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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk Paperback – 15 May 2010
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"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.
Top customer reviews
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. I would argue that Al Gore's prediction of sea level rise was spectacularly misleading by a factor of about 2000%. Perhaps Massimo was talking about some other predictions of Al's, but I consider this to be nowhere near largely correct, because it could have influenced many people to sell their seaside homes, or even move to other countries that were not going to be swallowed by the ocean.
Regarding my second point, there is a small section about medicine in the book. The discussion included HIV, and various authority figures like Prince Charles and the South African minister of health and their crazy beliefs. I found that section quite interesting. Before reading this book I was about 85% sure that Dr Burzynski was full of nonsense, but thinking about it now, I would raise that to about 98%.
In general, I found the most important section to be the last few pages, in which Massimo shares a list of five pieces of evidence, suggested by someone else, which could be used to test whether or not someone is really an expert. He gives a couple of examples of how this test can be done.
To summarize my thoughts on the book:
- Those who have not read a book on critical thinking should start with something targeted at them.
- Beginning of the book was very interesting, including the bit on SETI, as well as the last few pages.
- Loads & loads of info.
- I learned that cold fusion is nonsense (I had not even considered that).
- I would have preferred a shorter book.
- I have a better understanding of how science works.
- The only thing I disagree'd with was that I consider Al Gore to be more wrong than he seems to think.
Author of The Mischievous Nerd's Guide to World Domination
P.S. If Massimo, or any other expert reads this review, feel free to comment. If I come up with any ideas to improve this review, I will adjust it accordingly.
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.
The problem with books like these is that they end up preaching to the converted, no matter how much the author tries to make his arguments appeal to the people who would really benefit from reading it: creationists, practitioners of 'alternative' medicine etc. This book is not going to be a cross-over hit either, but as a primer for people who don't want to be caught unprepared it works well.