Top critical review
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Very good in places - but completely ruined by homeopathy...
on 3 July 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed about half of this book. The early chapters on physics & astronomy discuss some difficult concepts in a very approachable way, and the chapters on evolution are also very good. There is some really excellent popular science writing in these pages. Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably in a book of this type, there are a few low points as well...
To be credible as a book about "scientific mysteries", the unifying themes should still have been the need for extraordinary evidence to support extraordinary claims, and the scientific method. This is, after all, a book with the word "scientific" on the cover. The tone of the writing in places is credulous where it should have been questioning.
But the real show stopper for me was the chapter on homeopathy. I strongly suspect that this was deliberately put at the end of the book. I (and many other readers, I suspect) would have stopped reading at that point if it had been any earlier. The last line of the preceding chapter serves as a warning to what follows: an examination of "science's least favorite anomaly". How something for which there is no credible scientific evidence *at all* qualifies as a scientific anomaly is quite beyond me. The studies and "evidence" discussed in this chapter are (without exception) discredited, or flawed, or small, or unrepeated, or statistically inadequate, or all of these. The unquestioning and naive tone of this chapter discredits the entire book, which is a great shame. To paraphrase the chapter title, homeopathy is patently absurd - and it won't go away because (i) people want to believe, (ii) it's a multi-billion dollar industry, and (iii) authors like Michael Brooks (who should know better) like to report the views of people with weird ideas - in the interests of being controversial.
I was left with a single example of homeopathy having a real effect: it unfortunately ruined this book. If only Michael Brooks had limited himself to writing about 12 Things That Don't Make Sense, I would have given this 4 stars.