Nonsense on Stilts

How to Tell Science from Bunk



Massimo Pigliucci


The University of Chicago Press, 2010


ISBN: 0-226-66786-3

I bought this book when I realized that it would focus on the current problem society has distinguishing between bona fide science and pseudoscience. I often get asked by students, especially my non-science degree students, how they can tell the difference when there is no science instructor to help them and I wondered whether this book might be helpful. I started reading the book a bit cautiously thinking that it might be too philosophical, but I was mistaken. It is a very approachable account that quickly and effortlessly describes the difference between real science and fake science and the fuzzy boundary between them. It makes ample use of references to the mass media so that any student would quickly be able to relate. Using unbeatable logic, the book quickly and thoroughly debunks what Steven Colbert would call "truthiness" and equips the reader with the tools needed to become a critical thinker. I do feel, however, that he swings his sledgehammer of reason too enthusiastically so as to almost make you feel sorry for pseudo-scientists; and although I perfectly understand why he does this I feel that bashing your opponent too hard is often counterproductive if your ultimate goal is to convince them that you are right. On a separate note, the book also briefly describes the close, historical relationship between philosophy and science and does a wonderful job at synthesizing how science was born in ancient Greece and how it evolved into its current incarnation.