As I’ve written before, it’s terrific to see others weighing the pros and cons of the arguments laid out in Unscientific America. Today Razib and Jason have posted two reviews that bring up many important themes from our book. They add thought-provoking points to the growing discussion and both seem to agree it’s worth reading.
Over at Gene Expression, Razib weighs in on history, religion, and Sagan:
It is important to reiterate that this is a book that should not be judged by the cover, in particular, the title. It’s not a conventional rehashing of the fact that most Americans, and most humans, are illiterate in terms of the nuts & bolts of science fact. Median human stupidity is such a banal background condition of the universe so as to not be worthy of any interest. Rather Sheril & Chris sketch out the multivalent relationships between the media, government, religion and science, and how these distinct institutions relate to each other and the populace at large. The authors draw heavily upon their own diverse personal experiences. It is perhaps not a trivial fact that Chris Mooney’s fiance worked for the Writer’s Guild of America, and so he had some firsthand media connections which allowed him to easily communicate the mindset of those in the entertainment industry. After all they were his friends and acquaintances. Sheril was at one point a staffer at Congress. The funniest anecdote in Unscientific America for me was that Vern Ehlers, a physicist who represents a district in Michigan, had to rush to the floor to make it clear to his colleagues that funding for “game theory” did not mean funding for the scientific research of sports games!
Meanwhile at Evolutionblog, Jason Rosenhouse begins a three part review, critically considering some ideas on science communication from the book:
What does it mean to say that America is scientifically illiterate? One possibility is that Americans just do not know enough scientific facts, like, say, that the Earth orbits the Sun and not the other way around. There is little question that America is scientifically illiterate in that sense, but Mooney and Kirshenbaum provide several reasons for thinking this is not the main problem (p. 14).
I agree that this sort of scientific ignorance is more the symptom than the disease. Furthermore it is not so much ignorance per se that is the problem, but the lack of awareness of one’s own ignorance.
I would add, though, that scientists have actually been very good at addressing this aspect of the issue. There is a steady stream of popular-level science literature in virtually every discipline. The web is teeming with resources for anyone wishing to inform themselves on the basic facts of science. Magazines like Seed and Scientific American are also readily available. It has never been easier to inform yourself quickly about the state of play in science. Anyone motivated to learn the basics of science can do so quickly and painlessly, and this is because many professional scientists have gone to great lengths to make it so.
Thanks Jason and Razib. We appreciate that you’ve taken the time to discuss our book and look forward to continued dialog.