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304 of 362 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The most anti-science "science" book I've ever read., June 12, 2010
This review is from: 13 Things that Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time (Paperback)
"13 Things That Don't Make Sense" is a list of things that the author apparently dearly wishes were true. If this book had been written as a exercise for the reader in identifying logical fallacies I'm quite sure I would have found it an enjoyable and educational read. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

Halfway through the book I identified the formulaic pattern by which nearly every chapter seems to have been manufactured. It goes something like this. 1) Identify some topic which the vast majority of scientists that specialize in it have reached a consensus of their general understanding of how it works. 2) Introduce crank "scientist" that has radical ideas about said topic that challenge the consensus. 3) Gain reader's trust by acknowledging a few of the more obvious arguments against the radical ideas and insincerely admit that the crank scientist might actually be wrong. 4) Spend the rest of the chapter a) promoting the radical ideas and b) ignoring, or merely giving lip service to, the more fundamental arguments that demonstrate how patently absurd the ideas actually are and c) painting the scientific community as a closed-minded dogmatic bunch of good-old-boys who don't like outsiders challenging their beliefs.

I was genuinely surprised that there wasn't a chapter titled "Evolution", as the author's pattern of attacking science seems to come directly from the play book of the Discovery Institute. In fact, it would seem that the author co-opted the "Wedge Strategy" of the DI for his own purposes.

Upon finishing the book, I concluded that the author's overarching agenda was to champion homeopathy. All the preceding chapters were a setup to undermine the reader's trust in the scientific community and it's ability to accurately answer questions about the world around us. The author clearly wants homeopathy to be true so bad that he's resolved to believe in it until the scientific community can prove to his satisfaction that it doesn't work. At the top of page 195, he states that "[The Scientific Community has] failed to prove homeopathy's inefficacy. Yet again." and in the next paragraph states that, "Given more than two centuries science has failed to show that homeopathy is bumkum."

Anyone with a sensible grasp of how science works knows quite well that it is not the responsibility of the scientific community to prove that homeopathy does not work. The onus is on those who claim that it does work to provide clear, repeatable, evidence to support their claim. To paraphrase the author, Given more that two centuries, homeopathy proponents have failed to produce *even one* truly homeopathic remedy that that can reliably and consistently treat *even one* medical condition under strict double-blind controls. In the absence of such evidence, to even believe that homeopathy might work, is nothing more that wishful thinking and those actively selling true homeopathic remedies are engaging in fraud.

On page 200 the author briefly dances around the argument that the extremely high dilution ratios in true homeopathy are actually the problem. He states that "dilution and succussion - to most, the very essence of homeopathy - could not just be a waste of time but the root of homeopathy's problems." But then he fails to take that to it's logical conclusion, that if you stop diluting these "remedies" to absurd degrees and actually provide a substance with enough molecules of active ingredient remaining, then the active ingredient will have a predictable effect on the patient. But that's not homeopathy anymore, that's how real science based medicine works.

There are a few medicines that market themselves as "homeopathic" but are actually real medicine provided in safe, clinically proven, dilution levels. In this case, the word "homeopathic" is just a clever marketing term to take advantage of the public's ignorance of what homeopathy is. Most active ingredients in real medicine are not safe to take in their pure form and are normally diluted to safe levels. But, if you're going to call these kinds of medicine "homeopathic", then you might as well call your morning coffee "homeopathic". Just remember, homeopathic dilution makes the substance stronger, so don't dilute your coffee too much or you won't be able to sleep for weeks.
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Showing 1-10 of 38 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 16, 2010, 5:46:57 AM PDT
slidecube says:
"c) painting the scientific community as a closed-minded dogmatic bunch of good-old-boys who don't like outsiders challenging their beliefs."

This is actually more true than most people want to believe. I haven't read this book, so I'm not really commenting on this statement in that context. And, I don't want to come off as someone bashing science in general.

But, legitimate challenges to accepted theories means less grants, less attention, and ultimately less relevance to the scientists whose theories are challenged. The history of scientists subverting and even sabotaging each other's work is vast, sometimes humorous, and often very childish.

Again, don't take this as a reason to distrust scientific study, but we'd do well to remember that when a human being has something to lose, the natural instinct is to try to stop it.

Posted on Jul 19, 2010, 12:14:58 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 19, 2010, 12:15:19 PM PDT
That was a great review. Thank you so much for taking the time to state your opinion on the book. It led me not to buy it.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2010, 1:30:04 PM PDT
shevrae says:
I'll second your comment, slidecube. Any study of science history will tell you that many things accepted as "facts" now, were dismissed out of hand when first theorized.

There is a balance between taking the crackpots seriously for the sake of objectivity and having so much faith in the consensus that you ignore potential new insights. Science could do a better job finding that balance.

Posted on Nov 11, 2010, 11:14:06 AM PST
L. Struble says:
"Just remember, homeopathic dilution makes the substance stronger, so don't dilute your coffee too much or you won't be able to sleep for weeks."

Oh man, I'm going to use that quote!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2010, 1:20:04 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2010, 1:25:00 PM PST
Mark Beronte says:
Thanks for your review. I get enough science hating just being a part of what is now popular American culture, filled as it is with those who are capable of any amount of self deception, if it means they can maintain their cherished simplistic dogma. Those who accuse science of the same, clearly don't understand the power of experiment and prediction. Any theory that is supported by both never languishes long in obscurity. Because science doesn't embrace every claim as truth, is not evidence that it is dogmatic, rather it is evidence of it's continued integrity.

