Synopses & Reviews
In this provocative and headline-making book, Michael Specter confronts the widespread fear of science and its terrible toll on individuals and the planet.
In Denialism, New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter reveals that Americans have come to mistrust institutions and especially the institution of science more today than ever before. For centuries, the general view had been that science is neither good nor bad—that it merely supplies information and that new information is always beneficial. Now, science is viewed as a political constituency that isn’t always in our best interest. We live in a world where the leaders of African nations prefer to let their citizens starve to death rather than import genetically modified grains. Childhood vaccines have proven to be the most effective public health measure in history, yet people march on Washington to protest their use. In the United States a growing series of studies show that dietary supplements and “natural” cures have almost no value, and often cause harm. We still spend billions of dollars on them. In hundreds of the best universities in the world, laboratories are anonymous, unmarked, and surrounded by platoons of security guards—such is the opposition to any research that includes experiments with animals. And pharmaceutical companies that just forty years ago were perhaps the most visible symbol of our remarkable advance against disease have increasingly been seen as callous corporations propelled solely by avarice and greed.
As Michael Specter sees it, this amounts to a war against progress. The issues may be complex but the choices are not: Are we going to continue to embrace new technologies, along with acknowledging their limitations and threats, or are we ready to slink back into an era of magical thinking? In Denialism, Specter makes an argument for a new Enlightenment, the revival of an approach to the physical world that was stunningly effective for hundreds of years: What can be understood and reliably repeated by experiment is what nature regarded as true. Now, at the time of mankind’s greatest scientific advances—and our greatest need for them—that deal must be renewed.
"Although denialists, according to Specter, come from both ends of the political spectrum, they have one important trait in common: their willingness to 'replace the rigorous and open-minded skepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment.' Specter analyzes the consequences of this inflexibility and draws some startling and uncomfortable conclusions for the health of both individuals and society. For example, though every reputable scientific study demonstrates the safety of major childhood vaccines, opponents of childhood immunization are winning the publicity war; childhood immunizations are tumbling and preventable diseases are increasing, often leading to unnecessary deaths. Specter, a New Yorker science and public health writer, does an equally credible job of demolishing the health claims made by those promoting organic produce and all forms of 'alternative' medicine. Specter is both provocative and thoughtful in his defense of science and rationality though he certainly does not believe that scientists are infallible. His writing is engaging and his sources are credible, making this a significant addition to public discourse on the importance of discriminating between credible science and snake oil." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“Specter is both provocative and thoughtful in his defense of science and rationality—though he certainly does not believe that scientists are infallible. His writing is engaging and his sources are credible, making this a significant addition to public discourse on the importance of discriminating between credible science and snake oil.”—Publishers Weekly
“A lucid and insightful book about a very frightening and irrational phenomenon—the fear and superstition that threaten human science and progress. A superb and convincing work.”—Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker staff writer and author of Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point
“Denialism tells stories I know well, at least in outline. But Michael Specter very valuably gathers them under one roof and gives them a name. Specter describes the increasing public willingness to deny the hard-won facts of science in favor of myths and shoddy investigation. In the process, the denialists are enabling disease and poverty, denying the advances of science to those in need.”—David Baltimore, president emeritus, Biology California Institute of Technology
“We are bombarded with information and misinformation about the foods we eat, the medicines we take, the water we drink, the very air we breathe. Michael Specter shows us how to accurately assess the impact of science on these and other essential elements of our daily lives. Written in clear and accessible language, this uniquely valuable book explains an often confusing world."—Jerome Groopman, M.D., Recanati Professor, Harvard Medical School, author of How Doctors Think
In this provocative and headline-making book, "New Yorker" staff writer Specter reveals that Americans have come to mistrust institutions, especially the institution of science. The author examines this fear and its terrible toll on individuals and the planet.
"A superb and convincing work."
At a time when our planet is in dire peril, Americans mistrust science more than ever. Few journalists appreciate what is at stake better than Michael Specter, who has spent the last twenty years reporting on everything from the AIDS epidemic to the digital revolution. In Denialism, he eloquently shows how, in a world where protesters march against childhood vaccines and Africans starve to death rather than import genetically modified grains, we must reconnect with the rational thinking that has underpinned the advance of civilization since the eighteenth century. What emerges is a manifesto that brilliantly captures one of the pivotal clashes of our era.
About the Author
Michael Specter writes about science, technology, and global public health for The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1998. Specter previously worked for the The New York Times as a roving correspondent based in Rome and before that as the Times's Moscow bureau chief. He also served as the national science reporter for The Washington Post as well as the New York bureau chief. He has twice received the Global Health Council's Excellence in Media Award, as well as the Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.