Nonsense on Stilts

This page is open for comments on one of my books, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. Feel free to comment on any and all aspects of the book or ask any question you may have. I will do my best to answer, or you will get some useful insight from our community.

Here is the summary description of the book:

Recent polls suggest that fewer than 40 percent of Americans believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, despite it being one of science’s best-established findings. Parents still refuse to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link has been consistently disproved. And about 40 percent of Americans believe that the threat of global warming is exaggerated, including many political leaders.

In this era of fake news and alternative facts, there is more bunk than ever. But why do people believe in it? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? In this fully revised second edition, noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in an 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—neither 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 this timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Broad in scope and implication, Nonsense on Stilts is a captivating guide for the intelligent citizen who wishes to make up her own mind while navigating the perilous debates that will shape the future of our planet.

And here is the Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 – Frustrating Conversations

Chapter 2 – Hard Science, Soft Science

Chapter 3 – Almost Science

Chapter 4 – Pseudoscience

Chapter 5 – Blame the Media?

Chapter 6 – Debates on Science: The Rise of Think Tanks and the Decline of Public Intellectuals

Chapter 7 – From Superstition to Natural Philosophy

Chapter 8 – From Natural Philosophy to Modern Science

Chapter 9 – The Science Wars I: Do We Trust Science Too Much?

Chapter 10 – The Science Wars II: Do We Trust Science Too Little?

Chapter 11 – The Problem and the (Possible) Cure: Scientism and Virtue Epistemology

Chapter 12 – Who’s Your Expert?

Conclusion – So, What Is Science after All?

2 thoughts on “Nonsense on Stilts”

  1. Read it and loved it ! Very profound ideas of philosophy of science are introduced but in a very easy to grasp way. I just wish there was a french translation so more people could read it in my country.

    I’m particularly found of the last two chapters about virtue epistemology and the novice/expert problem as formalized by Goldman. I think these concepts deserve their own books because they are (as stated in the title of chapter 11), the cure to the crisis of epistemology.

    I’d say there is a problem that should have had got more attention : hyperscepticism. Of course there is a problem today that some people believe anything, but there are also an awful lot of people who doesn’t believe anything. Sometimes they sound the same as relativists (“see, science has failed before, how can you believe anything now ?”), but it’s not exactly the same kind.

    I’m currently listening to the podcasts of Claudine Tiercelin (https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/en-claudine-tiercelin/_course.htm) and she has some very interesting answers to these problems too, notably using the work of CS Peirce (the more I read his work, the more I love it, way ahead of his time !).

    Anyway thanks again for this book, I guess I’ve recommanded it more than 50 times !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Maxime! Yes, that sort of hyper-skepticism, or really cynicism, is problematic and getting more common, in part as a result of “alternative facts” and “fake news.”

      Like

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