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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Early Reviews of "Unscientific America"

Unscientific America, the new book from writer Chris Mooney and marine biologist Sheril Kirshenbaum (who blog together at Discover magazine's The Intersection) doesn't officially come out until July 13, but some people have already got the book and reviews are starting to come out.
Here's the buzz.

As part of his review, Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles has a quick summary:

Unscientific America is divided into three main parts, as is traditional for this sort of book. The first section summarizes the historical context, presenting a short history of the rise and fall of the American science establishment. The second section breaks down the main sources of the current problems facing science-- disconnects between the "culture" of science and four other "cultures" in American society: "political culture, media culture, entertainment culture, and religious culture." The final part lays out some suggestions for how to move forward in a productive way.
Seed magazine lists the book as one to "read now," saying:
Science journalist Chris Mooney joins Sheril Kirshenbaum in explaining the disconnect between scientists and the public. This time the onus is on not just on obfuscating and interfering conservatives, but largely on scientists themselves. By talking down to the misinformed—and outright insulting the religious—scientists, they argue, do more harm than good in their quest to enshrine reason in American politics and culture. While the authors’ call for more friendly and magnanimous champions of science is far from a radical conclusion, it duly highlights the Sagan-and Gould-shaped holes we have in our current scientific discourse.
Michael Mann of RealClimate gives the book a very positive review:
What I found most refreshing about the book is that it not only isolates the history behind, and source of, the problem in question—the pervasiveness and dangerousness of scientific illiteracy in modern society–but it offers viable solutions. This book is a must read for anybody who cares about science, and the growing disconnect between the scientific and popular cultures (the problem of the so-called “Two Cultures” first discussed by C.P. Snow).

And James Hrynyshyn of The Island of Doubt also likes it, but has some complaints:

Chris and Sheril point too many fingers for my taste. Religion and the media are obvious and richly deserving targets. But Richard Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists are singled out more than once, for failing to understand that if you want to change minds and win friends, you can't be rude to your audience. True, but I've long believed that there's a place for pointed barbs, especially if those barbs are as well crafted as they are in Dawkins' prose.

PZ Myers of Pharyngula (and the "new atheists") has done his own review and doesn't love the book (in which there are "personal attacks on me and on Pharyngula, atheists in general, and anyone who fails to offer religion its proper modicum of respect," he says):

The book entirely neglects the anti-scientific forces. Our salvation apparently lies entirely in the hands of scientists who quietly promote the positive values of the scientific outlook, while turning their eyes away from deep-rooted values and institutions that directly threaten science. To challenge those would be to offend people! And if we offend anyone, we lose! It's an exceptionally defeatist attitude in which they plainly recognize a serious problem in American society — it's the premise of the whole book! — but at the same time, demands that we avoid addressing the structural roots of those problems. ...
The bottom line is that Mooney and Kirshenbaum's book recites the obvious at us, that there is a fundamental disconnect between science and the popular imagination in our country, but offers no new solutions, and in fact would like to narrow our options to a blithe and accommodating compromise of science with rampant ignorance. Their own bigotry blinds them to a range of approaches offered by the "New Atheists"…a group that is not so closed to the wide range of necessarily differing tactics that such a deep problem requires as Mooney and Kirshenbaum are. It's not a badly written book, but it's something worse: it's utterly useless.

•TWITTER BUZZ: @DiscoverMag As you might expect, @PZMyers didn't like @UnscientAmerica, which calls him out. Now, the comment fight: http://bit.ly/y8Gga
jrminkel @UnscientAmerica you are never going to win your accommodationism argument against @jerrycoyne