A well-argued yet discouraging exercise in the application of reason to unreason.

HOW TO TALK TO A SCIENCE DENIER

CONVERSATIONS WITH FLAT EARTHERS, CLIMATE DENIERS, AND OTHERS WHO DEFY REASON

Irrational beliefs have reached epidemic proportions, writes philosopher and science historian McIntyre in this earnest effort to explain them.

The author hits the ground running with an account of the 2018 Flat Earth International Conference, whose attendees believe that the Earth is a disk surrounded by a wall of ice (Antarctica) under a transparent dome, that all space travel is faked, and that the truth is suppressed by a worldwide conspiracy of “experts.” The leaders in the flat Earth movement seem sincere, and the members are thrilled to belong to an elite that has discovered a truth denied to the hapless mainstream. “Science denial is not based on lack of evidence,” writes McIntyre. “Which means that it cannot be remedied just by providing more facts. Those who wish to change the minds of science deniers have to stop treating them as if they were just misinformed.” Furthermore, insults rarely work. Readers may be frustrated that the author shows as much interest in understanding how believers think as in disproving errors, but he provides ingenious insights throughout. Among those most familiar to psychologists are five factors involved in organized science denial: “cherry-picking evidence, belief in conspiracy theories, reliance on fake experts (and the denigration of real experts), logical errors, and setting impossible expectations for what science can achieve.” McIntyre shows how deniers ignored or denied the existence of climate change because it’s something that may happen in the future. Then came Covid-19, which was ubiquitous—and they denied that, too. Especially in the U.S., science denial has become politicized, with a distinct rightward tilt. “To some extent,” writes the author, “conservative denial of climate change and evolution may be explained by the fact that this is just what conservatives are expected to believe.” Lest liberals get too comfortable, McIntyre casts a gimlet eye on the fierce opposition to foods containing genetically modified organisms. “There have been no credible studies that have shown any risk in consuming them.”

A well-argued yet discouraging exercise in the application of reason to unreason.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-262-04610-7

Page Count: 264

Publisher: MIT Press

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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