For decades, aspiring bomb makers - including ISIS - have desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance called red mercury. There's a reason they never have.
Journalist Will Storr provides sixteen vignettes about people who hold decidedly minority views about scientific and historical topics. Rather than just saying, "This is what these people believe, and here is why they are wrong", Storr allows each of them to tell their own story, and lets their words speak largely for themselves.
Universities should be and are expected to be sources of truthful and unbiased information about controversial subjects, especially in the sciences. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Instructors at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada used "academic freedom" to present an egregiously biased and unscientific course that misrepresented the facts of climate change.
"Trick or Treatment" is a critical (very critical) examination of several varieties of alternative medicine. I was surprised to see Simon Singh as lead coauthor of a book about health because I know him as author of a book about math, "Fermat's Enigma", that I recommended in December of 1999. I thought it was the best science/math book of that year.
I am a fan of Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" column in The Guardian. Several hundred of his articles are available free online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/series/badscience. His pieces are always well-researched and well-reasoned, and he writes with flair and wit. This slightly edited collection of his essays has recently been released in paperback in the US, after having been on the market in the UK since 2008.
David Goodstein has enjoyed a long and productive career at the California Institute of Technology as a professor of physics and as Vice Provost. He brings to this small book on scientific ethics the perspective of an administrator of scientific research, a viewpoint that I have not seen expressed in any other place.
One part (but only one part) of the decline in science in the US is the growing minority of citizens who semiautomatically adopt positions antagonistic to those of the scientific consensus, regardless of the issue. The "scientific community" is not a monolith, and skepticism and dissent are essential to the process of science.
Jan Hendrik Schön published some of the most exciting and ground-breaking physics of the past decade. He published it in the most prestigious specialty journals such as Physical Review Letters, Nature and Science. He won several important prizes and was being nominated for more of them when a problem came to light. The problem was that Schön had no data to substantiate his discoveries .
What are the consequences of allowing irrational ideas into the science classroom? If you are willing to rely on faith instead of reason to come to conclusions about nature and our origins, then there is no reason to stop with Intelligent (sic) Design. Why not go all the way (and beyond that) and teach that the universe is the result of divine intervention by The Flying Spaghetti Monster?
Several of Michael Shermer's writings have been Hal's Picks in the past. Back in October of 1997, I recommended his "Why People Believe Weird Things", Chapter Ten of which was "Confronting Creationists - Twenty Five Creationist Arguments, Twenty Five Evolutionist Answers".