In the latest New Scientist, I have a commentary piece that places our current president in the context of the long history of American anti-intellectualism, as most famously described by historian Richard Hofstadter in his classic 1964 work Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. George W. Bush, as a president, smacked of anti-intellectualism, but Barack Obama couldn’t be more different:
…Bush was widely reviled by intellectuals as precisely the opposite of the kind of person you want running the most powerful country in the world. The Bush administration’s extensively documented attacks on science (discussed in my book The Republican War on Science, among other places), and his exaltation of Jesus as his “favourite philosopher”, further cemented the idea that here was not a mind to be respected. Add to that the malapropisms, the apparent uneasiness with any kind of verbal improvisation, and the scripted debating, and one could easily conclude the US was being governed by the consummate anti-intellectual.
With the coming of Barack Obama to the presidency, the phrase “sea change” is not too strong. Here is a former academic who is deeply familiar with the world of thought. In his inaugural address, Obama pledged to restore science to its “rightful place” in our government; heck, he even extolled the virtue of “curiosity”. And for the first time in history, he has appointed a Nobel laureate to the presidential cabinet. The worm has turned in American life – but for how long?
The article then goes on to discuss whether American anti-intellectualism is cyclic, and if so, how Obama can break the cycle. Hint: He’s off to a pretty good start.
You can read the full piece here.
Yes folks, ‘I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl!‘ is a real book apparently, brought to my attention by a friend who sent this link. The publication date appears to be 1970.
Finally, we have something that actually makes 1966’s The Exciting Game For Career Girls sound progressive. [Deep breath]. Where do I begin…
Tomorrow I’m off to Seattle–it seems I visit roughly once per year–for a series of talks and media appearances, centering on this event:
The Northwest Science Writers Association Presents: Dumb, Getting Dumber? The Cost of Scientific Illiteracy
Thursday, May 14, , 7:00 p.m.: Pacific Science Center, Eames Theater
A public forum featuring Chris Mooney, author of the coming book “Unscientific America,” and local experts on science, education, policy and the economy.