978-0-19-860435-8 / 0198604351

The Undergrowth Of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception, and Human Frailty


Publisher:Oxford Univ Pr (Txt)



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About the book:

Unfortunately for debunkers like the Amazing Randi, the distinction between science and pseudoscience can get a bit fuzzy. Biophysicist Walter Gratzer pokes gently through the mulch of dead ideas in The Undergrowth of Science, a smart, witty collection of cautionary research tales. Some are widely familiar, like his long chapter on the Soviet politicisation of genetics, while others have been examined less minutely--does anyone remember the horror of menstrual toxins? Gratzer treats his subjects warmly for the most part, while reserving some venom for the foolishness and evil of Nazi eugenics and other racist and nationalist visions of the world.

The book asks its readers to adopt a sophisticated scepticism, one that won't accept polywater or memory transfer with zeal but also won't rigorously reject continental drift or other crazy-but-correct ideas. Of course, Gratzer acknowledges that it's easiest to be sceptical with perfect hindsight, but by building on Langmuir's rules for recognizing "pathological science," he hopes to establish a more thoughtful scientific readership. While some scientists would just as soon see any reference to travesties like cold fusion go down the memory hole, The Undergrowth of Science reminds us to learn from our mistakes. --Rob Lightner

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