John Holdren Picks Unscientific America as a Top Read!

By Chris Mooney | December 10, 2009 1:32 pm

Foreign Policy magazine has a new “global thinkers” feature in which they’ve identified the 100 top global thinkers, and then found out what they’re reading.

john_holdren_changegov1At # 34 on the list come Obama’s science czars, John Holdren and Steven Chu–and guess what. Holdren recommends our book Unscientific America!

We’re honored and humbled that the top science policymaker in America has had a look at our work. Dr. Holdren, we really hope you liked it!

unscientific-america-small

Comments (46)

  1. TB

    Congratulations, well deserved

  2. bilbo

    Congrats! Now, how long will it take for the trolling to begin? I hear the cold weather makes them grouchy….

  3. Wavefunction

    Congrats! I am glad that a couple of scientists including Dawkins and Dyson are featured.

  4. Harman Smith

    Grats to Chris & Sheril. I’m pleased to see literacy in science as an issue in modern times get more attention.

    And now that we’re talking about Holdren: can anyone confirm Holdren wrote an essay in 1971 predicting an ice age? Only the crazies have their hands on this ‘essay’, but I want confirmation.

  5. Wavefunction

    Congrats! I am happy that a couple of scientists including Dawkins and Dyson are featured.

  6. It’s clear from the Foreign Policy piece that Holdren has read the book, but I get no sense what he thinks of it (he offers no comments in his entry or on the separate book list). I don’t like every book I read, and it’s a bit of a reach to think that Holdren likes everything he reads. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite you guys.

  7. TB

    Yes, he would highlight a book he didn’t like. That makes sense.

  8. Passerby

    The fact that Holdren cited the book does not mean he agrees with everything in it. Maybe there’s 20% in the book which he agrees with strongly; that could still be a reason for him to highlight it but by definition it would mean he did not agree with most of the writing.

  9. bilbo

    I don’t like every book I read, and it’s a bit of a reach to think that Holdren likes everything he reads. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite you guys.

    Oh man, I know, David. The LAST thing I would ever want is somebody saying “HA HA! I promoted your book!!!!”

    *gratuitous rolleyes*

  10. Oh man, if Holdren likes it, I’m DEFINITELY going to have to pick it up…

  11. Wavefunction

    From the BBC:

    “Nation of sceptics”

    Why US evangelical Christians could tip the climate debate

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8405108.stm

  12. Jon

    Sure to make PZ Myers have a cow…

  13. EDK

    Here comes the tr0ll, and it’s those Silly Little Denialists.
    Bilbo, make them go away!

  14. It’s not a list of book recommendations, but a reading list. It would be equivalent to asking “what are you reading now?” and answering with whatever is on your desk/nightstand/wherever you keep your ‘to read’ pile.

    The assumption may be plausible, but it’s still an assumption.

  15. bilbo

    …but another plausible assumption is that, if I were a public figure getting interviewed, I’d likely not cite a book I thought wasn’t worth endorsing.

    An equally plausible assumption is that if I were a fool with an axe to grind against a book’s authors, I’d get on their blog and troll at every beck and call, using far-flung rationalizations to attempt to substantiate my point.

  16. bob

    Did anyone deny that the book highlighted a serious problem? That would make it important to people who weren’t aware of the problem, or at least its severity. I’m pretty sure most people had problems with it because it wasn’t news, offered no real insight, suggested no concrete solutions, and ended with a dumb hatchet job on atheists.

    Bravo on the press, though. Countdown to me being called a troll because I dared to speak ill of this Intersection Bible in three, two, one …

  17. Congrats to Chris and Sheril … Hard for a science book to get a nicer boost than that, unless it happened to be on Obama’s night table! Now, if Holdren was intrigued to read that Pluto matters, he could follow up with “The Case for Pluto” ;-)

  18. Wavefunction

    @Bilbo: thanks for the reasoned, sophisticated and comprehensive response!

  19. Sorbet

    The Bilbo strategy:

    1. Ensure that you are the first or second commentator and state upfront that from now on, anyone who disagrees with you or the blog’s authors is a troll ( I am Bilbo the mighty hobbit!! How dare these impertinent fools disagree with me!)

    2. Start screaming “Trollllll!!!” and continue until you break wind

  20. Anthony McCarthy

    Better a Hobbit than a sore bit Sorbet.

  21. bilbo

    Wavefunction: You’re welcome.

