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Review: S3 by Fourat Janabi

s3 take two
s3 take two
s3 take two


Highlights: Janabi is passionate about eliminating scientific ignorance; he wants to see rationality and information triumph over superstition. His clarification of the aims of homeopathy is useful, as is his explanation of disease statistics and the preventative effect of vaccines.
Synopsis: A concise (but ultimately unnecessary) discussion of contentious scientific topics that are often complicated by media bias and misrepresentation.


At 91 pages, it's a mercifully brief summary of some controversial scientific matters. Janabi understands the science and is occasionally able to offer short and moderately enlightening accounts of particular issues.


Janabi’s conclusions are shallow and predetermined. The writing is poor: repetitive; overly reliant on quotations; by turns informal to the point of flippancy, insultingly obvious, and (strangely) both arrogant and self-deprecating. Plus the book is atrociously edited.

Posted July 22, 2013 by

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Fourat Janabi (Goodreads profile photo)

Fourat Janabi (Goodreads profile photo)

It had to happen sometime: one of the myriad books I’m sent to review, for Bookkaholic or other web and print publications, was bound to be a turkey. I’m afraid this (dis)honor belongs to S3: Science, Statistics, and Skepticism, the recent self-published book by Fourat Janabi. Janabi was born in Algeria and has lived everywhere from Poland to Bahrain; he studied toward an unfinished degree in computer engineering and has worked in construction management and software development. He’s now based in Australia and his blog, Random Rationality, was turned into another self-published book of the same title last year.


Not what I expected


S3 presents itself as a concise discussion of some of the contentious scientific topics that are often complicated by media bias and misrepresentation: genetically modified organisms, homeopathy, climate change, evolution, the reporting of statistical data, vaccination, and cancer’s causes and treatment. Janabi treats each of these subjects in turn, in meager chapters of 5-10 pages.

I’d been hoping for a succinct layman’s version of the arguments in books like medical doctor Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science: an abbreviated but still intelligent recap of how scientific evidence is twisted by the media, and what we as concerned citizens can do about restoring rationality. But S3 wasn’t at all what I thought it would be; I was disappointed to find a 91-page self-indulgent rant by an author of few credentials who purports to know some stuff about science – though no more, I would say, than your averagely savvy college graduate.

Moreover, the writing is poor: repetitive; overly reliant on quotations (which are inevitably better than his own writing); and by turns informal to the point of flippancy, insultingly obvious, and (strangely) both arrogant and self-deprecating. (Case in point, from his “About the Author” pages: “I now feel arrogant and important enough to commit my overvalued thoughts to paper and tell people what to think.”) In addition, the book is atrociously edited: bizarre word choice and sentence structure, typos, and peculiar grammar and punctuation abound; there’s hardly a page that’s without my proofreader’s red pen (in this case, pencil) all over it.


He’s made up his mind already

It’s fully apparent that Janabi is passionate about eliminating subjectivity and ignorance when it comes to science, and wants to see reason and information trump superstition. And it’s also clear that he personally understands the issues at stake – he can set out some basics plainly, such as Newton’s laws, and occasionally offers helpful scientific information. His clarification of the aims of homeopathy is useful, for example, as is his explication of disease statistics and the preventative effect of vaccines.


Yet all too frequently he fails to engage in in-depth analysis, relying instead on shallow or implicit knowledge. All along he acts as if his opinions are foregone conclusions; his “it goes without saying” approach both patronizes readers and assumes too much about what perspective they are coming from. Here are some examples of this lazy, almost arrogant method: “Homeopathy…where to start?” and “Of course, observed CO2 [sic] emissions are a no-brainer.” Janabi appears to be saying that anyone who questions his predetermined ideas is stupid; yet, as the old saying goes, there are no stupid questions – only, perhaps stupid avoidance of those questions.

A scientist’s conclusions must follow on naturally from the evidence. Because Janabi doesn’t make the time and effort to give a scientific basis for each of his points – because he takes so much for granted – his inferences sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. And yes, even though moderately well-informed readers (provided they read unbiased newspapers and haven’t been brainwashed by an unhelpful form of religion) should already know that climate change and evolution are definitely happening, and that the benefits of homeopathy and organic food are not scientifically proven, this doesn’t mean Janabi can cut corners by failing to provide the logical steps that have led him to make such assumptions.


Other people’s words

Get your good quotes from Mark Twain [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Get your good quotes from Mark Twain ([Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

There are some terrific quotes in S3; unfortunately, they’re almost all from other writers:

  • Mark Twain: “A lie will be read by everyone, the truth by very few.”
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves.”
  • Chapman Cohen (on the subject of evolution): “If there are any gaps, they are in our knowledge, not in the things themselves.”
  • Michael Le Page (a features editor at New Scientist): “Evolution must be the best-known but least-understood of all scientific theories.”
  • Marcus Aurelius: “The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.”
  • Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

All too often, Janabi’s writing depends on the written wisdom of others. At times his prose begins to sound like a mere stringing together of quotations – three of the above appear in the space of one paragraph (and two were slightly misquoted).

To be fair to Janabi, a few memorable quotes do come from the author himself: “We all want climate change to be wrong; unfortunately, reality does not conform to our whims and machinations” and “they were not to verify the data with other scientists. (Alarm bells.) It is never, ever, under any circumstances, rain, hail, or shine, okay to inoculate your data from peer-review” were two I appreciated, despite the unusual meteorological conditions placed on the latter.


