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The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism [Paperback]

Dick Taverne
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Nov 2006
Our daily news bulletins bring us tales of the wonder of science, from Mars rovers and intelligent robots to developments in cancer treatment, and yet often the emphasis is on the potential threats posed by science. It appears that irrationality is on the rise in western society, and public opinion is increasingly dominated by unreflecting prejudice and unwillingness to engage with factual evidence.

From genetically modified crops and food, organic farming, the MMR vaccine, environmentalism, the precautionary principle and the new anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movements, the rejection of the evidence-based approach nurtures a culture of suspicion, distrust, and cynicism, and leads to dogmatic assertion and intolerance.

In this compelling and timely examination of science and society, Dick Taverne argues that science, with all the benefits it brings, is an essential part of civilised and democratic society: it offers us our most hopeful future.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (30 Nov 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199205620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199205622
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13.2 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 294,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


A provocative book. (Church Review)

Taverne's case is, essentially, indisputable. (The Independent (Review))

About the Author

Dick Taverne is Baron of Pimlico and a Q.C. Having been the Labour MP for Lincoln from 1962 to 1972, he resigned to fight the famous Lincoln by-election as an independent social democrat in 1973, and won. In 1974 he wrote The Future of the Left, Lincoln and After (Jonathan Cape), which predicted the split in the Labour party that happened seven years later. He gradually became more and more concerned about the increasing mood of hostility and suspicion about science and in 2002 founded the association 'Sense About Science' to promote an evidence-based approach to scientific issues. Lord Taverne is a high-profile political commentator, regularly debating issues of democracy and science in the broadsheet press.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful antidote to unreason 7 Mar 2007
Dick Taverne has worked in industry, law and government and is now a Liberal-Democrat member of the House of Lords. In this useful book, he looks at the connections between science and democracy and at fundamentalism's threats to them both.

His theme is, "If you abandon any concern for evidence or pretence at reason, you open the door wide to more dangerous charlatans, the peddlers of racial hatred, or those other devotees of the irrational, the religious fundamentalists who seek a return to the days when religious dogmatism ruled and freedom of thought was suppressed."

In his chapter on medicine, he praises osteopathy for being properly regulated in Britain, unlike most other kinds of alternative medicine. He notes that some alternative practices, like aromatherapy and Indian head massage, are pleasant and harmless.

But Taverne condemns Ayurvedic medicine and homoeopathy for diverting patients away from good medical practice. He points out that anyone with cataracts who chose the Ayurvedic remedy - `brush your teeth and scrape your tongue, spit into a cup of water and wash your eyes with this mixture' - would not get better. Similarly, homoeopathy, based on the `law of infinitesimals' - the more a medicine is diluted, the more effective it will be, i.e. less is more - would not help anyone with a serious illness.

He notes that herbal products are unregulated (unlike pharmaceutical drugs), so users risk adverse effects. Tests on the most popular herbal products, arnica and echinacea, proved that they don't work and are no better than placebos.

Taverne then looks at the scare about the MMR vaccine, started by Dr Andrew Wakefield's speculations that autism might be due to bowel disease, which might in turn be due to the vaccine.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eulogy to science 7 Dec 2007
By Nicholas J. R. Dougan VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dick, Lord Taverne, Liberal-Democrat peer but former barrister and Labour minister, makes a case that the scientific method be accorded qualitatively greater respect than various "pseudo-sciences". He documents how people in the UK in particular, and in the West in general, have come to regard science with suspicion and distrust whereas until just fifty years ago it was seen positively (but perhaps rather too uncritically) as a source of further developments that would make the world a better place.

He deals initially with three specific examples: alternative medicines (mostly snake oil, at best placebos), organic farming (not as good for the world as you might think) and GM crops (a development that could already have made a massive positive impact in the third world in particular, with no negative side effects that any respectable scientists have been able to demonstrate).

