Chris' Q&A on Unscientific America In TIME

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 27, 2009 12:30 pm

TIME’s Frances Romero has published a great interview with Chris about Unscientific America and how to raise the profile of science in our culture. Here’s an excerpt:

TIME: How do you think the debate over global warming has progressed since you published The Republican War on Science?
Mooney: We’ve come such a long way just because of political change — it’s not like the science changed at all, but the politics changed — and yet it’s still an incredible struggle. The vote in the House [on a bill to combat global warming] was superclose, and the Senate’s going to be probably even closer. The reason that issue is so hard is that we have a gigantic gap between scientists and the public — and by association, the politicians that represent them. Scientists have been quite strong on this for 20 years and still only half of America seems to know what they’re talking about.

In Unscientific America you’ve moved on to a more overarching discussion about “scientific illiteracy” in society that threatens to hinder productivity in the U.S. What are some ways we’ve fallen behind or are in danger of falling behind?
Science drives innovation which drives growth, and the concerns are very serious that we are slipping in that area. There are attempts to address it but they are nothing like what you saw after Sputnik when we really, really decided that we were going to be competitive. We’re not throwing everything into it. People just aren’t in tune to the role of science in the future of the country.

The interview touches on many significant themes of our book. Read the full Q&A online at TIME.

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Comments (47)

  1. Sven DiMilo

    What is the message of that photo?
    No stereotyping going on there.

  2. Sven DiMilo

    There have been some critics of the book’s stance on how religion and science intersect. What has been the sticking point for some people?
    [They say] we’re too moderate about religion and that we criticize a number of our colleagues and peers in the science world who lately have made their identity all about fighting religion. That is not what we need. It’s a waste of resources and it’s counterproductive. We know that religion is a key block for people; not just religion but the perception that science is in conflict with their religion. The only way to remove that block is to show them that science and religion can go together. Trying to pull them all the way to atheism is just not realistic and in fact probably puts them off more.

    “That is not what we need”? But who, exactly, is “we”? (You and your–chortle–”colleagues and peers in the science world”?)
    And again with the argument from opinion-of-probable-consequences-asserted-without- evidence.

  3. Jon

    From the article:

    Scientists have been quite strong on this for 20 years and still only half of America seems to know what they’re talking about. (See pictures of animals endangered by global warming.)

    Talk about disconnect. “That global warming thing–it’s only about polar bears, right?” [Bangs head on table.]

  4. Jeff

    Sven, that can’t be a real scientist in that photo, there are no test tubes or bubbling beakers.

    Framing fail.

    Also, I don’t see too many people trying to force everyone to become atheists. I see a lot of people wondering what, exactly, is “compatible” with certain specific religious claims and the science that clearly discounts it. Would you two care to comment on the limits of compatibility, and what, if anything, is allowed to be said on that topic?

  5. Anthony McCarthy

    What is the message of that photo? No stereotyping going on there.

    Actually, if I was about twenty years younger, I’d ask him for a date.

  6. JRQ

    In response to the question about religion and science you say,

    “The only way to remove that block is to show them that science and religion can go together. Trying to pull them all the way to atheism is just not realistic and in fact probably puts them off more”

    Nice — “in fact probably”? In actual fact, Chris, you have not provided any evidence this is even “probably” the case. As I said in a comment to one of your previous posts, I can’t get away with this kind of sloppiness in my work. Why should we let you get away with it?

  7. Silver Fox

    Unscientific America sales ranked #1359 at Amazon. That’s a very respectable rank. I couldn”t find PZ’s latest book to check the ranking.

  8. Jeff

    Silver Fox, did you have a point, or were you just practicing non sequiturs?

    I’d honestly like to know if Chris or Sheril have any understanding of science-religion compatibility limits, or if they’d just accommodate anything labeled “religious”, without protest? Is there anything that a scientist — even a non-atheistic scientist, to remove that hang-up — could point to and say “this is a silly belief, because “. Or is that too shrill? Maybe there’s a way to frame that I’m not seeing, could you experts point me in the right direction?

  9. Jeff

    Hrm, markup fail in my above comment, should be something like:
    “this is a silly belief, because (insert-scientific-discovery-here).”

