Books

Science, Bitches

Why Your Hippie Friends Are Filled with Wrong

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THE AMERICAN RIGHT is unquestionably anti-science. Denying global warming, choosing religion over evolution, calling a scant few cells a "person," believing that homosexuality is a choice—these are all well documented, and liberals such as myself (and, if you're reading the Mercury, probably you) derive no shortage of smugness from tarring conservatives as anti-science. However, denials of evolution and climate change are by no means the only currents of American discourse that fly in the face of science. Plenty of Americans think that vaccines cause autism, that animal experimentation is unethical, or (just throwing out a hypothetical here) that fluoridating a city's water supply is anything other than beneficial.

In Science Left Behind, Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell (who describe themselves as "science liberals") run down a litany of leftist sins regarding science, and outline progressive contributions to America's grand tradition of anti-intellectualism. As laudable as Berezow and Campbell's project is, though, the book is better in concept than it is in execution.

While the authors do a decent job of listing ways that progressives have (just like conservatives) hampered science, they do not do an especially good job of saying where given anti-science ideologies come from. The book is a sometimes-enjoyable (and accurate) collection of polemics, but it's not any good as criticism or sociology.

Given that they spend so much time tilting at straw men, Science Left Behind's tone is more angry than it is persuasive. Some of the passages are so aggressively axe-grindy that Christopher Hitchens' drunken ghost very well could have penned them. Such posturing is not going to convince organic food enthusiasts that their given issue is so much marketing hype, or members of PETA that animal research saves human lives. The various chapters, too, are not equally good. Berezow and Campbell are engaging when they're talking about green energy and GMOs, but later chapters railing against political correctness with regard to gender and race feel tacked on, boilerplate, and a little silly.

Nevertheless, Berezow and Campbell's message is jarring and necessary. Science is vilified in American political life. People believe things because they wish to, not because of what is true. This has real-world consequences when it comes to the implementation of beneficial technology. Anti-scientism is everywhere, and acknowledging that much of it comes from our own political tribe is a hard and inconvenient truth.

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