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Science doesn’t speak for itself. Neck-deep in work that can be messy and confounding, and naïve in the ways of public communication, scientists are often unable to package their insights into the neat narratives that the public requires. Enter the celebrities, the advocates, the lobbyists, and the funders behind them, who take advantage of scientists’ reluctance to provide easy answers, flooding the media with misleading or incorrect claims about health risks. Amid this onslaught of spurious information, Americans are more confused than ever about what’s good for them and what isn’t.
In Bad Advice, Paul A. Offit shares hard-earned wisdom on the do’s and don’ts of battling misinformation. For the past twenty years, Offit has been on the front lines in the fight for sound science and public heath. Stepping into the media spotlight as few scientists have done—such as being one of the first to speak out against conspiracy theories linking vaccines to autism—he found himself in the crosshairs of powerful groups intent on promoting pseudoscience. Bad Advice discusses science and its adversaries: not just the manias stoked by slick charlatans and their miracle cures but also corrosive, dangerous ideologies such as Holocaust and climate-change denial. Written with wit and passion, Offit’s often humorous guide to taking on quack experts and self-appointed activists is a must-read for any American disturbed by the recent uptick in politicized attacks on science.
Physician and medical researcher Offit (Pandora's Lab), cocreator of a rotavirus vaccine, recounts the travails of educating the public about science and health issues in his enlightening treatise. Science provides a valuable "antidote to superstition," but because scientists often lack the polish to put across their ideas and "the scientific method doesn't allow for absolute certainty," people often can't sort out good from bad science; consequently, "fringe scientists with winning personalities" wreak havoc on truth. With disarming candor, the author shares his own mistakes from interviews, such as becoming flustered when Charlie Rose took umbrage at his assertion that Steve Jobs's pancreatic cancer could likely have been treated successfully. After each example, Offit provides a lesson learned (in the case of Rose: "Don't panic. The facts are your safety net"). His chapter on Andrew Wakefield, infamous for falsifying data that he argued linked autism to the MMR vaccine, is thorough, fascinating, and damning. His chapter on debating creationists, Holocaust deniers, homeopaths, and anti-vaxxers is invigorating. "Science is under siege," Offit states, but "science advocates are fighting back," and his own book provides a sterling example of this stand in the name of empirical truth.