2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Free Radicals
Brilliant. Reading it for the third time and making new discoveries each time. Emailed the author to congratulate him (he replied). Ever had an ulcer or duodenum trouble - this will tell you why and how the cure was discovered. How loads of stuff was discovered; what drugs were the scientists high on at the time; WISIWIG is not the scientist's creed, cheating,...
Published 11 months ago by Willd
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars flawed but entertaining
In his analysis of how scientific research is carried out, Brooks focuses on scientists who achieved big, Nobel-worthy breakthrough results and finds they often violated the rules of science in that they cherry-picked data, twisted the data to fit their cherished theories, elbowed the competition out of the way, and generally behaved very badly.
Published 17 months ago by Michael Gross
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Free Radicals,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)Brilliant. Reading it for the third time and making new discoveries each time. Emailed the author to congratulate him (he replied). Ever had an ulcer or duodenum trouble - this will tell you why and how the cure was discovered. How loads of stuff was discovered; what drugs were the scientists high on at the time; WISIWIG is not the scientist's creed, cheating, skullduggery, and being RADICAL is what it takes to make a discovery. If you have ever wondered 'who thought of that cure, and how', this is a must-read. NB. You'll want a pack of sticky page-markers to highlight all the gems.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars flawed but entertaining,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)In his analysis of how scientific research is carried out, Brooks focuses on scientists who achieved big, Nobel-worthy breakthrough results and finds they often violated the rules of science in that they cherry-picked data, twisted the data to fit their cherished theories, elbowed the competition out of the way, and generally behaved very badly.
He describes this phenomenon as the "secret anarchy of science" and argues that, as it seems to get the desired breakthrough results, scientists should be more honest about their anarchism, and there should be more of it. Why don't we all become anarchists and break all the rules? I doubt whether anarchistic methods will always get results - it's just the successful ones that we hear most about. It is true that scientific progress may get stuck in a dead end and may remain stuck there until somebody breaks a few rules to get past the obstacle. That doesn't mean, however, that science or society would benefit if everybody broke all the rules all the time.
Watch out for the author's own anarchy as well. Not all the things stated as facts are actually true. Kekule did not win a Nobel Prize as the author claims on page 26, he died five years before the prizes began. A second error on the same page: Adolf von Baeyer (who did win a Nobel, in 1905), did not found the Bayer company (which doesn't even share the spelling of his name, and which was founded in 1863 by F. Bayer). He also seems to think that the DNA in each of our cells is "essentially one long molecule" (p 151). Still, the anarchistic stories that the author skilfully weaves into his somewhat exaggerated and flawed argument ensure that the book is highly entertaining and readable throughout.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars changed my view of science and scientists entirely,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)I've been looking forward to this since the Guardian predicted it would be one of the most controversial books of 2011, though I don't usually read science books. It's changed my view of science and scientists entirey. Essentially, scientists behave - and often misbehave - very differently from the way the rest of us expect.
I'd heard of how Einstein had a vision, aged 16, in which he saw himself running alongside a beam of light which stimulated questions about the nature of light and proved the strange inspiration for special relativity, but assumed him to be a maverick genius, certainly the exception when it came to the way scientists behave.
But the book shows how the real scientific breakthroughs are made by people like Cardano (a self-described lunatic who arguably contributed even more to science than Da Vinci) and Tesla (whose insights into alternating current were inspired by a vision triggered by a sunset and a Goethe poem) - not the rather colourless, ueber-rational people that most of us assume scientists to be.
Even more astonishing to see how many of them gained insights under the influence of drugs! It seems we can thank LSD for the Ipad, as least in part.
Why didn't our science teachers tell us more about the scientists themselves and the ways they made their discovery? I might have stuck with science at school if they had. More seriously, I'm interested to know how the scientific community will respond. I think many will find Michael Brooks's ideas quite liberating.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Science enthusiasts review,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)This is an excellent insight into the world of Science, particularly the human dimension which is often overlooked by those who wish scientific theory and practice to be perfectly matched. Definately a good read; Michael Brooks writes with insight and clarity, sprinkled with a large helping of humour!
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but unsatisfying,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)Brooks' central thesis is that knowledge progresses because of, not in spite of, bad science. He details dozens of examples of researchers who believed their own theories so strongly that they lied, made up results, hid contradictory data, and bullied opposing scientists to ensure their theories were accepted. He therefore proposes that science education and scientific institutions should encourage what he calls this 'anarchic' behaviour because, he says, it would lead to better science. And the resulting spectacle of acrimonious arguments between scientists would increase public interest in science.
And yet, even his own book fails to live up to the author's proposition. He had the opportunity to cherry-pick examples where bad science has produced good outcomes. But, presumably for the sake of creating an entertaining book, he chooses to cite just as many examples where incorrect theories have clung on to widespread acceptance for decades because the scientific establishment has used 'anarchic' methods to suppress new discoveries.
The self-contradictions in the book don't end there. Despite researching so many modern and historic examples of bad science leading to bad theories, he does not call into question what is perhaps the most important and divisive theory of our time: anthropogenic global warming. Instead, he gives his wholehearted backing to the theory precisely because some of the leading proponents believe it so strongly that they are prepared to use persuasion and bad science to prove it. Choosing whether to believe a theory, based how charismatic and vociferous are its proponents, is more akin to religion than science.
