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Denialism [Tapa blanda]

Michael Specter

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Descripción del libro

1 de diciembre de 2010
In today's world we encounter such an abundance of confusing and conflicting information regarding what to do and what not to do, what to eat and what not to eat, what is safe and what is harmful, that it is often difficult to know what is true and what is not. In "Denialism", the New Yorker's Michael Specter delivers a frank and unflinching examination of the irrationality at the heart of the scare mongering and pseudo-science that stand in the way of progress and argues against modern scepticism of science and for a return to rationality. Tackling a broad range of contentious topics including genetically-modifed versus 'organic' food, concern over pharmaceutical corporations' practices, vaccination fears, and the effectiveness of complementary medicine, "Denialism" is at times controversial but always compelling in its strong case in favour of fact-based decision-making as individuals and as a society.

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'Michael Specter has written a lucid and insightful book about a very frightening and irrational phenomenon-the fear and superstition that threaten human science and progress. A superb and convincing work' Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Outliers", "Blink", and "The Tipping Point".

Biografía del autor

Michael Specter writes about science, technology and global public health for the "New Yorker". He has twice received the Global Health Council's Excellence in Media Award, as well as the Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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1.117 de 1.183 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
2.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas A Well Intentioned Failure to Communicate 28 de septiembre de 2009
Por Daniel Murphy - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa dura|Opinión de cliente de Vine de producto gratis
"Denialism" states author Michael Specter, "is denial writ large---when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie". The author proceeds to examine recent current events and issues to bolster his contention that some people, unreassured by the healthy and rigorous skepticism of scientific method, have rejected scientific evidence itself, thus lapsing into denialism. By examining the events around the removal of the anti-inflammatory medication Vioxx from the market, the current controversy about vaccines, what the author describes as the "organic fetish", the rise in popularity of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), and the flawed concept of race, Specter attempts to show that American gullibility and hostility to science are endangering our lives, our nation, and our planet.

I'm a family physician, and I face what Specter terms "denialism" on an everyday basis, both in the office and in general conversation. Whether speaking with Young Earth proponents that feel the planet is no more than a few thousand years old, parents that refuse immunizations for their children, people that won't take medication for their blood pressure or heart disease because they fear the side effects more than the disease, or doubters of global warming, I'm regularly faced with people across the spectrum of intelligence, and across the spectrum of religious or political belief, that are unable to interpret the facts that are beginning to impact them where they live. What I had hoped for, when I picked up this book, was an investigation into WHY otherwise well-meaning, often educated, responsible people take rigid stances on issues that are starkly at odds with the facts. Further, I hoped that solutions would be offered to help break through these barriers between well documented information and subsequent ability to act accordingly. Denialism left both hopes unfilled. The book thus becomes more of a wringing of the hands rather than a rolling up of the sleeves.

The book fails on several levels. First, the people most likely to read a book called "Denialism" are the scientific faithful. Being amongst that crowd, I'm as happy as the next guy or gal to be told that I'm right and they (the denialists) are wrong. But I already thought that, and I'm wondering how this book moves even a tiny step closer to those that we would like most to reach. Specter appears to have so much disdain for deluded souls that he might as well have titled his book "Stupidism". The marked tone of condescension virtually guarantees that the target audience that the author would like to reach will tune out within 20 pages. Secondly, I deal with many otherwise quite intelligent folk that run businesses, or hold other positions of high responsibility, but also ascribe to astrology, homeopathy,or cult religions. If such people were amenable to facts, they would have gotten the point long ago. Specter's solution to this is to attempt to bludgeon the "denialist" with page after page of facts. Whatever it is that is blocking the understanding of the "denialist", it is not access to facts or information. The blockage is most likely emotional, possibly based on fear, and one does not most effectively deal with emotional barriers by using facts as instruments of assault and battery.

