22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Absolutely, definitely read it! (But it does have flaws),
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This review is from: The Geek Manifesto: Why science matters (Hardcover)In this review, I'm going to follow the author's lead and pretend that Geeks are a homogeneous community who speak and act - more or less - with a single accord.
This is an important book. It is a rallying cry to Geeks everywhere to organise ourselves as a lobby group to give science and rationalism a stronger voice in government and policy making, to counter the organised voices of vested interests whose political clout far exceeds their following.
Parts of this book will probably be illuminating to even to the politically aware geek. He talks much about how evidence is routinely abused by politicians. To whet your appetite, "spray on evidence", "cherry-picking evidence", "shopping list evidence", "veneer of evidence", "hand-picking advisers", "misunderstanding evidence", "cargo cult science", "confirmation bias", "cognitive dissonance" are all expounded concepts of evidence-abuse by our politicians in justifying their policies.
The Geeks, he says in a theme which runs through the book, are beginning to organise themselves to bring our policy makers to account for designing off-the-cuff, populist policies and pretending they're the result of scientific research. And he tells us how we can join in: how we can access information and resources, get Geek candidates into the halls of power, and persuade the organs of power to adopt scientific method to inform policy choices.
Numerous case studies of alleged science-abuse are covered, which include examples of missed opportunities, best practice, abuse of power, undermining scientific advisers, and - of course - the evidence misuse. Let's give you another list of a few of his topics: chiropractic, phone masts, animal rights, phonetic phonics, starting school lessons later, drugs policy, the Forensic Science Service, RCTs in education, NHS informing Criminology, Homoeopathy, Drugs, Nuclear Power, Global Warming, GM.
So, why have I given this book only 3 out of 5 stars? It comes down to this bizarre reality: he frequently abuses evidence in his case studies!!! :
* It's a scientists-always-right, politicians-always-wrong assessment. However closely politicians may follow scientific method in a specific case, he allows scientists to escape through some invented trap-door, before blame is allocated.
* There are lots of examples of him giving just one side of an argument.
* Although he's *explicitly* very clear that science doesn't trump democracy; there is an *implicit* message in his case studies that it damned well probably should.
* He cherry-picks quotes/actions of politicians and applies them unfairly or out of context (like the Blair "no reverse gear" and Thatcher "You turn if you want to" party conference sound-bites: he misappropriated and labelled them 'anathema to evidence-based policy'. We know that these were about New Labour reforms in general (Blair), and unpopular policies of recession (Thatcher). But we get the facile comment: "Would you drive a car with no reverse gear, or that wouldn't u-turn?".)
* He is completely unrealistic about the extent of opportunity for Randomised Control Trials (especially in the uncompromising methods he selectively applies to them); and he has unequal standards: when scientists' research trials fail it is the nature of science, but when governments' research trials fail they have wasted money.
In spite of its short-comings, this is an important book. Anybody who cares about science-abuse in policy-making and wants to be part of the clean-up team should definitely read it and act on some of the ideas. But hey, he's talking to Geeks... he should expect us to read it sceptically and not bleat unquestioning agreement like a flock of sheep, huh?
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Initial post: 25 Feb 2013 10:44:42 GMT
Thanks, I was going to buy this book ion Smith's out of curiosity, I was a bit sceptical after reading the back cover. Im no geek but try to keep abreast of science via BBC podcasts. TBH I don't think I would find anything new in this book. Nut was ignored by Brown on drugs policy, etc, etc. I won't be buying this obvioulsy one sided argument, thanks for saving me some cash and time :)
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