By building the book around the deeply flawed proposition that 'bad science is good science', the author has spoiled what would otherwise have been a well-researched collection of entertaining anecdotes of scientists behaving badly.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and full of great stories,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)I loved Michael Brooks' last book 13 Things That Don't Make Sense. Free Radicals is good in all the same ways: Brooks makes complicated ideas easy to understand, is lavish with amusing details, telling anecdotes and best of all he makes you feel clever.
This book has a more specific argument - that science is a more creative, exciting process than most people think - but is like 13 Things in that it's bursting with energy and great stories.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute MUST!,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)Michael Brooks is to be congratulated for boldly exposing in `Free Radicals' the fallible ego behind what may seem like, the less fallible science. I found it a most enjoyable and informative read, with many interesting anecdotes exposing the human emotions beneath the myth that surrounds the public face of science. Like biological evolution, scientific enquiry turns out to be very much a hit and miss affair and, if the proportion of extinct species, compared to those that have survived, is anything to go by - far more 'miss' than 'hit'. It is essential rehabilitation reading for all those scientists, such as Steven Hawking, who are so addicted to the subject that they seem to believe they have special access to `the mind of God'. It reveals cracks in a value-system that awards Nobel Prizes to individuals, rather than to the LSD or cannabis or to the petty squabbles that scientists sometimes feel compelled to engage in, in order to achieve public adulation. These things, along with the self-promotory society that awards such prizes, are the real agents behind the history of scientific discoveries, not human beings themselves, who seem incapable of doing other than what they do do - for better or for worse.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A single malt whisky,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)There are books that you gobble up and can't put down. There are others that you savour: read in small doses so that you can appreciate the care and the detail. For me, "Free Radicals" was a bottle of single malt whisky, to be sipped and appreciated slowly. Michael Brooks makes scientists so intriguing in this book. Far from being plodding, white-coated, logic-driven boffins, the good ones are intuition-led, single-minded, drug-taking, self-serving, anarchic egotists, willing to ignore all inconvenient data because they, and not the data, are right. In short, they are interesting, and Michael Brooks makes them come alive in chapter after chapter. The path to their Nobel prizes is littered with the bodies of those who tried to get there first, or stop them in their tracks. The book is littered with controversy - read the opening pages and the story about Stephen Hawking, or the epilogue, which dangles the possibility that Crick (of Crick and Watson) might (or might not) have done his work on DNA with a little help from his LSD. In subject matter ranging from Astronomy to IVF, Brooks takes on such giants as the Catholic Church and the Science establishment. He explains well. An ignoramus like me now understands what a black hole is, thanks to Mr Brooks: his explanations of complicated matters are so tangible, so approachable. And funny! For those who do like to devour their books in one sitting, this book is much more than a fragmented series of scientific snapshots: it is a cogent whole, a book with a plot, a theme and a story line. The biggest revelation for me was that good science is spiritual and visionary, not logical and incremental. Like Michael Brooks's book, it crosses boundaries.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Anarchy of Science?,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)This is a beautifully written book and one which I genuinely enjoyed reading. However, is the subtitle - The Secret Anarchy of Science - really correct in the context of what's written? The answer must be 'No'. Although Michael Brooks reveals some interesting background concerning certain scientists - some of which has not been substantiated, as he himself admits - he steers clear of the real point at issue if the subtitle is to be believed. He lays little emphasis on the extremely powerful role of 'conventional wisdom' in scientific research. This notion has directly ruined the careers of many and indirectly, through its influence on financing, many others.
In physics, to challenge, or even query aspects of, such topics as the Big Bang, existence of black holes or the accepted interpretation of redshift, for example, can and has severely damaged the careers of several very good scientists. Of course, support for this 'conventional wisdom' comes also from the popular scientific journals, as well as the more serious ones, and into this category comes New Scientist for which, I believe, Michael Brooks writes. This journal is one example of a publication which rarely, if ever, queries the correctness of such topics as those mentioned above, even though popular expositions of them, such as Simon Singh's book, contain statements which are undoubtedly incorrect. In fairness, I should mention at this point, as an example, the fact that the so-called cosmic background radiation was not discovered by Penzias and Wilson but by an Australian A. McKellar in 1941. Also, the Big Bang theorists did not provide accurate estimations of the temperature of that radiation; much better estimates had been provided without recourse to Big Bang theory by many over the years, including the Steady State theorists such as Fred Hoyle. Hence, is this why Michael Brooks steers clear of criticising the real problem in modern-day science - that is, the wisdom of criticising the status quo if one desires to continue working in science?
In conclusion, do note that the real problem in science is provided by the powerful role of 'conventional wisdom' which effectively curbs original thinking since such thinking might challenge too many sacred cows. However, true progress will come only after this 'conventional wisdom' is successfully challenged and shelved.
Incidentally, I do hope no-one comes to the conclusion from some of the content of this book that, in order to make major breakthroughs in science, one must be high on drugs.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great,
This review is from: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Paperback)An interesting book about the maverick scientists of the world, but jumps about a bit too much for my liking
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Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science by Michael Brooks (Paperback - 7 July 2011)
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