- Paperback: 338 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; First Printing edition (May 15, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780226667867
- ISBN-13: 978-0226667867
- ASIN: 0226667863
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 50 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #943,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk First Printing Edition
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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.
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His core examples are global warming skeptics and the creationism "critique of evolution. He does an excellent job of pulling apart the issues, and identifying the criteria people can use to distinguish truth from agenda driven propoganda.
Surrounding this core are digressions through the history of science from Aristotle to the present, and a discussion of the philosophy of science....which asks what is science actually doing.
Many interesting factoids, and illuminating discussion (e.g., Astrology isn't science at all, as (1) the constellations don't exist; (2) they have shifted an entire month since astrology was founded; and (3) to the extent some "force" is postulated, it would be a force which is not needed to account from any observable phenomena, yet would be far more powerful than gravity, as the stars in question are millions of light years away.
Interestingly, the search for other intelligent life doesn,t fit cleanly in the realm of science.
One final factoid: every single scientific theory in history has been proven wrong....yet they have nonetheless been extraordinarily valuable.
In the end, some of the digressions, while kinda interesting, begin to feel like filler. However, if you are looking for a readable, basic text on the nature of science, this is a good place to start.
The problem with books like these is that they end up preaching to the converted, no matter how much the author tries to make his arguments appeal to the people who would really benefit from reading it: creationists, practitioners of 'alternative' medicine etc. This book is not going to be a cross-over hit either, but as a primer for people who don't want to be caught unprepared it works well.
Anyway, this is a must have for any student of the sciences or even psychology, as it will help inform your own practice and research methods.
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.