Book Review: Merchants of Doubt

Thanks to #readinghour increasing my reading pace, I recently finished reading Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. I really enjoyed it and think it’s a very important book, including for those of us who are ecologists who also think about the factors that influence public views on science. The book demonstrates that the campaigns to deny the harms (and, in some cases, even the existence) of acid rain, the ozone hole, cigarette smoking, DDT, and climate change all used the same tactics – saying that the issue wasn’t totally settled, there was still work to do, that taking action would be premature, etc. That would be interesting on its own, but the really striking part is that, in addition to these campaigns using the same doubt-mongering strategies, it was often the exact same scientists making those claims. The book also has a good overview of how modern science works, which, in my opinion, would make it a really interesting book to use in an undergraduate course. This would obviously work well in a course related to climate change or environmental science, but it also would work in courses focused on information literacy or on biodiversity and conservation.

screen shot of cover of Merchants of Doubt

This won’t be a complete review, but there are a few points I thought worth blogging about, including:

  • the ends justify the means?
  • the dark flip side of “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”
  • an all purpose expert is an oxymoron
  • harping on a subject until your opponents give up in exhaustion
  • science communication & intimidation
  • phosphorus

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What’s the thing you’ve read recently that you enjoyed the most?

I just spent a few days of my semester break devouring Philip Pullman’s newest book, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Amazon link, but supporting your local bookseller is great, if possible!) It’s the first book in a new trilogy that is a prequel to Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I listened to that trilogy while counting samples in grad school. Those books are among my all-time favorites*, so I was both excited and a little nervous about starting the new book. Could it possibly live up to my expectations?

It did. I loved it. I can’t wait for the next book in the new trilogy, and think I’ll reread the original trilogy and La Belle Sauvage as I wait for the new book. If you were a fan of His Dark Materials and haven’t gotten the new book yet, you should!

This made me wonder what books others have read recently that they loved, so I thought a quick post on the topic would be fun. I was originally thinking of non-work-related books, but, really whatever you read recently that you enjoyed the most (or found the most powerful, or whatever criterion you want to go with) works. And, if your favorite thing wasn’t a book, that’s fine, too.

I’m looking forward to what people say, even though I’m not exactly short on reading materials! My recent response to this tweet:

was:

 

*The audiobooks are really well done! They are definitely my favorite audiobooks of all time.

Book review: The Signature Of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

On the recommendation of our commenters, I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature Of All Things. Here’s my (brief) review.

tl;dr: This is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

Warning: a few very mild semi-spoilers ahead. Honestly, I wouldn’t consider them spoilers myself. But I know some people don’t like to know any details about a book before they read it.

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Some thoughts on The Undoing Project, especially related to science, academia, and mentoring

I recently finished Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project, which focuses on the lives and work of psychologists Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They changed how we think about how we think, with their work on psychology having major influences in economics and medicine, in particular. I really enjoyed the book, and there were a few points I wanted to write about here, as I think they are important for scientists, mentors, and/or academics to consider. It’s not a full review of the book* – I’m just focusing in on a few areas that I thought were particularly notable.

undoingprojectimage

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Brief book reviews: four popular science and history of science books

A while back I asked y’all for recommendations for popular science books that a scientist would enjoy. Meaning, not written a too low a level, not too hype-y, etc. There were so many great recommendations that it was hard to choose! But in the end, I decided to start with:

Brief reviews below the fold. tl;dr: The first three are all well worth your time. The Book That Changed America is a bait and switch and eminently skippable.

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Thanks readers! I’m working my way through the popular science and lab lit you recommended

A little while back I asked you for your favorite novels featuring scientists, and your favorite popular science books that a scientist would like, and you came through in spades. Just a quick post to say thanks again for all the recommendations; I added a bunch of them to my Goodreads list and my wife got my some of them for Christmas!

So far I’ve read The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, which as loyal reader Jeff Ollerton guessed was right up my alley. And All The Birds In The Sky, which is hard to describe. Cautionary scifi-fantasy mashup? Interesting, I liked it, but the Big Idea was too obvious for my taste. The characters worked as characters, but they had to do double-duty as The Engineering Worldview and The Left-wing Environmentalist Radical Worldview. I dunno, maybe I’d have found it more compelling if I was less of an optimist and thought that the world really was at risk of being destroyed by a war between those two worldviews.

I just started The Invention of Nature (good so far), and then after that is How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.

So, what science-y reading did you get for the holiday?

What are your favorite novels featuring scientists? (updated)

In a recent post, we came up with a great list of popular science books that appeal to scientists. Now let’s do the same thing for fiction. What are your favorite novels featuring scientists? I’ll accept novels about academia too.

I’ll kick things off with four very different but equally-excellent selections:

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Recommendations of popular science books that scientists would enjoy? (UPDATEDx2)

I like to read about science and scientists. I like books that get me thinking about science and how to do it. But I find it difficult to identify popular science and history of science books that I will enjoy. The problem is that I’m a scientist. Many popular science books are too basic/slow-moving for me, too familiar, or else too wildly speculative.*

That’s where you come in. In the comments, please share your recommendations for your favorite popular science and history of science books. Specifically, ones that you think that scientists would especially enjoy.

To kick things off, here are some of my favorite popular science books, books that I think readers of this blog would really like as well. I also threw in a book you’d probably think I would’ve liked, but I didn’t.

(UPDATE #2: You have GOT to read the comments as well. Our commenters came through big time, as they always do. I love our commenters!)

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