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618 of 829 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely good, November 12, 2005
This review is from: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Politically Incorrect Guides) (Paperback)
Tom Wolfe describes Tom Bethell as one of America's best essayists. We can see why. Bethell, an Oxford graduate, has written on a variety of scientific topics over the years and distills them in this outstanding book. He shows -- and quotes his sources copiously, so you don't need to take Bethell's word for things -- case after case of scientific "consensus" that has led the world down a dead end. But once an established view takes hold, it becomes extremely difficult for dissenting views to get a hearing. They certainly don't get government funding -- and the role that government funding plays in propping up poor science is a fascinating and consistently overlooked point that this book drives home again and again. The establishment media, meanwhile, fearful of questioning our new priesthood, consistently goes along with whatever they're told to say.

The book is not only beautifully and intelligently written, but it's also fun to read, believe it or not. Bethell's engaging style makes this book hard to put down.

Some of the points Bethell raises are quite surprising. He is skeptical of stem cell research, not for religious reasons (though he may have those as well for all I know) but because in recent months we have begun to learn that science has over-promised, so to speak. The grandiose claims of major cures being around the corner, he shows, are massively overstated. Stem cells don't seem to behave the way researchers thought they might.

Or take African AIDS. We've heard almost ludicrous figures regarding the number of Africans with AIDS. Wait till you read this chapter and you learn what it takes to qualify as having AIDS in Africa. You don't even need to test positive for HIV. That could be why the demographic catastrophes anticipated for Africa haven't panned out; Africa's population has increased dramatically over the past decade.

Then there's hormesis, the principle according to which certain things that are toxic in high doses are positively beneficial at low doses. This insight, which the scientific mainstream disdained for so long, is impossible to avoid today. The U.S. government, on the other hand, has spent countless sums and disrupted countless lives on the basis of the standard view that toxins are toxins, whether in large doses or in trace amounts. Entire communities, schools, etc. have been evacuated on this basis. Bethell shows, for instance, that cancer rates are often lower -- indeed MUCH lower -- among people who have had mild exposure to radiation than among control groups with no such exposure. This flies in the face of the oft-repeated claim that there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation.

Bethell also exposes the hysteria over species extinction and the bizarre methodology used to reach the fantastic figures of extinctions we've routinely heard. Then there's the banning of DDT thanks to environmental extremists, which resulted in hundreds of millions of avoidable deaths. Bethell even manages to dig up quotations from major intellectuals who have openly favored the devastating demographic effects of banning DDT. That's scary stuff.

Now let me tell you what you can expect from some of the reviews you'll see of this book. Lots of people will love it, as they should. Others, usually people who haven't read it -- yes, this is VERY common on Amazon -- will denounce Bethell because this or that person gives him a blurb, or because he is skeptical of Darwin, or whatever. Don't let these people do your thinking for you -- someone who condemns a book he hasn't read is hardly in a position to criticize "dogmatism," is he?

What I'd like to see from critics of this book are SPECIFIC points Bethell makes that are wrong. Much of what Bethell teaches us here isn't really a matter of controversy. He's telling us, in some cases, about wildly exaggerated claims by mainstream scientists, the demonization of those who have dissented from these claims -- so much for the cool rationalism we expect to accompany science -- and the excruciatingly slow process by which the exaggerations have been exposed.

Modern science is a wonderful thing, responsible for a great many inventions and innovations that have improved our lives. But science is no more exempt from politics, pettiness, and agendas than any other field of human endeavor. Given the media's and the general public's intimidation in the face of science and scientists, though, behavior we would never tolerate in any other aspect of life is routinely given a pass in the scientific field.

Tom Bethell is to be congratulated for a volume that is at once thoroughly enjoyable, compulsively readable and full of serious and important information. When you see one-star reviews by people who have no specifics about the book, but just go on and on about what a fool Bethell is (or who try to appear they've read the book by quoting a phrase from the cover image above), IGNORE THEM ENTIRELY. No one writing such a review read the book. But you should -- and they should, if for once in their lives they could show evidence of the open mind such people are always telling us they have.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 18 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 21, 2007 5:44:42 PM PST
Kever says:
Science is testable. Science must also be reproducible. So, if one person has a political/ scientific agenda that causes him to produce certain results, and his agenda is different from a second scientist then their results will be different. Then other scientists will see that something is wrong and do the experiments until the results make sense and are free (as possible) from personal beliefs or bias.
Read Silent Spring, DDT was killing the birds (fragile egg shells as I recall). Anyone who is not upset by that should be. Banning DDT was not to blame for anyones death. What was needed was a desire and effort to develop SAFE methods of controlling insects. We might just as easily say that banning cyanide use as an insecticide resulted in millions of deaths.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 19, 2007 7:31:18 AM PDT
DDT was banned due to media hype not scientific
study. DDT was lethal towards many insect species; but, one DDT saleman for many years
would demonstrate DDT's safety to humans by intentionally taking a tablespoon of pure DDT.
The salesman said DDT was 'God Awful' tasting;
but, he made sales and lived to his 80's---
estimating he'd drunk about 10 gallons during his
DDT sale's career.

Cyanide is lethal to humans and insects in very
small amounts.

