Thursday, May 27, 2021

Review of "When the Earth Was Flat, All of the Science We Got Wrong," by Graeme Donald

 Review of

When the Earth Was Flat, All of the Science We Got Wrong, by Graeme Donald ISBN 9781782438335

Five out of five stars

Science corrects and advances, but sometimes much too slowly

 The history of science is one of progress towards the truth that improves the human condition, but there have been times when the scientific consensus was way off. Unfortunately, the statement of the title is not one where science as we knew it got it wrong. The ancient Greeks knew the Earth was round, and that era can be considered the birth of the scientific method.

 Some of what passed for scientific beliefs that is covered in this book would be hilarious if it was not so serious. It took decades before the medical community evolved to the point where they appreciated the value of hand washing. Many patients and some doctors died of infections as a consequence of the hostility of the medical profession to this simple change in behavior.

 There was a time when tobacco smoke enemas were considered a health treatment, the bumps on one’s head were thought to reveal a great deal about you, cocaine and heroin were considered valid treatments for many ills of the human body and the cure for many ailments was to have blood taken from your body. These are some of the more well known absurd notions that were once considered facts that are developed in this book.

Other weird ideas described in this book are the hollow Earth claim and the premise that Neanderthals were simpletons. The most interesting point made was that the Black Death pandemic that wiped out so much of Europe was not the bubonic disease at all. There is solid scientific evidence for this position, which has significant relevance in the days of Covid.

 This book is simultaneously amusing and sobering, for while it is easy to make fun of what used to be facts, the reality is that there remains a strong anti-science movement with unusual beliefs. This could lead to the re-emergence of incorrect science bits. Even when the science against is of the irrefutable kind.

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