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Eight Preposterous Propositions: From the Genetics of Homosexuality to the Benefits of Global Warming Hardcover – October 5, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Ehrlich insists that, with little homework, anyone can tool up enough mentally to discriminate between the wholly plausible and the downright dodgy."--Anjana Ahuja, The Times (London)

"Ehrlich has set himself the heroic task, concealed beneath his flippant title, of confronting the tide of irrationality in what is in effect a manual of scientific reasoning. . . . He has dug consistently deep and marshaled the evidence in masterly style."--Walter Gratzer, Nature

"A thoroughly responsible, persuasive collection of science demystification."--Michael Pakenham, Baltimore Sun

"Ehrlich impressively covers a wide range of topics, and we are once again reminded of the tentative nature of many assertions made about the world. . . . I believe the vast majority of the readers of this book will learn a good deal, even if they disagree with some of Ehrlich's conclusions."--Peter Lamal, Skeptical Inquirer

"U.S. physicist Ehrlich, author of more than 20 books, here calmly and intelligently confronts what has been called a 'tide of irrationality' in modern thinking, including not just the two subjects in the subtitle, but one of great current interest: Is Intelligent Design a Scientific Alternative to Evolution? (The short answer: No.)"--H.J. Kirchhoff, Toronto Globe and Mail

"Some of Ehrlich's discussions surprised and enlightened me. Nearly all of them left me smiling in satisfaction that here was both a congenial author and an elegant, critical scientific thinker."--Dr. Richard Isaacman, Bridges

From the Inside Flap

"Robert Ehrlich's Eight Preposterous Propositions, the sequel to his cleverly conceived and brilliantly executed Nine Crazy Ideas in Science, is sure to both infuriate and delight readers at the same time! If there isn't something in this book that you already agree and disagree with then you will by the time you finish it because these are among the most politically and culturally controversial ideas in all of science. I am simply staggered at both the depth and scope of Ehrlich's research, yet at the same time I am struck by how fair he is to all sides in these contentious issues. If you want to get your mind around a complex issue in a modest amount of time then Eight Preposterous Propositions is for you. Every college course in critical thinking should assign this book as a model of balanced treatment and fair mindedness."--Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of Why People Believe Weird Things

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Printing edition (October 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691099995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691099996
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,563,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By David Swan VINE VOICE on January 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Ehrlich tackles eight interesting and often timely topics including the possibility of homosexuality being genetic and the possible "benefits" of global warming. The book does an excellent job of giving each proposition the benefit of the doubt and carefully examines the evidence for and against.

In the chapter "Can Sugar Pills Cure You?" Ehrlich not only addresses the proposition that placebo's actually work in helping with pain (not a surprise) but also discusses how easy it is for a drug that is essentially a placebo to get FDA approval. The FDA doesn't require double blind tests to use "active" placebo's i.e. placebo's that mimic a drugs side effect. This can easily cause the test to become unblinded. Since a drug only needs to be a small fraction more effective than the placebo, unblinding can easily give a false positive. This is only one way in which FDA approval is flawed. A drug like Prozac shows little effectiveness beyond the placebo effect yet has a 225,000 percent markup over manufacturers cost.

The chapter on Global Warming presented a lot of information for and against the dangers of Global Warming. The end result seemed to be that Global Warming is more than likely occuring but he gave one flake for the proposition that we shouldn't worry about it. Based on the information in the chapter the flakiness of not worrying about Global Warming would seem to be specific to the individual. A teenager should probably be more worried than a seventy year old. Someone living on the coast should be more worried than someone living inland and someone living in a third world country should be more worried than someone living in the United States. It seems odd that Ehrlich gave a universal one flake.
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Format: Hardcover
This book does a fairly lucid and impartial job of examining eight potentially controversial claims.
The best chapter is the one on placebos, which convinced me that my previous reasons for believing in a placebo effect were wrong, and then showed that it was still quite possible that placebo effects are real.
But much of the book is a good deal more forgettable. His discussion of homosexuality might strike a few rabid Lysenkoists as preposterous, but most educated people should find his answers unsurprising. And his approach isn't nearly as valuable when dealing with hotly debated topics such as global warming as it is when he is bringing overlooked controversies to our attention.
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Format: Hardcover
In general scientific findings and theories are not very controversial, at least not after they have been established enough to create a scientific consensus. However, some scientific theories and findings may anger some people and some findings clash with some people’s religious or political beliefs. There are also popular propositions that may not be as “scientific” as commonly assumed. Science can sometimes annoy people at the same time as it can be very interesting. That is essentially what the book “8 preposterous propositions” by the Physicist Robert Ehrlich is all about.

Specifically, the author is discussing the eight propositions I listed below.

1. Is homosexuality primarily innate?
2. Is Intelligent Design a Scientific Alternative to Evolution?
3. Are people getting smarter or dumber?
4. Can we influence matter by thought alone?
5. Should you worry about Global Warming?
6. Is complex life in the Universe very rare?
7. Can a sugar pill cure you?
8. Should you worry about your cholesterol?

His discussion is enlightening, cautious and rational, and I believe his conclusions are for the most part believable despite the fact that the book was written more than a decade ago. Each proposition, correspond to one chapter that is on average more than 40 pages. To reach one or more conclusions Ehrlich explains the science involved and references and discusses a large number of research papers for and against. It is in this process you learn about the subject, not so much the conclusion. In addition he also discusses many other related questions and topics, so he is not just answering eight questions but providing information on the topic and related topics.
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Format: Hardcover
8 Preposterous Propositions by Robert Ehrlich, the sequel to Nine Crazy Ideas In Science, takes on eight newsworthy issues in science and evaluates them for their flakiness factor. As with the original book, Ehrlich lays out the evidence evenhandedly for each issue and then at the end of each chapter assigns each issue 0 to 5 flakes. Like the first book, 8 Preposterous Propositions is an excellent exercise in scientific thinking and would be a good way to lure a nonscientist towards the joys of scientific thinking. I look forward to 7 Scintillating Suggestions or 10 Titillating and Tenuous Thoughts or whatever the next book will be called.
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Format: Hardcover
Physicist Robert Ehrlich returns with another survey of interesting but unproven ideas, and "8 Preposterous Propositions" is considerably more daring, politically, than his first venture, "9 Crazy Ideas in Science."

The eight ideas, all posed as questions, are: Is homosexuality primarily innate, is intelligent design a scientific alternative to evolution, are people getting smarter, can we influence matter by thought alone, should we worry about global warming, is complex life in the universe very rare, can a sugar pill cure us and should we worry about cholesterol?

After reviewing the evidence, Ehrlich finds only one of the eight to be complete moonshine -- four flakes in his rating system.

Two of the other seven he finds not flaky at all (zero flakes), and the rest somewhere in between.

"This is not a debunking book," writes Ehrlich.

Nor does he seem to have chosen his subjects with any agenda in mind. Every one of the eight is something that shows up from time to time in the letters to the editor, but his selection is impartial as between left/right or conservative/liberal politics.

"It sometimes seems that nothing is too strange to be true," he writes.

On the other hand, just because something is strange does not make it valid. The problem is, with so many unsettled ideas out there, how does a person form a solid opinion about all of them -- or should he?

The late sociologist Aaron Wildavsky proposed that almost all public issues, no matter how complex they seemed, were within the understanding of an ordinary careful citizen. Of course, his definition of ordinary citizen was a Berkeley grad student with a year to spend investigating one question.
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