Luke O’Neill
Gill Books
2020 | 336pp | £24.99
ISBN 9780717186396

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An image showing the book cover of Never mind the b#ll*cks here's the science

Never Mind the B#ll*cks, Here’s the Science is a journey – strewn with punk rock and pop culture references – through the science related to issues relevant to society today. Chapters address issues such as free will, vaccines, dieting, differences between men and women, the environment and several others.

The book adopts a friendly approach to the material, which should be very accessible to a non-scientist audience. Each chapter is organised around a question that relates to the underlying topic but presents it in a manner contrary to the dry presentation often associated with scientific communication. For example, the chapter on environmental science is titled ‘Why are you wrecking the planet?’ – an effective way to sparks curiosity in the reader.

The description of the underlying science of each chapter is very broad but fairly shallow, though there are copious references to source material for those who want to take a deeper dive into portions of the material covered. More science-minded readers may find themselves spending more time in the source material than in the original book, but will certainly be thankful for the treasure map leading then to the spots to drop anchor.

The material is easy to read and sprinkled with ample humorous asides, pictures and figures, including what I would describe as old-timey advertisement drawings. This helps maintain a lightness despite the sometimes heavy subject matter and keeps the mood of the book overall positive and upbeat. Each chapter ends with a bottom line meant to capture the essence of each topic, though, as is often the case in science, many issues don’t lend themselves to easy answers. The chapter on ‘Why are medicines so expensive and who should bear the cost?’ ends with the bottom line of ‘let’s hope we find a way forward when it comes to making new drugs available for those who need them…’ – a sentiment all readers would agree with, but not one that offers any closure to the discussion.

While the book’s title is well-designed to draw attention, even from readers that miss the Sex Pistols reference, I worry that it may backfire with those who could most benefit from its contents. Unlike its provocative title, the rest of the book takes a measured approach to explaining the topics – but the more pearl-clutching among the potential audience may not make it past the title, which seems like an unfortunate missed opportunity.

This book features in our book club podcast, which you can listen to here.