“Informed decision making is crucial for those in positions of responsibility—such as politicians who may influence scientific and environmental policy. Mr. Grant has, in Denying Science, taken an essential step toward this end.”
Denying Science by John Grant is an intelligently researched book that adheres to rational thought and rejects the increasingly common denialist view that dismisses science, evidence, and reason as being “elitist” or a part of some type of conspiracy.
Mr. Grant tackles every topic from climate change, evolution, and the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke, to the anti-vaccination movement of recent years. Every chapter is full of well-researched and compelling discussion, and Mr. Grant introduces many of the forces behind the anti-science attitudes so commonly observed in the general media.
One common theme is the selective dissemination of scientific evidence by the mainstream media or by individuals and groups with an agenda: By focusing on one aspect of a study and ignoring the full scope of the evidence, it becomes possible to enhance or downplay the implications of these scientific data in their true context.
For example, when Andrew Wakefield and co-authors published their paper in the respected medical journal Lancet discussing a potential link between the MMR vaccine and the risk of autism, much of the resulting hysteria in the media led to alarming decreases in the number of children receiving this vaccine in the United Kingdom and the United States, and—unfortunately and unsurprisingly—an increase in the number of children who subsequently developed and died from measles increased thereafter.
Although many parents were willing to risk the safety of their children by not having them vaccinated, it was quickly apparent that the frequency of autism did not decrease over the same period. One particular objection against the MMR vaccine was that the preservative used in the vaccines, thimerosal, contained mercury, which people feared would cause mercury poisoning—but on closer inspection, we find that the form of mercury thimerosal contains (ethylmercury) is not the same form of mercury that is harmful to humans, and is quickly cleared from the body.
Wakefield’s paper was formally disproven in 2011, and he was found to have numerous serious conflicts of interest. Only one example is that long before publishing the Lancet paper, Wakefield received over $800,000 to develop a “scientific” reason on which to base a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine; furthermore, the patients referred to Wakefield that were discussed in the Lancet paper were brought to him by the attorney who hired him for the purpose of the lawsuit.
The few claims by a small group of parents—recollecting, years after the fact, that their children appeared to develop symptoms of autism several days after receiving the MMR vaccine—were given disproportionately more attention than the successful vaccination of millions of children worldwide. Is it responsible to base a decision on only a few isolated unverifiable cases?
It is this imbalance, Mr. Grant argues, and incomplete understanding of the science involved, that can lead to the abandonment of reason. To counteract such views against science and reason, it is increasingly important to demand responsible and balanced scientific reporting. Informed decision making is crucial for those in positions of responsibility—such as politicians who may influence scientific and environmental policy. Mr. Grant has, in Denying Science, taken an essential step toward this end.