December 16, 2019

Review: Denying Science by John Grant.

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Ever wonder why smart people believe in dumb things? And we’re not talking the latest drivel about whose in rehab trending on Google or Yahoo, but how folks miss out on what should be basic scientific knowledge needed to interact in modern society, such as the Earth going around the Sun, man and dinosaurs occupying different epochs, CO2’s role as a greenhouse gas…

These are just some of the whoppers and true tales of science illiteracy that are recounted in John Grant’s new book, Denying Science out from Prometheus Books. In it, Mr. Grant looks at the prevailing attitudes of anti- and fringe science in modern America and its pervasive role in generating a “smoke screen” that even suckers in the educated elite. Tales of wars on evolution, climate change deniers and more are addressed and attested to in great detail in true skeptic-porn fashion. Also accorded documentation is the long standing fear and distrust of modern medicine that has found its latest outlet in the anti-vax movement, a practice that has killed more humans under the guise of “green vaccines” than it has ever saved.

Mr. Grant thoroughly and logically demolishes any of the arguments that these science naysayers could muster, but of course, that won’t stop them from trying. How do these individuals react in the face of mounting scientific evidence? By simply ignoring it or by hoping that those that shout longest and hardest are ultimately deemed “right”. Like Denialism and Unscientific America also reviewed in this space, Denying Science paints a curious but disturbing trend accelerated by the Internet; far from providing the hoped for free exchange of ideas, technology has largely provided further polarization of various opposed camps, where individuals can further validate ludicrous notions. But in the battle for the hearts and minds, we can always hope for logic to prevail…

An interesting astronomical note touched on briefly in the book is the war on modern cosmology via the “anthropogenic hypothesis”. Behind evolution and manmade global warming, the Big Bang Theory seems to be public enemy number 3 in the minds of many. Never mind that several lines of evidence support the formation of our universe 13.7 billion years ago, and said theory actually makes testable predictions such as the existence of the cosmic microwave background radiation, something you can detect with household equipment. In fact, the author points out that this trait of testable predictions serves as a good litmus test in the detection of anti-science baloney; the likes of creationism (or its thinly veiled modern incarnation, intelligent design) and climate change denial make no testable predictions that add to our knowledge, but merely infest the gaps of our current understanding. Merely throwing up our hands and saying “here be dragons” is simply not science.

Much of the book is dedicated to climate change denial, as this is probably the biggest scientific issue facing human civilization today. It is disheartening to see the shills for denial-sprouting agencies cycle through the same tired arguments; to this end, the author even notes the “seven stages of climate denial”. Darn it, it took us decades to get many of our friends to the “climate change is real, but not our fault” step; it’s discouraging to see so many back pedal to the “climate change doesn’t exist” step as we close in on yet another election year… the author draws an ample analogy between the discovery that CFCs are depleting the ozone and the path from battling corporate denialism of the facts to eventual banning and aversion of disaster.  Could this be a road map to our salvation? After all, there isn’t a separate planet for the climate change deniers to trash… most alarming is the recent discovery that the release of methane beneath the arctic tundra may make further human activity a moot point. The author gives a monthly blow-by-blow of the devastating weather in 2010, and we might also add that 2011 is on track to be the most expensive year in terms of weather related damage on record.

But beyond just stating the situation in terms of science literacy is really bad, the author notes that hope does exist. In addition to providing a “who’s-who” road map in terms of science denialism at the end of the book, the author notes that a quiet change is also afoot, a realization of the hard work that needs to be done to affect our perceptions, that even amongst evangelicals a message of stewardship and forward thinking is afoot. Read Denying Science as a testimony to a curious (and hopefully soon a past) era that enjoyed the fruits of technology while ignoring the science it sprang from… one can only hope it arrived in time to not become our epitaph!

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