The Noble Lie: When Scientists Give the Right Answers for the Wrong Reasons

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9780470072776: The Noble Lie: When Scientists Give the Right Answers for the Wrong Reasons

Is drug addiction really a disease? Is sexuality inborn and fixed or mutable? Science is where we often turn when we can't achieve moral clarity. In The Noble Lie, acclaimed and controversial science writer Gary Greenberg shows how scientists try to use their findings to resolve the dilemmas raised by some of the most hotly contested issues of our time, from gay rights to euthanasia and the drug war. He reveals how their answers often turn out to be more fiction than science—and explores whether they cause more harm than good.

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From the Inside Flap:

What's the difference between being depressed and just being unhappy? Is drug addiction really a disease? Is sexuality inborn and fixed or mutable? When exactly does life begin and end?

Scientists think they have the answers to these questions, and these aren't the only contentious and important issues we rely on them to resolve. Science, with its claims to neutrality, is where we often turn when we can't achieve moral clarity. But it's time to wonder if that's a good idea.

In The Noble Lie, notorious journalist Gary Greenberg explores the intersection of science, morality, and public policy in America. He shows how scientists try to use their findings to resolve the dilemmas raised by some of the most hotly contested issues of our time: gay rights, euthanasia, life-sustaining technologies, and the drug war, among others. Their answers allow for progress in fields as diverse as organ transplant, the treatment of mental illness, and basic neuroscience, but they often turn out to be more fiction than science. These fragile fictions are the noble lies we live by.

Greenberg brings us along as he plunges into the hospitals and laboratories, the scientific meetings and courtrooms and corporations where noble lies are invented, and into the private lives of people whose lives are affected—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse—by them.

In this challenging and sure-to-be-controversial exposé, you'll meet the public relations man and the bogus statistician who persuaded the medical establishment to declare alcoholism a lifelong disease—and the researcher who is sure that a single dose of a hallucinogen called ibogaine can cure drug and alcohol addiction overnight. You'll take a tour through a clinical trial of antidepressant drugs and meet a man who was "cured" of his homosexuality, a dying boy who wants to donate his organs—but may not be able to—and Ted Kaczynski, the serial killer who mailed his chilling, but rational, views on relative truth and nuclear physics to Greenberg.

At the center of each of these fascinating, entertaining, and sometimes bizarre stories is the underlying tension between the certainty we seek for our moral lives and the kind of truth that science can provide. And each story raises the question of what happens if we no longer live by our noble lies. If brain-dead people aren't really dead, should that stop us from harvesting their organs? If sexual orientation is not inborn and immutable, should we still grant equal rights to gay people? If depression isn't really a disease, should we still be allowed to take drugs to feel better?

However strongly you may feel about these issues, and whichever side you take, be prepared to have your preconceptions challenged, your articles of faith questioned, and your eyes opened to uncomfortable realities. In The Noble Lie, you'll discover a complex world in which reliable answers to important and pressing questions are dismayingly hard to come by, and the truth isn't always out there.

From the Back Cover:

"What is an illness? What is good health? What, for that matter, is medical science really for? Greenberg will make you think about these questions in ways that I'm willing to bet you haven't. Along the way, he will enlighten and amuse and provoke you in equal measure. A wonderful book from a terrific writer."
—William Finnegan, author of Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country

When a doctor tells you that you have bronchitis and should take an antibiotic, you'd probably say that this is an unbiased medical opinion based on an impartial reading of your symptoms, and it makes sense for you to follow your physician's advice. Should you have the same confidence if you are diagnosed with depression and told to take antidepressants, or informed that a loved one is brain-dead and it's time to harvest her organs for transplant?

In The Noble Lie, acclaimed and controversial science writer Gary Greenberg takes a penetrating look at common and accepted medical practices and opinions that, while they may be beneficial for society and help us deal with the unfathomable, are essentially the product of moral judgments and not supported by scientific evidence. In a series of riveting true stories, Greenberg examines the processes through which alcoholism and depression came to be accepted as diseases, asks why serial killer Ted Kaczynski was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and examines medical pronouncements on when life begins and ends. He also explains why there is no proof that homosexuality is genetic, and there never will be.

These real-life science fictions may be well intentioned, but do they cause more harm than good? Read The Noble Lie, then judge for yourself.

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