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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk Paperback – May 15, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0226667867 ISBN-10: 0226667863

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226667863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226667867
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A refreshingly original excursion over the unmarked territory separating science from pseudoscience and nonscience, Nonsense on Stilts is a thoughtful examination of the tumultuous terrain between the two and a primer on how one tells the difference." - Kendrick Frazier, editor of Skeptical Inquirer.

About the Author

Massimo Pigliucci is professor of philosophy at the City University of New York. He has written many books, including, most recently, Making Sense of Evolution, with Jonathan Kaplan, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

More About the Author

Massimo Pigliucci is a Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York. His research is concerned with philosophy of science, the relationship between science and philosophy, and the nature of pseudoscience.

He received a Doctorate in Genetics from the University of Ferrara in Italy, a PhD in Botany from the University of Connecticut, and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He has published over a hundred technical papers and several books. Prof. Pigliucci has been awarded the prestigious Dobzhansky Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution. He has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science "for fundamental studies of genotype by environmental interactions and for public defense of evolutionary biology from pseudoscientific attack."

In the areas of outreach and critical thinking, Prof. Pigliucci has published in national magazines such as Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer, Philosophy Now, and The Philosopher's Magazine, among others. He has also been elected as a Consultant for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Pigliucci pens the "Rationally Speaking" blog (, and co-hosts the Rationally Speaking podcast.

Customer Reviews

If you care about how and what we can know, this is a great book to read.
Ironically, he appears to criticize one for too many references and one for not enough; all while discussing science and politics with reference to only two books!
I think that the book would have been much better were the three sections I have referred to were integrated in a much more complimentary fashion.
C. J. Thompson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 3, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In spite of the title and cover of this book which give the impression of a popular look at the issue of science and society, this book actually takes a fairly scientific (and philosophical) approach to the topic. Concern about the public's take on scientific issues has recently fueled the output of many books on this topic, but while a lot of them are either popular views of the issue written by journalists, focusing on many anecdotes and news items or more narrow takes based on one particular scientific topic, this one attempts to be a more systematic look at the issue of science itself from the viewpoint of a scientist and philosopher.

The book is divided into a number of different sections starting with the whole issue of how to decide what is science, soft science and pseudoscience moving through a number of case studies and finally ending up with both a coverage of the history of thought on what constitutes science (and scientific methodology) and what constitutes scientific expertise. A number of famous and influential thinkers are quoted and considered from Plato on up to Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn.

While some casual readers might find the book to be a bit dense and difficult to follow in some sections, anyone who is genuinely interested in some of the hot-button scientific issues of the day such as evolution, global warming or even unified field theories, will find this book thought provoking at the very least. The most salient point about the book for me is that in the end, the author concludes that while some things are definitely science and others are definitely pseudoscience, there is no black and white border between the two, no absolute certainty in the realm of science and no perfect criteria for determining expertise or who is right.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Terry on June 23, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Organization: The chapters did not flow in any reasonable sense as it pertained to the topic of the book. There were sections in the center where he attacks Bjorn Lambourg, the Postmodernists, as well as includes a history of scientific thinking. While these were enjoyable, all except the attacks on the postmodernists didn't exactly fit the progression that the author was making. The last two chapters should have been pushed up considerably as the expert problem and checklist of what makes a science should have come shortly after the introduction.

Writing: Massimo is a master of concise prose and uses analogies that advance the point at hand. His mastery of what others have said gives him access to wonderful ways to summarize ideas and distill important points quickly; other authors could wind up using twice as many words to say the same thing without adding anything.

Notes: Some of the footnotes were both funny and illuminating. I very much wish they'd been the bottom-of-the-page kind rather than the all-lumped-at-the-end kind.

Topics: The selection of targets was well done and got at issues that other books seemed to skip like how to gauge expertise and how Bayesianism and Prospectivism can be used to both support the efficacy of science and recognize the problem of qualia.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful By John C. Snider on June 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the philosophy of science. It discusses, not just how to distinguish science from pseudoscience, but points out just how difficult it is to say exactly what IS science. Veterans of the skeptics movement will be well familiar with most of this material, but it's an entertaining and informative book nonetheless.
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88 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Gozzi on June 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be disorganized and not at all as elucidative as the title indicates. It reads as if the Professor just shuffled a bunch of lectures. I hoped I could suggest this to students rather than slogging through the original Popper, I can't.

First, I found some irksome and odd details of referencing in the volume. First, in the author's introduction, he establishes a childhood fondness for the works of Carl Sagan; crediting him with instilling a "passion" for science and writing. That's fine, but in Chapter 2, Almost Science where he expands on "hard" vs "soft" science and SETI, he fails to mention the 1966 Intelligent Life in the Universe by Shklovskii and Sagan. I think it odd the author appears to be unfamiliar with this particularly pertinent linkage in both his story and history. In what I think of as a kind of stale literary fashion, each Chapter begins with two quotes. Each of these is attributed to an author or speaker but nothing else regarding the quote is provided.

Professor Piglucci employs a ponderous and convoluted path to his comparisons of science, pseudoscience and bunk. He has an irritating style of repeatedly, with announcement, suspending an argument and postponing it for later. This happens many, many times; so many that I lost track of whether he even did pick up all those dropped threads. "Before we can appreciate the sniping on both sides of the divide, however, we need..." "I will leave a discussion of the last two points for later..." "As we shall see in the next chapter..." "Before that we need to take a detour..."

The underlying structure of Professor Piglucci's arguments are problematic. They are often supported by very narrow, isolated, and often obtuse elements.
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