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Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future Paperback – June 8, 2010

3 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mooney, author of the bestselling The Republican War on Science, and Kirshenbaum, a marine scientist at Duke and former congressional science fellow, argue that the public ruckus caused when astronomers stripped Pluto of its planetary status demonstrates the disconnect between scientists and the general public, who share only a sense of mutual distrust. The authors place the blame for this squarely on both sides, as well as on the media (TV shows that misrepresent medical science and films that portray scientists as evil or nerdy), and plead for an improved level of discourse. But their repeated assertion that science and religion are compatible will not convince anyone who believes otherwise. Mooney showed his ideological colors in The Republican War on Science, and with their attacks on President Bush, he and his coauthor can't be accused of being nonpartisan here, despite their call for less partisan, nonideological debate. Some readers may also balk at paying $25 for a book nearly a third of which consists of notes and documentation. Nevertheless, Mooney and Kirshenbaum make valid arguments that can only help to further the public debate about these important issues. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


The Durham Herald Sun
“Non-scientists, and that includes most of us who work for newspapers or other media, owe it to themselves to read at least one book this year about the scientific issues facing the world. My pick is Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum's Unscientific America.”

Buffalo News
“[An] important book”

NSTA Recommends
“A tour-de-force…engaging…this book should find readership beyond just science students to all students interested, or becoming interested, in current issues important to politics, education, and the general state of our nation."
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (June 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046501917X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465019175
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This book is written by Mooney, a science journalist and Kirschenbaum, a trained scientist who switched over to the world of politics, and as such, it reads like a politically-oriented, extended journalistic piece on the issue it purports to cover. The title and the cover seem to imply that the book will be about a dangerous lack of scientific literacy in the US, a potentially popular topic among readers given the high profile of some recent science issues. However, the book ends up being more about the interaction of science and scientists with the general public than it does with the general status of science. The recurring theme in this book is that there is a general disconnect between the pristine, well-ordered world of scientists, call it the ivory tower or the highly specialized world of the experts, and the general public which gets its information and entertainment from movies, TV shows and blogs, among other things. While the authors try to be even-handed and point out both the good and bad points from each side, the book tends to feel like an indictment of scientists and their inability to cross the divide and make science entertaining and relevant. In the end, the book basically decides that what we need isn't necessarily more trained experts, but more training for the experts in things like communication, writing and speaking skills. They seem to feel that we need more Carl Sagans.

This book does make some excellent points and the authors do seem to have a pretty good grasp on what is good science and what is not; however, in the end, scientists get too much of the blame, and those who promote science denial, or bad science get let off the hook too lightly.
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Format: Hardcover
Chris Mooney, co-authoring with Sheril Kirshenbaum, has impeccable timing for publishing topical books. By the time Mooney's The Republican War on Science : Revised and Updated came out, those who stay up on current events had probably reviewed enough anecdotal news stories regarding the GOP's relationship with Science and its findings to seriously consider Mooney's thesis that the GOP was truly in a policy war with science with damaging consequences both observed and predicted. Mooney's masterpiece of straight news reporting and analysis still resonates and I continue to recommend this wonderful book, both for the breadth and depth of its reporting, and its continued relevance in spite of a new Administration committed to science due to a Congress that continues to be swayed by special interests as we've recently experienced in both energy and health care legislative efforts.

Mooney's reportage in "War on Science" is also helpful to readers of "Unscientific America" given the authors spend little time in the new book arguing for the key and growing role science plays in American society, it's mostly assumed where the authors instead focus the first portion of the book on the pervasiveness of America's illiteracy towards science coupled to their argument the scientific community is failing at communicating with both the power brokers and the general public in a way that adequately promotes science. While I enjoyed learning about areas where we're scientifically illiterate, I believe the authors spend too little time speaking to the criticality of science.
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Format: Hardcover
As a academic scientist and educator, science outreach is very important to me. Out of curiosity I reached for this title to see about its analysis of the state of affairs.

The diagnosis of this book is this: The USA is losing the charm of science and scientific literacy.
And it makes a simple proposal: Scientists need to be better at promoting science.

That seems obvious enough. There are actually a range of books out that make that case and give constructive advise to scientists how to be a better communicator (such as Randy Olson's "Don't be such a scientist" or "Am I Making Myself Clear?" by Cornelia Dean).

I do not disagree with this, but think it's too narrow. I also do not think this book gives a sensible enough description of the state of affairs.

For example the first chapter makes the case that the Pluto-story was somehow a PR blunder for science. We are invited to consider the mocking of Bill Maher, and Stephen Colbert as evidence. I would rather suggest the opposite. Having a science topic on Maher and Colbert is a win, and there is no way to have it on Colbert without mocking being part of it. But not just that, the fact that wonderful science promoters such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye made great use of the story to engage the public is nowhere to be found. In fact neither of these fine advocates for science appear anywhere in the book.

I can also not really follow their assessment of the state of science outreach. Going to the science shelf in my local book-store I cannot help notice a very healthy rotation of wonderful books appearing and not only that, them also being very successful. The book omits this from the discussion.
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