good writer, but he’s not quite in Asimov’s or Adam’s league.

Cecil’s robots have the ability to harm humans and, through inactivity, allow humans to come to harm.

So I cast MY vote for Unca Cece and his Mighty Robot Armies.