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Robert A. Frosch

Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch

The Golem:What you should know about science

I first read The Golem by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch some years ago, and at the time I thought of it as a useful warning against dogmatism in science. However, on re-reading it, knowing more about the issues involved, I'm not so sure - it's Collins and Pinch who seem to be dogmatic. They set up a strawman version of science composed of certainty, which they then proceed to knock down. This book is certainly an interesting read - cold fusion, spontaneous generation and solar neutrinos are just three of the subjects looked at. However I would advise caution against taking the authors' claims too seriously.

Collins and Pinch are sociologists of science, and in their research into the history of science they try to avoid judging what was going on by what we now consider to be the true. Hence they tend to have a cut-off point in the history, after which they don't look at what research has been done. This is all very well if you know whats going on, but in a book like this it can be misleading if not downright deceptive. For instance, scientists didn't stop studying planarian worms when chemical memory transfer didn't seem to be happening - they went on to study these creatures in minute detail. And after gravitational wave detection was put in doubt in the 1960s, scientists didn't give up with the concept - they refined the apparatus to look for the much weaker signals which were actually expected.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews