Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunkby Massimo Pigliucci
Recent polls suggest that fewer than 40 percent of Americans believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, despite it being one of science’s best-established findings. More and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link can been consistently disproved. And about 40 percent of Americans believe that the
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Recent polls suggest that fewer than 40 percent of Americans believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, despite it being one of science’s best-established findings. More and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link can been consistently disproved. And about 40 percent of Americans believe that the threat of global warming is exaggerated, despite near consensus in the scientific community that manmade climate change is real.
Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and—borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham—the nonsense on stilts. Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a “taxonomy of bunk” that explores the intersection of science and culture at large.
No one—not the public intellectuals in the culture wars between defenders and detractors of science nor the believers of pseudoscience themselves—is spared Pigliucci’s incisive analysis. In the end, Nonsense on Stilts is a timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Broad in scope and implication, it is also ultimately a captivating guide for the intelligent citizen who wishes to make up her own mind while navigating the perilous debates that will affect the future of our planet.
R. E. Buntrock
Richard A. Richards
- University of Chicago Press
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Meet 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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Massimo is one of the few examples of a scientist that is not only logical and bright, but also a witty and entertaining, making this book a great read. You will be amused and educated simultaneously. Why do we trust experts, even though some have been wrong? Should we trust journalism? Read and find out. Highly recommended!
Having read some of Pigliucci's other writings, including some of his technical work, I was hopeful about the direction this book would take. I am please to say that I was not disappointed. Beginning with the demarcation problem (how do we distinguish science from nonscience or pseudoscience) and ending with an explanation of why one should trust the consensus of experts as well as a fairly good heuristic to tell who actually qualifies as such in particular fields, Pigliucci is clear and concise throughout the text. He provides enough detail to explain the issue under consideration without getting so bogged down in technical jargon that the reader would require a strong background in the subject matter to understand the material. I was also happy with his handing of a couple of the biggest issues concerning the public's understanding of science today, those of creationism and anthropogenic climate change, both of which have had in the past and will continue to have in the future dramatic consequences for public life. I would recommend this book to anyone interested getting a rough idea of just what the philosophy of science is as well as how the public sees scientific discussions and why that matters.