  10. Jon

    Jeff–I don’t think the problem is shrillness, per se. But shrillness and misunderstanding, which has a lot in common with what used to be called “philistinism.” This scienceblogs commenter nailed the point:

    What I object to in some of the New Atheism is not their stridency, but their philistinism. They are like the characters Abbot’s flatland who simply do not recognize that human experience has other dimensions than scientific knowledge and that acknowledging those dimensions doesn’t amount to embracing some sort of conventional spiritualism or obscurantism. Mysticism is not required to develop a little depth of field in one’s vision.

  11. Lowell

    I like the way you’ve phrased that, Jeff. Let’s try some concrete examples. Maybe Jon can tell me whether I’m a philistine or not.

    1. The belief that causing the abortion of a newly-fertilized human ovum is murder because “ensoulment” occurs at the moment of conception is a silly belief because there is no evidence that anything like a “soul” exists.

    2. The belief that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old is a silly belief because there is abundant evidence across many different scientific disciplines demonstrating that it is billions of years old.

    3. The belief that a piece of bread “transubstantiates” into human flesh when a Catholic priest says a prayer over it is a silly belief because there is no evidence that anything happens to the bread and nothing we know about how the world works would support that belief.

    Are these okay? If not, is it because they’re too “shrill” or because I “misunderstand” the beliefs at issue?

  12. Jon

    1. The soul is a concept–the way “romance” is a concept. It is intangible.

    2. Not all religious people believe the earth is 10,000 years old.

    3. Ditto.

    The problem comes when you take the worst and pretend that’s the whole thing, and you’re spitefully incurious about the rest (see Terry Eagleton). For instance Martin Luther King didn’t believe any of the things you list above. If you don’t care, fine. But if you don’t care to understand people, then leave them alone.

  13. Lowell

    I didn’t say that those religious beliefs were shared by all religious people, so I don’t know what that’s all about.

    Still, they are not fringe beliefs. Many, perhaps most, Christians in the U.S. would disagree with your assertion that the soul is merely a “concept.” They literally believe such a thing exists and that it will go on to an afterlife after they die. A lot of them are also young Earth creationists. And, as Crackergate demonstrated, a lot of Catholics literally believe in transubstantiation.

    Can I assume from your non-response that you agree my statements pointing out that these beliefs are silly were neither too “shrill” nor made me seem a “philistine.”

  14. Paul

    1. The soul is a concept–the way “romance” is a concept. It is intangible.

    According to you. Surprisingly, not all religious folks agree. But that’s beside the point. Is it philistine to say that the idea of a soul that defines who you are, a tangible, dualism style soul is unevidenced? Obviously those who consider it an abstract concept will not care if we call the non-abstract version unevidenced.

    2. Not all religious people believe the earth is 10,000 years old.

    Then those people would not care if we say the evidence points otherwise. Is it philistine to declare this?

    3. Ditto.

    None of the New Atheists are trying to say that all beliefs are the same. It’s misleading to act as such. If a specific belief is being criticised, it’s disingenuous to point to someone else that doesn’t believe it and treat it as if nobody does. It’s highly dishonest to act like saying “There is no evidence to show that a virgin giving birth is possible” is intended to in any way affect the beliefs of someone that doesn’t believe in a literal virgin birth. Ironically, you are the one treating all believers as if they are the same: as long as someone doesn’t believe in something, nobody can be criticised because you’re not addressing all beliefs at once. That way all people of faith are sufficiently free from any possible criticism and everything is roses and butterflies and rainbows.

  15. Silver Fox

    Jeff:
    “Silver Fox, did you have a point, or were you just practicing non sequiturs?”

    Oh, it’s a simple point, Jeff. An awful lot of people think the pharyngularian mindset is a crock of crap.

    While I’m at it let me make another point, Jeff. As you and I both know, I couldn’t find PZ’s book because he’s never written one. He says he is going to write one but there’s a good possibility he won’t. The reason: PZ couldn’t take the kind of buffeting that M and K are taking (and he would get it). That would probably drive him ballistics. It’s an ego thing with him, Jeff.

  16. Silver Fox

    Jeff:

    “Maybe there’s a way to frame that I’m not seeing, could you experts point me in the right direction?”

    Yes, Jeff, you could be pointed in the right direction but it wouldn’t do you any good because you’re hell bent on going around in circles.

