Non-Fiction Reviews

Corrupted Science
Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science

(2007) John Grant, Facts, Figures & Fun, 9.99, hrdbk, 336 pp, ISBN 978-1-904-3-3273-2


Those of you who know me through one way or another know that I hugely enjoy science or that I hugely enjoy science fiction: some of you -- especially regulars to this site -- do indeed know that I revel in both. However I am acutely aware that to some these two loves of my life do not appear to sit comfortably next to one another. To such folk I have to explain that science is science and about facts while science fiction is, by definition, fiction. There is no tension between the two as one does not masquerade as the other even if the two are indeed related.

Having said this I absolutely detest fictional science, science perverted in any way, be it for commercial, political or religious purposes as well as quackery. My tolerance threshold for any of these is close to -273 Celsius (absolute zero). I have been known to walk off a stage and out of a packed hall having been asked to endorse, through dialogue with, a mystic and bitter experience through many years of relating biology to politicians has taught me that policy-makers in power are earnest learners if they genuinely want to find out something but not to bother at all if they are politically wedded to a concept. This is life. The sad fact about our modern life that is underpinned by science and technology is that it is open to abuse and this will on occasion take place. What it is that really upsets me is not that there are such folks with delusional beliefs -- people are entitled to belief what they want even erroneously -- but that such folks are out to spread their delusional beliefs to others. This is dangerous. It can even kill. The notion that AIDS can be countered by herbal remedies in South Africa being a case in point and this particular myth-mongering has returned since Corrupted Science was published so demonstrating the need for constant vigilance.

Thanks then to John Grant for an absolute gem of a book that exposes much fraud, ideology and politics corrupting science. This is a critically important book that everyone needs to reed. Take it from me that it does what it says on the can and that it is very readable with a good subject index. Let me concentrate instead in saying why everyone needs to read it. Non-scientists need to read it so that they can see exemplars of what is being said and how attempts are being made to fool them. Scientists need to read it for purposes of professional integrity and to be aware of what is being said in the name of their profession. Indeed I would strongly recommend that every science school teacher, every college and university lecturer should get a copy and check it for examples of how their particular specialism is being misrepresented and then include these in their class/lecture notes. It goes without saying that this is fundamental reading for anyone on science communication courses. Corrupted Science is far more an important a book than its title suggests. It pains me to say this (as my own climate change book is just out) but if you only get one non-fiction book this year then make it this one!

Jonathan Cowie

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