Writing style

S3 contains a strange mixture of technical language and informal, chatty speech, such that I learned two new vocabulary words from Janabi (decrement and succuss), but at the same time found his book to be peppered with clichéd sentiments and hackneyed prose, e.g. “While there are difficulties ahead, we are moving forward, and we are moving forward faster. Let us not despair at this!” He veers ever closer to mumbo-jumbo as he tries to inspire readers to seek scientific truth and contribute to the advancement of human society:

“So ask yourself, do you have the testicular, or ovarian, fortitude to overturn some cherished beliefs, and move yourself, and by extension the human race, forward? If thy answer be yes, awesome! If no…then you will be left behind as the world continues onwards to ever greater and grander scientific foundations. C’est la vie and la vie keeps on keeping on.”

The above passage brought me to tears – of laughter, that is, at its sheer ridiculousness. (Plus Janabi’s slightly-off use of a French idiom was particularly annoying for this Francophile; he persists in using it as a refrain throughout the book: “C’est la vie and la vie doesn’t lie…C’est la vie and la vie, as always, remains indifferent to our opinions…C’est la vie and la vie is cruel.” I sense that he is striving for profundity, but his misinterpretation of the turn of phrase – he thinks it’s a literal translation of “this is how life is,” when in fact it’s more of a shrug-your-shoulders, “hey, that’s how it goes” acceptance of the status quo – makes me uneasy.)

Advertisement for snake oil liniment (by Ihcoyc at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

By Ihcoyc at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

With its casual attitude, the book sometimes sounds like Janabi having a debate with some friends at a dinner party (after several drinks) or over web chat. The informality goes beyond a requisite pleasantness; indeed, I would say the conversational tone verges on obnoxiousness. I don’t want to hear anyone’s unqualified, flippant ranting; I want to be convinced by rational explication.

Every reading experience is a process of (temporarily) placing yourself in an author’s hands, where you rely on him or her to treat you respectfully, as someone with intelligence, compassion, and good humor; it is always disappointing to find an author breaking that confidence. Kate Mosse describes the reader-author relationship thus: “There’s an attractive conviction to the writing of authors that I trust – I know they won’t waste my time. In the end, everything counts” (from Write).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of S3: I regularly felt that Janabi was wasting my time with sloppy writing, incomplete reasoning, and a jokiness that masks the book’s lack of depth. A silly title doesn’t help, either.


Science lite

My objections may seem to be mostly stylistic, but the more important critique relates to the content: the book is superficial and insubstantial, with very few ideas that have not been stated before, better, by more qualified scientific commentators. His one-liner summaries are so simplistic as to be almost insulting: “Always looks outside the bubble that a denier paints for you” and “Get your climate science from climate scientists” (and not from Fourat Janabi?); plus “be wary of simplistic proclamations that this causes that, or this, that, and the other, are caused by the other, that, and this” (sorry, is this a tongue-twister competition?).

Moreover, he refuses to ponder the merits of opposing arguments. For instance, in examining organic farming (which he dismisses as overpriced, overhyped nonsense), he simply announces that all the proposed health benefits of organic food are bunk, without considering whether there might be tangential advantages – a reduced environmental impact due to the avoidance of pesticides, better animal welfare standards, and a lowered risk of the bioaccumulation of toxins over decades, for starters.



As Janabi brings his screed to a close, he argues that “this book has been a roundabout way to say that science involves very little common sense.” Yet he has repeatedly implied that his own preconceptions are ‘just common sense.’ And although he insists again and again that peer review is essential, I doubt his book would stand up to any scientist’s scrutiny. (Nor any book critic’s.)

Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science (Photo credit: Gaius Cornelius [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons).

Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science (Photo credit: Gaius Cornelius [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons).

I am conscious of not wanting my negative review to sound like a personal attack on Janabi. My position is not one of elitist hauteur; ‘he’s not a qualified scientist so he shouldn’t dare to pronounce on these subjects’ would not be an accurate summation of my views. I wholly believe that anyone can self-educate on a topic such that they have valuable things to say about it. There are some terrific journalists who have taught themselves enough about science to write eloquent books about it; David Quammen, Anne Fadiman, and Malcolm Gladwell are a few who spring to mind.

Nonetheless, S3 is among the worst ‘books’ I’ve ever read – I say ‘books’ because a self-published, unedited diatribe like this is barely worthy of the name. The only saving graces of the book – the only reasons I’ve graded it a ‘D’ rather than an ‘F’ – are that Janabi understands the science and is occasionally able to offer a short and fairly enlightening account of a particular scientific discipline (although I do worry about where he gets much of his information: at one point he writes, “As stated in Wikipedia”); and that, at 91 pages, it is a mercifully brief summary of some controversial scientific matters.

However, I wouldn’t waste any precious time (or money) reading S3 when you could be reading something infinitely better that covers similar topics. Try instead the aforementioned Bad Science by Goldacre (about the misleading use of statistics, among other things), Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations by the late John Diamond (which debunks the alternative medicine industry), Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True or anything by Richard Dawkins, or academic articles by any reputable climate scientist. I’m certain you have better things to do than read unedited blog posts from someone who describes himself (in his Goodreads bio) as “a reader, a photographer, an explorer, and an idiot.”

Review: S3 by Fourat Janabi 5.00/5 (100.00%) 2 votes

Rebecca Foster

An American transplant to Reading, England – a fitting place for a fiendish bibliophile. After six years as a library assistant, I am recklessly embarking on a freelance writing career. I review books for Kirkus Indie, The Bookbag, For Books' Sake, We Love This Book, and Bookmarks magazine, and also volunteer with Greenbelt Festival's literature program. I read everything from theology to popular science, but some favorite genres are literary fiction, biography and memoir, historical fiction, graphic novels, and nature writing.


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