- Paperback: 514 pages
- Publisher: Milkweed Editions (May 17, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1571313532
- ISBN-13: 978-1571313539
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It
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"The War on Science is an essential work, a game changer, and probably the most important book you'll read this year." --Greg Laden, ScienceBlogs
"Otto's masterful account of how one of the worst wars in history is being conducted and how we should counter it deserves the attention of all those who desire to advance the human experiment." --Rod Cooper, Prof. emeritus of Psychology, U Calgary
"A big, bracing battle cry." --Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
"There is probably no one in the world who has a better grasp of the current anti-science, anti-intellectualism that is running rampant in America today." --Larry Lazar, customer review
"Every so often a book comes along that changes the way you view the world. The War on Science is one of those rare books. If you care about attacks on climate science and the rise of authoritarianism, if you care about biased media coverage or shake-your-head political tomfoolery, this book is for you."Guardian
"A stirring call to action."Science
"Otto marshals an astonishingly broad range of facts, trends and history to make his case. that science, by its nature, does not fear or favor any single human being or group. Thus, the knowledge it produces almost invariably upsets the status quo, challenging whomever or whatever depends on that status quo for their staying power."Scientific American
This book provides a valuable resource to put our present conundrum in proper perspective.”Lawrence M. Krauss
"Evidence from science is one of the world's great equalizers, because it forms an objective basis for public policy. This book illustrates how central that notion is to the forming of modern democracy, and how current attacks on science endanger our freedom. Policymakers and voters everywhere would do well to read The War on Science."Walter Mondale, United States Vice President
We're seeing right now a titanic battle between the power of science and the power of moneyand money is winning. This book explains why, and offers some pointers that might get us back on the right track.”Bill McKibben, author and co-founder of 350.org
Otto makes a case that can't be refuted. Science is important to all of us, especially the US government. He backs it up with peer reviewed studies, carefully researched numbers, and his own extensive experience. He uses the process of science to prove that we need science in order to remain free. Here's hoping all voters everywhere take him seriouslysoon.”Bill Nye the Science Guy
Science is not a body of facts, but rather a structured approach to uncovering the fundamental laws that govern the natural world. As The War on Science shows, policymakers who choose to ignore those fundamental laws imperil us all, for the laws of nature will always trump the laws of man.”Marcia McNutt, president of the US National Academy of Sciences
"One of the most important books published in America in the last decade."TV News Anchor and columnist, Don Shelby, author of The Season Never Ends
"In the struggle of people to be free, there has been one common denominator on which, like Sherlock Holmes, democracy dependsscience, and the evidence it provides, as a guide to truth, fairness and justice. This insightful book explores how science became a necessary prerequisite for democracy, why it is under attack today, and what we can do to defend truth and freedom."Maria Konnikova, Bestselling author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
"Before you vote in the next election, read Shawn Otto's The War on Science."Ben Bova, Hugo-winning writer
"The War on Science dissects today's perfect storm of anti-intellectualism, that has persuaded millions to agitate against their own interests. This book won't convert Limbaugh dancers. But it could help draw that smart engineer uncle of yours back toward the light. It might even encourage a newborn movement, to revive a science-loving version of conservatism out of the ashes."David Brin, scientist and award-winning author of Earth and The Transparent Society
"This insightful, heavily-researched book pulls back the curtain to show exactly where and how the rise of authoritarianism is being accomplished, via academic, fundamentalist, and public-relations attacks on scientists and the ideas of science that underly modern democracy. The War on Science is a must reading for anyone wanting to understand what’s really going on in today's politics."Michael Mann
"This is a well-written study of the politics of science. Voters interested in the critical role science plays in a healthy democracy will find this vital reading."Library Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
As the author notes, science “takes nothing on faith, science is inherently antiauthoritarian, and a great equalizer of political power. That is why it is under attack.” Otto gives us the history of science going back in time to the 1600s when American was first settled by the Europeans. We learn the role science played in the protestant reformation, and the contributions by the “Islamic keepers of science.” More recently, we see the distrust of science that formed during the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, the cold war, and the cloistered nature of scientists in the mid-twentieth century. Otto makes an important point at this point: “Democracy is, as we know, rooted in science, knowledge, and the biology of natural law. But most of our elected leaders have not had significant training in science, or, more importantly, in how the foundational ideas of modern law and democracy relate to, and grew out of, science.” And this is a problem today. We can see the public’s perception of science slide in recent years: by 1999 about 47 percent of Americans agreed that scientific achievements were very important, by 2009 the figure dropped to 27 percent. In 1994, Congress eliminated funding for the Office of Technology Assessment as part of a budget-cutting package. To add insult to injury congressional staffers turned to lobbyists and the Internet for science information – yikes.
Part II delves into the history of modern science politics. A shocking revelation to me was that after Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921, right-wing relativity deniers were on the rise – really! The concluding chapter in this section covers the vaccine scare, Polio misinformation, and the rise of yellow and gonzo journalism – all interesting stuff.
