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

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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)
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (October 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202303
  • ASIN: B003JTHRFU
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #624,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1,143 of 1,211 people found the following review helpful By Smith's Rock 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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120 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Geoff 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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on April 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The tempo of technological development and scientific discovery seems only to be accelerating every day, and the time that it takes for a discovery to make its way in everyday life shortens all the time. Unfortunately, many of these changes are not very well understood and there are vocal opponents of many of them. A healthy dose of skepticism about everything that is novel and makes promises that seem too good to be true should be welcome, especially for tools and technologies that have not been proven themselves. However, when a technological advancement has already been proven to be effective and promises to facilitate human life in a very dramatic way, then the opposition to that advance can be hurtful to the society in general. "Denialism" is a book about several of those technological developments. Some of them, like the vaccination, are actually centuries old, but the opposition to them has never completely gone away. To the contrary, it looks like it has only increased in the recent years. The author does a very good job of describing and arguing in favor of several of those technological advances, and takes their critics to a task. A long-time New Yorker contributor, Michael Specter writes a very exciting and passionate book. The topics that he covers are all very interesting, and for the most part well documented. Unfortunately, the book has many significant flaws that make it less-than-ideal argument in favor of those technologies.

The books biggest fault is the portrayal of a very natural and sometimes very legitimate human tendency to be suspicious and fearful of novel and unusual substances into something that is misguided at best and more often than not pathological. This attitude serves neither the author nor his cause well.
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