In order to make my third and final criticism, I need to relate a short story. As I write this, there is a high level of anxiety about a duel epidemic of flu, traditional and H1N1, in my community. My wife is a teacher at a local middle school. In the teacher's lounge yesterday the topic was flu vaccines, both the traditional and the H1N1. All the old reasons for not getting the flu vaccinations surfaced: "I've never had the flu, why should I worry about it?" or "Last time I got the flu shot, I got the worst case of flu that I've ever had" or "This is a new vaccine, what if they got it wrong and it kills more people than it helps?". One teacher, struggling to make up her mind, turned to my wife and said "Are you going to get the flu shot?". My wife replied "I've never gotten a flu shot before, but this year, Dan (that would be me) is really worried about it, and he thinks I should get it. So yes. I'm going to." The teacher then announced "I know Dan, he's a good doc, he would NEVER recommend a flu shot for Cindy unless it was his very best guess that she should do it. That's enough for me. I'm going for it.". The point here is that trust is an essential companion to facts. And the truth is that the frequent divorces between science and wisdom, between science and ethics, between science and the environment have done tremendous harm to the trust science feels that it deserves. No knowledge comes without subsequent responsibility, and Denialism addresses this fact only weakly. PhD's in geology (oil and mineral technology), chemistry (pesticides, household products containing carcinogens, napalm, neurotoxins), pharmacy (don't get me started), physics (nuclear weapons) are granted with little, or more commonly, NO training in ethics. I have a deep respect for science, but science has to up its game if it wishes to regain lost trust. Denialism doesn't even begin to discuss how this might be done.

Ironic, is it not, that a book entitled Denialism appears to be in denial about the substantial damage that scientists themselves, through arrogance or unethical behavior, have done to the field of knowledge that appears to be our only route towards solving the enormous challenges mankind currently faces. The solution to denial will be a multi-factorial one, and involve movement of both sides toward each other, rather than a merciless beating down of the recalcitrant "denialist".

Lastly, True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society is a very readable and interesting exploration of why the way a person thinks is not always congruent with the best information available. I found it illuminating.
119 de 144 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
2.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Such an important topic deserves better 5 de octubre de 2009
Por G. M. Arnold - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa dura|Opinión de cliente de Vine de producto gratis
Denialism is all around us in many forms, from the anti-vaxxers to the Holocaust deniers and "Moon landing hoax" proponents. Scientists get it from both sides, from the populist know-nothings on the right to the conspiracy paranoiacs on the left. It's been addressed in various books over the years, from Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things to Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. But the new varieties of denial keep coming, as do the examples of corporate and scientific malfeasance that fuel them, and the fear-mongering media and crackpot celebrities keep cranking up the general level of anxiety. So we should welcome authors who can help to calm the panic and redress the balance.

Sadly, Specter fails in this. His concerns are real, the targets well-chosen, and the depth of his research is impressive. Unfortunately the presentation fails in several respects. The introduction is disorganized, as he keeps oscillating between the irrationality of the denialists and the range of provocations that have led to a quite understandable level of popular anxiety. And once he plunges into his first example - the drug Vioxx - it's unclear why he feels that it advances his argument. Merck put profit ahead of rigor, and patients paid with their lives. True. Where's the denialism? It looks like good old-fashioned greed. And so forth.

That pretty much sets the tone for the book. It's scattershot. There are probably half a dozen plausible essays for the New Republic or Mother Jones lurking in here, but as a sustained argument it's a flop. And that's a shame.
52 de 65 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
5.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Excellent Book about Another Dimension of Conspiracy Theories 9 de noviembre de 2009
Por maskirovka - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa dura
If it weren't for the fact that "Denialism" has gotten unfairly reviewed by some people here who seem to have an axe to grind, I'd have given it four stars. But I figure that adding an extra star on my part offsets people who are themselves of the mindset the author writes about or people who think that the author is condescending in his tone (he didn't strike me as such).

I'm death on people who promote conspiracy theories, and "Denialism" definitely shows that the problem is much more widespread than just people who go on about the Kennedy Assassination or September 11...that there are many people who have paranoid conceptions of the pharmaceutical industry and vaccinations or who think that just because something was grown "naturally" it's automatically better for the world than a plant that is genetically modified to be pest-resistant or have more yield.

"Denialism" pours a lot of cold water on people who espouse such viewpoints, and yes, it is occasionally done in a strident fashion. But I can understand the author's frustration with people who link autism with vaccinations despite the flood tide of evidence to the contrary or who think it better that people in Africa starve to death rather than grow and eat genetically modified crops (I can hardly wait to read the negative comments that this paragraph alone is likely to trigger on my review).