In Part III, the author elaborates on what he calls the three-front war on science. The first major front in the war is the “identity-politics or postmodernist front, waged by academics and the press.” This part got a bit philosophical for me and was somewhat intellectually dense. Postmodernists apparently view all of science as a sort of public-relations campaign by the elite and that truth is subjective, not objective. The second front is an ideological one. Here we have the attack on evolution via creationism, the vaccine controversy, and the sex-education controversy. The author describes a third front in the war: the industrial war on science. From Rachel Carson’s environmental concerns through the decades long fight by industry against climate science, Otto presents a very compelling account about this aspect of the war on science. I found this section very interesting and shocking at the same time. It is unbelievable what efforts and extent some will go to in order to protect their selfish interests. It is in this section that the author presents a “seven stage method of cloaking rhetorical arguments in the language of science legitimacy in order to influence public perception and effect a desired policy objective.” After reading this, it is no wonder that people are truly confused on scientific issues. The denial engine is incredible. One big topic of discussion in the book is climate science denial. Here the author lists the top ten climate-denial talking points, and goes on to present a wealth of information on this topic.
In the concluding chapters, Otto explains over several chapters what needs to be done to win this war. In chapter twelve, he presents fourteen battle plans that need to be implemented in order to do this.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this brief tour “of the vast intellectual, ideological, and economic war on science.”
The book is actually much more than the title suggests. Shawn Otto (one of the founders of ScienceDebate.org) delves deep into the history of science, but also in the psychological, sociological, political, educational, and religious histories and their interactions with science. He points out that the early leaders of this nation were promoters of science. George Washington said "There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of Science and Literature." Jefferson heavily promoted science during his presidency and noted as he was leaving office that "Science is my passion, politics my duty." Great Republicans presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and William McKinley all emphasized the importance of science and technology. The author notes that Republicans were once the party of progressive optimism and tolerance, of environmentalism and finance, of rationalism and national parks. Only recently have Republicans turned against science. [But Democrats have their anti-science as well, which he discusses]
The reasons for this turn toward antiscience are discussed in great detail. Otto digs into the history of religious intolerance for science that contradicts scripture, most notably by the excommunication of Galileo (who, ironically, was devoutly religious), but also with many other examples ranging through history to today. He examines the interplay of antiscience and "freedom," including how fear of annihilation from Cold War/nuclear weapons led to the "live for today" attitude of the 1960s. But not just nihilism, this constant stress and attachment to the "military-industrial complex" caused a suspicion of science.
Further, the book delves into the turn towards postmodernism, which denied the existence of objective truth, claiming that all "truth" is subjectively in the eye of the beholder and that your opinion (often, ignorance) is as good as decades of scientific fact. This postmodernist believe severely damages education, where no longer are students expected to learn from accumulated facts but how they "feel" about reality. The media promotes this subjectivism, combined with the need to create controversy to garner ratings, as well as promote "false balance." All of these erode citizen confidence in science for no reason other than to assuage their fears of the unknown.
Otto also takes a closer look at the "three-front war on science" from identity politics, ideology, and industry. All three provide substantial and substantive background and analysis and should be read closely. The third, "The Industrial War on Science," is extensive and examines the long and fruitful strategies of industries (often working in tandem with religion and media) to deny established science and delay or eliminate any policy action. We saw this for decades as the tobacco industry denied smoking causes cancer, and today as fossil fuel and libertarian lobbyists deny man-made climate change, as well as many other examples. Otto documents in detail the tactics used by denier lobbyists and their hired spokespeople; even quoting from their own strategy materials. He shows also how companies like Exxon and the Koch companies shifted from paying directly to denier front groups to slipping the money in through "dark money" vehicles like Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.
The final three chapters look at "winning the war" in the sense of how do scientists and others battle against the misinformation of identity politics, ideologies, and industrial disinformation campaigns. In short, it isn't easy. Otto discusses how to engage in conversations in ways people can relate to. He also proposes a series of 14 "battle plans" to communicate science and overcome denial. The plans begin with something as simple as "doing something;" getting out there and trying to communicate. They continue with specific actions like creating a science advisory organization, pushing for science debates, using science advisors more effectively, and reaching out to religious, educational, and political leaders to help them understand the importance of science and its role in policy making. Otto also suggests that scientists need to fight back against the harassment, disinformation, and personal attacks of denial organizations.
All of this can get rather intense. The book is dense in both information and thought. Otto has done tremendous research in a wide range of science and sociological history to develop the incredible insights he displays in this book. I highly recommend that all scientists read it, but I also highly recommend everyone who has an interest in honest discussion and policy making to read it. Finally, every responsible American citizen should read it as it helps put into context our role as citizens in this democracy.
This is not an easy book, or a pleasant one. It is grim, it is far-reaching, and it is capable of provoking distress and anxiety on almost every page. In addition, some have criticized Shawn Otto for an opaque writing style with a "word salad" of polysyllabic scientific and philosophical terms, but I would contend that he's simply declining to pander or condescend. And he couldn't do otherwise, because pandering to the popular appetite for self-validating infotainment is one of the hallmarks of the decline of respect for science.
Tell your friends, tell your enemies. Everyone should read this book.