    For example it could be pointed out that there are two categories of knowledge: sceintific knowledge from which facts about the external world are derived through hypotheses, experimentation, and drawing factual conclusions. Then, there is an epistemic knowledge derived from experiences of internal phenomenon – well ordered propositional knowledge.

    Now, most people experience the wholeness of their personhood that way. However, to you, anything other than the knowledge obtained through scientific methodology is a pile of bullshit. So, you have reduced your personhood to an experimenting robot. You end up being a half-person because there is no internal truth, only objective, materialistic, naturalistic truth which you can measure in a lab.

    Now, the new atheists jump up and down and yell: What scientific proof do you have for some epistemic truth that can’t be tested in a lab. Well, Jeff, none at all, because it does not derive as a scientific category. It’s not part of the external physical world. So, what proof do you have, Silver Fox? Well Jeff, the proof of your own internal phenomena of your own internal experiences.

    But you see Jeff, once you’ve cut yourself in half, you don’t have that.
    All you have is the experimental truth of the physical world. So around and round you go.

    So that’s the circle you run around in Jeff. Not a lot of people want to go that way, Jeff.

  17. Jon

    Paul: Obviously those who consider it an abstract concept will not care if we call the non-abstract version unevidenced.

    It is unevidenced, but that’s not the same as saying it can be dismissed, let alone dismissed with a sneer, in the manner of the new atheists.

    Ironically, you are the one treating all believers as if they are the same: as long as someone doesn’t believe in something, nobody can be criticised because you’re not addressing all beliefs at once.

    Actually, I don’t treat all believers or acts of belief as “the same” at all. This Alternet blog post is pretty close to how I think religious beliefs should be regarded. The religious right, and the Bush administration they made possible, I think are reprehensible–criminal in many cases. I just think the New Atheists treat religion in way too simplistic a way.

    It’s not that there’s nothing to criticize, it’s that the New Atheist’s understanding of religion stinks. In this passage, Terry Eagleton nails it:

    It did not see God the Creator as some kind of mega-manufacturer or cosmic chief executive officer, as the Richard Dawkins school of nineteenth-century liberal rationalism tends to imagine-what the theologian Herbert McCabe calls “the idolatrous notion of God as a very large and powerful creature.” Dawkins falsely considers that Christianity offers a rival view of the universe to science. Like the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett in Breaking the Spell, he thinks it is a kind of bogus theory or pseudo-explanation of the world. In this sense, he is rather like someone who thinks that a novel is a botched piece of sociology, and who therefore can’t see the point of it at all. Why bother with Robert Musil when you can read Max Weber?

    For Thomas Aquinas, by contrast, God the Creator is not a hypothesis about how the world originated. It does not compete, say, with the theory that the universe resulted from a random fluctuation in a quantum vacuum. In fact, Aquinas was quite ready to entertain the possibility that the world had no origin at all. Dawkins makes an error of genre, or category mistake, about the kind of thing Christian belief is. He imagines that it is either some kind of pseudo-science, or that, if it is not that, then it conveniently dispenses itself from the need for evidence altogether. He also has an old-fashioned scientistic notion of what constitutes evidence. Life for Dawkins would seem to divide neatly down the middle between things you can prove beyond all doubt, and blind faith.

    First, I think a culture war with scientists as warriors is a very bad idea. We don’t need scientists as culture war lightning rods right now. We need scientists as scientists.

    Second, if you were going to go into culture war battle, you would need to su*k at argumentation much, much less. And having a better understanding of human nature would help too. Daniel Dennett has a nerd’s understanding of human nature.

    Sorry, but it’s true.

  18. Jeff

    Silver Fox, a simple “no” would have sufficed.

  19. Jeff

    I don’t think “philistinism” is a problem for most atheists, although I suppose it could be for some. Speaking for myself, I find a great deal of joy in life and am not at all a cold, rational being discounting anything outside of science. I’m not alone. Say what you will about one of the most notorious atheists (although he’d dispute the term) on YouTube, Thunderf00t, but he’s definitely not without wonderment and joy in what the universe shows us. I think sometimes the media, and science’s detractors, like to paint that picture of an emotionless Vulcan scientist, poo-pooing anything smacking of joy or frivolity… but that’s just a convenient straw man.

    Now, not valuing “spiritual values” (taken from the wiki article)… absolutely. Atheists who also deny spirits or a spirit world would naturally (ha) not place any value on that, to say nothing of undervaluing it.

