I read Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol.  At the beginning of the book, there is a claim that “All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real.”

Available at Barnes and Noble

Available at Barnes and Noble

Similar claims were made at the beginning of the Da Vinci Code as well.  Because of the claims of truth, this lead to books like Cracking the Da Vinci Code and What Da Vinci Didn’t Know, among other books, documentaries and History Channel specials.   These books and specials have shown that Dan Brown can write a nice book but is a bit sloppy on his homework and claims of accuracy while unwittingly creating a cottage industry of detailing how Dan Brown was wrong.

Dan Brown’s new book also has a couple of problems with truth claims (at least with regard to the science) of the book.  If you wanted to be charitable you can say that the science is real but was not described accurately in the book.

(Spoiler Alert, Discussion of a very intense part of the book ahead).

One part of the book has Robert Langdon, the hero of the novels believing he is drowning but is actually inside a sensory deprivation chamber full of a breathable liquid.  He is later removed from the chamber and everything is fine.  The science is real, but it has not been approved for testing on humans for several technical reasons such as irreparable and fatal lung damage on animals who have been immersed in these breathable liquids.

The science is a little complicated but to make it simple, the main problem is that your lungs are conditioned to breathing air and not very efficient at moving liquid in and out of your lungs with a sufficient speed to effectively take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide at a rate necessary to support life for very long.  Because of the build up of carbon dioxide in your body you would breathe faster causing  you lungs/diaphragm to over work and be damaged.  One hypothesis is that the mice dying after the experiments were also in polluted liquids and with a more purified sample it would work better.  Regardless of the problems with the technology there are no real world examples of this breathable liquid immersion technology working without also killing the organism experimented on.  Dan Brown’s claim that the science is real is misleading and his further claims that the CIA uses sensory deprivation chambers with this breathable liquid as an interrogation technique is preposterous.

Another science description failure has to do with the CIA helicopter toward the end of the book.  In Chapter 120 the helicopter was close to a large glass skylight and bumped it, shattering the glass.  Many skylights are shatterproof for one thing and the other problem with this event is the reason given for the helicopter bumping the glass.  It was not a pilot error, but “the incline of the pyramid beneath the helicopter was efficiently shedding the thrust sideways, robbing him of lift.”  The lift of a helicopter is provided by the blades spinning, not from pushing off from a flat and level surface.

Mr. Brown, thanks for writing a fun and exciting story but please quit trying to claim that your descriptions of things are true.

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