Posted on May 31, 2007 9:59:43 AM PDT
freyw says:
"What I'd like to see from critics of this book are SPECIFIC points Bethell makes that are wrong."

So far, I've only read the chapter on global warming, so I can't speak for the whole book. Bethell tends to avoid hard facts, but he does claim that the Kyoto Protocol would have lead to a depression in the U.S. He's entitled to his opinion, of course, but of the countries that have cut CO2 emissions (France, Germany, the UK, and Sweden), none of them have suffered economically; in fact, their economies grew at a higher rate than the U.S. during the last eight years. He also claims that satellite observations show that the atmosphere hasn't been warming. This is true only if you cherry-pick the satellite data and ignore more recent measurements.

Most of the rest is really impossible to evaluate in an objective way, such as the supposed muzzling of anti-AGW opinions. For example, he spends a couple of paragraphs on the article by Benny Peiser, which claims to debunk the 2004 article in Science by Naomi Oreskes, which famously claims to prove a consensus of research supporting the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Peiser submitted his article to Science magazine, and it was rejected, leading the book's author to claim that it was rejected because of the paper's anti-AGW stance. I've read the Peiser article, and I do give it credit for raising questions about the Oreskes article, but it does not debunk it by a long shot. His analysis is flawed, most of papers he categorizes as anti-AGW aren't, and he includes non-peer-reviewed papers, which Oreskes didn't. The paper is just not very good. So, was it rejected for that, or because it was anti-AGW? How you answer that depends on where you are in the AGW debate.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2007 6:14:45 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jun 5, 2007 6:15:00 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 22, 2007 7:47:52 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jul 22, 2007 7:50:14 AM PDT]

Posted on Sep 3, 2007 10:50:35 PM PDT
Carl Chapman says:
I have not read the book. My comment is not on his book, but on your review.

It is interesting that you favorably review a book that is in the same "Series" (Politcally Incorrect series) for which you write and make money. It is also interesting that you praise Bethel's book as favorably as he praised your book (33 Questions...). It's good to see that back-scratching crony-ism is still alive, well, and thriving.

In reply to an earlier post on May 9, 2008 3:19:24 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 9, 2008 10:00:23 AM PDT
Just a quick counterpoint to freyw's post about Kyoto and our relative economic performance. And a point about the general desirability of our signing Kyoto.

Even though the U.S. is currently experiencing an economic slowdown, our unemployment rate (5.0%) is still lower than France's (7.8%), Germany's (7.3%), the UK's (5.2%), and Sweden's (6.1%). Our per-capita GDP ($46,000) is also higher than France's ($33,800), Germany's ($34,400), the UK's ($35,300), and Sweden's ($36,900).

We should also consider that from 1997-2004 the U.S.'s CO2 emissions actually increased at *a much slower rate* than the CO2 emissions of the countries that signed Kyoto. During that period, emissions from countries that signed Kyoto increased by 21%, worldwide emissions increased by 18%, and U.S. emissions increased by 6.6%.

Even if the U.S. signed Kyoto and all nations met their targets, and even if we accept the estimates of Kyoto proponents, the benefit from an estimated economic sacrifice of $180 billion a year (about 0.5% of global GDP) for 92 years would be a temperature reduction of 0.3 degrees. For almost a century of sacrifice, that's all we get.

Giving up 0.5% of global GDP anually doesn't sound too bad, but over 92 years, it amounts to a great deal of lost growth, and the effect of this lost growth will be felt most acutely--in the form of dirty water, disease, war, ignorance, malnutrition, and starvation--in the developing world. Even if we accept what the IPCC says about anthropogenic global warming without question, and even if we accept that the effects of global warming will be mostly negative in the developing world, it makes little sense to trade $16.56 trillion in global GDP growth for 0.3 degrees of coolness 92 years hence.

Best to all,

A.W.

Posted on Sep 7, 2008 11:44:45 AM PDT
Thomas Woods summary is fair, truthful and acccurate. This book is well worth reading even if you may not agree with everything he says. But an honest appraisal will lead many to agree with many of his observations. This is not a trivial book.It is one of the best rebuttals to mainstream thinking today . Every open minded scientist and teacher should read it. It remains very timely today..Stanley Ellmore M.D.9/7/08

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 19, 2009 1:36:05 AM PDT
J. Rodino says:
I'll admit that I never read "Silent Spring." I know that it was pretty much the mid-wife of the modern environmental movement, and I love the environment. But I've heard that a lot of what was in that 40-or-so year old book has since been called into question, shall we say? As for DDT, it may have had an effect on birds. But the lack of a cost-efficient substitute is a major reason that malaria is still a BIG problem in poorer, developing countries, Africa included. So, maybe a world-wide ban wasn't such a great idea. Selective use could save a lot of human lives, while possibly endangering some birds. I think that's worth studying as a reasonable trade-off.

Posted on May 22, 2009 7:27:05 PM PDT
A. Carranza says:
Intelligent Design is by no means science. It is religion desguised as science with the intent to promote the christian myth of creation. It starts out with a conclusion and makes up "facts" to support it. It has no scientific evidence behind it, science has overwhelmingly rejected it, and ID has gone on record as being religion in a court of law (Kitzmiller v. Dover). It is false to the extreme. Your review displays an obvious anti-science agenda.
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