    And Jon, you really didn’t answer Lowell’s more concrete examples of my general question. I’m very curious to know what solutions to this Chris and Sheril have for this very real problem of science-religion compatibility. You can blithely claim there is no incompatiblity, but clearly there are cases where this is NOT the case. Now what?

  20. TB

    @ 15. Paul Says:

    “None of the New Atheists are trying to say that all beliefs are the same. ”

    That’s a carefully phrased sentence. And it has to be, because many NAs believe that any religious belief enables extreme religious beliefs. And many that I’ve talked to are quick to dismiss any religious ideas that aren’t fundamentalist, because as far as they’re concerned they all deserve equal treatment and don’t want to be bothered with nuance.
    So they may not be “trying to say that all beliefs are the same,” but that doesn’t stop them from lumping all believers together – like calling Ken Miller a creationist.

    “It’s highly dishonest to act like saying “There is no evidence to show that a virgin giving birth is possible” is intended to in any way affect the beliefs of someone that doesn’t believe in a literal virgin birth. Ironically, you are the one treating all believers as if they are the same: as long as someone doesn’t believe in something, nobody can be criticised because you’re not addressing all beliefs at once.”

    It is highly dishonest to pretend that throwing arguments about fundamentalist beliefs against someone who doesn’t hold them doesn’t prove that you don’t care what they believe, you think all beliefs deserve the same treatment.

  21. TB

    @ 20. Jeff Says:
    “I’m very curious to know what solutions to this Chris and Sheril have for this very real problem of science-religion compatibility. You can blithely claim there is no incompatiblity, but clearly there are cases where this is NOT the case. Now what?”

    I’m very curious to know if you think any solution that does not solve the problem of religious fundamentalism and its opposition to science in the next five years is a failure.

    Seriously, what is your criteria for a successful solution?

  22. Jon

    Here’s the entry for “soul” in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics:

    http://tinyurl.com/l74fmx

    It’s interesting to read the origins in the semetic traditions. It just starts out as the breath, the inside of the person, as opposed to the body, and then it becomes more sophisticated, presumably as life gets more sophisticated, you need words for peoples ethical states, etc. And then there’s speculation about the afterlife from the Babylonians and Egyptions, etc.

    With the Greek and Hellenic cultures, you get the traditions of logic chopping, etc., which the Christians and some Jewish traditions later inherited.

    When you look at the Buddhist tradition, there’s the question of what you mean by soul, because there’s a different vocabulary, different notions to be discussed and refined.

    That’s an awful lot of fuss over something that doesn’t exist. I suppose to the New Atheists all of this is people wasting their time until the age of science, when the Truth is revealed to all, the telescope and microscope tell us all we’d ever need to know and everything else can go molder in a library somewhere.

  23. Lowell

    That’s an awful lot of fuss over something that doesn’t exist.

    Agreed.

  24. — Still, they are not fringe beliefs. Many, perhaps most, Christians in the U.S. would disagree with your assertion that the soul is merely a “concept.” Lowell

    Considering how often the word “epistemology” in its various inflections gets thrown around here and elsewhere, isn’t it time to say, flat out, that every single idea that human beings have, EVERY single one of them is a “concept”. That includes every single idea we have about the physical universe. There is no “mere” about it, that’s the boundary of our minds and the universe outside of it where this whole dispute plays out. And if you think that all those images pasted together to form some kind of scientific dismissal of the intangible and, I’d guess, perpetually undefinable and uncertain issues in that unknown country, you’re wrong.

  25. Jon

    Or, we could actually try to understand why they’d make such a fuss, which would take the disciplines of the humanities as opposed to the sciences. The New Atheists disdain the very idea of doing this, which is why I think they’re philistines.

  26. Jon

    (My reply in 26 and 27 was for Lowell in 24.)

  27. Lowell

    Jon, I don’t have any problem with the humanities, although I think the question of why human beings make such a fuss over religious beliefs can be examined as a scientific question.

    I just don’t think those beliefs should be accorded any special respect. So, when they come up in a political situation (one where they impinge on other people’s rights, like the Plan B example I gave above, for example), I have no problem pointing out that they are silly.

  28. Jon

    I have no problem pointing out that they are silly.

    No, you have your mindmade up that they are silly. And have no potential to be otherwise. This is different from Carl Sagan’s position.

