Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Macmillan (July 10, 2007)
From Publishers Weekly
Stebbins has set out to write a polemical overview of the most controversial topics in modern science and, to a large extent, he succeeds. Stebbins, the Director of Biology Policy for the Federation of American Scientists, writes in a brash style more often associated with political diatribes than serious science, but his impressive background and knowledge of the issues at hand ground the book. Stebbins' topics range from bioterrorism to reproductive technologies, but his explanation of the stem cell controversy is particularly lucid and, given the complexity of the arguments involved, particularly welcome. As he points out, "the devil is in the detail" regarding this particular issue, and neither the public, the media, nor the politicians seem to have a firm grasp of the details. Though it gets off to a slow start, perseverance is recommended; unless you're a scientist yourself, you will undoubtedly learn something new from this sobering, illuminating work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The taboos referenced by the subtitle are the sanctions against scientists talking plainly to the public about their work and their concerns. Stebbins has had enough of them and breaks ranks to passionately, revealingly, often less-than-gracefully counter the threats to biology and medicine posed by general American stupidity about science, public health, and science education. After a chapter outlining the typical American scientist's life (more anxious and far less likely to be lucrative than the typical American physician's), Stebbins lays out the truth and flays conservative propaganda and policies about stem cell research, cloning, genetic engineering, contraception and STDs, bioterrorism, the potential for pandemics, global warming, and other matters that wouldn't be controversial, or in some cases even problematic, if it weren't for mistaken, misinformed policies and venal corporations. Corporations and policies come even more directly under fire in the chapters "Drugs," "Healthcare," and "Science Education." To be sure, Stebbins' effort is an anti-Bush--administration diatribe. It is far superior to the rest because it argues from fact and knowledge, not hype and politics. Ray Olson