'Nother Spate of Reviews: Yale Climate Forum, Joe Romm, Josh Rosenau, New Scientist

By Chris Mooney | August 6, 2009 8:53 am

We’ve had many more reviews of the book, including three very positive ones from Bud Ward of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, Joe Romm of Climate Progress, and Josh Rosenau of ScienceBlogs. (Jim Giles of New Scientist also reviewed here, but it’s one of those reviews that you just don’t know how to characterize–mildly negative?)

Anyways, let’s listen to Ward first. The whole review is positive–he calls the book “a timely bromide for the science blues”–but this part was notable:

But it is in their “Is Our Scientists Learning?” (sic.) chapter and in their conclusion chapter that Mooney and Kirshenbaum offer what may be the book’s most valuable contributions. Here, they outline the woes, but also the promises and potentials, of the science community, and they issue a veritable call to action not just for more scientists, and certainly not for more scientists working “in isolation” from the society so badly needing them. Instead, they call for better scientific training of “more well-rounded scientists,” familiar with and comfortable dealing in policy, politics, society, and the media. They call for career paths supportive not only of scientific innovation, but also of scientific outreach.

Joe Romm, for his part, says of Unscientific America: “Buy it and read it.” He also takes our argument about training scientists to communicate and runs with it:

I do think that every scientist-in-training today should be required to take a course in communication, a course in energy, and a course in climate science.  The smart ones will specialize in some discipline related to sustainability because when the nation and the world get desperate about global warming in the next decade or two, the entire focus of society, of scientists and engineers, and of academia will be directed toward a WWII-scale effort to mitigate what we can and adapting to the myriad miseries that our mypopic dawdling has made inevitable.

Josh Rosenau’s review is long and very sensitive–it characterizes our argument in great detail and with the utmost accuracy. He begins like this:

“Americans are dumb.” This is the reaction I get most often when talking about the creation/evolution conflict, and it’s the premise of many actions by the scientific community (which includes both scientists and a broader group of science advocates – science-ists if you will). If we could only educate people better – teach them about the fossils, tell them more about stem cells, explain the physics of light striking a carbon dioxide molecule – America’s trouble assimilating scientific findings would be resolved.

As Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum point out in their breezy Unscientific America, those solutions miss the point.

Yup. Rosenau agrees with us about the problems with the “deficit model”: “The solution,” he writes, “is not merely to better educate the public about what science says or how scientists know what they do, but to improve people’s appreciation of why science matters to what we all do in our lives.” Josh also goes on to point out that we really should have mentioned Mythbusters (point taken), and makes some fair-minded criticisms, while also defending us from other critics. Read the whole thing here.

And now I’m off to Seattle….

Comments (59)

Links to this Post

  1. Climate change denial in context « Greenfyre’s | September 6, 2009
  1. Sorbet

    Sam Harris has some criticism of the book in a lengthy essay here:
    http://www.reasonproject.org/archive/item/the_strange_case_of_francis_collins2/

    “The first thing to notice is that Mooney and Kirshenbaum are confused about the nature of the problem. The goal is not to get more Americans to merely accept the truth of evolution (or any other scientific theory); the goal is to get them to value the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that now make a belief in evolution obligatory. Doubt about evolution is merely a symptom of an underlying problem; the problem is faith itself—conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge, bad ideas protected from good ones, good ideas occluded by bad ones, wishful thinking elevated to a principle of salvation, etc. Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to imagine that we can get people to value intellectual honesty by lying to them”

    It’s a very well thought-out article worth a response.

  2. Paul W.

    I agree with Sorbet—Harris’s longer essay deserves a serious (not evasive) response.

    Note that the linked article is not the NY Times op-ed; it’s longer and makes more specific and telling points.

  3. Chris Mooney

    We will reply to Sam Harris when we have some time.

