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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk [Paperback]

Massimo Pigliucci
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 May 2010
Recent polls suggest that fewer than 40 percent of Americans believe in Darwin's theory of evolution, despite it being one of science's best-established findings. More and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link can been consistently disproved. And about 40 percent of Americans believe that the threat of global warming is exaggerated, despite near consensus in the scientific community that manmade climate change is real. Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham the nonsense on stilts. Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a 'taxonomy of bunk' that explores the intersection of science and culture at large. No one not the public intellectuals in the culture wars between defenders and detractors of science nor the believers of pseudoscience themselves is spared Pigliucci's incisive analysis. In the end, Nonsense on Stilts is a timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Broad in scope and implication, it is also ultimately a captivating guide for the intelligent citizen who wishes to make up her own mind while navigating the perilous debates that will affect the future of our planet.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (25 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226667863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226667867
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 16.7 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 379,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A refreshingly original excursion over the unmarked territory separating science from pseudoscience and nonscience, Nonsense on Stilts is a thoughtful examination of the tumultuous terrain between the two and a primer on how one tells the difference." - Kendrick Frazier, editor of Skeptical Inquirer.

About the Author

Massimo Pigliucci is professor of philosophy at the City University of New York. He has written many books, including, most recently, Making Sense of Evolution, with Jonathan Kaplan, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nonsense on Stilts 16 Feb 2011
An excellent book and a must-read for any person with no scientific background. It deals concisely, readably and authoritatively with most of the major areas of scientific hocus-pocus, giving both full evidence and logical refutations. The author perhaps, however, does not quite realise what vital ground he concedes by his very frank and honest account of science's frequent mistakes, muddles, and inadequate theories in the past; these can lead a reader after viewing them to say "well what's new now?" This, of course, weakens the whole thrust of the book. A minor quibble is that while the author is very well informed indeed on his scientific subjects, the minute he strays outside this into areas such as straight history he shows, on occasion, a considerable lack of grasp of the subject. This rather matters because his whole arguement is that people should be much more familiar with the facts and theories of science. These are, however, minor matters and of no great importance compared to the solid worth of this book in an area of increasingly vital importance, ie. the layman's knowledge and attitude towards the sciences.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There seems to be a pattern in the last twenty non-fiction books that I've read in that they all have to be somewhere between 200 and 400 pages long. While there's probably a good reason for this, I'd like to see writers producing alternate, shorter versions of their books, so that people, like myself, who just want to read their most important points, can do so. This book is no exception.

This book is also, not suitable for everybody. From statistical evidence, it's obvious that most people have never read a book on critical thinking before, and so, for those people I'd recommend starting with something for beginners, like Software for the Brain which is also available in a digital format. From there I'd suggest that they use their new skills to critically examine their own beliefs. Once that is done, they can continue to read this book.

The subtitle, "How to Tell Science from Bunk," gave me hope that after reading the book I'd be able to tell (1) whether or not global warming is largely influenced by human activity, (2) whether or not Dr. Burzynski is a quack, and (3) have a general idea as to how I can answer future questions on the topic, and be able to give advice. It started as quite an enjoyable read, but as it got into history, I felt that there were many pages that could have been summarized or left out, and I would be just as wise about what I expected to learn from the book.

So, regarding my first criteria, on the topic of global warming, Massimo gives evidence to show that human activity probably does affect global warming, but is also a bit confusing. He implies that Al Gore was mistaken in some areas, but largely right.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read science book this chritmas!! 9 Dec 2010
By Den
Unlike the first reviewer who patently doesn't know what they are talking about, they didn't even reference the source correctly, if he bothered to read Massimos book he would have learned why his 'review' would not be accepted by anyone that knows anything about sources of evidence! this is one of the must read books for everyone and should be on everyones christmas list.

Nonsense on stilts is a rip roaring, page turning read that covers a wide array of topics, public intellectuals, authority, experts, evidence, sources, rhetoric vs truth and so forth.

The demise of the public intellectual and the rise of the think tank appealed to myself, as an intellectual I have found these think tanks to spend literally months and thousands of pounds to come to the same conclusions I have freely in a day.

Massimo goes on to discuss who or what we should trust, how to apply critical thinking and what to look for when accepting or dismissing evidence from authorities. For example someone with a PhD in evolutionary Biology, such as Massimo, with peer reviewed published journals is more prevalent to a good resource of information about Evolutionary Biology that say someone with a PhD in BioChemistry that has written a book debunking the theory of evolution in favor of ID theory.

Massimo discusses the way 'true believers' in everything supernatural debunk the scientific evidence, not with greater evidence, but rather by use of rhetoric to attack the scientist and anything else while unable to mention the empiric eveidence at all.

This book is so good I honestly can not do it justice, it is an absolute must read for anyone interested in getting closer to the truth instead of just wanting to believe what good rhetoricians and 'believers' want you to accept.

Best wishes,

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