He then moves on to look at some themes of anti-science. Eco-fundamentalism is a catch-all for those who oppose scientific developments but do not use the scientific method. He characterises them as having closed minds: Lord Melchett, Director of Greenpeace, he quotes as an example, having said that he would oppose GM crops "permanently, definitely and completely" irrespective of any new evidence about them. He points out the similarity of this approach and fundamental religious beliefs. He exposes the "Precautionary Principle" espoused by many eco-fundamentalists (and several others) as a precept that might be used to justify our stopping scientific progress altogether.

Like Taverne, I am not a scientist, but also like him I understand and admire the scientific principle. A scientist posits a theory (often based on experimental work); his peers seek to disprove that theory.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly only four and a half stars. 9 Feb 2007
This is one of a number of books recently to explore what many consider to be a very worrying growth in unreason. Taverne is obviously a sincere man, even to those, like me, who have not always shared his political convictions. His views certainly deserve attention. In my mind `unreason' is associated with the words prejudice, superstition and ignorance. I look forward to a time when the various consequences of unreason are viewed in a similar light to the unreason of racism. They are intellectually and morally the same.

I have experienced unreason myself when, recently, in a British university, a postgraduate student expressed the view that she would rather see a good proportion of the world's population die unnecessarily (through want of vaccines) than countenance any use of GM technology; this, despite having no understanding of the processes, applications or risks involved. She was, sadly, not an exception. Taverne has addressed the issues of GM well, I think, but as an example of a general malaise. I particularly like his treatment of organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association. They seem to have abandoned objectivity and are likely to do considerable harm as a result. I think his remarks on organic food, which has been the subject of some very unflattering research, are also sound and need saying.

This is an excellent book, easily read, sufficient to make people think and perhaps encourage them to look more deeply into some of the issues raised. I think they will find much evidence to support most of what Taverne says and certainly I am convinced by his general thesis. Unreason has pushed mankind into dark ages before and will do so again unless we can counteract it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so much a defence of democracy, but a defence of evidence
This is a political book about the contempt for scientific evidence held in various quarters, not just those good old villains such as creationists but groups like Greenpeace,... Read more
Published on 6 Oct 2011 by F Henwood
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative
"March of Unreason" is a timely and much-needed book, which hopefully will be read by journalists, politicians and policy-makers of all parties. Read more
Published on 10 April 2010 by Richard Murray
1.0 out of 5 stars Worried!
Frankly I find it worrying that a 'man of reason' can be so dismissive about subjects that he knows so little about. Read more
Published on 24 Feb 2010 by G. Wurr
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing ...
A great book, with a good scope of issues. The GM crop issue, religious/fundamentalist intrusion into science etc. Read more
Published on 3 Jan 2010 by J. McGhee
4.0 out of 5 stars Importance of scientific evidence
The neglect and distortion of evidence is dangerous to the health of society.
Dick Taverne is clearly a politician, a philosopher and an historian. Read more
Published on 14 Mar 2009 by M. Hillmann
5.0 out of 5 stars Please read the negative reviews - they say it all
Finally someone has taken the time to offer a widely available and robust rebuttal to the nonsense on offer from the organic movement, homeopaths, anti-GM NGOs etc. Read more
Published on 3 Jan 2009 by Overseas Reviewer
1.0 out of 5 stars Not scientific or truthful
Mr Taverne, who many years ago might be experienced as a freedom -loving democratic socialist ,has tried to find the paradigm behind the ecological and environmental movements of... Read more
Published on 13 Nov 2008 by S. Moore-Bridger
1.0 out of 5 stars Read with Caution
If you intend to buy this book then do so with extreme caution. Margaret Cook in her review in The Guardian observed that much of Taverne's `discussion is rather rant than reason'... Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2008 by K. Gibson
1.0 out of 5 stars Polemical Nonsense
"The March of Unreason" is an ill-conceived, narrow-minded, badly-argued polemic disguised by just enough rationality to convince those with no understanding of the issues, that... Read more
Published on 7 July 2008 by Mr. Peter C. N. Tangney
5.0 out of 5 stars The Eco-fundamentalists principal goal seems to be the wanton and...
An absolutely fantastic book.
In an ideal world, one not controlled by doomsayers, fear-mongers and sensationalist headline grabbers - this excellent book would be on the... Read more
Published on 5 Jan 2008 by Mr Smith
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