I'm very comfortable admitting that science has always been an area that I've personally struggled with. It was never a `strong suit' of mine in school, and I think that's because science - by its very nature - requires a very specific kind of `perceiving' the world. It requires the amassing of tremendous evidence before the scientist can postulate a hypothesis that turns into a theory before the theory itself can be established as fact ... or, at least, that's always been my understanding. Maintaining a brain of such voluminous facts was always beyond my reach; but, as I've grown much more attached to reading non-fiction in the last decade (or so), I've always tried to read a handful of science-related books each year. I've actively sought out recommendations from friends and family about which authors to read, and one name that's come up again and again in certain circles has been John Grant. DENYING SCIENCE was my first experience with the author's learned perspective, and, for better or worse, I wanted to convey my humble impressions on the book.
To the completely uniformed, Grant may at first appear to have a massive chip on his shoulder. Pick your target. Pseudoscientists. Politicians. Clergy. Moral extremists. No one escapes the wrath of his prolific ire. (Thankfully, I had been given a bit of a `heads up' as to what to expect.) But, reading between the lines, I think the discerning mind can understand and appreciate the man's obvious frustration with a world that seems to have turned its back on not only science but also clear, logical thinking.
Topics such as evolution and medicines and global warming aren't the kinds of subjects that can be communicated and absorbed quickly. The underlying science is given short shrift in much of the mainstream, ten-second-sound-bite media. As a consequence, much of the intellectual pursuits that goes hand-in-hand with establishing sound judgment gets convenient lip service if any exploration whatsoever in most popular publications of the day. Either that, or the real scientific back-up is ignored completely in favor of contradicting pseudo-science or featuring `prominent experts' who have no legitimate background in their supposed area of expertise.
As the book's subtitle suggests, these media tactics provide the foundation for misinformed "conspiracy theories" which get more exposure because they might appease a certain political persuasion or they might - dare I say? - be even more sensational than what documented evidence supports. Reality is no longer the accepted end product of news or information that's bought and sold on behalf of the distorter's bottom line profitability or marketplace reputation. Science has become a commodity, bought and sold to the highest bidder, and the consequence is that our world may be going to hell in a hand-basket but no one will notice until solutions are, simply, just too late to do any good.
That's what I take away from a book like DENYING SCIENCE. Sure, the author can throw down `snark' like nobody's business, but the far more meaningful conclusion here for me is that money corrupts, it corrupts absolutely, and who is left to look out for the uninformed masses when the last bastion of sanity - the world of science - has given way to commercial, theological, and political influence? Scientists are supposed to be scientists, not economists speaking on behalf of their own personal interest in meteorology; not representatives and senators with law degrees deciding they know more about cardiology than does a cardiologist; not lobbyists representing the needs of their corporations in matters best left to the best-trained, best-disciplined climatologists.
Does Grant go overboard in his criticisms of the media? Well, sure, there are those of us who do strive for some kind of balance in our influences, but balance isn't a desire necessarily sought by any singular political or ideological position. Of course, I'm not talking about "let's balance bad science with good science." Actually, I'm referring to the last significant section of DENYING SCIENCE where Grant goes to great lengths to point out specific science-deniers or science-manipulators in the media. I have absolutely no problem with these folks being called out; what I would've liked to see, however, is a following section specifically highlighting the best places to go for reasoned and accurate scientific information on the web, in magazines, in newspapers, etc. As I mentioned at the start of this review, science has never been my forte; I need to pointed and prodded in the right direction sometimes, and having a resource of outlets Grant feels strongly qualified would've been a nice addition. Sure, I can uncover many of them through careful and deliberate rereading of his book or his citations; I only offer it as a suggestion hoping that perhaps others, like myself, might post suggestions in the `comments thread' accompanying my review.
It's a meaty book that, quite frankly, is properly not for the uniformed. Rather, it's a grand expose (with facts included) in some of the most controversial subjects facing and influencing society today. Faith. The law. Medicines and healthcare. AIDS. Global warming. Education. Evolution. Eugenics. Parts of it were a bit treacherous for my unscientific mind, but, as I said, Grant's central theme - the pitfalls of having the truly uniformed leading the masses - comes through loud and clear. His passion for clear thinking wins the day ... maybe not the `war with words' yet ... but it's certainly an impressive opening salvo.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the folks at Prometheus Books provided me with a press copy of DENYING SCIENCE for the purposes of this review.