  4. Matti K.

    Mark Hausam commented Harris:

    http://www.reasonproject.org/archive/item/the_strange_case_of_francis_collins2/#c1615

    I think M&K should ponder the possibility that even religious (adult) people like to be treated as adults.

  5. gillt

    This post seems more appropriate for a link I provided earlier.

    A review from a non-scientist on Unscientific America:

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/unscientific-america,31035/?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=feeds&utm_source=avclub_rss_daily

  6. Vytautas

    This is actually a much more thoughtful review which the authors have chosen to ignore:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2009/08/reviewing_unscientific_america_1.php

  7. nick bobick

    I have never heard “bromide” invoked to imply positivity. Do neither Mr. Ward or Mr. Mooney know what a bromide is?

    1) a sedative; 2) a commonplace remark or notion; a platitude; 3) a tiresome or boorish person.

    Perhaps Ward’s review is not so much positive as damning with faint praise.

    Jerry Coyne’s review is up at Science.

  8. Davo

    Ouch. Having your book trashed in Science must hurt. Unfortunately I find Coyne’s review reasonable. Quite aside from the criticism of the treatment of the New Atheists, Coyne’s opinion seems to support other reviewers’ displeasure with the lack of substance and intellectual sophistication in the book. I hope the authors focus equally on these unfavorable reviews and not just on the good ones cited above.

  9. Chloride

    What?! Science did not ask Ken Miller or Francis Collins to review the book? I am shocked! Maybe, just maybe they thought that a scientist who sticks to science only may make a better case…

  10. MadScientist

    Jerry Coyne’s review is in Science:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/325/5941/678

    [OT]: Just thought Sheril (and probably Chris too) might enjoy this twitter cartoon:

    http://www.pcdisorder.com/2009/08/denial-of-twirvice.html

  11. Michael Kingsford Gray

    I am puzzled as to why the both of you just don’t admit defeat: admit that your plethora of studied and reasonable critics actually “have a point”, and correct the glaring faults in your otherwise commendable address.

    What is it that is preventing you from admitting at least partial fault?
    Pride?
    Embarrassment?
    Cowardice?

    I refuse to believe that as some have suggested that it is feigned ignorance dependent upon short-term income projections.

  12. Peter Beattie

    I hear there’s a review of UA in Science. Will that be discussed here?

  13. Silver Fox

    “We will reply to Sam Harris when we have some time.” – Mooney

    Why bother? Harris, Hitchens, Myers and even Dawkins to some extent have marginalized themselves to the point of irrelevance. They are tiresome and as predictable as the sunrise. They have no new message and nothing to add to any reasonable conversation.

    This small cadre is always engaged in trying to enter into any conversation that will give them attention and legitimacy

  14. John Kwok

    @ Peter -

    The Science review is Coyne’s. No need to discuss it here, since Coyne has been the subject of ample discussion here for months.

  15. Roadtripper

    Thanks, Fox. I needed a good laugh. Now I’m off to replace yet another irony meter….

    Rt

  16. Science has Jerry Coyne reviewing the book?

    Does its editorial board think that’s a credible practice? It’s sort of like having Juan Williams commenting about something that FOX does while he’s on NPR.

  17. Sorbet

    Wow. Fox, I have to say I am bowled over by your insight. Your comments clearly indicate that you have read the nuanced and lengthy Harris piece in great detail, and your criticism is extremely sophisticated and completely devoid of generalizations and sound bytes. Keep up the good work my friend.

  18. —- and your criticism is extremely sophisticated and completely devoid of generalizations and sound bytes Sorbet

    Sounds like an ironic statement about the coverage of religion by the entire body of NAs.

    I’d imagine that the authors are hardly surprised that people who have made atheism their profession aren’t giving their book a good review.

  19. Peter Beattie

    Sorbet: Why feed?

  20. Heraclides

    See also a review by “Laelaps” (if this isn’t already listed somewhere!):

    http://scienceblogs.com/laelaps/2009/08/book_review_unscientific_ameri.php

  21. I read the review at Laelaps. At least it comes up with something. Here is where some of the criticism of the book goes wrong.

