Unscientific America: It is Finished!

By Chris Mooney | April 27, 2009 8:41 am

unscientific-america.jpg In one sense, our book–due out in mid July–has been complete for some time. We started writing the basic text well over a year ago, and originally filed a draft back in October/November 2008.

However, the editing process has been a long one (although one of the *best* such processes I’ve ever been through), and it only just completely ended yesterday, when I emailed off the completed index of the book to the publisher.

Whew.

We’re not revealing too much yet about the book’s contents, but perhaps I may make a few remarks here about how I’ve come to think about it (although these aspects were not necessarily at the front of our minds when we began):

1. It is a fairly unique collaboration between a scientist and a journalist, and it wouldn’t have come to exist in its current form without two very different (but complementary minds) coming together to work on it.

2. It attempts to provide a 50 year updating of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” argument for 21st century America.

3. It is, I now also see, the sequel to The Republican War on Science, written for the Obama administration–a context in which the science community has been restored in Washington, but still has a long way to go to reach all of America.

I guess that’s enough for now. We’ll be releasing additional info on the book soon enough, and are starting to make some of its arguments in our talks….for more, see here.

Comments (11)

  1. Congratulations!

    The short “product description” lists several factors responsible for scientific illiteracy- corporate interests, a weak education system, science-phobic politicians, and hyperspecialized scientists- but does not seem to mention religion. Do you (and I hope you do) talk about how religious irrationality and intolerance hamper scientific literacy? As you know Carl Sagan used to often drive home this point. To me it seems that we will be missing a very big part of the picture if we don’t talk about how religion with its disregard for evidence-based results and critical thinking acutely suffocates the flowering of basic scientific literacy among the general populace.

    Also, do you know of any other books written by a scientist and a journalist? I would be interested in taking a look at these. I am sure they are around.

  2. Jon

    Congrats, Chris and Sheril. Looking forward to reading it.

    Ashutosh: I think the religious rank and file are the wrong target. The real problem is the political, and sometimes religious, leaders who exploit them. It’s basically a part of the same old Franklins vs. Orthagonians schism that Rick Perlstein has written about as the beginning of out current politics. Of course, this is a very controversial subject that Chris has had run-ins about in the past. To deal with them would probably take a whole book in itself, which is a different project…

    (And it’s a project that’s a few centuries old, by the way, and probably not going to be decided soon–I kept telling Chris this over the past couple of years…)

  3. Erasmussimo

    Congratulations on completing the book. I’m sure that at this point you are truly, deeply disgusted with the book and want nothing more than to be rid of it — this after all being the criterion we use to determine that we have given it our best effort. After a few months, when your box of personal copies arrives, with shiny coverslips and that fresh ink smell, you’ll be able to look back with glad hearts on the experience. Writing a book is an experience that I wouldn’t recommend to anybody, but having written a book is an experience that I recommend to everybody.

  4. The point is that if one wants to answer the question “Why are people becoming scientifically illiterate”?, one has got to factor religion into the answer. I am not claiming it is the cardinal or even the most important cause, but religious indoctrination teaches people to eschew critical thinking and constant questioning.

    This point was eloquently made by Carl Sagan in the marvelous “The Demon-haunted World” as well as in a related interview with Charlie Rose. The fact is that if people, enamored by religion, don’t apply critical thinking in their daily lives, then they would fall for the next charlatan who comes ambling along and this has happened before. A book on the causes of scientific illiteracy should not focus only on religion or even mostly on religion; on the other hand it simply cannot be complete without addressing the basic problems with blind faith as a fundamental impediment to critical thinking.

  5. You americans are already screwed up anyway!

  6. Orson

    HERE is where your new book will remain obviously – and egregiously- wrong:

    It is, I now also see, the sequel to The Republican War on Science, written for the Obama administration–a context in which the science community has been restored in Washington….

    “Restored…?” What partisan pablum! Democrats distort “science” for partisan purposes too. Government is simply now too unimaginably enormous for state funding not to distort science, as President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address long ago when the state was – I can’t believe I’m writing this – far smaller.

    (THIS was the most obvious response to TRWOC. Still, it might be worth picking up a remaindered copy – if only to cement this corrective to the easily deluded.)

  7. Phil

    I look forward to the book as my own awareness to this problem was abruptly and shockingly focused when my scientist brother responded to an evolution FUD piece in the local paper by an “award-winning spirituality and ethics columnist”. The columnist’s counter-strike was to brand his well reasoned response as “scientism, the belief that the sciences have no boundaries and will, in the end, be able to explain everything in the universe.” I don’t know what rock I have been living under, but vehemence of the unscientific response just knocked me over.

  8. Thanks, everybody. Trust me, the book does not ignore religion. But as you can perhaps see from this post, we have a “two cultures” take on this question

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/04/27/atheists-for-common-cause-with-the-religious-on-evolution/

  9. Linda

    How exciting for you and all of us!
    Congratulations!

  10. MadScientist

    Congratulations Chris and Sheril. :)

  11. i have just pre-ordered this book. it will be just in time for my birthday

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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