- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (July 14, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465013058
- ISBN-13: 978-0465013050
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 76 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,164,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future 1st Edition
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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)
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“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.”
“[An] important book”
“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."
Top customer reviews
This book identifies several possible causes for this situation including a long standing American anti-intellectualism, a cultural low regard for knowledge without obvious business application, the rise of the religious right, political partisanship, the increasing complexity and diversification of science, the end of the cold war and the space race, the failure of scientists to communicate their science, ludicrous documentaries such as “Expelled:”, and even internet. Internet (ironically a government funded science project) allows people instant access to ideologically-driven/political cherry picked and often bogus “science”, whilst the scientific processes of actual science takes years to grind through and analyze the outcome. The authors also blame the new atheists, Hollywood’s depiction of scientists, and scientists who are insensitive to culture, for the negative stereotyping of scientists and science. As a solution the authors are suggesting that scientists should become better communicators.
I agree with all that but as a European I still think that the authors are missing one important aspect and that is cultural isolation. Americans have a hard time with languages, comparing countries, a hard time with geography, and also with things such as understanding “per capita”. As an example, I told someone that my country Sweden, which has a similar GDP per capita to the US, provides fairly good medical care for everyone. The reply I got was that Sweden has much fewer people so that is much easier to do. I replied that, 35 times fewer people also mean 35 times less resources (similar GDP per capita). Well, that didn’t work. I had to explain this for a very long time in various ways before it clicked, and this was a well educated adult. This happens to me frequently in the US. I think Americans are so focused on their own big country, their own religious beliefs, and are so focused on the Liberal/Conservative rift in this country (you can always dismiss that single other side when you only have two), that people “jump the gun”, so to speak, and rational discussion outside of the familiar echo chambers becomes difficult. Along the same lines, creationists and global warming deniers are much fewer in Northern Europe, but a more problematic difference is the common refusal of American creationists and global warming deniers to even consider the related science, and often dismiss it with laughably untenable conspiracy theories, whilst the European ones tend to have a more humble attitude. Again I blame this on cultural isolation, but I could be wrong. I should add that I believe I see the same jump the gun dismissal of science and rational arguments in the Arab world and some other developing regions, but somehow I expect that more.
In summary I think this was a good book, with a lot of interesting thoughts and observations, at the same time I think the analysis was not wide enough and perhaps not deep enough. I still really enjoyed reading this book and I think it has some valuable insights and therefore I recommend it.
I was disappointed that the focus of the arguments about scientific illiteracy were based predominantly on the almost cliche arguments about global warming, when the problems are FAR more pervasive. Randy Olson deals with the same subjects with more aplomb.
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. It is true that bridging the gap between the experts and the general public in an effective way is a big concern found among many who write on this topic, but it seems as though this book is too willing to chalk the problem up either to improperly trained scientists or some sort of institutionalized bias in the media world. One of the strongest aspects of this book is the fact that the authors clearly point out, in a number of places, that the technological arrangement and delivery of media currently allows for a number of dangerous tendencies, such as: the focus on profit over substance which tends to eliminate serious scientific coverage, the fragmentation of delivery into many cable channels or an infinite number of websites which allow people to tune out things they don't want to hear or read about, and the ability for anyone to create a TV show or post something to the web, which allows for many disinformation sites to become places where like-minded science deniers can pat each other on the back. In spite of these keen observations, the book has some shortcomings. It seems to suggest that scientists need to accept a number of big compromises. The authors suggest that due to the way movies are made, scientists have to accept bending of science or scientifically ludicrous ideas in movies so that they can be entertaining and sell. They are also very hostile towards the so-called new Atheist movement and insist that science has to accept a co-existence with religion.
In the end, this book will probably be somewhat disappointing to those who appreciate the modern scientific heritage of this country and are gravely concerned about the anti-scientific direction some segments of society seem to be taking. On the other hand, the book does make a number of very thought-provoking observations and seems to suggest one possible path to bridge the gap between science and the general population that could bypass a cultural war and situation in which one side's victory implies the other side's defeat. The best bet is to keep in mind that this book was written by two people whose careers are deeply involved with public perception and the marketing of ideas. As such, it is not a bad take on an issue of great concern and importance.