Another rousing, pull-no-punches piece from a physician set on educating the public about the fallibility of scientists.



Tales of scientific errors whose unintended consequences have been disastrous.

Offit (Vaccinology and Pediatrics/Univ. of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine, 2015, etc.), a doctor with a mission, once again does not hold back. In each chapter, he tells a different story of science gone wrong, beginning with the war on pain, stretching from opium through heroin to the addictive opioids now in the headlines. Then the author takes on scientists’ mistaken belief that margarine, with its partially hydrogenated vegetable oils containing trans fats, was a heart-healthy alternative to butter. It was quite the opposite, writes Offit, and the process for converting unsaturated fats to trans fats “has probably caused more disease and death than any other man-made chemical reaction in history.” The author then tells of Fritz Haber, the pesticide and fertilizer chemist behind the gas warfare of World War I and supervisor of production of Zyklon B, the gas used to kill millions of Jews. Haber won a Nobel Prize, as did Egas Moniz, the inventor of lobotomies. Offit’s acidic comment: “At this point, it seems reasonable to wonder whether Nobel Prizes awarded in the first half of the 20th century came in Cracker Jack boxes.” The author also takes up the eugenics movement, with its malicious notion of a master race, the erroneous banning of DDT following Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—in Offit’s words, she was not a scientist but a polemicist—and the fallacious notion of the highly respected and double Nobelist Linus Pauling that megadoses of vitamin C could cure diseases. Each chapter concludes with a crisp take-home lesson, such as “beware the zeitgeist” and “beware the quick fix.” Finally, Offit applies these lessons to a number of contemporary concerns, including e-cigarettes and cancer-screening programs, providing advice on how to think clearly about these issues and how to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Another rousing, pull-no-punches piece from a physician set on educating the public about the fallibility of scientists.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4262-1798-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: National Geographic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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