  29. Lowell

    Uh, no, Jon. If you have some evidence that ensoulment occurs at the moment of conception, or that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, or that bread turns into human flesh when a spell is uttered over it, I will gladly reconsider my position.

  30. TTT

    Philosophy means never having to admit you are wrong. Eagleton is a perfect example of this:

    [Religion] did not see God the Creator as some kind of mega-manufacturer or cosmic chief executive officer, as the Richard Dawkins school of nineteenth-century liberal rationalism tends to imagine-what the theologian Herbert McCabe calls “the idolatrous notion of God as a very large and powerful creature.” Dawkins falsely considers that Christianity offers a rival view of the universe to science.

    I’m sure it would come as a great surprise to any religious conservative, including the whole of the religious right, for them to learn that they do not actually believe that God is a very large and powerful manufacturer of the world and that God’s word as written through the Bible overrules scientific statements about evolution, heliocentrism, homosexuality, or many other topics.

    Eagleton wants to recast most or all religious believers into the mold of Thomas Jefferson: contemplative philosophers who don’t believe in anything as silly as the Creation story, just wedging a little bit of vague “feelgood-isms” into the parts of their life that need a bit more hope and inspiration. ACTUAL religious believers ridicule that approach as “moralistic therapeutic deism” and a prelude to atheism.

    Eagleton’s thesis is self-disproving: if he were right, the culture wars would not exist–nor the Iraq War for that matter, since Bush said he was told to invade by an assuredly large and powerful God who manufactured the world itself, including Bush–and science teachers would not each and every day have to be insulted by students who recite Jack Chick tracts at them as they have been instructed to do by their parents and preachers.

    When you redefine religion from faith to feelgood-ism, of course there’s no reason for atheists (or anybody) to complain about it. But in this case, everybody–including the religious–can see that the redefinition is just silly and wrong.

  31. Jon

    But if that’s what you think I’m defending, you haven’t read anything I’ve written or linked to.

  32. Sorbet

    Umm…in that video Sagan clearly says that the science in the Bible is bunk and that religion gets into trouble when it starts talking about physical phenomena like virgin births.

  33. Jon

    Yes, the *science* in the Bible is outdated. But he doesn’t say all other aspects of the Bible su*k, the way the New Atheists do. Quite the opposite.

    Of course you may think there’s nothing worth knowing but science. And all other notions are “silly” and the people who hold those notions should be mocked. That’s philistinism.

  34. Lowell

    That’s why I tried to use concrete examples. Jeff’s original question was whether there were any religious beliefs where the accomodationist would not object to someone saying, “that’s a silly belief, and here’s why.”

    I suggested that the examples I gave, which called some very common beliefs silly, were neither too “shrill” nor would they make me a “philistine” in Jon’s estimation. I’m not sure if he agrees.

  35. Jon

    What I’m pointing to is Sagan’s pointing out areas where he respects religious traditions. There is a potential that he recognizes. There is no “personal” crusade against religion, the willful and even flaunted ignorance about it, that Terry Eagleton pointed out. The problem is not only that it is “shrill”, but uninformed and incurious.

  36. Jon

    Should be, “The problem is not only that the New Atheists are “shrill”, but uninformed and incurious.”

  37. — Yes, the *science* in the Bible is outdated. But he doesn’t say all other aspects of the Bible su*k, the way the New Atheists do. Quite the opposite Jon

    I’m re-reading James, Varieties of Religious Experience, as a break in reading Eddington. It’s pretty impressive how apropos they are to this debate. Here’s what I just read this morning from VoRE

    “Thus if our
    theory of revelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it,
    must have been composed automatically or not by the free caprice of the
    writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historic errors and
    express no local or personal passions, the Bible would probably fare
    ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, our theory should allow
    that a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions
    and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the
    inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of
    their fate, then the verdict would be much more favorable. You see
    that the existential facts by themselves are insufficient for
    determining the value; and the best adepts of the higher criticism
    accordingly never confound the existential with the spiritual problem.
    With the same conclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and
    some another, of the Bible’s value as a revelation, according as their
    spiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differs. ”

    It seems the biblical fundamentalists aren’t the only ones who find it impossible to look at The Bible in anything but a literalistic way. Thus, the new atheists’ need to pretend that the biblical fundamentalists are the only religious people there are. Denying that reality they claim to be the great champions of the whole way.

