Pandora's Lab

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Pandora's Lab Book Summary


What happens when ideas presented as science lead us in the wrong direction? 

History is filled with brilliant ideas that gave rise to disaster, and this book explores the most fascinating—and significant—missteps: from opium's heyday as the pain reliever of choice to recognition of opioids as a major cause of death in the U.S.; from the rise of trans fats as the golden ingredient for tastier, cheaper food to the heart disease epidemic that followed; and from the cries to ban DDT for the sake of the environment to an epidemic-level rise in world malaria.

These are today's sins of science—as deplorable as mistaken past ideas about advocating racial purity or using lobotomies as a cure for mental illness. These unwitting errors add up to seven lessons both cautionary and profound, narrated by renowned author and speaker Paul A. Offit. Offit uses these lessons to investigate how we can separate good science from bad, using some of today's most controversial creations—e-cigarettes, GMOs, drug treatments for ADHD—as case studies. For every "Aha!" moment that should have been an "Oh no," this book is an engrossing account of how science has been misused disastrously—and how we can learn to use its power for good.



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Pandora's Lab - Paul A. Offit, M.D. Reviews

  • Compelling, but author cherry picks his data

    By Serene outlook
    2
    Certain parts of the book are well written. I had few arguments, for example, with the section on opiates. Offit does wear his activism on his sleeve, however, so if you're looking for a book on science devoid of current day politics, look elsewhere. Troubling, however, is the fact that Offit cherry picks his data. The section on DDT and Rachel Carson, for example, advocates for a return to DDT use, utterly ignoring the long established science that shows a very high incidence of environmental impact by the chemical. (Even studies predating Carson's seminal book showed it's very toxic to fish, and bio-accumulates in birds, causing egg shell thinning, which decimated avian populations in those times when DDT saw widespread use.) Very simple internet searches found volumes of peer reviewed studies supporting this, and when one checks Offit's references, one finds a lot of questionable blog posts instead of peer reviewed data. Sad, because one of the things Offit urges is an embrace of peer review, even if it means one's assumptions are challenged. He would be wise to study his chapter on Linus Pauling. Initially, I thought I could recommend this book to friends, but after finishing it, I find the reverse is the case. If one wants to read about the perils of unexpected consequences, there are better books out there.

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