I love these type of books because they allow me to feel superior. I and the author, at least in our own minds, have a clear understanding of the realities of the world not present to others less well-read, less-inquisitive, and less-focused on the natural world and humanity’s place in it. Dan Agin, associated with the University of Chicago and an editor for ScienceWeek, pulls no punches in going after people who refute the place of science in modern life. He finds that businesses for their profits, politicians for their next elections, and religious groups for their peculiar beliefs attack scientific findings on a relentless basis. Agin is at his best in going after Christian fundamentalists, but he does not mince words in others areas.
There are seven parts in this book. In them Agin discusses science and dogma, consumerism and science, medical issues and pseudoscience, climate change and environmental science, religion and evolutionary biology, genetics and race, and the failures of all to stem the tide of anti-intellectual claptrap being passed off to people everywhere. He views all of the current controversies as a set of political problems. They have to be solved or humanity is doomed. It’s just a question of when.
He rallies support for the educational system, which he views as the last bastion separating humanity from nonsense. He asks quite pointedly, and not without a lot of alliteration: “Are the schools to be bazaars of babble, where myths and delusions with or without religious vintage are taught to children as ‘science’ alongside real science?” (p. 200) Agin makes the case that everyone is at fault. He singles out for denunciation industry, which he claims has operated repeatedly as if “social responsibility reduces profits” (p. 278). He questions if that is truly the case, but corporations have acted again and again to avoid social responsibility to the detriment of all. Government is just as bad, in Agin’s view, finding “many examples of modern government twisting science in various domains, including nutrition, environmental pollution, medical care, health care, support for antievolutionism, twisting of the facts concerning human cloning, global warming, missile defense, defense against terrorism, and so on” (p. 282).
The religious war against science is especially troubling, and those embracing anti-science perspectives based on their religious conceptions are damaging not only themselves but all others that they are able to foist their ideas upon. “During the past decade in America,” he writes, “we seem to be stepping backward, with some religionists advocating use of the Bible as a science text in public education” (p. 284). Religionists are aided in this effort by politicians who seem incapable of dealing with polarizing positions on science. The media is no help, despite their role as a watchdog. “He asks sadly: “Can we expect these people to be sophisticated enough to protect the public against junk science hawked in the interest of political of social or commercial agendas? (p. 287). Finally, our educators and scientists have failed as well; they have not insisted on an appreciation of science, the scientific method, and the questioning nature of life as fundamental to all Americans.
This is a straightforward reading experience. It should make those questioning scientific results on the basis of their preconceived beliefs uncomfortable. Instead they will probably ignore or denounce it.