FOSEP Bookclub: Denialism by Michael Specter

At thDenialism Covere last book club meeting we discussed the Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Michael Specter. As Kate described from the talk he gave while in town, the book described how people’s personal biases can sometimes overwhelm their ability to think rationally about certain subjects, particularly when it comes to evaluating risks. In this book Specter addressed issues relating to pharmaceuticals, vaccines, organic food and nutritional supplements, and race and genetics. I thought he covered such a range of subjects in a clear way and was able to put things an understandable context.

I was particularly interested reading about his take on synthetic biology. This field seems to have lots of potential benefits, while also having potential to be very controversial and is not well known by the general public. This chapter seemed a good introduction to learn about what kind of research is being done in this area. Parts of this chapter were also used in Specter’s article in the New Yorker last year.

Another section that brought up interesting discussions was the chapter on genetically engineered and organic food. This led to us deciding to read a book on these topics referenced by Specter, Tomorrow’s Table by the husband and wife Dr. Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak. Ronald is a plant geneticist working on developing rice strains that can be resistant to disease and flooding, while Adamchak is an organic farmer, and the book discusses how their work can complement each other. If you want to join us March 7th this book should provide fodder for more interesting conversations.