Denialism by Michael Specter
How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives


5 Critic Reviews

Specter’s spirited approach to his subject is admirable, but his brush is far too broad and his disdain far too deep.


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.

About Michael Specter

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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. He lives in New York City.
Published October 14, 2009 by Penguin Books. 303 pages
Genres: Science & Math, Education & Reference, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Denialism
All: 5 | Positive: 0 | Negative: 5


Below average
on Oct 01 2009

Specter’s spirited approach to his subject is admirable, but his brush is far too broad and his disdain far too deep.

Read Full Review of Denialism: How Irrational Thi... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Darshak Sanghavi on Nov 29 2009

Specter has written a frustrated book about “denialism” but could just as well have described the hopeful signs of a new era.

Read Full Review of Denialism: How Irrational Thi... | See more reviews from NY Times

Dallas News

Below average
on Nov 22 2009

The mismatch between its content and readers' expectations is certain to bring out critical grumbles about all aspects of the book.

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Winnipeg Free Press

Below average
on Dec 12 2009

The treatment of scientific topics is uneven and sometimes clumsy. Narrative techniques like chronology hopping are sometimes more confusing than effective.

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BG Daily News

Above average
on Nov 07 2010

In some instances, he seems to place greater emphasis on references that tend to be more favorable to his primary thesis.

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