    Sorbet: The Bilbo Strategy is carefully based off of a priori knowledge, specifically the knowledge that whenever the authors receive praise for their book, it is met with comments from the same handful of people who scream variously-wirded iterations of “BOOOOOO!!!!!! YOUR BOOK SUCKS!!!!!!” In other words, trolls.

  22. bilbo

    Don’t know what a “wird” is, but it sounds cool.

  23. bilbo

    The Bilbo Strategy has also discovered an interesting observation: many of the same trolls who spend the majority of their time at The Intersection lobbing various criticisms at UA are the exact same people who replied to Sheril’s criticism of Dawkins’ author choice with “Hey hey hey! You can’t criticize a book!!! I mean, it’s just someone’s opinion! You’re just bitter.”

    Oh. The irony.

  24. Wavefunction

    Another sophisticated and reasoned response:

    http://www.mediawatchwatch.org.uk/wp-images/greentoon.jpg

    Remember, you started it.

  25. Sorbet

    So you are saying that it is basically impossible for anyone to have a serious and reasoned criticism of the book? And you are saying that nobody in that category would comment here? If so, I would only direct you to John Kwok’s fine review of the book on Amazon to prove this belief false.

  26. bilbo

    I’m still preferable to the GAF meter, since it could be used in this case, as well.

  27. Sorbet

    Bilbo, you need to remember that there are several serious critics who gave the book three stars on Amazon, reviewed it comprehensively, liked its general message but felt it fell severely short on several points. Dismissing all of those as trolls only highlights your short-sightedness and intolerance.

  28. Wavefunction

    Bilbo, since you are not interested in a serious conversation, let me be. Your little joke was totally uncalled for and inappropriate. I linked to a serious piece which had nothing to do with you, and you fling some eighth grade unoriginal joke at the reference that was not even directed towards you in the first place.

    The piece highlighted how evangelical Christians can be recruited in the fight against global warming by the way, but your disgusting and childish behavior indicated that you did not even read it. However, I am not going to argue with you further since it clearly seems that you are one of those extreme New Atheists who want to shun the religious even when they can be helpful in a good cause. I think you a poster child for the kind of militant New Atheists who Chris cites as being damaging to just causes.

  29. bilbo

    Bilbo, you need to remember that there are several serious critics who gave the book three stars on Amazon, reviewed it comprehensively, liked its general message but felt it fell severely short on several points. Dismissing all of those as trolls only highlights your short-sightedness and intolerance.

    Those professional reviewers don’t come to The Intersection every time the authors post on their book and troll, do they? Is there something I’m missing?

    I’m referring to certain people who rarely appear as commenters on the blog until there’s a post about UA or specific people criticized in UA, then they become mushminded criticism and pejorative hurlers. There’s a word for that. What is it? Oh yes, I remember.

    Trolls.

  30. bilbo

    Oh, and Sorbet – when some of those same critic trolls get angry when the authors they don’t like criticize a book themselves, and the trolls attempt to lecture them on why it’s impolite to criticize someone else’s book, there’s a word for those people, too.

    Hypocrites.

  31. bilbo

    Bilbo, since you are not interested in a serious conversation, let me be. Your little joke was totally uncalled for and inappropriate. I linked to a serious piece which had nothing to do with you, and you fling some eighth grade unoriginal joke at the reference that was not even directed towards you in the first place.

    The piece highlighted how evangelical Christians can be recruited in the fight against global warming by the way, but your disgusting and childish behavior indicated that you did not even read it. However, I am not going to argue with you further since it clearly seems that you are one of those extreme New Atheists who want to shun the religious even when they can be helpful in a good cause. I think you a poster child for the kind of militant New Atheists who Chris cites as being damaging to just causes.

    Wavefunction:

    1.) If my joke was so pathetic that is was “eighth grade unoriginal,” why did you just feel the need to attempt to lecture me about it? Just asking. I think you bruised my knuckles. *snicker*

    2.) Somehow I missed the relevancy of your link to this post, hence the GAF meter. In fact, I agree with your link (which yes, I did read). If you don’t like it, suck it up (and learn how to take a little ribbing).

    3.) If you’ve ever read my posts here, I’m hardly a New Atheist. But that’s funny.

  32. bob

    Once again, bilbo mocks and criticizes without actually addressing anything. Like clockwork.

