My Slate Dialogue with Michael Specter Begins

By Chris Mooney | November 5, 2009 3:09 pm

See here. We’re discussing Denialism, which I recommended earlier. I start of the dialogue with Michael Specter like this:

Hi Michael,

First, let me say it has been a pleasure to read Denialism, a book I’ve wanted to dig into ever since you came to speak about it to our Knight Science Journalism Fellows seminar at MIT. It’s heartening to see another author beating the drum about America’s dysfunctional relationship with science, and making the point so vividly and memorably. Your narrative about vaccine skeptics’ attacks on an unassuming and rigorous scientist like Harvard’s Marie McCormick—whom I have also interviewed—made me so angry I wanted to hurl the book across the room (and that’s a good thing!).

What’s more, your book looks past some of the more obvious cases of “denialism”—of climate change, HIV/AIDS, evolution, and so forth—to lesser known realms like personalized medicine and synthetic biology, where our qualms about where science is taking us are likely to manifest next. You don’t deny the older and more famous instances of anti-science sentiment, but you smartly move along to the ones we’re going to be dealing with for years to come.

That’s not to say I agree with everything in Denialism; I think there are some aspects of the big picture that you haven’t painted quite right. Take, for instance, the baffling fact that despite all of our irrationality on topics like vaccination, Americans aren’t actually “anti-science” in any meaningful sense of the term…..

You can read my full entry here. Michael Specter will be replying sometime this afternoon and we’ll take it from there…


Comments (2)

  1. Dark tent

    Americans aren’t actually “anti-science” in any meaningful sense of the term. ”

    Here’s the definition of antiscience from wikipedia

    Antiscience is a position critical of science and the scientific method. People holding antiscientific views are generally skeptical that science is an objective method, as it purports to be, or that it generates universal knowledge. They also contend that scientific reductionism in particular is an inherently limited means to reach understanding of the complex world we live in. Antiscience proponents also criticize what they perceive as the unquestioned privilege, power and influence science seems to wield in society, industry and politics; they object to what they regard as an arrogant or closed-minded attitude amongst scientists.

    As I see it, Americans exhibit “anti-science” characteristics to varying degrees.

    Americans seem to have a “take what you want and leave the rest” attitude toward science, like it is some sort of smorgasbord.

    They “respect” scientists when it serves their needs (eg, curing their diseases and other ailments), but not so much when scientists tell them things that appear to violate their core religious beliefs (eg, on evolution) or when scientists indicate that they may have to change their personal lifestyle to benefit future generations (eg, on global warming).

    I think the “science as smorgasbord” attitude is a direct result of ignorance of what science is all about. Most people simply do not understand that science is not merely a menu of facts and beliefs to choose from.

  2. Marion Delgado

    Chris’s entry, at least, was very well-written and to the point.


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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 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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