Geek Manifesto, Mark Henderson: 2020 #4

Geek Manifesto argues we should include scientific method, and have respect for scientific opinion in all walks of life. It is full of examples of how failing to do this has led to poor decisions that waste public funds and even endanger lives.

I agree with the concept, and I liked the ideas for promoting critical, science-based thinking, like Skeptics in the pub (p 26) to encourage critical thinking, and the Harvard suggestion (p 85) for a prize to politicians who admit they were wrong.

I liked the aims of changing public and political opinion for the better, and fighting injustice, such as targetting science-minded constituencies with small, beatable majorities. Or the focus on getting scientists and science-minded lay people to actively engage where they see science is being ignored or picked at selectively to promote a political agenda. Sites like Fishbarrel that searches the internet for false medical claims, and Pledgebank to mobilise support for action.

I struggled with the view throughout that science is always right, always good. The book is very clear on how science self-checks, is peer-reviewed, and revises its opinion in the light of new evidence. But there are not many examples of science getting it wrong. It supports animal experimentation as best method available, but that has not always been effective to prevent dangerous pharmaceuticals getting to market. What about introducing cane toads to Australia – was science was involved in that decision? There’s a chapter at the end about Green politics being driven by an ideological approach of reducing consumerism, rather than allowing growth and ‘business as usual’ capitalism. I don’t see why the book does not tackle the science of population growth – it accepts that growth will happen and growth is the best way to deal with it.

Bit of a grind to get through – more like lengthy journalism than a manifesto – but overall worth it.


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