There are of course problems of older scientists not wanting to give up old ideas that have been around for their lifetime, and which are only now yielding to new and better theories. There are also problems of pressure on the scientific community by those outside of it that seek to keep science out of certain areas of inquiry. Evolutionary psychology is a good example of both, but this is because we are human, and has little to do with science itself. Somehow in science the good ideas always seem to find their way to the top eventually, and that is more than we can say for any other form of human endeavor.

You have saved me the disappointment of actually reading this book, so thanks again for your review.

Posted on Dec 4, 2010, 9:34:42 AM PST
My dad reads all kinds of scientific books. He is a deeply spiritual person who has a Ph.D. in psychology, and finds great joy in reading books that analyze the deep mysteries of physics/biology, among other things. When I read the title of this book, I was interested in purchasing it for him for Christmas, and thought it'd be a great book. I wasn't sure, though. So many books are promoting something or pushing an ideal that its hard to know what books are true analyses.

Thank you so much for your critical review. I especially appreciated that you completed the book and derived its formula for each chapter. It sounds to me like a high-school/undergrad level book for people who are barely gaining enough knowledge to pass exams, but they want to feel smart and get subliminally outraged at something. Based on what you've written, I can only imagine that on Christmas day my dad would read the book (yeah, he reads books in one sitting), and be annoyed for days - he's an excellent critical thinker and doesn't need to waste his time with people being ignorant or playing pointless thought games. Your review will spare him that torture, and allow me to get him a better present. Thanks so much!

As far as people's comments about science and questionable motives, etc. I just have to say that people writing books have motives, too, and this review seems to have revealed the book's author's motivation in a way to help others determine if they are truly interested in the book. Similarly, to see if scientific studies are true (regardless of motive), one must acquire the set of skills that enable critical evaluation of scientific literature. In many cases, this requires an in depth understanding of the scientific background of the study. Such a skill set is extremely challenging to acquire, and I fully intend to rely on expert's evaluations of eachother.

For example, a medication came out that helped people lose weight. It was remarkably effective and became popular quickly. Unfortunately, the mechanisms by which it acted was such that it caused optic nerve cells to die - users of the drug became blind. Simply guessing that rapid weight loss may have side effects is not sufficient. If it would have worked without side effects, it could have been a very seriously important discovery. In contrast, experts cautioned against use of the drug. I'm glad I don't have to personally make such a decision. All I have to do is figure out which experts can be trusted, which can be challenging, but is much easier than in the 1700s.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 8, 2011, 9:21:16 AM PST
D. Hall says:
That would be a mistake. I first bought this book in audio form and have listened to it many times, as it is a truly fascinating book, and information dense. I am now buying it in kindle form so that I may read it, as is it THAT good a book.

Posted on Jan 8, 2011, 9:33:44 AM PST
D. Hall says:
Your comments are surprising. I find this to be one of the best books I have ever read (actually, listened to in audio form). I came to amazon to get in in kindle form, so that I can actually read the words.

If you read about string theory (The Elegant Universe) or watch the Nova series, you find that anyone who disagreed with the scientific community on popular topics was considered a crackpot, yet they eventually often lead to breakthroughs that vastly increased our scientific knowledge. Look at Einstein and his thoughts on gravity and electromagnetism. According to The Elegant Universe, he was troubled by the existence of these two distinct forces. This lead to his search for the so-called "unified field theory", with the current physics and mathematics community is becoming increasingly convinced that string theory is that unified field theory.

This book has a chapter on the Placebo Effect. Current studies are now showing how real the Placebo Effect really is, including one where participants were told they were taking a placebo, but still got the same relief as they were getting with the real medicine.

Don't be so quick to dismiss this book, just because you seem to not understand the authors intent.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 8, 2011, 9:35:47 AM PST
D. Hall says:
This is a great book. Ignore his ignorant review.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 8, 2011, 11:05:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 8, 2011, 11:15:56 AM PST
Mark Beronte says:
D. Hall your reply has only confirmed my decision to not read this book. Your misunderstanding of how science works is all I need to hear.

It is supposed to be hard for new theories to replace old, it means the system is working, not broken. If it were easy, science would be nothing more a typical human mind, which unfortunately accepts anything it hears as the truth. If there is ever a time when the best theory does not rise to the top in a relatively short time, then you have something to say, but this simply doesn't happen. The best theory always rises to the top, and that is more than you can say for any other human institution ever conceived. You are beating a straw horse.

Also string theory is NOT becoming accepted by the physics community. It is a purely mathematical exercise at this point, and has made no predictions. It's simply a toy of mathematicians, And it's funny how on the one hand you say new ideas are considered crackpot and not accepted, and in the next breath point to a theory that explains nothing, and claim that it's been nearly universally accepted as a unified theory, when this is not the case. It's a bit confusing.

One final note. The placebo effect has been known and discussed among physicians since before 1900 and has been considered by scientists to have significant effects since about 1955. It's hardly new, but in fact some recent research has showed that perhaps the medical profession puts too much stock in their effectiveness when it comes to anything but pain relief and other purely subjective ailments. The point is that the jury is still out on the details of this phenomenon and until it is fleshed out some scientists may be resistant to change their current view, and some scientists may be too quick to accept new information, they are after all only human. The one thing we can be sure about however, is that the scientific consensus will almost always reflect the clarity, depth and detail of the research available, and this is all we could hope for from an institution concerned with truth.
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