    You know, bilbo, for some reason, I’ve always given you the benefit of the doubt and not lumped you in with the really screwball people who valiantly rise (sink?) to the Intersection’s defense at every opportunity. I’m pretty upset with myself for that, because, in actuality, you might be far worse than even the likes of McCarthy and Kwok. I don’t know how I missed that for so long. I can only imagine it’s because you tapped into my love of Tolkien. Damn you for that.

  33. bob

    “Awaiting moderation”? Really? For saying dee-a-em-en? How did Comrade PhysioProf ever get to comment here? Oh, wait, I remember: he agreed with the authors.

  34. Paul W.

    I’m pretty sure that bilbo is correct that folks like Holdren are not going to list books they wouldn’t recommend. If they’ve been perusing Mein Kampf or gay erotica, it’s going to slip their minds, somehow, when they’re asked what they’ve been reading.

    So congratulations on the plug, Chris and Sheril!

    (I just hope that he realizes Chapter 8 isn’t the best part of the book… :-/)

  35. Wavefunction

    Bilbo, I have not read your views on the New Atheism and have no idea what you think about it, but your mocking of the piece clearly made it sound like you were a new atheist who did not give a whit about evangelicals who might actually support climate change legislation (that’s the GAF Meter). It’s not a question of a little ribbing. The piece was for Chris’s benefit since he has always argued that we need Christians in the fight against global warming. If you like the piece, why mock it. Condescension does not add anything to the debate and diverts. You who have battle climate change deniers must know it.

  36. bilbo

    Obviously bob’s anger in response to my very nonspecific posts means that he knows I was talking about him.

    Which I was.

    *snicker*

  37. bilbo

    Ever heard of “off-topic,” Wavefunction? Learn what that means, and you’ll understand the GAF meter (I’d have posted it if you were talking about how horrible it is that children get molested, by the way). Perhaps you seem confused.

  38. Wavefunction

    Correct, the link was expressly for Chris and was off-topic. I am not confused.

  39. bob

    bilbo, how old are you? I’d guess about thirteen.

    On the off chance that you’re an immature adult, let me try and reach you. No one claimed (so far as I saw) that Sheril shouldn’t criticize Dawkins’ science writing anthology because criticizing a book is impolite. If someone had made that argument and then criticized Sheril’s book themselves, they would be hypocrites. But, since no one did any of that, you are arguing against people who don’t exist. Either that, or you don’t understand the meaning of the word hypocrite. Hint: it doesn’t mean “people I disagree with.”

    Let me know if you understand, or if you need me to be more concise. I’ve noticed that you tend to label comments long enough to be broken into paragraphs “boring and rambling.” That is, unless you agree with the comment-writer, of course.

  40. Paul W.

    Wavefunction,

    bilbo is fond of ridiculing anybody who disagrees with him, or anybody he mistakenly perceives as disagreeing with him. He’s not fond of apologizing for mistakes.

    There’s a certain irony in your guessing that he’s a New Atheist; he just loathes the “New” Atheism and anybody who will defend it, even a little bit.

    (Notice that none of the New Atheists here—there are several—actually chose to fault you for posting that link, or ridiculed that article; I don’t think they would, and certainly I wouldn’t. I think you may have a less than entirely accurate idea of what the New Atheism is actually about.)

    bilbo also fond of quote-mining and apparently making things up to “prove” his points. Then when he’s called on it, he says there’s tons of evidence out there, but fails to actually provide any. Or he just resorts to ad hominems and ridicule. He’s not fond of answering direct to-the-point questions.

    Often, he’s a troll, or a troll-stomping countertroll, perceiving anybody who disagrees (and some who actually don’t) as trolls who must be stomped immediately and persistently. He does that so reflexively that there’s the occasional friendly fire casualty.

  41. Paul W.

    bob,

    I’ve noticed that you tend to label comments long enough to be broken into paragraphs “boring and rambling.”

    Yes. The more-or-less loyalist regulars here are fond of quote-mining people who make a rough generalization and then qualify and hedge it. They act as though that’s illegitimate, and you were lying and backpedaling. They’re resistant to understanding any idea that takes more than a sentence to express.

    But if you put the qualifiers and hedges in the initial statement, so that it is extremely precise and correct—and quote-mine resistant—you get accused of writing “turgid prose”. If you unpack it so that it’s very clear that each and every word in the initial statement was exactly the right word, on any reasonable interpretation, it’s “boring and rambling.”

    Shorter: if you write punchily, it’s assailed as simplistic and inflammatory, but if you write precisely it’s just “boring”; somehow the issue of the truth or falsity of what you were saying gets lost along the way—they’re not much interested in the actual ideas.

