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



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


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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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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