October 2, 2014

Review: Science Under Siege edited by Kendrick Frazier.

Out now from Prometheus Books!
Out now from Prometheus Books!
After centuries of progressive enlightenment, a sinister reversal is afoot. Ever since science has become an effective force for change, there have been those who either inadvertently or deliberately sought to reverse the benefits it has wrought to modern society. True, scientific development is not without its own set of problems as the paradigm shifts; such is our evolution into a more mindful, forward thinking species. But the detractors and exposures of “pseudo” or “anti” science seek to revert our hard won knowledge back to ignorance; at best, their failure represents a simple misinterpretation of the scientific method. But at its worst, their misguided ideology can cost lives… a look at the heavens’ gate mass suicide  or the current anti-vax  movement shows that. I sometimes wonder if our grandparents look down on us, woefully shaking their heads as we work to undo the hard won knowledge they accumulated for our own general well being…

Which brings us to this week’s Friday review, Science under Siege, Defending Science, exposing Pseudoscience, edited by Kendrick Frazier. Culled from the pages of the Skeptical Inquirer , this collection out from Prometheus Books  takes head on the critical scientific issues of the day in a collection of 39 essays by just as many authors. The names and bios read like a who’s-who of the skeptical movement; among the rouges represented are no less than James Oberg, Steven Novella (of “the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” fame), Bruce Flamm, Barbara Forest, Ann Druyan, and the late Carl Sagan… all that’s missing is James (the Amazing) Randi to make the circle complete…

Repeat after Randi…I will not go back to the cave!

Science under Siege tackles a broad spectrum of topics, from Anti-vax, to 9/11 deniers, to magnet therapy, to ghosts and hauntings, to oxygen pills, to… phew! Every branch of science seems to have its own breed of naysayers, and they’re all represented and firmly debunked in this book; hook, line, and citation.

A quick pick of our faves;

-  The “Vise Strategy Undone, Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School District” by Barbara Forest; A you-are-there, blow-by-blow of the landmark Kitzmiller case  and the on-going battle between evolution and creationism. Required reading for anyone thinking of setting foot in today’s classroom!

- “How to ‘Haunt’ a House” by Benjamin Radford; the exploits of a skeptic into paranormal activity that basically debunks every episode of the Ghost Hunters ever made;

- “Lessons of the “fake moon flight” myth,” by James Oberg; OK, I have a soft spot for this one (it was the first one that I read) because it hit the closest home to our sub-discipline of astronomy…heck, we even debunked the moon mythos last year on Apollo 11’s 40th… hey, no astrology, guys?

Still think we didn't go to the Moon? Apollo 17 lander imaged last year, complete with flag! (Credit: NASA/LRO/JPL).

 Apollo 17 as imaged by LRO last year, complete with flag… Still think we didn’t Moon?
(Credit: NASA/JPL/LRO).

 Whatever your scientific discipline, you’ll find an article to suit it in this book…for example, think you’re safe in your esoteric field of quantum physics? Think again, as “Dr” Bearden is looking to make inroads into YOUR field with claims of vacuum energy, just one of the bogus claims spotted by the watchdogs of this book.   

The reference list alone is invaluable and should provide fertile reading for those boning up for that next debate with the local chapter of creationists or antivaxers… our only tiny beef is that it may be too well referenced and sourced, to the point of reading read almost like a term paper that will get read once and then forgotten. C’mon guys, a little zing is what’s gonna draw in the masses… think shows like Mythbusters, that get ‘em in a skeptical mode of thought without even realizing it. As Fat Albert says, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something before it’s done…”

On that note, it’s been noted that scientific thinking isn’t necessarily a normal mode of thought for us superstitious humans, but still, it’s the best we have. And yet, our hunter ancestors used problem solving skills to survive and prosper; we descended, in a sense, from skeptical stock. Now, as noted in Science under Siege, our survival as a species may depend more than ever on our scientific literacy to cope with such issues as global warming, genetic engineering, and over population.

Of course, naysayers, charlatans, and quacks will probably always be with us, unless we can ever successfully stamp out the placebo effect  that many of them operate under; if you can only fool 5% of the people 5% of the time (curiously, the portion of the human population that’s estimated to be intoxicated at any given time!) you just need to get your message out to 400 folks (1/0.05×0.05), and hey, you’ve got yourself a convert! Multiply this by a million or so viewers of a Fox TV Special, and you just might have a moon landing conspiracy in the works…

Read Science under Siege to arm yourself against the forces of pseudo-science with that one thing they despise; a convincing and well constructed argument. Such a commodity is indeed rare in our modern Twitter-fed news cycle… (Yes, we know that Astroguyz is on twitter) at very least, you will be reading a tome that Jenny McCarthy, Uri Geller, or Tom Cruise won’t be cracking anytime soon; and we doubt that Oprah will feature it in her book of the month club, for that matter. But by reading Science under Siege, one can be a real renegade of the times and engage in what may be today’s true forbidden lost arts: skepticism, rationality and the scientific method!

Don't let Carl's "candle of reason" go out! (Credit: Art Explosion).

Don’t let Carl’s “Candle of Reason” go out!

(Credit: Art Explosion).

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