Unscientific America

I read a short book about science and society last weekend, Unscientific America by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. It’s a quick read, and the context is very much the 2008 elections, so you should browse it sooner than later. There are some good ideas, but the focus on web campaigns of 2008 are going to make them sound even more dated in a year.

The book argues strongly for the meaningful popularization of scientific ideas. I love the popularizers of science, and was very influenced by books like Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman and Gödel, Escher, Bach when I was a youth. The modern history sections in Unscientific America trace these popularizations to Carl Sagan’s book/television series Cosmos. I should check that out.

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One response to “Unscientific America

  1. Judy Flaxman

    Last year the Chicago Humanities Festival honored a well-known scientist who wrote a novel, E.O. Wilson, author of Anthill, and a little-known science writer, Rebecca Skloot, whose first book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, introduced the public to issues surrounding the benefits to be gained from research on human cells and questions about their ownership. Both are examples of excellent writing about science for the public.

    See below for the award citations:

    Fiction: Anthill by E. O. Wilson

    This extraordinary first novel, by one of the preeminent scientists of his generation, is simultaneously a coming-of-age story of a boy in the wilds of southern Alabama, a unique and glorious dramatization of the “humanity” and beauty of ant society, and a persuasive argument for biodiversity, the primacy of natural cycles, and environmentalism. E. O. Wilson deftly weaves these three threads into a fascinating and remarkable novel. Wilson is an ethicist, a social theorist, an environmentalist, a biologist, and, of course, one of the world’s leading experts on ants. At 81 years old, he is the author of over 20 books and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for nonfiction for The Ants, written with Bert Hölldobler, and On Human Nature.

    Nonfiction: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

    In 1951, a poor black tobacco farmer named Henrietta Lacks died of an aggressive form of cervical cancer. Just 31 years old, she left behind five children, and an astonishing legacy: cells from her cervix—taken without her knowledge—became the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, and one of the most important tools in medicine. Called HeLa for short, Henrietta’s cells are still alive today in laboratories around the world, though she has been dead for nearly 60 years. They were vital for developing the polio vaccine; revealed secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; and helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping. Rebecca Skloot specializes in narrative science writing and has tackled a wide range of topics, including gold- fish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She is the guest editor of The Best American Science Writing 2011, a contributing editor at Popular Science magazine, and has worked as a correspondent for WNYC’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW.