Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Scienceby John Grant
In Discarded Science, John Grant took a fascinating look at all the things science got wrong through the centuries. But at least those were honest mistakes. Grant’s equally absorbing follow-up examines something more sinister: deliberate hoaxes and frauds. He takes us through a rogue’s gallery that features faked creatures, palaeontological trickery, false psychics, and miracle cures that aren’t so miraculous. See how ideology, religion, and politics have imposed themselves on science throughout history, from the Catholic Church’s influence on cosmology to Nazi racist pseudoscience to the Bush Administration’s attempt to deny climate change. The themes, while entertaining as ever, are serious and timely.
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The author of this tome has some very strong opinions about the topic, as you would expect of anyone who would be bothered to sit and write such a voluminous book on a fairly fringe topic. He is quick to dismiss anyone who doesn't use the strictest scientific methods, claiming that this is the only way science can truly move forward. In the academic world this is undoubtedly true, but I just doubt that some of his "proof" is that cut and dried and suspect that some of it is just the result of a truism being repeated enough becoming true. I do not doubt his conviction, or that a large amount of his content is well researched - I just doubt whether some of the cases are that black and white, or whether they could be accused of falling prey to the same biases that the book claims to wish to expunge.
Had the scientific method truly been used then I would have expected a good cross-sampling of scientific cases, showing both bias and lack of bias, with some control criteria and and an eventual proof that science is biased. Instead it is a one-sided objective from page 1.
Personally I found many of the examples of corruption completely believeable and my own personal bias against woolly and religious thinking fit well with his hypothesis. All that does is show that he was writing to my personal preferences, rather than proving a point.
All in all, an interesting and thought provoking read, but a little too tabloid and one-sided to be a truly scientific assessment of science and politics.
What John Grant seems to do is gather as many examples of fraud, ideology, and political interference in science and lay them out one after another. The first two sections (Fraud and Ideology) are simply a collection of stories. The third section (Politics) is more a clarion call. The problems associated with political interference are palatable unlike the problems associated with a rogue or crazy scientist. The first section was fairly off-putting for me. In order to flesh out the section to be it seemed like Grant used any and all possible examples of fraud. The clear examples of fraud, the accusations of fraud, and the you-know-this-might-have-been fraud. It starts with clear examples and moves into the gossip realm. Because of this, I put the book down for some time before finishing it. The second section is interesting from a psychological standpoint and the effort a person(scientist) will put into their favorite beliefs and biases. The third section is probably the most salient dealing with the horrors of nazi science, the huge set backs of Stalin's science (genetics), and the political interference in US science by the Bush administration. While I am up-to-date on many atrocities of political interference by the Bush administration, it was difficult to divorce myself from the concerns I had in the first section also being at play in the other two sections. Its worth the price and an easy read, but is more an encyclopedic description not a book with a central thesis or call to action.