Sunday, 2 June 2013

Denying Science – John Grant ****

This is a cracking book, a really excellent exposé of the extent to which science is under threat from multiple directions. John Grant dissects the anti-science efforts of religious extremists, big companies, legislators and more in a whole range of fields from evolution to climate change.
The book comes in a long tradition of attempts to support rational thinking in a sea of hogwash. I think, for instance, of Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things and Carl Sagan’s classic The Demon Haunted World. But Grant’s book benefits from being up-to-date and particularly politically aware, emphasising those that actively deny science, rather than concentrating solely on the scientific nonsense of many silly beliefs.
The book takes in complementary medicine, the anti-vaccine brigade (including AIDS/HIV deniers), self help books (yes, really), and has lots on evolution and climate change. Although it can sometimes be a little heavy going in the sheer volume of examples that Grant uses (he might have concentrated on fewer to better effect), it is surprisingly lightly and entertainingly written and really brings home the sheer bonkers nature of some of the opposition to science, and the serious political issues involved, often, though not entirely from religious groups and the US right.
In a way this kind of book is always going to be preaching to the converted. I suspect it will not make a single anti-vaxxer or climate change denier change their views. In fact they won’t read it. Instead it will be read by those who feel that science is under threat – and they are certainly right to be concerned. If you have any feeling for the importance of science to human civilization, then this is an important book to have on your shelves. There is nothing better than knowing what the opposition is likely to throw at you to be better able to defend what is important. But be prepared to throw your hands in the air in horror at the stupidity of a worryingly large proportion of humanity.
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Review by Brian Clegg

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