    —- I am not convinced, for instance, that public controversies about evolution, stem cell research, anthropogenic climate change, &c. can be solved by getting more scientists to become media-savvy. Brian Switek

    Of course scientific controversies aren’t likely to be solved by getting scientists to be more intelligent about communicating with the public at large, but when it comes to funding and public support of science, among the real problems scientists have, inept communication sure isn’t going to help.

    —- These controversies stem from the way personal, religious, and business interests filter (and sometimes distort) scientific information. Brian Switek

    And if you’ve got a concerted effort to distort scientific information and there isn’t a smart response by those who could set the record straight, it sure isn’t going to be an effective response, never mind an efficient prevention.

    — Even if scientists did tweak the delivery of their message there is no guarantee it would be happily received by the public. Brian Switek

    No, making the effort doesn’t come with a guarantee that it will be happily received by the public, not making the effort is guaranteed, to not even make the attempt.

    — It is not so much the message that is the problem as the way it is being transmitted and received. Brian Switek

    So, who does Brian Switek propose transmit the message? People who don’t understand it?

    And this is supposed to be a substantial response to the book?

  22. Sven DiMilo

    people who have made atheism their profession

    Are you talking about Jerry Coyne?

  23. Sorbet

    I’d imagine that the authors are hardly surprised that people who have made atheism their profession aren’t giving their book a good review.

    Naah. Atheists are not that popular yet so that they can make it into a profession. Leave that to the religious folks.

  24. ““Is Our Scientists Learning?” (sic.) ” Since when did sic gain a period? What word is it abbreviating? Shades of Harry S Truman!

    tOM

  25. Silver Fox

    “Sorbet: Why feed?”

    Indeed, Why?

    “I hear there’s a review of UA in Science. Will that be discussed here?- Peter Beattie.

    I’ll tell you Pete, if you want a lot of discussion on that review, you could go over to Pharnygula where you usually hang out. There’s going to be a lot of discussion there. But, I can’t see any reason why Chris or SK would want to discuss it. They discussed it when they wrote the book. The book speaks for itself, Jerry Coyne notwithstanding.

    I hope you’re not going to discuss it. My previous encounters with your posts were long and tiresome. There was one on a thread about Eugenie Scott where you went on and on. If anyone has time to burn, it’s #62 post on that thread. Or, they could read the one on the thread Myers v. Unscientific America, Pt. 1. Again a long and convoluted post. That was post #81 on that thread.

    I might add that in each of those two posts you made it quite clear that you were in complete agreement with PZ. How surprising.

    Earlier today PZ had a poll he wanted you guys to crash. So you better hotfoot it back there. And be sure to give him my best, Pete.

  26. Sorbet

    Sorry Peter. Must. Now. Resist. The Trolls.

  27. ShowsOn

    This blog has just become a parody of what a science blog should be. Simply posting parts of reviews that agree with your latest book isn’t scientific. It is what I have come to expect from parts of the Humanities.

  28. Marion Delgado

    nick bobick

    has now seen someone attempt to use bromide as a synonym for cure, or antidote – if you had a case of the nerves, you would indeed at one time have used a bromide.

    Anyway, that review is ENTIRELY positive from start to finish. nick bobick didn’t read it. period. And then made an idiot of himself here. period.

    I wanted to point out a clear, unambiguous example where one of the herd piling on on Unscientific American is PROVABLY completely lazy, inaccurate, and wrong.

    This is football fandom, not defending science, reason, rationality or any other cover story. It’s verging on Objectivism at this point.

  29. Reading up the thread again, look at how they’ve tolerated other people presuming to define who is and isn’t a troll on their blog. It’s kind of funny how their opponents seem to figure it’s their right to label CM and SK’s supporters as trolls on their blog.

