68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top notch look at the important issue of the status of science
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...
Published on July 3, 2010 by J. Dykstra
86 of 113 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shuffled lectures
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...
Published on June 3, 2010 by Gozzi
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68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top notch look at the important issue of the status of science,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Paperback)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. In the end, he encourages his readers to be discerning and to be able to apply a number of different outlooks and strategies in order to arrive at a reasonable perspective on the validity of scientific claims and claims of expertise while always maintaining a healthy and rational sense of skepticism.
Finally, there seems to be a warning running through the book not to allow what the author calls postmodern or relativist outlooks erode the barrier between good science and pseudoscience. In a nutshell, this means that the idea that all science is tied to the cultural, social and personal heritage of the scientist in question should not lead us to put pseudoscience on the same level as science.
I don't think the author of this book intended this to be a comprehensive textbook on the history of the status of science in human societies but rather a good overall introduction for popular audiences based on some sketches from the history of thought on the topic as well as current issues that arise.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful topics, mediocre organization,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Paperback)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.
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Demarcation Problem,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (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.
86 of 113 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shuffled lectures,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (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. Often it reads like lecture notes designed to illustrate readings from a textbook. The chapter on Science and Politics: The Case of Global Warming (#6) is the discussion of just two books and mostly, and admittedly, just one chapter from one (Lomborg's book). 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! Similarly his discussion of evolution vs intelligent design appears narrowly presented with the Dover schools case and then becomes even more narrow by focusing on a hundred or so words by the Judge in the case.
His discourse on "public intellectuals" is the story of two men; Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould. These are two public persona of historical significance, few would disagree. The author stresses their roles as researchers, media darlings, and egos. But, one might have argued they gained recognition because they were good teachers. Considering the book's topic it might have been useful to conjure up metaphor, parable, and even religion as how the significance of science might be taught to those with limited training to understand technical argument. Metaphors and parables are, by definition, limited explanations (as Pigluicci uses when critiquing Kuhn for his Gestalt image analogy, p 266). These two men, Sagan and Gould, had credentials, talent to explain (with passion) complex topics, and, importantly, the willingness to go into the world and offer their interpretations; clearly they were "public intellectuals" of the first order. But, again given the theme of the book, why were no "public intellectuals" from the other end of the spectrum offered up for comparison. It wouldn't have been hard to find any number from cable TV. This omission seems particularly odd given the Professor's reference to John Stewart and his comedy show. One might also argue that Stewart and his show are successful because they "teach," as well as entertain, their audience. Later, in the first Science Wars chapter (10), discussing characters from the history of Eugenics, Pigliucci ignores the possible connection between Carl Pearson, Eugenics, and the statistical implications (in context) of "regression-to-the-mean." He does introduce Pearson and the walk over to regression is short.
The section on "think-tankery" is not encumbered by much fact and history. The author presents a sour look at think tanks of the present (perhaps rightly so but) without comparison to the past (eg Rand circa WW2) or any suggestion how they evolved into the nefarious entities they are now. (Probably think corporate "tax deductions")
The venture into Bayesian logic (p 274) is abrupt, flowing with nary a thread from Galileo and his telescope. I noticed that this was only the second "use" of mathematical notation; the first was back on p 36 with SETI and prediction of how many planets with intelligent life are in the galaxy. This second use of math is to predict the weather based on fishing trips; perhaps that's apropos. Apparently Pigliucci uses Bayesian logic as a metaphor for science and if our "priors are 0 or 1" we must be supporting bunk!?
In the end Pigliucci does paint a picture, still rather abstract, of where our country (perhaps our world) is right now. No one is "expert" in all fields. In those areas where we are not expert we must have faith in some experts. The astrophysicist has faith in the expertise of the pharmacologist. Indeed, I've know many great physicians who can barely balance their checkbooks. This means that we are all, even the best scientists, dependent upon a social construct that conveys expertise across a fabric of communication. This fabric must be open to function and when open it is vulnerable to "bunk." We all need to be vigilant.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poor Kindle Formatting,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Kindle Edition)This review addresses issues with the Kindle formatting for the book. I have given it a 5 star rating for the excellent content. As a science teacher, I rate this book second only to Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World." That said, I have some serious issues with the negligence of the publisher in formatting this book for the Kindle.
