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Tribal Science:
Brains, Beliefs and Bad Ideas


Fun, fascinating and original, Tribal Science will not only challenge your beliefs about science, but will get you thinking about what really makes you tick.


When facing off a woolly mammoth, a few spear-wielding friends are more helpful than Darwin’s views on natural selection. Mike McRae argues that humans didn’t evolve to do science, but to get along in tribes. Survival depended more on social connections than understanding the universe, but somehow science – the quest for objective knowledge – developed anyway. Tribal Science looks at where science came from and why it works despite the quirks of our tribal minds.

Mike shows how our tribal brains are driven by beliefs and biases and the need to belong, and how this social way of thinking meddles with our capacity to think critically. From here he charts an intriguing history of science, from the emergence of critical enquiry among early philosophers, to the development of the scientific method, major scientific discoveries and bizarre delusions, and our current dependence on modern medicine and technology. He looks at how our tribal brains manipulate science and why, in an age of evidence and enlightenment, we still cling to superstitions, beliefs and bad ideas – from ‘clinically proven’ cosmetics to bogus medical treatments and other miracles of pseudoscience. Finally, Mike considers the future of knowledge and the vital place of critical thinking in an information-saturated digital world.

Mike McRae, author of Tribal Science: Brains, Beliefs and Bad Ideas, and Unwell: What Makes a Disease a Disease?

Mike McRae

Mike McRae started his science career more than twenty years ago in a hospital medical laboratory. With a passion for education he took to teaching science in London’s east, followed by a year entertaining children across Australia with Questacon’s Science Circus. Mike has been writing science for over a decade, working with the CSIRO, the ABC and the Australian Museum to produce educational materials, to inform and to entertain. Today he writes for the popular online news service ScienceAlert, and contributes regularly to a variety of science news and education publications. Mike is the author of Tribal Science: Brains, Beliefs & Bad Ideas.