  30. Matti K.

    What is there so difficult to understand? Presently, Mr. Mooney and Ms. Kirschenbaum use this blog mainly to market their book. Therefore one can not expect them to debate the issues in the book for free.

    Once the dust settles and nobody buys the book anymore, Mr. Mooney and Ms. Kirschenbaum will probably start to debate the issues again. Also, after the marketing pressures have gone, there will be room to confess the “maturation” of ideas, as has happened before:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/06/03/do-i-contradict-myself-very-well-then-i-contradict-myself/

    I don’t see it as impossible that the present accomodationist stand of M&K will turn once again towards confronting the irrationalities of religion.

  31. — Presently, Mr. Mooney and Ms. Kirschenbaum use this blog mainly to market their book. Matti K

    That would be as opposed to Jerry Coyne who gave his blog the same name as his book, the only reason I happened to come across his blog to start with.

    — I don’t see it as impossible that the present accomodationist stand of M&K will turn once again towards confronting the irrationalities of religion. Matti K.

    That would be as opposed to the irrationality of the new atheism which makes all kinds of claims about the mental instability of religious people, despite the high functioning of many of them and about the impossibility of the coexistence of science and religion in society and in individual scientists and others who accept science with little trouble. That is despite massive empirical evidence that the prejudice of the new atheists is factually incorrect.

    And that’s not getting to the arrogance of the new atheists who claim the mantle of reason as they demonstrate they’re quite selective in their practice of it, when not entirely immune to its exigencies.

  32. Two comments in moderation are posted at my blog.

  33. Peter Beattie

    Sorbet: Be steadfast. I know you can do it. :)

  34. By all means Sorbet, ignore me, it’s doing me so much good.

  35. Sorbet

    I did not know I could be the source of so much distress in your life. I am flattered!

  36. Peter Beattie

    Sorbet: See? Oxygen deprivation already. :D

  37. Anthony McCarthy

    Ah, the mutual marginalization gambit. As if it’s not something we’ve seen before. Sorbet, you can go right on flattering yourself, I don’t even care that much. Not even when Peter’s helping you along.

    I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve been enjoying this, the first stretch of sunny weather my section of New England has had this summer. Too late to rescue large parts of the garden but lopping down invasives has been gratifying.

  38. McCarthy keeps yapping at our heels. If you’re looking for attention McCarthy, write something original and engaging.

    I’ll wait.

  39. — McCarthy keeps yapping at our heels. If you’re looking for attention McCarthy, write something original and engaging gillt

    You mean like that, just your latest sparkling witticism? Sorry, I left your preferred style of intellectual engagement back in jr. high.

  40. Silver Fox

    “I left your preferred style of intellectual engagement back in jr. high.”

    I think I can still do atheistic intellectual engagement. Let’s see:

    “Silver, I believe in Vishnu, Fox. Show us your proof for your imaginary god, Foxy. If you can’t you’re a delusional idiot. You get no respect here because you’re a lying troll. You’re a godbot and a wackaloon. You’re not fooling anyone here Foxy; we are the few and the proud because we worship reason and freethinking. By our superior intellects we have risen above the common ilk. We are the brights and have replaced your “gods” in the Parthenon of the Illuminati. Science is the mace of our power by which we have mastered the universe.”

    Well, I don’t guess I’m all that good at it. I suppose I’m not delusional enough.

  41. Sorbet

    “Sorbet, you can go right on flattering yourself, I don’t even care that much”

    I agree. That you don’t care has been evident in the hundreds of comments that you have typed trying to prove the incompetence of the wicked nasty evil New Atheists.

  42. — the hundreds of comments that you have typed trying to prove the incompetence of the wicked nasty evil New Atheists.

    No, I’m only pointing it out, you’re proving it.
    “Wicked nasty evil….” No, just shallow, dishonest and bigoted. You’re not as interesting as all that.

