"Wherever the people are well informed," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "they can be trusted with their own government." But what happens when they are not? In every issue of modern society--from climate change to vaccinations, transportation to technology, health care to defense--we are in the midst of an unprecedented expansion of scientific progress and a simultaneous expansion of danger. At the very time we need them most, scientists and the idea of objective knowledge are being bombarded by a vast, well-funded, three-part war on science: the identity politics war on science, the ideological war on science, and the industrial war on science. The result is an unprecedented erosion of thought in Western democracies as voters, policymakers, and justices actively ignore the evidence from science, leaving major policy decisions to be based more on the demands of the most strident voices.
Shawn Otto’s compelling new book investigates the historical, social, philosophical, political, and emotional reasons why evidence-based politics are in decline and authoritarian politics are once again on the rise on both left and right, and provides some compelling solutions to bring us to our collective senses, before it's too late.
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About the Author
Shawn Lawrence Otto was the co-founder and CEO of Science Debate 2008, the largest political initiative in the history of science. He is also an award-winning screenwriter best known for writing and co-producing the Academy Award-nominated House of Sand and Fog. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Science, Salon, and Scientific American. He lives in Minnesota.
Table of Contents
Foreword Lawrence M. Krauss ix
Part I Democracy's Science Problem
1 The War on Science 3
2 The Politics of Science 43
Part II The History of Modern Science Politics
3 Religion, Meet Science 57
4 Science, Meet Freedom 77
5 Gimme Shelter 97
6 Science, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll 119
7 The Rise of the Antiscience News Media 151
Part III The Three-Front War on Science
8 The Identity Politics War on Science 171
9 The Ideological War on Science 205
10 The Industrial War on Science 257
Part IV Winning the War
11 Freedom and the Commons 341
12 Battle Plans 369
13 Truth and Beauty 413
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Otto brilliantly and entertainingly weaves the links between scientific exploration, aesthetics, equality and democracy into a critique of the marginalization of science in public discourse and policy making, and its implications for the future of our democratic experiment and the planet. As an economist and former legislator, I could not recommend it more highly. The book’s arguments extend well beyond the attack on science, to the diminished role more generally of research, knowledge, critical thinking, and expertise in political leadership and policy making. Otto then provides hope and a path forward by outlining specific actions that can be undertaken by the education, journalism, legal, religious, business, policy and foreign policy communities to turn this around. A must read for anyone interested in the critical question Otto closes with: whether “we, the people, remain well enough informed to be trusted with our own government?” And certainly for those who think public policy outcomes, especially when they impact the very viability of our existence on the planet, should be by guided by research, not faith and opinion. One would hope that includes most all of us – those who support the anti-authoritarian vision of our founding fathers.
Earlier this summer I recommended three excellent reads in "Tired of all Trump, all the time? Enlighten yourself with these books": Dark Money by Jane Mayer, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and Tipping Point for Planet Earth by Anthony D. Barnosky & Elizabeth A. Hadly.
Now I'm going to add a fourth: The War on Science by Shawn Otto.
My first impressions of the book were:
It was originally released in paperback, not hardcover. It was not your usual 250-page popular science book but a 426-page hefty tome that could double as an adequate doorstop. But it is far from a doorstop. Rather, it is a must-read for anyone who cares about the planet and its future.
Granted, it is at times a thick slog. It starts very slowly, including a long list of questions bunched into one long, nearly two-page paragraph. Right away I was thinking: Why wasn't this put into an easy-to-read list?
But once Otto gets into the meat of things with an overview of the history of politics and science, the book sings with detail.
Only once does it falter after that, giving (I think) much more emphasis on postmodernism than this mostly silly intellectual diversion deserves. But then Otto has a point: That science bashing on the intellectual left can be as dangerous as on the intellectual right or from fundamentalist religious movements.
In The War on Science Otto covers a lot. In fact, I can't think of anything he doesn't touch upon. He even addresses issues that seem peripheral to his thesis but that resonate strongly with me and others I know in academia: for example, the current thrust by universities to "overempower" administrations at the expense of faculty and the learning environment, and to be job trainers rather than pure educators.
That said, I can't think of any book today that better covers the grand scheme of the interaction of science and antiscience, all mixed in with politics, religion, economics, short-term thinking and pure corporate greed.
In short, do NOT read this book at your own peril!
The book is thought provoking, encouraging the reader to view the world of science from an uniquely American perspective.