To me, the best chapters are about vaccinations and the organic food cult. It blew me away to read that there are people out there who think "raw milk" (i.e. unpasteurized milk is somehow better for you than the regular stuff despite clear evidence showing that people can and do die from drinking the former instead of the latter). Similarly, I was shocked to read that vitamins and supplements that are routinely and aggressively marketed as cure-alls and preventatives for a variety of ailments come with a neat little disclaimer that states that none of these claims have been held up for scrutiny by the FDA.

My only criticisms of the book is that the author is a little too much in the tank for Obama (although he does lambaste a member of the Kennedy clan for incredible assertions about vaccinations). I really wonder what Obama's viewpoint is about medical evidence that shows that certain races are more susceptible to certain diseases and disorders (which is not politically correct to assert even in medical journals).

I'm also chary of his implied assertion that anyone who doesn't believe that climate change threatens the survival of mankind is in the denialist camp. I for one don't doubt that man can have an extremely negative impact on climate and the environment. I'm just not sold on the idea that all climate change is down to mankind instead of nature and that humanity should embark on monumental economic outlays to deal with the problem and change its ways and behavior on a scope that has never been attempted before. I'm also alienated by people who do believe that this is all necessary and their tendency to demonize people who don't agree with them as stupid or corrupt.

But overall, "Denialism" is a cold breath of fresh air and anyone who is truly open-minded will benefit from reading it.
12 de 13 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
3.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas A well intentioned book that is unfortunately not very balanced 22 de abril de 2010
Por Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa dura
The tempo of technological development and scientific discovery seems only to be accelerating every day, and the time that it takes for a discovery to make its way in everyday life shortens all the time. Unfortunately, many of these changes are not very well understood and there are vocal opponents of many of them. A healthy dose of skepticism about everything that is novel and makes promises that seem too good to be true should be welcome, especially for tools and technologies that have not been proven themselves. However, when a technological advancement has already been proven to be effective and promises to facilitate human life in a very dramatic way, then the opposition to that advance can be hurtful to the society in general. "Denialism" is a book about several of those technological developments. Some of them, like the vaccination, are actually centuries old, but the opposition to them has never completely gone away. To the contrary, it looks like it has only increased in the recent years. The author does a very good job of describing and arguing in favor of several of those technological advances, and takes their critics to a task. A long-time New Yorker contributor, Michael Specter writes a very exciting and passionate book. The topics that he covers are all very interesting, and for the most part well documented. Unfortunately, the book has many significant flaws that make it less-than-ideal argument in favor of those technologies.

The books biggest fault is the portrayal of a very natural and sometimes very legitimate human tendency to be suspicious and fearful of novel and unusual substances into something that is misguided at best and more often than not pathological. This attitude serves neither the author nor his cause well. If his aim is to change minds and win over hearts, it would have been much more prudent to assume a much more conciliatory and far less condescending attitude towards those who don't share his opinions. As it is, I am afraid that this book will just end up preaching to the choir and solidify the opposition to many of the scientific developments that are promoted herein.

Another big flaw is a completely one-sided presentation. I am very inclined to believe most of the stuff that Specter argues in favor of, but the fact that he presents an incredibly unbalanced presentation leaves me very suspicious. On a few occasions that he mentions some of the arguments from the opposing viewpoint they invariably come from people that are so out of the mainstream way of thinking that it is hard to believe they are very representative. In other words, there is a lot of straw-man in this book.

Overall, this is an interesting book that will most likely not change many hearts or minds.
15 de 17 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
1.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Lazy Effort 19 de diciembre de 2010
Por Jessica B. Baker - Publicado en
I would have given a much higher rating if M. Spencer had done a better job citing his sources. He states footnotes are available on his website but they are not. The purpose of this book is to remind the reader how important critical thinking and evidence based reasoning are, I couldn't agree more. Then he produces a book with all sorts of interesting "facts" without citing his sources very well. Without appropriate documentation much of this book is relegated to the realm of opinion. I wish he would have taken the time to provide better documentation of sources:(
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