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5.0 out of 5 stars The Scientific Method, August 31, 2011
This review is from: Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America (Hardcover)
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Part I. America's Science Problem

Chapter 1. Let's have a Science Debate: Numbers of scientists and engineers are way up across the world, with the ability to collaborate in an unprecedented way through the internet. The technological fruits of science define our society but US scientists are less and less consulted at the political, economic, and policy-making levels. Less than 2% of Congressmen are trained in science and the little science they hear is usually from lobbyists - not nearly representing mainstream scientific opinion. Scientific journalists are out of work. When other journalists cover a scientific subject they might bring in someone with a dissenting opinion, just to be fair. Thing is, the opinion of an anti-vaccination activist carries no weight compared to the opinion of a scientist with peer-reviewed data showing the astounding efficacy and safety record of our immunization schedules. Among its many antiscience acts, the Bush administration "appointed true believers to key agency positions throughout the federal government and empowered them to hold back or alter scientific reports they didn't agree with."

Chapter 2. Is Science Political: First, a description of the scientific method - actually a collection of strategies - that has brought the world more prosperity in a shorter period of time than anything else has in history. It is this method of observation, coming up with a hypothesis, designing an experiment, evaluating the results, and writing a paper that starts the process. Then the article is published in a professional journal and subjected to intense scrutiny by peers who would like nothing better than to find something wrong with the observations, the hypothesis, the procedures, the results, or all of the above. The method is fallible since humans are fallible, but it is self-correcting. Over time the method finds the errors and corrects them - usually sooner rather than later. This is what Otto would like scientists to convey to the lay public about science.

Part II. Yesterday's Science Politics

Chapter 3. Religion, Meet Science: A look at some of the scientists and philosophers in Europe before and during the Enlightenment that influenced the founding fathers - that these founding fathers, almost all religious, took great care to write a secular constitution based on the writings of John Locke and the rule of law. "In the process they created something entirely new, a nation that respected and tolerated religion in every sense, but did not base its authority on religion."

Chapter 4. Science, Meet Freedom: In the nineteenth century, America specialized in technological science with inventors like Eli Whitney, A Bell, and Thomas Edison. Europe specialized in pure theoretical science with scientists like Darwin, Maxwell, Curie, and Mendel. Countries that didn't included science in their policy-making suffered dramatically, such as Russia during the time of Stalin. In the 20th century, Einstein, Hubble, and many others led the way to, among many other advances, the discovery of the Big Bang, the expanding universe, and particle physics.

Chapter 5. Gimme Shelter: The US concentrated its scientific efforts to support the war efforts during WWII, many of the scientists being recruited from Europe. The war technology was orchestrated by a guy named Bush, who Roosevelt asked, after the war, to find a way to extend this benefit to the country during peacetime. This led to another golden age of science in the US, research being concentrated both in industry and in the universities. Unfortunately, the cold war led to an arms race with the USSR and bomb shelters were built in back yards all over the US.

Chapter 6. Science, Drugs, & Rock 'n' Roll: Eisenhower left office with a warning about the military-industrial complex and NASA began its golden age, culminating in the moon landing. In other ways, science was taking it on the chin. The technological emphasis of science that always existed in the US was showing signs of damaging the environment. Kurt Vonnegut was popular, and later summed it up with this message: "Dear future generations: Please accept out apologies. We were roaring drunk on petroleum."

Chapter 7. American Antiscience: Later in the 20th century, a widening gulf occurred in the universities between science and humanities departments and not just in the US. Postmodernism invented a new way of looking at reality - your reality is your own and your worldview (or anyone's worldview) is just as valid as another. To some, this made the value of a scientific viewpoint no more valid than anyone's opinion about a given topic. Christian fundamentalism added fuel to the fire, as did a tedious book by Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," that is considered by some (not usually scientists) to be among the 100 most important books of the 20th century. It concentrated on and over-emphasized errors that have been made in the application of the scientific method.

Chapter 8. The Descent of Thought: An antiscience trend during the 70's - 90's worsened in August of '87 when the FCC abolished the "fairness doctrine." In short, the doctrine required broadcasters to present programs that were (in the view of the FCC) honest, equitable, and balanced. After the policy was changed, congress passed a bill to revive the valuable doctrine but Reagan vetoed it. Having learned postmodern thought in college, the new breed of journalists over the next three decades then polarized their offerings, providing "both sides of the story fairly and with balance but with no judgement."

Part III. Today's Science Politics

Chapter 9. Teaching Evolution: The Values Battle: While a scientist seeks power through evidence, a nonscientist seeks it through persuasion and rhetoric. Among the lay groups talking about evolution, climate change, or sex education, there frequently are no scientists even present. The statistics show that the percentages of citizens believing in evolution or climate change in this country are far lower than that in other developed countries. Somehow, US scientists are losing this battle.

Chapter 10. The Money Battle: Fifty pages providing good standard scientific coverage of the climate change issue - and should have been named as such. The author does clearly pointed out, however, the obscene amount of money that has been poured into a propaganda campaign by the petroleum industry. The use of this propaganda by a media not operating under the fairness doctrine is readily apparent on the US radio & cable TV airways every day.

Part IV. Tomorrow's Science Politics

Chapter 11. Freedom & the Commons: A nice chapter centering around Hardin's 1968 paper in "Science" - "The Tragedy of the Commons." Corporations, historically and consistently, externalize (dump on the public) their waste instead of spending money to dispose of it properly - unless regulations are in place to prevent this. This lead to the EPA under Nixon, getting the lead out of gasoline, and countless regulations that have improved our lives.

There are a few other chapters but I think you get the point. The last few chapters are not the best ones anyway. The book is a bit blunt in spots but mainstream science is accurately represented. If you believe in the scientific method, you will probably like this book. If not, you might not like it, but I recommend that you at least study up a little on the scientific method. I agree with the author that it has the unique ability to get closer to the truth than any other method ever known to Man.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 2, 2011 11:26:07 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2011 3:38:40 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 3, 2011 7:42:00 PM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 14, 2011 1:30:04 PM PDT
Sadly, the real Miss America video was NOT a parody! Scientific results are not subject to personal belief. (Do you believe in weather?)

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2011 10:14:56 AM PDT
There was a point in the cat fight that is the Republican candidate selection process that I was sure we'd get Dubya redux in the form of Rick Perry. Now I'm not sure which GOP pinhead will be defeated (Allah and Marx willing! ;>) ) by Obama. I have to tell ya that I am truly appalled by the clowncar of Repubs running for president.


In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2011 10:16:02 AM PDT
I do indeed believe in weather, BUT I seldom believe my TV weatherman.


In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2011 1:15:32 PM PDT
Apparently, TV weathermen are only pseudoscientists: check out "Hot Air" by Homan, from Columbia Journalism Review.

Posted on Feb 2, 2012 6:44:03 AM PST
Great review! Thank you for summing up the chapters! I am definately going to get the book now!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 2, 2012 1:10:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 2, 2012 1:11:15 PM PST
Hi RWH - Thanx for the thanx and hope you enjoy the book. There is far more in each chapter than I was able to summarize. I'm a glutton for science!


Posted on Jul 13, 2012 10:38:03 AM PDT
GJ says:
"Self-correcting" --> So true!
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