Book Review: “Pandora’s Lab” by Paul A. Offit, M.D.

pandora's labThe question at the center of this fascinating and well-researched book is pretty straightforward: what happens when science is misused? Dr. Offit presents us with 7 stories about times that large groups of people became convinced of a so-called scientific “fact” that turned out to be anything but, how they came to be convinced of it, and what the consequences were. These range from the more obviously horrific, like the Nazi’s push for racial purity or the treatment of mentally ill persons with a lobotomy; to those that took more time to show their downsides, like the ban on DDT, the use of opium as a pain reliever, and the rapid increase in the use of trans fats. While it is interesting to learn about the circumstances that lead to these incidents, and the people who helped create them, it is the ultimate lesson that is the most important part here. The subtitle: “Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong” could give you the impression that the author is out to show how scientists can’t be trusted, a view that is a bit more common that it should be, when in fact the real message is that science is fine, it’s the people who claim a scientific truth (and the media who are all too quick to pick it up) without having adequately proved it that we are to be mindful of. When a small group or an individual makes a groundbreaking claim, it’s easy to have an emotional reaction, but hopefully in the future we’ll all remember to follow the data rather than our feelings. ★★★★ – Sean Farrell

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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