The best books about how and why people reject science and endanger themselves

Robert P. Crease Author Of The Workshop and the World: What Ten Thinkers Can Teach Us About Science and Authority
By Robert P. Crease

Who am I?

In the summer of 2017 I went to see the Mer de Glace, the longest glacier in France and a tourist spot for over 200 years. But this dramatic and overwhelming glacier had all but melted away and I found myself in a dry valley a mile across and half a mile deep – concrete evidence of global warming. It was one of the most disturbing experiences I have ever had. As a philosopher and historian of science, I dedicated myself to discovering how and why people were accusing reputable scientists of dishonesty, incompetence, and aloofness while staring at the evidence. The answer is not simple, and requires a lot of telling and hearing stories.

I wrote...

The Workshop and the World: What Ten Thinkers Can Teach Us About Science and Authority

By Robert P. Crease,

Book cover of The Workshop and the World: What Ten Thinkers Can Teach Us About Science and Authority

What is my book about?

Rejecting scientific authority is an established feature of US life. Politicians and ordinary citizens find that conclusions of the scientific “workshop” collide with their agendas, and treat science as their political opponent. Astonishingly, science denial is difficult to deter because its practitioners exploit well-known vulnerabilities in science itself.

This book uses the stories of ten remarkable individuals – a surprisingly diverse group who include Mary Shelley, Kemal Atatürk, and Hannah Arendt – to explain how this came about, and what will be necessary to change it. These ten individuals confronted severe problems with scientific authority and took action. Some risked their lives. Taken together, their stories show why the dwindling authority of science is as threatening to human life, and what can be done to keep our world from falling apart. 

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The books I picked & why


By Peter Benchley,

Book cover of Jaws

Why did I love this book?

It’s a novel, I know. Sheer fiction. But the way the plot unfolds, and hurtles towards disaster, couldn’t be more current. A scientist says there’s danger out there, the police chief wants to close the beaches to protect citizens, the mayor refuses in order to promote his voters and local interests. I don’t require my students to read the book, but I do play for them the scene in the movie (similar scenes are in the book) where the three argue and the mayor, who has the power, has his way. I tell the students that this is the scariest part, far scarier than any involving sharks.  

By Peter Benchley,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Jaws as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Peter Benchley's Jaws first appeared in 1974. As well as Steven Spielberg's film adaptation, the novel has sold over twenty million copies around the world, creating a legend that refuses to die.

It's never safe to go back in the water . . .

It was just another day in the life of a small Atlantic resort until the terror from the deep came to prey on unwary holiday makers. The first sign of trouble - a warning of what was to come - took the form of a young woman's body, or what was left of it, washed up…

An Enemy of the People

By Henrik Ibsen,

Book cover of An Enemy of the People

Why did I love this book?

This is a play, a made-up story about a town in Norway a century ago. But the story couldn’t be more familiar. The protagonist is the medical officer who inspects the town’s baths, on which the livelihood of the inhabitants depend. He discovers that the baths are increasingly contaminated, and that money and time have to be devoted to fixing them. When he informs the community he expects politicians to act, and that he will be treated as a hero for saving the town. Nope. Newspapers revile him and accuse him of conspiracy, people insult him, and his life is destroyed. The drama shows, in pared-down skeletal form, how and why science denial happens.  

By Henrik Ibsen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Enemy of the People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.” -Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

An Enemy of the People is an 1882 play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

Ibsen wrote it in response to the public outcry against his previous play, Ghosts, which challenged the hypocrisy of 19th-century morality. According to Ellen Mortensen, the words "scandalous, degenerate," and "immoral" were hurled at both Ghosts and its author because it openly discussed adultery and syphilis. Therefore, An Enemy of the People tells the story of a man who dares to…

Book cover of Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines

Why did I love this book?

Why do many parents endanger their children by refusing to vaccinate them? They aren’t, writes Jennifer A. Reich, who studied such parents for over a decade. They aren’t ignorant or irrational – they are highly committed to protecting their children, and are trying to make sense of what they hear and know in their environment. Read this book if you want to understand why people selectively hear, mistrust, or reject scientific information, and seek out alternative ‘experts’ who tell them essentially what they want to hear.

By Jennifer A. Reich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Calling the Shots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner, 2018 Donald W. Light Award for Applied Medical Sociology, American Sociological Association Medical Sociology Section
Winner, 2018 Distinguished Scholarship Award presented by the Pacific Sociology Association
Honorable Mention, 2017 ESS Mirra Komarovsky Book Award presented by the Eastern Sociological Society
Outstanding Book Award for the Section on Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity presented by the American Sociological Association
A rich, multi-faceted examination into the attitudes and beliefs of parents who choose not to immunize their children
The measles outbreak at Disneyland in December 2014 spread to a half-dozen U.S. states and sickened 147 people. It is just one recent…

Book cover of Democracy and Truth: A Short History

Why did I love this book?

Why do democracies seem particularly vulnerable to populist movements that promote conspiracies and science denial?  It’s as old as democracy itself, argues Sophia Rosenfeld, who points to seeds of our current predicament planted at the birth of our republic. Social and technological stratification encourages groups, in the name of “the people” to reject advice and decrees of leaders, and seek political action based on their gut feelings.  

By Sophia Rosenfeld,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Democracy and Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Fake news," wild conspiracy theories, misleading claims, doctored photos, lies peddled as facts, facts dismissed as lies-citizens of democracies increasingly inhabit a public sphere teeming with competing claims and counterclaims, with no institution or person possessing the authority to settle basic disputes in a definitive way.
The problem may be novel in some of its details-including the role of today's political leaders, along with broadcast and digital media, in intensifying the epistemic anarchy-but the challenge of determining truth in a democratic world has a backstory. In this lively and illuminating book, historian Sophia Rosenfeld explores a longstanding and largely unspoken…

Book cover of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change

Why did I love this book?

Why does such a large sector of the population doubt robust science about so many things? Partly because industries – associated with vaccines, global warming, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and so forth – have recruited people in a deliberate campaign to sew disinformation about scientists, scientific institutions, and scientific studies. This book reveals the dynamics of deception, and puts us all on alert.

By Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Merchants of Doubt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific…

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