You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unscientific America

Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future is an analysis by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum of the communication problem between scientists and the general public in the U.S. today. The authors trace the rise of science during the mid Twentieth Century in the aftermath of the Second World War, and especially after Sputnik. For decades scientific research had strong support from the government and society at large. The authors go beyond the basic scientific illiteracy in the general public and make a case the while the public is not necessarily anti-science, they do not have an appreciation for how important science is in our society and are not enough involved in scientific research and discoveries.

I was a little concerned when they attack Richard Dawkins and other outspoken atheists, which makes me wonder if they have ever read Dawkins. They try to make a valid point about science and atheism not necessarily being linked, and the case for scientific naturalism vs. philosopohical naturalism. They fear that too much attention given to atheist scientists will scare away the religious American public, and they may have a point there. I also found little discussion about how science is under attack by moneyed interests. I expect that is because that subject is covered in Mooney's book The Republican War on Science

The central lament is about how scientists no longer have the ear of the President or other national leaders. There is also concern about how much attention scientists and the scientific community gives to outreach and just communicating with the public. There are important organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, but the authors call for a more organized approach, as well as more attention given to communication in science degree coursework. They have some interesting ideas, such as more combination science/journalism degrees. Their big central case is that of Carl Sagan, one of the most well known scientists in the last fifty years, who caught blow-back in the science community for popularizing and "dumbing down" science.

More than an assessment of the public's knowledge of science, this book looks at the ways the two cultures of science and the general public do not even speak the same language. Their call is for more interaction with science and a bigger presence for scientists at leadership levels. It is a worthy goal. B+

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