Book review: Denialism by Michael Specter

DenialismDenialism by Michael Specter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good book, glad I read it, but not all parts of its content are equal.
To begin with, the book is divided into several chapters, each of which could probably have been a standalone booklet. It starts with the Vioxx and the fear of science generated by the irresponsable greed of some pharma companies. Brilliant.
The second story is about the anti-vaccine movement which is based on irrational beliefs about causes and effects as opposed to the clearly documented benefits of having the vaccines around. Just as brilliant.
The next part is a bit weaker in my opinion. I totally agree with most of Specter’s arguments regarding the crave for organic food, I certainly agree that “local” is better than organic from overseas, but I think he misses a point in considering that all organic eaters are irrational denialists. I believe that, at this point, he mixes up progress, science and corporate greed. For instance, I have nothing against GMOs in sine. But I hate the idea that the biodiversity can be threatened by a single company imposing its single variety of crops all over the planet. I hate the idea that most of the land owners depend on that one greedy corporation for the crops of the following year instead of just keeping a few seeds for the next season, as it has always been the case. And what happens if the corporation goes bankrupt during the winter? At some point, corporate greed (not to be mixed up with progress) is irrational. So long as the organic label is the only guarantee to avoid emptying another Sea of Aral of its water (which was needed for hyper profitable cotton plantations!), to avoid destroying the coasts of Viet-Nam to grow shrimps, to avoid overfishing endangered species, to avoid feeding cattle on antibiotics, etc. I clearly cannot hate it. But that’s the only bit of the book I didn’t agree with…
After that, the author carries on with Echinacea and the billion dollars placebo industry, based on belief (placebo, that is, in the best case… Despite being pointless, Echinacea, causes rash!).
He then attacks the “politically correct” value, demonstrating that refusing to consider genetic differences among ethnic groups is actually killing people.
And he ends with bioengineering, so brilliantly that I actually changed the way I view some of the problems the field raises.
So overall, except for the shortcuts regarding the organic issue, this a brilliant book based on a fantastic sum of knowledge and documentation. Great science journalism!

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