A journalist/friend who once excelled at hatchet jobs has recently bought the whole Buddhist bag, including the principle of “right speech,” which commands us not to speak ill of others. Right speech, like the other tenets of Buddhism’s Eightfold Path, supposedly helps us cultivate the selflessness and compassion that are necessary precursors of enlightenment.
But I speak ill of other scientific opinion-shapers not to fulfill some petty selfish need but because of my deep and abiding concern for others. If a pundit promotes falsehoods, perhaps I can help him see what an idiot he is; if my reasoning fails to persuade him, I want to help others perceive his numbskullery. In this way, I humbly nudge all of humanity closer toward Ultimate Truth. This, you might say, is my Boddhissattva way.
It is in this spirit of modest munificence that I offer the following list of the Ten Worst Science Books. These books aren’t merely awful, of course, but harmful. Most have been bestsellers, or had some sort of significant impact, which often means—paradoxically--that they are rhetorical masterpieces.
Feel free to nominate your own Worst Science Books. They may even be on the Stevens or Discover Greatest Science Books lists (because as Yoda or some other sage once said, the opposite of a deep truth is also true: e.g., money can’t buy you love). Books by Discover bloggers whose last names start with H are ineligible. Sorry, I don't make the rules. Now, the list:
Capra, Frifjof, The Tao of Physics. Helped inspire the tedious
New Age obsession with quantum mechanics.
Drexler, Eric, Engines of Creation. Bible of the pseudo-scientific cult of nanotechnology.
Edelman, Gerald, Bright Air, Brilliant Fire. Oliver Sacks, inexplicably, reveres the pretentious, obscure neural theories of the egomaniacal Edelman. Why, Oliver, why?
Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point. Chaos theory and social dynamics re-packaged into inspirational bromides. As an editor once wrote on an article I submitted, “A triumph of style over substance.”
Gould, Stephen Jay, Rocks of Ages. Gould at his pompous, verbose worst. He managed somehow both to pander and condescend to readers.
Greene, Brian, The Elegant Universe. Through this book and the spinoff TV series, Green has duped millions of innocent people into believing in things about as plausible as leprechauns.
Hamer, Dean, The God Gene. Any book by Hamer, “discoverer” of the “gay gene” and “God gene,” would have sufficed. He is an embarrassment to genetics.
Kramer, Peter, Listening to Prozac. Kramer helped Lilly make a buttload of money with his musings on a mythical drug that magically dispels depression.
Kurzweil, Ray, The Age of Spiritual Machines. Bible of the pseudo-scientific cult of cyber-evangelism.
Murray, Charles, and Richard Herrnstein, The
Wilson, Edward, Consilience. Sorry, Ed, but even your writerly charm cannot mitigate this misguided manifesto for scientific imperialism. Stick with ants and biodiversity!