The text appears to be full justified rather than left justified. This makes for unusual word spacing.
End notes and footnotes are not linked as they are in every other Kindle book that I've bought.
In the chapter on global warming, a series of tables are presented in image format, and unless you have a Kindle DX or a computer screen, the print in those images will be exceedingly difficult to read.
The book is not digitally sectioned into chapters.
I would suggest an improved 2nd Kindle edition that replaces the 1st automatically for those who purchased the 1st edition.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good dose of skeptical food for thought,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Paperback)Reviews of this book, while generally positive, rank this book varyingly. More than a few reviewers complain what amounts to it's disheveled structure and too casual writing style. For instance, Pigliucci frequently uses parentheses to make side comments throughout the text. The style, very conversational in nature, may, for some at least, detract from what may have made for a more rhetorically effective argument. These criticisms are not without merit. Yet, for me, the result is an interesting, compelling and informative skeptical look at what science is, what it is not and how to better recognize science, what is almost science and pseudoscience. The author provides a rich basis for which an interested reader can easily chase down more material referred to in the text.
The book features an array of current and historical examples taking to task scientists, science critics, philosophers and movements. There is a wide range of topics covered, including evolution, creationism, intelligent design, climate change, global warming, think tanks, intellectuals, string theory, SETI, evolutionary psychology, astrology and more. Further, a sampling of influential individuals and their ideas are examined on the basis of how science or it's criticism is applied. These people include, but are not limited to Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Noam Chomsky, Michael Behe, Charles Darwin, Plato, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Paul Feyerabend, Carl Sagan, Bjorn Lomborg and Stephen Jay Gould.
This is a whirlwind tour, an argument really, on what science is, an analysis of the field, the scientists and their critiques. It is an imperfect, but a largely successful attempt from a noted skeptic. You can sample the author's writing on his blog at rationallyspeaking.org.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nonsense on Stilts and Stilts of Truth,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Paperback)Massimo Pigliucci, an evolutionary biologist, has written an excellent book called "Nonsense on Stilts, How to Tell Science from Bunk", published by The University of Chicago Press. From the whimsical title it hard to see, unless you read it, that this is a serious work. It goes from the factual to the philosophical fields in separating science from pseudoscience and pure bunk. I recommend it highly. He covers astrology, creationism, anti vaccination and global warming denialism. It should be required reading in every science and philosophy class. It also should be required reading for those spreading woo, but they will not read it or anything that smacks of logic, evidence and sense. In this book he outlines what all who wish to communicate science should do. Bravo!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Audible Audio Edition)Terrific look at the difference between science and pseudo science. It feels a bit disorganized but thats forgivable for a book on a complex subject with no real answer to the problem.
The only downside for me was the narrator in the audio version which I had. A bit too dry and a little disappointing especially since the author is a terrific public speaker.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Hardcover)I admire the bravery of any philosopher who truly intends to be understood, and Pigliucci's lucid prose gives him nowhere to hide. There is no sleight of hand here, just rationally thinking and writing. I wonder if the readers who have qualms with his "organization" are missing the larger theme that he's pursuing. Much more than just a cranky debunking of soft headed thinking, this book illuminates the central issues of human understanding. What emerges is the general outline of human knowledge. It's not just a step buy step refutation of pseudo science. If you care about how and what we can know, this is a great book to read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We need more ammunition like this to help in the fight against the rising tide of scientific illiteracy and willful ignorance,
This review is from: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Kindle Edition)A major political party in America has been taken over by the forces of darkness. Purveyors of scientific illiteracy continue to bombard American citizens with their claims about "legitimate rape," the willful ignorance of creationism, denial of global climate change and other aspects of reality. Pigliucci provides common-sense ammuniton for those who will resist this wave of anti-science reality denial.
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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk by Massimo Pigliucci (Paperback - May 15, 2010)