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Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives Hardcover – October 29, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (October 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202303
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202308
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #860,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although denialists, according to Specter, come from both ends of the political spectrum, they have one important trait in common: their willingness to replace the rigorous and open-minded skepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment. Specter analyzes the consequences of this inflexibility and draws some startling and uncomfortable conclusions for the health of both individuals and society. For example, though every reputable scientific study demonstrates the safety of major childhood vaccines, opponents of childhood immunization are winning the publicity war; childhood immunizations are tumbling and preventable diseases are increasing, often leading to unnecessary deaths. Specter, a New Yorker science and public health writer, does an equally credible job of demolishing the health claims made by those promoting organic produce and all forms of alternative medicine. Specter is both provocative and thoughtful in his defense of science and rationality—though he certainly does not believe that scientists are infallible. His writing is engaging and his sources are credible, making this a significant addition to public discourse on the importance of discriminating between credible science and snake oil. (Nov. 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Specter is both provocative and thoughtful in his defense of science and rationality—though he certainly does not believe that scientists are infallible. His writing is engaging and his sources are credible, making this a significant addition to public discourse on the importance of discriminating between credible science and snake oil.”—Publishers Weekly



“A lucid and insightful book about a very frightening and irrational phenomenon—the fear and superstition that threaten human science and progress. A superb and convincing work.”—Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker staff writer and author of Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point



“Denialism tells stories I know well, at least in outline. But Michael Specter very valuably gathers them under one roof and gives them a name. Specter describes the increasing public willingness to deny the hard-won facts of science in favor of myths and shoddy investigation. In the process, the denialists are enabling disease and poverty, denying the advances of science to those in need.”—David Baltimore, president emeritus, Biology California Institute of Technology



“We are bombarded with information and misinformation about the foods we eat, the medicines we take, the water we drink, the very air we breathe. Michael Specter shows us how to accurately assess the impact of science on these and other essential elements of our daily lives. Written in clear and accessible language, this uniquely valuable book explains an often confusing world."—Jerome Groopman, M.D., Recanati Professor, Harvard Medical School, author of How Doctors Think


More About the Author

Michael Specter writes about science, technology, and global public health for The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1998. Specter previously worked for the The New York Times as a roving correspondent based in Rome and before that as the Times's Moscow bureau chief. He also served as the national science reporter for The Washington Post as well as the New York bureau chief. He has twice received the Global Health Council's Excellence in Media Award, as well as the Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Customer Reviews

It was written very simply and easy to understand.
Marathon Mom
Lots of information (too much) on vaccines but very little discussion on the actual denialism of vaccines and how that effects people, our society and our world.
L M V
The purpose of this book is to remind the reader how important critical thinking and evidence based reasoning are, I couldn't agree more.
Jessica B. Baker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1,118 of 1,184 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Murphy on September 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Denialism" states author Michael Specter, "is denial writ large---when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie". The author proceeds to examine recent current events and issues to bolster his contention that some people, unreassured by the healthy and rigorous skepticism of scientific method, have rejected scientific evidence itself, thus lapsing into denialism. By examining the events around the removal of the anti-inflammatory medication Vioxx from the market, the current controversy about vaccines, what the author describes as the "organic fetish", the rise in popularity of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), and the flawed concept of race, Specter attempts to show that American gullibility and hostility to science are endangering our lives, our nation, and our planet.

I'm a family physician, and I face what Specter terms "denialism" on an everyday basis, both in the office and in general conversation. Whether speaking with Young Earth proponents that feel the planet is no more than a few thousand years old, parents that refuse immunizations for their children, people that won't take medication for their blood pressure or heart disease because they fear the side effects more than the disease, or doubters of global warming, I'm regularly faced with people across the spectrum of intelligence, and across the spectrum of religious or political belief, that are unable to interpret the facts that are beginning to impact them where they live. What I had hoped for, when I picked up this book, was an investigation into WHY otherwise well-meaning, often educated, responsible people take rigid stances on issues that are starkly at odds with the facts.
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119 of 144 people found the following review helpful By G. M. Arnold VINE VOICE on October 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Denialism is all around us in many forms, from the anti-vaxxers to the Holocaust deniers and "Moon landing hoax" proponents. Scientists get it from both sides, from the populist know-nothings on the right to the conspiracy paranoiacs on the left. It's been addressed in various books over the years, from Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things to Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. But the new varieties of denial keep coming, as do the examples of corporate and scientific malfeasance that fuel them, and the fear-mongering media and crackpot celebrities keep cranking up the general level of anxiety. So we should welcome authors who can help to calm the panic and redress the balance.

Sadly, Specter fails in this. His concerns are real, the targets well-chosen, and the depth of his research is impressive. Unfortunately the presentation fails in several respects. The introduction is disorganized, as he keeps oscillating between the irrationality of the denialists and the range of provocations that have led to a quite understandable level of popular anxiety. And once he plunges into his first example - the drug Vioxx - it's unclear why he feels that it advances his argument. Merck put profit ahead of rigor, and patients paid with their lives. True. Where's the denialism? It looks like good old-fashioned greed. And so forth.

That pretty much sets the tone for the book. It's scattershot. There are probably half a dozen plausible essays for the New Republic or Mother Jones lurking in here, but as a sustained argument it's a flop. And that's a shame.
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53 of 66 people found the following review helpful By maskirovka VINE VOICE on November 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If it weren't for the fact that "Denialism" has gotten unfairly reviewed by some people here who seem to have an axe to grind, I'd have given it four stars. But I figure that adding an extra star on my part offsets people who are themselves of the mindset the author writes about or people who think that the author is condescending in his tone (he didn't strike me as such).

I'm death on people who promote conspiracy theories, and "Denialism" definitely shows that the problem is much more widespread than just people who go on about the Kennedy Assassination or September 11...that there are many people who have paranoid conceptions of the pharmaceutical industry and vaccinations or who think that just because something was grown "naturally" it's automatically better for the world than a plant that is genetically modified to be pest-resistant or have more yield.

"Denialism" pours a lot of cold water on people who espouse such viewpoints, and yes, it is occasionally done in a strident fashion. But I can understand the author's frustration with people who link autism with vaccinations despite the flood tide of evidence to the contrary or who think it better that people in Africa starve to death rather than grow and eat genetically modified crops (I can hardly wait to read the negative comments that this paragraph alone is likely to trigger on my review).

To me, the best chapters are about vaccinations and the organic food cult. It blew me away to read that there are people out there who think "raw milk" (i.e. unpasteurized milk is somehow better for you than the regular stuff despite clear evidence showing that people can and do die from drinking the former instead of the latter).
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