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Fragile Science: The Reality Behind the Headlines [Paperback]

Robin Baker
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

7 Jun 2002
Everyday the headlines bring news of the latest health scare, with worrying predictions for where developments in science will take us. We want and need to understand the phenomena that influence our lives, but science is often more subtle and more complicated than the headlines would suggest. Over a diverse range of subjects, Robin Baker proves that the science we as consumers believe to be true is often an oversimplication - a convenient way of explaining complex subjects which are little understood. His investigations reach their own, startling conclusions. Could it be possible, for example, that using sunscreen is actually increasing our chance of skin cancer? More and more people are taking Prozac, but does science have an easy answer to explain why? We all know the arguments in favour of conservation, but could there by strong biological arguments against it?

Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pan Books; New edition edition (7 Jun 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330480936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330480932
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.4 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,781,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

For video interviews and a wider-ranging biography, to read both praise for and criticism of his books, and to see the controversies they have triggered, visit

Dr Robin Baker was born in Wiltshire, England in 1944, and grew up in the small village of Manningford Bruce in the Vale of Pewsey. The tiny 2-room school he attended had fewer than 30 pupils, with all the under 7s taught in one room and all the 7-11 year olds in the other. Between the ages of 11 and 18 he attended the nearby Marlborough Grammar School where coincidentally, 30 years earlier, the author William Golding had also been educated; all later pupils were expected to be very familiar with Golding's classic book Lord of the Flies.

After obtaining a First Class Honours degree in Zoology, then a PhD, at the University of Bristol, Robin Baker lectured in Zoology at the Universities of first Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then Manchester where, in 1981, he became Reader in Zoology in the School of Biological Sciences. In 1996 he left academic life to concentrate on his career in writing and broadcasting.

He has published over one hundred scientific papers and many books. These include the international bestseller SPERM WARS which was based on his own lab's original research on human sexuality and which has so far been translated into 23 languages. His work and ideas on the evolution of human behaviour have been featured in many television programmes around the world.

His first novel PRIMAL - described by many as an adult LORD OF THE FLIES - was published in the UK and USA in 2009. In 2010-11 it will also be published in translation in Holland, Israel, France, Brazil and the Czech Republic.

Since 2002 he has lived in the foothills of the Spanish Sierras with his partner, the writer Elizabeth Oram, and their family. He has six children.

Product Description

Amazon Review

We live in grim times, Robin Baker recognises in Fragile Science. When sunshine gives you cancer and the butter on your toast clogs your arteries, is it any wonder that clinical depression is sweeping the Western world like a veritable plague? But is sunshine the carcinogen we take it to be? Is cholesterol really bad for us? And how exactly do we know that depression is on the increase? The media interprets science in a way that best serves the public appetite for sensation, for causes--ultimately, for reassurance. The essays in Fragile Science show how you could use the same data to draw very different conclusions: for instance, that it's sun cream that's causing skin cancer; that cholesterol actually binds and mends damaged blood vessels; that GM foods are safer than so-called "natural" foods; and--in a macabre reversal of the accepted account--that it was the rendered tissue of people that first infected cows with BSE. The point is, nothing in biology is certain: biological truth is always manufactured for a political purpose. What's iconoclasm and what's orthodoxy is, of course, largely a matter of perspective. In his final essay, Baker (author of Sperm Wars, a modern classic of social biology) celebrates the way iconoclastic biologists have dented our complacent ideas about free will. But to a new generation (see Lesley Rogers' excellent Sexing the Brain), this sort of genetic determinism is already orthodox, and ripe for demolition. Biology, Baker says, is politically useless. One can't resist asking: where does this leave Baker? --Simon Ings --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


'A thought-provoking author who forces you to re-examine widely held beliefs' Desmond Morris

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Science 22 Nov 2001
By A Customer
Robin Baker, a former research biologist and writer, has produced a fascinating and very readable book about the science which is presented to us, the public, by the media, in ways which are over-simplified and perhaps misleading. The book itself is written with the lay reader in mind, but the academic basis is lightened by interesting explanations and delightful visual metaphors.
Topics covered include sunscreen lotions and skin cancer, depression and personality, cholesterol and heart attacks, and plenty more about us and our environment.There is a discussion about the influence of genes on behaviour, and how this affects concepts of free will and self-control.
I was especially interested in the depression chapter. I liked the breadth of vision, the acceptance of the problems and the thoughtful engagement with the issues - a progressive and non-judgmental emphasis. Dr Baker keeps depression within the context of real life -genetic inheritance, relationships, lifestyle, which is a constructive approach, given that an episode of depressive illness may last years.
The discussion on GM foods will educate many people on what genetic modification can and cannot do, and may lead to a more reasoned public debate.Whether it will change attitudes is, of course, another matter.
Similarly, the arguments about the environment are well presented and discussed. The only problem, for me, was that people`s subjective opinions seemed to be missing for a lot of the time. Of course, values and emotions are unscientific, but we do not base our likes or dislikes on scientific reasons - we may feel drawn to care for and protect animals, for example, because they have much in common with us.
Perhaps the book`s greatest appeal is in its rationality. The science is presented, and we are invited to look "behind the headlines", forget the emotive arguments, and think it out for ourselves.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-read for all men and women with the 'scientific tempe 26 Sep 2004
By Ashok Korwar - Published on
This is a wonderful review of the evidence behind many of the 'everybody knows that..' kind of 'fact'. Is it really true that cholesterol is linked to heart disease? Is global warming really happening? how much can we trust the experts who blithely condense such complex issues into simplistic sound-bites? Surely such questions are too important to be left to the 'experts' - each one of us needs to understand the facts for ourselves. This book helps us do precisely that.

Robin Baker does a marvellous job of reviewing, analysing and dissecting the scientific studies on some of the really crucial issues facing us today. And he does it with an easy smile, and no sign of ideological biases of any kind.

This books is fun to read, even though the topics are difficult. I could not put the book down, and recommend it to everyone I know (and now,. even to those I don't!)
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