DENIALISM by Michael Specter


How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives
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From New Yorker staffer Specter, a sarcasm-drenched denunciation of all who will not kneel at the altar of science.

“Denialists,” as Specter calls such people, “shun nuance and fear complexity, so instead of asking how science might help resolve our problems, they reject novel strategies even when those strategies are supported by impressive data and scientific consensus.” Never mind that consensus once supported the idea of an Earth-centric universe and of epilepsy as a sign of demonic possession, and never mind Specter’s own lack of nuance in lumping climate-change deniers, GM-food opponents, anti-vaccination activists and other such types into a single category. Are those who worry about the prospect of eating genetically altered food really on a par with Holocaust deniers? Specter seems glad to equate them, and to accuse any such worriers of being glad to condemn African villagers to lives of famine and misery. Are organic foodies evil? Apparently so (“the Western cult of organic food is nothing more than a glorious fetish of the rich”)—never mind the fact that nonorganic farming is an innovation scarcely a century old and that eating fossil fuel is not very good for anyone. Specter rolls a few fuzzy-math dice along the way—at one point he gives the appearance that the 2,000-odd Americans who died of aspirin poisoning in 2008 were merely victims of bad luck—and he advances a few straw-man lines of argument that would make a college-composition student blush. Readers will need to be comfortable with the idea that Big Pharma loves them, corporate culture cares, industrial agribusinesses are in it for the public good and bacteriologists stand next to the Godhead.

Denialism, it would seem, includes denying that science has ever caused harm. Specter’s spirited approach to his subject is admirable, but his brush is far too broad and his disdain far too deep.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59420-230-8
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2009


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