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The Unnatural Nature of Science: Why Science Does Not Make (Common) Sense

3.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674929814
ISBN-10: 0674929810
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Science is not common sense, and technology is not science. These are some of the basic ideas that Wolpert ( The Triumph of the Embryo , LJ 10/1/91) presents as he defines what science is from the point of view of a scientist. Drawing on fascinating examples from early Greek science to the present day, he discusses science's "unnatural nature" and explains how science relates to the general public and how scientists relate to each other. He also examines the interaction between science and religion. Several years ago, Wolpert and Alison Richards published A Passion for Science ( LJ 3/1/89), a collection of interviews with scientists on how they view their profession; this readable and understandable work expands and clarifies the introduction to that book. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
- Eric D. Albright, Galter Health Sciences Lib., Northwestern Univ., Chicago
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

The unnaturalness of science is held to lie both in the superior clarity of its thought over everyday notions...and in the counterintuitive character of regimes far from common experience. The unnaturalness is to be commended, and Lewis Wolpert's book is a kind of hymn of praise from one of science's practitioners...[An] entertaining book. (John Polkinghorne Nature)

The implications of Wolpert's thesis are important and widespread, especially to anyone concerned with education and the public understanding of science...Wolpert is a passionate defender of science. All he asks is that we understand what we are defending. (Tony Jones New Scientist)

Wolpert's book is...a lively presentation of points we need constantly remember as we reflect on the role of science in our world. (Philip Kitcher New York Times Book Review)

[A] wonderful book...Wolpert's prose is measured and thoughtful...In an age when fundamental ideas about the nature of truth are assailed, when scientists are derided as madmen who threatened the world with nuclear weapons and genetic engineering, it is a pleasure to read a clear, level-headed and persuasive defense of the scientific enterprise. (Lee Dembart Los Angeles Times)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 191 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674929810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674929814
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #891,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Excellent essay about the real nature of science and the fact that day-to-day common sense will never give an understanding of the nature of science.
Absolutely to the point are his analyses of science and technology (science produces ideas whereas technology results in the production of usable objects), science and philosophy (science has been immune to philosophical doubts) & science and morality (decisions are political and economic).
His viewpoint on genetic engineering is 'common sense': "... genetic engineering ... has so far damaged no one. By contrast, smoking, AIDS, drugs and alcohol have caused massive damage to children in utero." (p.168)
Particularly impressive are the chapters on 'Science and religion' (7) where the author defends secularism, and on 'Moral and Immoral Science' (8).
This book contains some very painful paragraphs on Konrad Lorenz.
A must read for everybody interested in western and scientific culture.
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Ever wonder why the non-science world is hostile toward the sciences and has a love/hate relationship with scientists?
Dr. Wolpert has written a wonderfully insightful volume that explains the matter better than any I've seen.
It's accessible, fun and may even be necessary.
If only, he'd tell us what to do about it.
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Format: Paperback
I agree that Lewis Wolpert's language is "measured and thoughtful" in "The Unnatural Nature of Science", as advertised. He asks thought-provoking questions (What catalysts produced the scientific revolution? What are the origins of creativity?). The book, though, does not fully answer the questions and suffers from three fundamental problems:

1) "Unnatural" is not clearly-defined
2) He relies on unsubstantiated assertions and generalizations
3) He disparages psychology and philosophy as unscientific, yet psychology and philosophy (or, his own version of them) comprise his argument.

The first problem is the biggest. If Wolpert had provided a coherent definition of "natural" and "unnatural", we could verify or falsify his argument. As it is, we are left to infer his precise meaning from examples and assertions about "common sense" versus science, which he apparently contends are mutually-exclusive. Because he does not clearly define his terms, the book prods in search of an objective.

Wolpert generalizes heavily from anecdotal evidence, asserting various assumptions (i.e., 'phlogiston leaves burning materials', 'the earth is the center of the universe', 'science is dangerous and produces monsters like Frankenstein') to be common-sense and natural, while the scientific explanation presumably defies a common-sense, natural approach. This seems to be a straw-man, as the scientific explanations are often more natural, more common-sense (by my own understanding), when all the facts are reviewed.

Besides: granting his assertion for argument's sake, how did "unnatural" science arise from natural origins?
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To me this is a very valuable book because what he discusses is at the roots of the trouble people have in understanding science. The review by Luc Reynaert highlighted important aspects of the book. The flaws pointed by other reviewers are, to me, secondary to the contribution of setting science apart from common sense. The other book about the subject that I like immensely is Uncommon sense by Alan Cromer. He further explores the subject and links it to the effectiveness of teaching science.
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