Archive for June 22nd, 2009

From a Scientist and a Writer: A Plea to Change Our Science-Anemic Culture

By Chris Mooney | June 22, 2009 3:04 pm

On the new book website, there’s the most extensive write-up yet of our argument and scope. I’ll repaste it here, as it explains precisely why we’re concerned about the gap between science and mainstream culture, and what we must do about it:

In his famous 1959 Rede lecture at Cambridge University, the scientifically-trained novelist C.P. Snow described science and the humanities as “two cultures,” separated by a “gulf of mutual incomprehension.” And the humanists had all the cultural power—the low prestige of science, Snow argued, left Western leaders too little educated in scientific subjects that were increasingly central to world problems: the elementary physics behind nuclear weapons, for instance, or the basics of plant science needed to feed the world’s growing population.

Now, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, a journalist-scientist team, offer an updated “two cultures” polemic for America in the 21st century. Just as in Snow’s time, some of our gravest challenges—climate change, the energy crisis, national economic competitiveness—and gravest threats–global pandemics, nuclear proliferation—have fundamentally scientific underpinnings. Yet we still live in a culture that rarely takes science seriously or has it on the radar.

For every five hours of cable news, less than a minute is devoted to science; 46 percent of Americans reject evolution and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old; the number of newspapers with weekly science sections has shrunken by two-thirds over the past several decades. The public is polarized over climate change—an issue where political party affiliation determines one’s view of reality—and in dangerous retreat from childhood vaccinations. Meanwhile, only 18 percent of Americans have even met a scientist to begin with; more than half can’t name a living scientist role model.

For this dismaying situation, Mooney and Kirshenbaum don’t let anyone off the hook. They highlight the anti-intellectual tendencies of the American public (and particularly the politicians and journalists who are supposed to serve it), but also challenge the scientists themselves, who despite the best of intentions have often failed to communicate about their work effectively to a broad public—and so have ceded their critical place in the public sphere to religious and commercial propagandists.

A plea for enhanced scientific literacy, Unscientific America urges those who care about the place of science in our society to take unprecedented action. We must begin to train a small army of ambassadors who can translate science’s message and make it relevant to the media, to politicians, and to the public in the broadest sense. An impassioned call to arms worthy of Snow’s original manifesto, this book lays the groundwork for reintegrating science into the public discourse–before it’s too late.

Once again, you can check out the new book website here.

Unscientific America Website Launched

By Chris Mooney | June 22, 2009 12:53 pm

The book is out in about three weeks, and we now have our official site online. Check it out here.

The site features a first chapter excerpt (longer than what we’ve dribbled out so far), reviews, videos, tour information, and a lot more. It will be updated regularly with news about the book.

For those wanting to follow us in other ways, we also have a Facebook Group (665 members and growing).

There will be more updates soon….

How Can We Rouse the Silent Majority?

By Chris Mooney | June 22, 2009 10:59 am

I was just reading this great column by Peter Hess, director of the Faith Project at the National Center for Science Education, on science-religion compatibility. And I came across this passage:

Too often, debates over the public perception of evolution are dominated by the fringes, by fundamentalist Christians and others who reject basic science due to their literal reading of the Bible and by ardent atheists who reject religion because they’ve embraced metaphysical naturalism ― that nature is all that exists. But the silent majority ― that spans the spectrum from theism to atheism ― have no problem reconciling their religious beliefs with established sciences such as evolution, or with new sciences such as stem cell research. My work at the National Center for Science Education brings me into contact with voices across that spectrum and I’ve found that honest, open, and inclusive dialog is not only possible, but vital for our children’s education, for the credibility of religious traditions, and for the continued role of the United States as a scientific and moral leader in our increasingly interconnected world.

I heartily agree–my sense, too, is that the silent majority doesn’t side with either of the extremes. And I think the polling data eminently supports this. For instance, as David Masci of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life writes in a survey of that evidence:

These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion. And when the two realms offer seemingly contradictory explanations (as in the case of evolution), religious people, who make up a majority of Americans, may rely primarily upon their faith for answers.

At the same time, though, let’s face it–in the science blogosphere, we don’t hear a lot from the “silent majority.” Rather, and admittedly with some important exceptions, we hear from the New Atheists.

Yet I am arguing on behalf of the silent majority, and that is what keeps me going. So my question is this: How can we wake them up, make them realize that this is their issue too, and help them reclaim the debate for the middle ground?

Must Modern Feminism Be Dictated By Political Ideology?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 22, 2009 9:07 am

skspdebate1.pngCNN asks ‘Is Feminism Obselete?‘ and Mary Matalin goes so far to suggest:

‘No conservative woman would choose to call herself a feminist as it’s described by liberals today.’

The story begins with David Letterman’s apology to Sarah Palin after a tasteless joke at her daughter’s expense. She accepted, but some conservatives took notice that many ‘feminists‘ didn’t stand beside her in the scuffle. In terms of Palin, I’ve said this before:

[Her] politics are not ‘pro-woman’ simply because she is female..a candidate’s gender should bear no role in his or her ability to take on the responsibilities of president. But our VP-in-waiting must be prepared on day one. In global decision-making, we don’t get a do-over. Sarah Palin’s positions on critical policies seem based on values that many throughout this diverse country do not share and she lacks the experience–especially in foreign relations–to lead…The message I advocate at The Intersection and elsewhere is that men and women should be considered equally for many roles, never that anyone should be afforded preference based on number of X chromosomes. Let our leaders be chosen, not by the composite of their gender, but by their readiness to preside over our great nation.

The CNN piece goes on to explore what feminism means and how it has changed since the movement began. Carol Costello asks who embodies feminism today and considers how ideals have changed. But must modern feminism be dictated by political ideology?

It’s complicated.  On the surface, Merrium-Webster defines ‘feminism‘ as:

1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2 : organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

Quite obviously, women polarized at liberal and conservative extremes do unquestionably hold very different interpretations of women’s rights. However, I sincerely hope that feminism does not become indistinguishable from the left because I fear it would be cast off as radicalism which would undermine the movement. We have so many miles to go toward achieving an equal voice in America and around the world. I may not agree with Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham, but there are women across the aisle doing tremendously positive work that every ‘real‘ feminist ought to celebrate regardless of affiliation. We must rise above petty partisanship if we are to get anywhere.

No CNN, feminism is most definitely not obsolete.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture
MORE ABOUT: CNN, feminism, Sarah Palin, women
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