  38. Sorbet

    I am not sure the New Atheists say that all other parts of the Bible suck. For instance, even in that blasphemous screed The God Delusion, Dawkins praises the contributions to language and philosophy that the Bible has made.

    What the New Atheists are saying- and I agree- is that the Bible does not seem to be any more moral a document to invoke ethics from than much of common sense or non-religious documents. That’s very different from saying that there is no morality in the Bible, but it says simply that there is nothing special about the Bible when it comes to morality and that it is as good as several other documents, including the works of William Shakespeare.

  39. Jon

    These start to become philosophical arguments, about which very smart, informed people can differ. I’m sure many of the philosophers Dawkins alludes to deeply disagree with him.

    As I’ve said before, *because* reasonable and informed people can disagree, these should be matters of conscience–something that should be treated with respect, as liberals in this country have traditionally treated such matters. Not treating them with respect can be like dumping gasoline on the culture wars. If intelligent people can differ in private and in the academy, it’s probably even more the case in the public square. And prone to exploitation by bad political actors…

    I quickly get out of my depth on this stuff, but I’d also point out that criticizing the Old Testament as a way of criticizing Christianity is like criticizing America by way of citing actions of the British Empire before our independence. It’s not only not us, we were founded as a reform movement against what came before, so you’d kind of be attacking us by agreeing…

  40. TTT

    Jon, people aren’t criticizing the Old Testament and/or Christianity because they think it will teach them how to dance. They do it because other people use those areas as justification for taking Constitutional rights away from other Americans, and for obscuring well-documented scientific realities i.e. evolution and climate change. If someone said global warming wasn’t real because their fortune cookie told them it wasn’t, then it would be time to criticize both them and their fortune cookie. It really is that simple. Nothing should be specially priviledged as a shield behind which minorities are treated as second-class citizens and the knowledge of experts is written off as a giant global conspiracy. That includes religion and anything else utilized by anti-intellectuals.

    And exactly how long will my prior comment be “awaiting moderation”? Is it against some rule here to point out Terry Eagleton’s mistakes?

  41. I think the Bible is superior to Shakespeare in one important aspect, it’s the product of quite a few different people, living in different times, different cultures and different traditions.

    Not a few atheists could avoid some of their clearer distortions if they actually read it instead of relying on little nuggets drawn out by previous atheists, often distorting the meaning in the process. Just take the absurd idea that religion doesn’t practice internal criticism. All you have to do is read Isaiah or the Pauline epistles to see that not only does it have internal criticism, it places it in the cannon of their foundational documents.

    I wonder what a broad cross section of once authoritative writing on biological science would be like. I’ll bet you could find quite a few horrors and gaffs in an anthology constructed along similar lines as the biblical collection.

  42. Skeptic

    The Bible has its share of petty, vindictive, loving, generous, jealous and colossally crazy characters, just like Shakespeare, the Mahabharata and the Greek tragedies.

  43. Jon

    TTT: When you redefine religion from faith to feelgood-ism…

    Anyone who breaks all religion down into either “faith” or “feelgoodism” is talking out of their posterior. And that’s actually Eagleton’s main point. If you just go by your stereotypes, as opposed to what you’d find if you actually, um, studied the matter, you get any this two dimensional picture… Not that this two dimensional picture doesn’t exist in the minds of some, but to say that it’s all they’re is is laughable.

  44. Jon

    Sorry, a bit garbled, but you get the point.

  45. Peter Beattie

    » Silver Fox:
    Unscientific America sales ranked #1359 at Amazon. That’s a very respectable rank. I couldn”t find PZ’s latest book to check the ranking.

    Even with that number, the brand-new UA ranks considerably lower than the paperback edition of that arch-counterproductive book, The God Delusion, which is still at #466. And that was published 18 months ago. Many people must have liked its message. In fact, even people who thoroughly disliked his tone (“insufferable”, “arrogant”) have praise for what he says:

    The God Delusion certainly is a worthwhile read and has enriched my life by introducing me to some new ways of looking at the world. Therefore, in spite of Mr. Dawkins’ personality I cannot help but give this book an extremely high recommendation.

    This is, of course, just an anecdote, but I’d like to see even an anecdote for M&K’s claim that overall the contrary has been true about the Worthwhile Atheists.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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