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Publisher's 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.

Pandora's Lab takes us from opium's heyday as the pain reliever of choice to recognition of opioids as a major cause of death in the United States; 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 ideas from the past such as advocating racial purity or using lobotomies as a cure for mental illness. These unwitting errors add up to seven lessons both cautionary and profound, explained by renowned author and speaker Paul A. Offit. Offit uses these lessons to investigate how we can separate good science from bad, using as case studies some of today's most controversial creations: e-cigarettes, GMOs, and drug treatments for ADHD.

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.

©2017 Paul A. Offit (P)2017 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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Very interesting

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I really enjoyed this book, it was a fascinating insight into how egos and science collide and the price that is paid. Very well narrated also.

16 people found this helpful

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Cautionary Tales and How-to-Think Instructions

First-rate production of a message we all need to follow. I.e., require evidence to support what we think we know. Let’s hear it for double-blind, peer-reviewed, reproducible studies!

16 people found this helpful

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trump hater

I was looking for more scientific and less political content in the book, did not like the political bias

8 people found this helpful

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Nothing new all low hanging fruit

I was hoping that the book would offer some new insights. But even during the introduction I was able to guess every topic he alluded to.
And some sections were just poorly written. Offit has an ax to grind with supplements, that is good. But he doesn't listen to his own advice. For example, he cites a case where a dozen people were poisoned. As Offit says, "It's all about the data." That case was 20 years ago. It would be more interesting to compare the rates of herbal poisonings each year to other causes of death.
Certain aspects of the book scream for more attention. Why not devote a chapter to IQ testing rather than lobotomies? Or Freudian Psychiatry? The episiotomy and epidural? His targets well known and minimally controversial.

17 people found this helpful

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Some People Have Thin Skin...

Any additional comments?

After reading some comments from listeners I was expecting a massive amount of political jargon that was extremely biased. I was happily mistaken. If there are political messages they are rooted in fact (statements made by Donald Trump). Yes, there may be a couple inferences/assumptions or parallels the author makes, but they seem fair.Also, don't let the other reviews fool you into thinking the author is biased or did not do his home work. This text seems quite accurate from what I know, it is informative, and he pulls no punches on anyone - good scientists or bad.

Give it a listen!

17 people found this helpful

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This guys politics right from the start

I didn’t even get through the introduction before I was sick of Mr Offit’s political take. Shame, too, as this could be an interesting topic were it purely about science. I don’t, however, need to have science filtered through his particular political lens. For instance, when speaking of eugenics, he immediately cites President Trump (as if theres some relevance there) but doesn’t seem to mention Margret Sanger... This book isn’t worth the proverbial paper it’s printed on.

6 people found this helpful

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Here is a Chapter List

I was frustrated by the lack of chapter titles, so I compiled this list:

Chapter 1 - Opiates.
Their history from poppies to opium, laudanum, heroin, methadone, and now oxycontin. Each was supposed to be safer and less addictive, and each resulted in epidemics of addiction and ruined lives.

Chapter 2 - Trans fats.
The discovery of hydrogenation to make margarine, Crisco, and other stable cooking oils with extended shelf life. Turns out that very stability works inside our arteries too, exponentially increasing the nation's heart disease. This chapter was one of the most scientifically detailed, and explains the molecular chemistry of fats; saturated, unsaturated, and trans, and how they behave inside the body.

Chapter 3 - Nitrogen.
The history of extracting nitrogen from the air for fertilizer. It saved the world from hunger as it yielded vastly greater crops. Then it was turned into a weapon of war, for explosives and the lethal gas chambers of the Nazis.

Chapter 4 - Eugenics.
This discredited "science" began in America as an outgrowth of Darwinism, but it linked race with other genetic attributes like intelligence, and behaviors like promiscuity. It was enthusiastically promoted by the Nazis to justify themselves as the master race and excuse the extermination of Jews, Gypsies, and other undesirables. This was a somewhat political chapter, and did not examine whether intelligence or behavior may be genetically based, regardless of race.

Chapter 5 - Lobotomies.
In the era before valium and psychiatric medicines, lobotomies came into vogue to treat a wide range of mental conditions. This is a detailed history and delves into the actual surgeries (there were different kinds with different outcomes). Not for the squeamish.

Chapter 6 - DDT.
To my surprise, rather than seeing Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" as a wake up call to the dangers of DDT, this chapters decries the populist movement that resulted. The author points out that the banning of DDT may have allowed malaria to rage out of control in tropical countries, but I wonder if the widespread use of DDT would have been better? There is no real examination of the environmental damage that would result, just a dismissal of overinflated fears.

Chapter 7 - Vitamin C and HIV.
This chapter is about the mistakes made by Nobel Prize committees, but focuses primarily on Linus Pauling and his support for Vitamin C as a panacea for whatever ails you. He got a Nobel Prize but virtually all his claims have since been debunked. There is also a brief history of AIDS and the race to find the cause (HIV) in order to secure a Prize.

Chapter 8 - Learning from the past.
The author wraps up the book by identifying common roots of disastrous mistakes, which I would sum up as ego and arrogance. He points out the newest miracles of science, warning us to look out for new disasters that could come from E-cigarettes, autism treatments, genetically modified foods, and genome scanning for diseases.

I found the book fascinating and informative, even when I didn't always agree with the author's conclusions.