  43. Sorbet

    No, just shallow, dishonest and bigoted. You’re not as interesting as all that

    Translation: It’s so convenient for me to project all my own qualities on others! That way I can get a vicarious thrill and try to sugarcoat my own hypocrisy, ignorance and bigotry.

  44. Also, Joe Romm’s Climate Progress is a complete joke; they censure like the Catholic Church, circa 10th century.

  45. Sorbet

    See Romm’s self-righteous arrogance soundly and rationally trashed here:
    http://sovietologist.blogspot.com/2009/05/is-joe-romm-delayer-1000.html

  46. Sorbet

    Nice of you to describe yourself McCarthy

  47. Sorbet, congratulations you’ve achieved the “and so’s your old man” level of intellectual engagement.

  48. Peter Beattie

    I don’t even care that much.

    Sounds a bit like a bag of grapefruits to me. :D

  49. Peter, I’m disappointed in you. But not very.

  50. Peter Beattie

    Look, if you’re not careful, all the children will dance about outside your window, singing ‘sourpuss’ and ‘grumpy face’, and you wouldn’t want that, now would you?

    Come on, Anthony, lighten up! :)

  51. Peter Beattie

    I really try to be constructive, Anthony, as e.g. when I said anyone would be willing to discuss real evidence for the Mostly Old and Grey Atheists’ style of engagement being counter-productive and turning undecided people off of science. Something along the lines of RD.net’s Converts’ Corner would be a start. But you will have noticed that I never got a response to that. In the meantime, please don’t be disappointed when I throw in the odd reference to a favourite TV show, or otherwise try to get a laugh out of one or two people here. All in good fun.

  52. Anthony McCarthy

    I really try to be constructive

    “Constructive”, that can mean so many things depending on what you’re trying to construct.

  53. Anthony McCarthy

    And I’ve never been told to “lighten up” except by someone who clearly had nothing to add to the discussion. It’s a demand for superficiality.

  54. Rob R.
  55. Rob R.

    Heddle takes on Coyne (on UA) in a subsequent blog too: http://helives.blogspot.com/2009/08/schrodingers-coyne.html

    This takes us to Professor Coyne. He recently wrote the introduction of a promised multi-part review of Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s new book Unscientific America. I have not yet read the book, which laments native scientific know-nothingness. But clearly the book has struck a doctrinal nerve among the Personality-Cult O’ Dawkins. So much so that if you didn’t know you might think that that Mooney and Kirshenbaum are anti-science Christian fanatics from the Discovery Institute. They are not; they have great street creds in the fight against the misguided, anti-science side of Christianity.

    But that’s not good enough. Just like there are people for whom even Ann Coulter is not conservative enough, there are those inhabitants of the lunatic-fringe like Jerry Coyne for whom the Chris Mooney’s of the world fall outside the pale of orthodoxy—and the lidless-eyed New Atheist blogs are the Inquisition that charges, tries, convicts and judges all New Atheist apostasy.

  56. Peter Beattie

    Of course it’s not a demand for anything. It’s an invitation to take a joke for what it is. The part that I added to the discussion (re something à la Converts’ Corner) you have again ignored. That can certainly not mean many things; it’s rather specific and it entails a promise to engage in an honest debate about your (and M&K’s) claim. What else could you possibly expect?

    I’m trying to get somewhere with you here, Anthony, because I had hoped that perhaps you would still like to engage in a real dialogue. It must be frustrating for you as well to have the impression that you’re dealing with people who have already made up their minds and would not have them changed for all the crackers in the world. I’m trying to say, ‘Go ahead and change my mind!’ I would have hoped that that would still count for something.

  57. Sorbet

    “congratulations you’ve achieved the “and so’s your old man” level of intellectual engagement.”

    Naah, I would just say “So are YOU, old man” instead. Children, please don’t make fun of Grandpa McCarthy; he has a weak heart and an even thinner skin.

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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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