Why do so many people reject scientific evidence in favour of anecdote? In Nonsense on Stilts (Univ. Chicago Press, 2010), Massimo Pigliucci examines controversies from unproven links between childhood vaccinations and autism, to refutations of the theories for evolution and climate change. He asks how superstitions work, what part the media plays and how we value expert opinion. He suggests that science is a human business, sometimes fallible and often misused. The best defence is to stay alert to nonsense, he concludes.
Physicist David Goodstein asks why some scientists are driven to misrepresent results. His book On Fact and Fraud (Princeton Univ. Press, 2010) uses well-known cases to look at how science is conducted and to remind us that not all 'fraudulent' scientists are guilty. For example, Robert Millikan's 1910s work on electron charge was criticized unfairly. The high stakes of modern research may have piled on the pressure, notes Goodstein, but not everything that seems too good to be true is fraudulent: some major discoveries, such as high-temperature superconductors, were viewed with suspicion at first.
Fifty years ago, the combined oral contraceptive pill was approved in the United States. In America and the Pill (Basic Books, 2010), Elaine Tyler May tells the story of a drug “central to some of the most profound developments in public and private life over the last half century”. She charts how it enabled women to take advantage of expanding opportunities for education and employment, and hence how it became a flashpoint for a social transformation.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Baker, J., Abdulla, S. Books in brief. Nature 465, 164 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/465164b