‘Unscientific America’

‘UNSCIENTIFIC AMERICA’…. About a year ago, my esteemed predecessor wrote a good “Book Talk” post that I’m going to try to work into a series: “I’ve been reading an unusually large number of current events books lately (aka ‘books that publishers send me for free’), and although there have been a couple of clunkers in the lot, several of them have been very good. I’ve been remiss in not writing them up on the blog, but at the very least I feel like I ought to give them a brief mention.”

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I’ve been thinking along the same lines. For example, I recently finished Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, written by my friend Chris Mooney and his co-author, marine scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum.

Now, when I first saw the title, before the book was published, I had a certain pre-conceived notion about what to expect. I figured it would help document just how little Americans understand about science, and why that’s a bad thing for all of us.

But that’s not really the point of the book at all. Rather, Chris and Sheril have written a great book about the disconnect — political, cultural, journalistic — between the scientific community and everyone else. It doesn’t matter whether the typical American has memorized the periodic table or can explain string theory; what matters is whether the typical American appreciates the role of science in modern life, and places a high value on scientific inquiry and integrity.

Chris and Sheril explain why we’re coming up short, and how we got to this point. Of particular interest, at least to me, was the discussion about how this affects the political process — we tend to have extremely significant debates on issues where science is critical, but the discussions unfold without a firm understanding of what the science tells us. (In this respect, Unscientific America is a worthy follow-up to Chris’ first book, The Republican War on Science, which I also loved.)

It’s a fascinating, informative book, which I highly recommend.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.