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Unfortunately for debunkers like the Amazing Randi, the distinction between science and pseudoscience can get a bit fuzzy. Biophysicist Walter Gratzer pokes gently through the mulch of dead ideas in The Undergrowth of Science, a smart, witty collection of cautionary research tales. Some are widely familiar, like his long chapter on the Soviet politicisation of genetics, while others have been examined less minutely--does anyone remember the horror of menstrual toxins? Gratzer treats his subjects warmly for the most part, while reserving some venom for the foolishness and evil of Nazi eugenics and other racist and nationalist visions of the world.
The book asks its readers to adopt a sophisticated scepticism, one that won't accept polywater or memory transfer with zeal but also won't rigorously reject continental drift or other crazy-but-correct ideas. Of course, Gratzer acknowledges that it's easiest to be sceptical with perfect hindsight, but by building on Langmuir's rules for recognizing "pathological science," he hopes to establish a more thoughtful scientific readership. While some scientists would just as soon see any reference to travesties like cold fusion go down the memory hole, The Undergrowth of Science reminds us to learn from our mistakes. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
With its stunning successes in explaining everything from the muon to the Milky Way, science has acquired a mystique of infallibility. Gratzer punctures that mystique with a brutally frank look at episodes in which science has gone very much off the rails. Readers see, for instance, how two University of Utah chemists allowed an itch for fame to overwhelm their intellectual rigor as they startled the world with false claims for cold fusion. We see also how racism corrupted German anthropology, how Communism deformed Russian genetics, and how national chauvinism warped French physics. Gratzer aims not to discredit the scientific method (which he himself employs as a biophysicist) but rather to identify the influences that can push--or tempt--scientists into dangerous shortcuts. These shortcuts typically yield misleading results and thereby divert scarce research dollars into sterile projects, so Gratzer's analysis should foster a much-needed cautiousness in evaluating sensational scientific claims. A valuable demarcation of the line separating science from illusion. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.