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In The March of Unreason, Dick Taverne expresses his concern that irrationality is on the rise in Western society, and argues that public opinion is increasingly dominated by unreflecting prejudice and an unwillingness to engage with factual evidence. Discussing topics such as genetically modified crops and foods, organic farming, the MMR vaccine, environmentalism, the precautionary principle, and the new anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movements, he argues that the rejection of the evidence-based approach nurtures a culture of suspicion, distrust, and cynicism, and leads to dogmatic assertion and intolerance. Science, with all the benefits it brings, is an essential part of a civilized and democratic society: it offers the most hopeful future for humankind.
|1||From optimism to pessimism||15|
|2||Medicine and magic||36|
|3||The myth of organic farming||60|
|4||The case for GM crops||80|
|5||The case against GM crops||107|
|6||The rise of eco-fundamentalism||132|
|7||The perils of precaution||168|
|8||The attack on science||192|
|9||Multinational companies and globalization||219|
|10||Reason and democracy||250|
Posted March 7, 2007
Dick Taverne has worked in industry, law and government and is now a Liberal-Democrat member of the House of Lords. In this useful book, he looks at the connections between science and democracy and at fundamentalism¿s threats to them both. His theme is, ¿If you abandon any concern for evidence or pretence at reason, you open the door wide to more dangerous charlatans, the peddlers of racial hatred, or those other devotees of the irrational, the religious fundamentalists who seek a return to the days when religious dogmatism ruled and freedom of thought was suppressed.¿ In his chapter on medicine, he praises osteopathy for being properly regulated in Britain, unlike most other kinds of alternative medicine. He notes that some alternative practices, like aromatherapy and Indian head massage, are pleasant and harmless. But Taverne condemns Ayurvedic medicine and homoeopathy for diverting patients away from good medical practice. He points out that anyone with cataracts who chose the Ayurvedic remedy ¿ `brush your teeth and scrape your tongue, spit into a cup of water and wash your eyes with this mixture¿ - would not get better. Similarly, homoeopathy, based on the `law of infinitesimals¿ - the more a medicine is diluted, the more effective it will be, i.e. less is more - would not help anyone with a serious illness. He notes that herbal products are unregulated (unlike pharmaceutical drugs), so users risk adverse effects. Tests on the most popular herbal products, arnica and echinacea, proved that they don¿t work and are no better than placebos. Taverne then looks at the scare about the MMR vaccine, started by Dr Andrew Wakefield¿s speculations that autism might be due to bowel disease, which might in turn be due to the vaccine. Wakefield produced no evidence, instead calling a press conference to denounce the vaccine. The media danced to Wakefield¿s dramatic tune and ignored all the proof that the vaccine did not cause autism. In a section on genetic modification, Taverne makes a good case for the safety and utility of GM foods. Even America¿s finest lawyers cannot find evidence of damage to health, and absence of evidence of harm is evidence of absence of harm. On global warming, he again warns against media hype. He points out that all the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change¿s global warming predictions depend on its unbelievably high forecasts of economic growth in the Third World. In Taverne¿s last chapter he writes, ¿politicians do in fact compromise, listen to the other side, and are willing to modify their own position in the light of public discussion and public reaction.¿ We know that members of the House of Lords can be a little divorced from reality, but did Lord Taverne not notice Thatcher or Blair? As he notes, ¿Authoritarian institutions ¿ press on with mistakes long after they have begun to produce unintended and harmful consequences.¿ Mistakes like privatising our National Health Service, devolution, EU membership, occupying Iraq, deindustrialisation, destroying the apprenticeship system? Perhaps he should check his own assumptions against the evidence.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 4, 2006
Dick Taverne sees through the hypocrisy and fraud inherent in anti-science propaganda. He gets down to some of the perceptual and expressive ills of humanity. He frames his many arguments around the use and misuse of the scientific method in its effects on many facets of our lives. Science may be the ultimate in rational endeavor, but it is under serious attack from many quarters for a variety of reasons. Taverne illustrates the fallacies in resisting the march of science and reason, especially as they affect progress in medicine, farming, industry, governance and religion. He expertly counters the platitudes, myths, truisms, half- thuths, cliches, and conventions that abound in our culture with facts and sound logic. What 'feels' right, often turns out to be quite wrong. His tool, the scientific method, works simply and beautifully whether the subject is science itself, politics, medicine, governance, big business, or marketing. He illustrates at great length how NGOs with laudable missions, can still get it wrong big time. For example, opponents of triple-immunization shots for measles, mumps and rubella, MMR, meant well, but in Ireland where opponents succeeded in stopping the use of MMR, the incidence of measles went up with children dying. There was never any evidence that MMR shots are anything like as dangerous as not giving them. In another example, Rachel Carson warned of the dangers of cancer from exposure to chemicals like DDT. In fact, not one case of cancer from DDT has ever been confirmed. But what can be confirmed, is that DDT saved tens of millions of people from death. [DDT does however thin the shells of many birds of prey, leading to their declines in population.] Taverne's final shot is that science is not and cannot be everything. As he points out, where would we be without poetry, music, love and laughter?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.