Book Review: Science Under Siege PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Harriet Hall   

tamyspeakerA new book has just come out that will be of interest to skeptics everywhere. Science Under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience. Edited by Kendrick Frazier, it is a collection of some of the best writing from Skeptical Inquirer from the last few years:

Some of the gems it contains:

  • Carl Sagan’s last Q & A on science and skeptical inquiry.
  • A paean to the wonder and awe of real science by Sagan’s wife, Ann Druyan.
  • An article explaining Ray Hyman’s Categorical Directive: “before we try to explain something, we should make sure it actually happened.”
  • John E. Jones, III’s eloquent decision in the Dover “Intelligent Design” case.
  • An article on AIDS denialism by Nicoli Nattrass, who is director of an AIDS research unit in South Africa and can testify to the incalculable harm denialism has caused her compatriots.
  • Common myths about evolution and how to refute them. The anti-vaccination movement (by Steven Novella).
  • Ray Hyman investigates a girl who claims to have x-ray vision.
  • Benjamin Radford finds natural explanations and succeeds in reassuring the frightened inhabitants of an allegedly haunted house, and Joe Nickel infiltrates Camp Chesterfield in disguise to show how so-called psychics deliberately lie and trick their customers.
  • The patent office myth (that a director quit because there was nothing more to discover) is put to rest once and for all (but can be predicted to rise again).
  • Philosopher Mario Bunge illuminates the philosophy behind pseudoscience, helping define what it is and helping us understand how to think about it.
  • Bruce Flamm destroys what little is left of the fraudulent Columbia University study about prayer and in vitro fertilization.
  • Other subjects include energy medicine, health claims for magnets, bogus oxygen therapies, and the now defunct PEAR study of psychic power over machines.
  • Martin Gardner covers vacuum energy.

Other articles address global warming, a proposal to reduce the cost of energy, and thoughtful essays on how science can contribute to political decisions and even ethical discussions and is essential to the democratic process. There is even a skeptical look at the reaction to 9/11 - with a rebuttal by Steven Pinker and his later revised rebuttal after he changed his mind! Overblown fears (Halloween candy from a stranger never ever hurt a child), animal rights terrorism, and more. My favorite anecdote from the book is Massimo Polidoro’s account of accompanying magician James Randi on a live TV show as he tried to replicate a psychic’s magic trick of reproducing a drawing that was in a sealed envelope. They used controls that they had not applied to the psychic and that prevented the kind of tricks the psychic used. It looked like Randi had been backed into a corner with no way out, but he calmly improvised new methods of deception on the spot and proceeded to astound everyone. It’s a great story.

Highly recommended. Thought-provoking ideas, good writing, and a handy reference.