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Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  4,006 ratings  ·  593 reviews
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: from opium's heyday as the pain reliever of choice to recognition of opioids as a major cause of death in the U.S.; from the rise of trans fats as the golden ing
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by National Geographic
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Petra-Eggs Sunny Side Up
I've finished the book. It's really brilliant and very thought-provoking. I don't usually write summaries, but for this one I will because it is so interesting and so few people read in this genre. Eugenic is the most personally chilling to me.

1. Opium (view spoiler)
Mario the lone bookwolf
Seven examples to learn from how not do give many inspirations of how humankind could mess things up in the future. DDT, transfats, E-cigarettes, eugenics, vitamin C, nitrogen, lobotomy, etc all seemed fair for its days but stupid to barbaric in hindsight.

One must say, to humankind's defense, that some of the mistakes couldn´t be foreseen and that good intention had a bad outcome nobody can be blamed for, especially regarding the right balance between the overuse or ban of DDT or how to have a h
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Spangler Science GIF - SpanglerScience GIFs

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. However, there is one negative for me and it is a big one, knocking this off the 5 star shelf down to 4. I'll get the reason for it out of the way first, and then let you know why I mostly loved it.

The title is misleading. Maybe that doesn't sound like enough of a reason to warrant chipping off an entire star from the rating, but here's why: When a large portion of the American public distrusts science and the scientific process, saying the book is
Feb 09, 2018 rated it did not like it
This is by far the longest review I’ve ever written, but I feel like it is my responsibility, as a scientist interested in education, to fully express the degree to which this book is problematic and misleading. The premise of Pandora’s lab is to discuss ‘surprising’ examples of ‘science gone bad.’ There are many issues with this, but one of the biggest is that if you have read other science books or listened to pretty much any podcast, you will already be familiar with most of these stories, to ...more
4.5 stars. Let me start of by saying that I'm not a big nonfiction reader, so the fact that I'm giving this almost five stars definitely says something about how accessible and interesting the content is.

The author looks at different inventions, most of them well intentioned, which had unforeseen, detrimental sometimes even disastrous consequences. It reads like a who's who of Nobel prize winners. Although the discoveries and consequences are interesting enough, the author provides us with:
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eye-widening, well-told tales of science gone wrong, Pandora's box is not a harangue against science. I hate the war on science that is going on in the United States right now.This isn't that; it's a treatise on what goes wrong when "mostly" well meaning people promote pseudoscience to either make money, become famous, or out of willful ignorance.
The most horrific and poignant stories to me were the ones about forced sterilization and lobotomy that took place in the United States. Forced sterili
Sonja Arlow
5 fantastic stars

“History is the error we are forever correcting.” —Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno”

From the noble fight to ease patient pain came destructive and highly addictive substances like morphine, heroine and OxyCotin.

From the desire to create more food for the world sprouted biological warfare and WW 2 gas chambers.

The humble study of genetic traits in peas gave birth to the USA eugenics program. In fact, this chapter succinctly outlines the fertile ground out of which Adol
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent book and not much to argue against or surprise, who's not against poison gas, heroin or lobotomy. But for me the most surprising chapter was on Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. I don't believe going into this book that anyone could convince me, a vegetarian, organic crop lover that DDT might be a good thing, but Offit actually did and that alone makes the book worth reading.
Mar 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an amazing educational resource! Offit writes in a no-nonsense, yet highly engaging way. I learned a lot from this and have already recommended it to two people. He provides great histories, strong data, and wraps up the "seven stories" with great rules about spotting fakes and charlatans.
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pandora's Lab examines seven scientific breakthroughs that ultimately lead us in the wrong direction, and considers what lessons we might learn from them so that we don't make the same mistakes again.

On the one hand, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking book. One of the highlights for me was the chapter about opioid addiction. Offit manages to succinctly describe the history of this class of drugs, starting from the opium poppy plant to its recent chemical formulations that have led to a
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is great overall, but the title & description are terrible. Science only went wrong in one case & that's psychiatry, a very soft science even today. Back then, it was pretty much a pseudoscience. Instead, society has cherry-picked & misused what science has discovered. I just don't see that as a failing of science & certainly not "sins of science" (quote from the book's description). Most of the chapter titles are mine, not his, to lend clarity.

I have some real issues with some of his poin
Tucker  (TuckerTheReader)

Many thanks to Ann at National Geographic for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

This was basically me throughout the book:

Pandora's Lab is (as the subtitle says) seven stories of science gone wrong or, as I put it, when explaining this book to friends, "Seven time science forked up"

It's kind of hard to review this book because it was nonfiction science. I always find nonfiction harder to review than fiction but I'll try.

If you enjoy anything National Geographic or History Channel
Nov 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-science
​With the opioid crisis looming large in the Press, it is the perfect time to read Pandoras Lab because the first chapter highlights what the ancient Sumerians called "hugil," meaning, "plant of joy." Offit traced the discovery and use of the poppy seed back to 4000BCE and followed its trajectory until the present day. Who could believe that inside that tiny poppy seed, there are no less than 5 potent drugs, waiting to be harvested? So much offering from one tiny seed. Inside that seed is a gum- ...more
Dov Zeller
This is a fascinating and disturbing book that covers a lot of scientists and science and non-science claiming itself to be science. I've read about some of the topics and people covered in here before in different contexts. But the way this book presents and frames these stories is intriguing, chilling and important. Scientists are driven by personal, cultural and political ideals and beliefs and also, sometimes, their desire to be right or to influence people and/or events is much more compell ...more
Zain Hashmy
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1. My Gripes with the Content and The Author's Opinions:

Pandora's Lab fascinates you with the title, and under the guff and smoke, presents stories about the advancement of science, and the lessons that need to be learnt from the reckless pursuit of technology. At least, that is what the book claims in its first half. Lamenting on the discovery of a technology, and blaming the technology for the way it was used was something I took an immediate offense to from the very beginning. Show me a hamme
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the story about unintended consequences, and unleashing discoveries on the world without enough testing beforehand. The frontal lobotomy, trans fats, eugenics, the synthesis of ammonium nitrate, megavitamins, opioids, and the banning of DDT are the seven that Offit has selected as big mistakes. Some, like lobotomies and trans fats, were a horrible idea from the start. Others, like ammonium nitrate and opioids, have been used indiscriminately and created problems.

