Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book review: Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science by Michael Brooks

Free Radicals by Michael Brooks
(my own photo)
If I was to pick one word to describe this book, it would probably be disappointing.  It wasn't great, and I've had so little time to do extra reading over the past month or two that I felt quite annoyed that I wasted my time on a sub-standard book.

Most people have a particularly understanding of how science and the scientific world works. Science it typically presented as completely objective, as a discipline where everyone is motivated purely by the desire to advance our understanding of the universe.  Now, this is probably true of certain individuals working in science, but it's not the whole truth.  

As someone who's interested in science and ethics I've been thinking a lot about the ideas brought up in this book, and I've done a lot of reading in this area.  As a result, it did cover a lot of territory that I have some familiarity with.  Unfortunately, it was covered quite poorly.  The book is clearly designed to reach a certain conclusion; if something it doesn't fit, it's either not mentioned or brushed over. Even with all of the cherry-picking, the conclusion still seems forced. 

Even if you discount the issues with the content, it just isn't a well-written book.  It jumps really suddenly from one topic to another.  I also take issue with his use of the word 'anarchy'.  I understand that it's supposed to be a keyword that ties the whole book together, but he uses the word in so many different ways, very few of which have anything to do with the generally acknowledged definition of anarchy.  In one chapter, he uses the word anarchy to describe both a scientist sending another scientist a bottle of champagne, and a scientist destroying another scientist's career.

It's not a terrible book, but it is one that I could have happily lived my life without reading.

Chances of finding it in my imaginary bookstore? 45%