    Even shorter: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  42. bob

    Paul W, I agree completely. Of course, that’s probably because we’re a-hole New Atheist trolls. And doodie-heads.

    Frankly, I have to wonder if this isn’t a result of the blog writing here. And, I hate to sound like I’m proposing a conspiracy theory, but I also wonder if it’s not unintentional.

    Look at Sheril’s two posts regarding Dawkin’s *two year old* science writing anthology. She hardly said anything of substance (over 50% of her posts were direct quotes or summaries of other peoples’ blog entries), and the little original commentary she provided boiled down to “I’m glad people are talking about this.”

    BUT, she nicely “framed” the issue to make Dawkins appear sexist. So, people read the posts and walked away thinking “Dawkins is sexist,” but she can accurately claim that she never overtly said that. Nevertheless, her posts encourage this knee-jerk reaction, and any longer commentary (or requests for clarification) get ignored at best and mocked at worst.

  43. Paul W.

    bob,

    You are right to wonder, given that Chris and co. have been “framing” Dawkins et al. with two big straw men for years—and one of those straw men is that they have no sensible rationale for having a non-accommodationist strategy. They make the New Atheists sound like irresponsible, pigheaded meanies, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Sheril took the opportunity to make Dawkins sound like a chauvinist.

    That was certainly how I read it. I thought the title “But Dawkins, Are 96.4 Percent of Science Writers Men?” was obviously intended to frame the issue as slantedly as possible toward implying “Dawkins is a Sexist” without quite saying it.

    It’s bad enough that Sheril didn’t read Dawkins’ introduction, much less the book, but from just looking at the table of contents, she should have seen that something was going on other than Dawkins choosing contemporary science writers. Obviously, the writings are mostly not very recent—plenty of the writers are dead—and generally by prominent scientists who were also especially good writers for a popular audience.

    When I saw the table of contents of the anthology, it was immediately obvious to me that “modern” didn’t mean “current” or “early 21st century.” It mostly meant in the last century, and the writers were generally noted scientists as well as notable writers. (That’s why I didn’t take it amiss that Carl Zimmer wasn’t in there; he’s a great science writer, but not really a scientist.)

    It’s pretty obvious what “Modern” means in the title, once you see the table of contents. And as a scientist, I perfectly well understand that modern science includes at least the 20th century. In most basic sciences, the defining breakthroughs into the modern era happened in the early to mid 20th century. (Relativity and quantum mechanics in physics, the “Modern Synthesis” in biology, etc.) And unfortunately the overwhelming majority of prominent scientists publishing well-written popular works over that period were mostly men.
    iting now.

    Then when Dawkins gives an eminently reasonable response—pointing out that the relevant baseline is not that one—instead of apologizing, she moves the goalposts.

    Now the question apparently is whether Dawkins is sexist for failing to apply affirmative action principles to the selection, to avoid perpetuating the sexism of 20th century science and publishing.

    I think that’s a fine thing to talk about, but before moving the goalposts, Sheril should have apologized for making Dawkins’s supposed sins sound far worse than they are. And I think that’s a fine thing to talk about, but before moving the goalposts, Sheril should have apologized for going way overboard.

    I also found it hypocritical that Sheril “P.Z. Myers, Mind Your Manners” Kershenbaum lets Comrade PhysioProf post flatly abusive and profane comments here, with no real attempt to discuss the nuances of the issues—basically just abuse and cursing.

    (Yes, I know that’s CPP’s shtik, and some people find it funny. That doesn’t excuse it; he’s often just a self-righteous white-knighting abusive asshole, and it gets really old.)

    He can say that Dawkins should sack the fuck up and admit he was wrong—without acknowledging that if Dawkins was in the wrong, it wasn’t to anywhere near the extent Sheril made it sound, and maybe Sheril should sack the fuck up and admit she was wrong, apologizing to Dawkins for her gross exaggeration of his alleged sins.

  44. Paul W.

    Oops, sorry for the edit-os, especially where I failed to delete some repetition I meant to.

  45. J

    This is the same Holdren that wrote a book with Paul Ehrlich of Population Bomb fame? You know the textbook, Ecology, about how the world will be so over populated by the year 2000 that we’ll need a global police state to enforce limits on reproduction and to put sterilants in the water supply. Yeah, I love that guy. I wish he’d endorse my book.

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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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