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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk | [Massimo Pigliucci]

Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk

Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and - borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham - the nonsense on stilts.
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Publisher's Summary

Recent polls suggest that fewer than 40 per cent of Americans believe in Darwin's theory of evolution, despite it being one of science's best-established findings. More and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link has been consistently disproved. And about 40 per cent of Americans believe that the threat of global warming is exaggerated, despite near consensus in the scientific community that manmade climate change is real.

Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and - borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham - the nonsense on stilts.

Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a "taxonomy of bunk" that explores the intersection of science and culture at large.

No one - not the public intellectuals in the culture wars between defenders and detractors of science nor the believers of pseudoscience themselves - is spared Pigliucci's incisive analysis. In the end, Nonsense on Stilts is a timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Broad in scope and implication, it is also ultimately a captivating guide for the intelligent citizen who wishes to make up her own mind while navigating the perilous debates that will affect the future of our planet.

NOTE: Some editorial changes to the original text have been made with the author’s approval.

©2010 The University of Chicago (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"How can we decide what counts as science? That is the central question of this brilliant book, which ought to be required reading for, well, everyone." (New Scientist)

"Jay Russell's excellent narration guides listeners through the skeptic's arguments, even when Pigliucci bogs down in scientific language. Russell delivers the author's passion for his subject with some sarcasm or anger but, overall, maintains his role as a reasoned guide." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (286 )
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3.8 (188 )
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3.7 (187 )
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Performance
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  •  
    A. Michelin LA 08-11-12
    A. Michelin LA 08-11-12 Member Since 2014

    computer jock

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Politicalized Science"
    Would you try another book from Massimo Pigliucci and/or Jay Russell?

    No, very dishonest writer.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Massimo Pigliucci again?

    No, very dishonest writer.


    What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

    Massimo starts out by laying a foundation about science and how we should be very careful to distinguish between real science and non –science in the first few chapters. He then however, gets very political, very unscientific, and very left wing. He blasts the voters the voters for not electing John Kerry because he was an intellectual and Bush was a Jock cowboy. He also states that Obama is an exception since he is an intellectual who was elected President. First what the hell does either fact have anything to do with the premise of the book? Second, if the author wanted to pontificate about his political views change the title. To be clear Kerry is a snob and Obama is an ideology not an intellectual.
    The author then goes on about how man is creating global warming – does he use science to make his case NO. He used Al Gore’s, presumably another of his intellectuals, distorted facts, UN ‘s political document and other politicized science documents to make his case. At that point, I just gave up and stopped listening.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Nonsense on Stilts?

    Changed the title to read "How to fool some of the people some of the time"


    Any additional comments?

    If your a pinhead and drink a lot of cool aid this is your book - if you are looking for a book that helps one understand science then keep looking.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Doc Charlotte, NC 07-29-12
    Doc Charlotte, NC 07-29-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Run For Your Life"
    What disappointed you about Nonsense on Stilts?

    The single worst thing I've "read" since law school. At some point, I elected to listen masochistically right the way through. Surely there would be a pony in there if I just dug deeply enough. No pony.

    The author comes across as hectoring and he gets distracted into sarcastic rants about people who practice fraud. The few good bits in the book were overwhelmed by having so much time and so many words devoted to the pillory of people who, ultimately, are irrelevant. But, if you feel awed by people with degress and appreciate their efforts to educate you the unworthy, then the author's condescending way of communicating to his readers may suit you just fine.

    I suppose the narrator must have been selected to reinforce the flaws. If you like listening to people who are supercillious, whining and snide, than Jay Russell is your guy. In fact, he may be over the top for you. The combination of the text and the narration made me question my long standing belief in evolution and the danger of ignoring global warming. If the author and the narrator are in what has been my crowd on these issues, then I am inclined to do everything I can to distance myself from such people.

    I read a fair amount of science for lay people. Scientists can write lucidly and in a way that makes what they do accessible to people without their background. Find something else to read.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    I'm doing some light stuff to get the bad taste out of my mouth. Alexander McCall Smith at the moment.


    How could the performance have been better?

    Different narrator and different text. I think the text would have left me cold anyway, but the narrator was really bad. Something that starts as text, if well done, uses words, vocabulary, phrasing and structure to evoke in the reader a sense of dialog with the author. A narrator's task is to deliver the text orally without adding the narrator's creative revision by timing and dramatic rendition. This narrator took a dubious text and made it just awful.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Disappointment and anger. I did read a few reviews of the book and admit that I was forewarned. However, the topic was just too appealing to let myself be put off by some grumpy reviewer. I hope I've done a better job than the reviews did and that I succeed in helping others avoid wasting their time.


    Any additional comments?

    Please take care with the selection of narrators.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mitchell Lehi, Utah, United States 07-09-12
    Mitchell Lehi, Utah, United States 07-09-12 Member Since 2012
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    "One long rant"

    The first two chapters were extremely compelling as they are a well thought critic on the nature of science and knowledge.

    From there is quickly devolves into a collection of aggravating experiences the author has experienced and punching obvious targets. We all know what to think about UFOs and astrology, how about picking something more controversial like alternative medicine or cold fusion, or perpetual motion variants? I was hoping for more analysis and less rant.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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