5 people found this helpful

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Needs to listen to his own advice

I'm not certain how much trust I put into the stories presented here. The Author could not even be bothered to verify current events, instead uses the media's view and even spin. If he is unwilling to provide due diligence for current events, how can we believe that events 100 or 1000 years ago are not being bent to match his narrative? He needs to listen to his own advice that he stated about Rachel Carson - "Don't let your own biases blind you."

3 people found this helpful

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Too many familiar stories

I knew most of the stories. The author brought little new insight to these stories. The style is like an educational lecture, rather than telling a captivating story.

6 people found this helpful

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Close Facebook and read this book!

We live in a world of sound-bite immersion where personality drives opinion. Movie stars influence our thoughts more than data. News anchors do not deliver the facts as much as they are on-air rock stars in their own right. What they say is taken for gospel regardless of how carefully their stories are underpinned with data.

It is a dangerous world.

You and your family are in danger without careful, critical thinking like that described in this book.

Pandora’s Lab should be essential reading for every thinking adult, especially every medical doctor.

Please read this book!

13 people found this helpful

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  • Victor Gil López
  • 03-03-21

Wonderful little book

Some of the stories I already knew but they are so nicely told I didn't mind. Also the closing is very enlightening.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Dr RE Hodgson
  • 10-16-21

Outstanding if scary

The story of fertilizers was particularly disturbing - never thought of that as a civilization - ending phenomenon. As a non-US anaesthesiologist I thought the dangers of opioids & anaesthesia were overstated

3 people found this helpful

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  • Sigrin
  • 09-07-21

Knowledge is power

What a fascinating book, I thoroughly enjoyed this fact filled history of science used for good and evil.

The chapter on Eugenic was jaw dropping, especially as it had such a following in the early part of the 20th century.

Haber and his use of gas warfare in the First World War was an eye opener as a German Jew.

The chapter on the opium poppy cultivation was equally informative, the global opiate crisis affecting millions.

I could go on but of merit was the DDT, Frontal lobotomy, BPA and Autism sections that were enlightening

Thank you to Paul Offit MD for this fact filled fascinating insight into Pandora’s laboratory perfectly delivered by Greg Tremblay.

I would love to hear some more if you could mange another book please.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jake wilkinson
  • 09-05-21

Fantastic

I started listening for an engaging history lesson on the scientific failures of the past but was left with life lessons which I will hopefully take note from in my ensuing medical career.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Reluctant Sceptic
  • 11-16-21

Interesting listen. Some concern.

Very interesting with more detail than usual supplied for the chosen stories within each chapter. The last few though felt like a personal crusade to convince us big data is always right. Yes compared to limited data from autocratic scientists but not necessarily so when research grants paid out by large corporations may well be clouding a scientist’s objectivity.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Cian Hickey
  • 11-09-21

You will fly through it. Excellent, real science.

Evidence based stories of our scientific mis-steps, and perfectly narrated. Kept my attention throughout, and fascinating topics combined with engaging writing make this one of the best science books I've read in ages.

1 person found this helpful

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  • elizabeth askill
  • 10-26-21

great. thank you.

one of those times when you say to yourself thank god I ignored the title and listened. so much information not preaching just info, that if you have the interest can be fun to cross check.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Samira Pagani
  • 05-12-22

informative, interesting and entertaining

I loved this book. When I finished it I just wanted some more of it. some facts I knew, some were completely new to me.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-09-22

Autism isn’t a psychiatric disorder!

Just started listening and disappointed to hear autism being referred to as a common childhood psychiatric disorder. Call me pedantic, but if someone can make such a basic mistake – it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder – it makes me wonder what other errors may be in this book. Time will tell……

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  • Mrs. C. Moran
  • 04-28-22

Don’t listen at night to chapter 5

Great listen however it does get a bit dark so night time listening is not recommended

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-12-22

Ideology of Author bit off

Great history of events and well written. But I cringe everytime the author gives his morale conclusions, especially in the Haber chapter. It's as if he thinks the cost of ammonia production was too high. That is how science works, solve a problem and sometimes generate new ones, but you repeat the process to solve those. He tried to cloud this great discovery by detailing Habers contribution to weapons of war. But that is irrelevant. Sure complain about fertilizer practices and efforts to protect the environment. But don't lead the audience to think we were better off not manufacturing ammonia, which would be impossible anyway, if not Haber someone else in short order would have done it. Generally scientists are the first to identify the trade offs and non-scientists to ignore them for profit. Your attempt to portray the scientist as the villian is inaccurate. Michael (PhD chemistry, industrial chemist in fertiliser manufacture).

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  • Anne Fraser
  • 04-06-22

Fascinating read

Loved it. Such interesting examples of science gone wrong, headlines over facts, bias, & the lessons to be learned in each case. As a doctor, who likes to reassess her own biases, & view data / news headlines with a degree of scepticism, I really enjoyed this book.

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  • Yelena Vlasova
  • 03-01-22

Essential listeing

For those who are curious, for those who are still in school, for philosophy students and the general public alike...

This book is about the human race and our relentless desire to learn things (sometimes to our own detriment) to advance humanity further.

It is also about tragic mistakes, huge egos and the importance of knowing your history, so the mistakes of the past can't be repeated.

Highly recommend.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-22-22

Needs different subtitle

It was really interesting and I learnt so much, but I think the subtitle is wrong. Science hadn’t gone wrong, it either produced unexpected results or was used for bad.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-12-22

Very interesting

Super interesting stuff ups in science from geniuses and egomaniacs. Food for thought ensues

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-22-21

A fascinating look at the other side of science.

A great peek behind the curtains at scientific discoveries that seemed like a good idea at the time.
Well written and very well performed.