Offit gives a good histo
Elizabeth A
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, audio, 2017
Sometimes I wonder why I bother with fiction when there are nonfiction books like these waiting for me to dive into.

We often forget that what we consider advances today come at a cost. Sometimes the cost is bearable, other times it's not. Or at the very least it's not us that bear it. Smart people make mistakes. Smart people believe junk "science". Everyone is influenced by the cultural, political, social, economic, and scientific worlds they live in, and to pretend otherwise is naive. The path
Feb 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this on audio. After only I few minutes, I realized the author has a political agenda. I don't care what an author's political stance is, but unless I am reading a political book, I don't want politics sneakily integrated in. I should have done more research on the author before I read it...this was not at all what I had hoped for and I am very disappointed.
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an important book, well written and the best part is he did all the research for me! I thoroughly enjoy Paul Offit's writing and subject matter.
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was absolutely fascinating. Offit describes what he sees as the worst creations in history - the ones that had the most disastrous results and the longest reach. He goes over the opiod crisis, eugenics, lobotomies, and oddly enough the banning of DDT. While objectively it is difficult to say which is the worst, the one’s he addresses are really freaking bad.

Here are some nuggets of information I learned from this book:
Mary Todd Lincoln was addicted to laudanum (liquid opium).

The term ‘junki
Jason Smith
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must read!!! When I first saw the title, I was expecting the same rant against those items that currently get lots of air time. I was so surprised when I saw the list of items. When the author not only presented the list of items but actual data to support his claims, it was such a relief that I continued to go through this book, eschewing all other books to finish this one. I hope that everyone will take the time to read and absorb the sound counsel to always look for data in sup ...more
Leo Walsh
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good science book that examines how human technology, which is often developed and deployed for good reasons, often backfires. I've read similar books in the past, but this one delighted me because Offit is a medical doctor. So all of his stories draw from that world making his approach and the examples he chooses unique, making the book's thrust much different than the other books about science gone wrong I've read.

Four-stars. It's not an earth-shattering book, but well-written and exha
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was going to be about minor experiments or dr stories gone wrong.... BOY was I wrong!! This far exceeded my expectations and I am extremely surprised at how interested I was in the subject matter. Anyone interested in science and even history should check this out!
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am very satisfied with interesting scientific facts and events that can be considered “opening a Pandora box”.
Author’s style of writing is also precise and enjoyable.
Maciej Kuczyński
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Did you know that piercing your brain with metal sticks isn't the best idea? If so, then you might be smarter than some 20th century physicians. :D
Dennis Littrell
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It’s not so much the science as it is a failure to critically examine the data.

The seven stories are about:

1. Opium and opioids (“God’s Own Medicine”)
2. Oleomargarine and trans fats (“The Great Margarine Mistake”)
3. Nitrogen fertilizers and ammonium nitrate. (“Blood from Air”)
4. Eugenics (“America’s Master Race”)
5. Lobotomies (“Turning the Mind Inside Out”)
6. Rachel Carson and DDT (“The Mosquito Liberation Front”)
7. Linus Pauling and vitamin C; Peter Duesberg and AIDs; Luc Montagnier and the ant
Jan 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I liked this book in general and learned a lot from it. I have read other books by Offit, and he has outstanding credentials as a scientist, especially in the field off vaccine development, and as an author. Having said this, I will add that his treatment of Rachel Carson and DDT was too shallow, glib and biased for me.
I wish he had dug deeper and researched this section more extensively. When DDT first came out it was highly regarded, very effective at killing invertebrates, and slashed deat
Jim Fix
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really can't speak highly enough about this book, written about science by a physician who writes like a fine novelist. No need for scientific knowledge to understand the profound mistakes done to all of us in the name of, but misuse of, science. Through the whole book there are only a few quick equations; you can skip those paragraphs, otherwise learn easily, and enjoy.
I expected a book criticizing the atomic bomb, the CIA's use of LSD on unaware citizens, possibly Freud's promotion of cocain
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very informative and well-researched, as well as well-presented for both a casual reader and one with a scientific background. I like books that are "eye-opening" in some sense, and this one was, even at times mildly shocking. Who knew that scientists you've heard of and studied the works of could have a whole other side too? Of course, there were a few things here and there that I didn't fully agree with, but the author, for the most part, provides justifying evidence for his opinions. In short ...more
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Guys, this is the best non-fiction book I've read in years. To call it a book about "science" does it an injustice. It includes a great deal of history, a lot I felt ashamed not to know, and includes some relevant discussions as to why these "stories" have political and social implications for the world we find ourselves in today. Offit is funny, surprisingly clear for a doctor-turned-writer, and to the point.
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Paul A. Offit, MD is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Offit is also the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology, and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is a recipient of many awards including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence ...more

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