Imagine if you will, a United States of America in which the Republican Party was extolling the virtues of scientific knowledge and its implications for American public policy, while the Democratic Party was seen as the one acting contrary to our best interests, woefully ignorant in current understanding of science; a most unlikely historical "fact" stolen from the pages of some vividly imagined, ornately written, steampunk science fiction novel. Impossible, you, the intrepid reader might say, or was it once, a most inconceivable truth? Surprisingly, many will be stunned to read that it was indeed the truth, in Shawn Otto's well-written polemical history on American public policy with respect to science; "Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America". A book that I, as a science-educated Conservative Republican, regard as the best book I have read with regards to American public understanding and appreciation of science, especially with regards to shaping public policy. Shawn Otto, one of the founders of Science Debate, regarded by many as the "largest political initiative in the history of science", has written a book that should be required reading by all politicians, by the science-literate public, and especially by those most interested in the current dismal state of affairs that exists with regards to using science in making well informed public policy decisions by local, state and Federal governments within the United States. A book worth reading since its prescriptions may offer us the best hope of preserving our democratic republic via a science and technologically-literate political leadership.
Otto opens with a succinct introduction to the philosophy of science, and asks the rhetorical question of whether science is political via a succinct memoir recounting the birth of his organization Science Debate (Chapters One and Two), that he co-founded with several journalists and scientists, most notably, physicist Lawrence Krauss and film maker Matthew Chapman (great-great-grandson of eminent British biologist and geologist Charles Darwin). He demonstrates the substantial degree of interest shown by the Republican Party toward the natural sciences and technology by Presidents and senior political leadership for almost a century from the Civil War until the 1950s (Chapters Three to Five); an interest which was reflected in the party's popularity amongst American scientists such as the eminent astronomer Edwin Hubble, still remembered for demonstrating the universe's current expansion. A substantial expansion in American science and technology, driven by the atomic arms race between the United States, and first, Nazi Germany, later, the Soviet Union, and then, a decade later, the "space race" culminating in the Apollo Moon program, led to American science taking "a walk" from the American body public via the need to produce results (in other words, to publish or to perish) without any regard for public outreach, especially towards politicians. However, I think Otto points too much of the blame on scientists themselves, and in advocating Carl Sagan's importance as a science popularizer - in many respects, I believe Sagan's friend, Stephen Jay Gould was far more important - offering faint rhetorical echoes of two themes superficially treated by his Science Debate colleagues, the journalists Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, in their book "Unscientific America: How Science Illiteracy Threatens Our Future".
One of the most memorable sections of "Fool Me Twice" discusses the role of postmodernist thought, especially its emphasis on "relativism", in accounting for increasing American antipathy toward science, despite technological successes like Apollo and the emergence of scientific "superstars" like astrophysicist Carl Sagan and Sagan's popular "COSMOS" television series (Chapters Seven and Eight). While others, including scientists like biologists Paul Gross - whom Otto notes as an important early Conservative critic of postmodernist thought's anti-science bias - and, most recently, Ken Miller ("Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul"), have recognized this problem, only Otto has written here, in "Fool Me Twice", an extensive examination of its baleful influence on the American public's attitudes toward science, not only with regards to accepting biological evolution, but also, on issues like microwave radiation and the ongoing anti-vaccination movement; the latter especially prevalent within a substantial minority of self-described Liberal households with children ranging in age from infancy to early adolescence. Otto argues persuasively how postmodernist thought has crept into the Religious Right's objections to biological evolution - especially in the version of "scientific creationism" known as Intelligent Design - and in its opposition to global warming ("Chapter Ten"), and yet, as I have noted, Otto has spared no expense in condemning such thought as the philosophical rationale behind Leftist anti-scientific responses to vaccination.
Some Conservatives may ignore Otto's book, given its substantial anti-scientific orientation against 21st Century Conservatives and Republicans, but that orientation is quite sound, due to their embrace of Intelligent Design creationism and rejection of anthropogenic global warming. However, much to my amazement, Otto hasn't cited from the likes of Charles Krauthamer, George Will and John Derbyshire, their harsh condemnations of Intelligent Design creationism and ongoing efforts by Intelligent Design advocates to have "teach the controversy" laws passed in state legislatures. Nor the eloquent arguments made by Conservatives like Larry Arnhart, and especially, the well known skeptic Michael Shermer ("Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design"), why it makes ample sense for Conservatives and Republicans to accept Darwin's theory of evolution via natural selection, since Darwin was inspired by Adam Smith's free market economics to envision his "economy of nature". Otto could have also emphasized some interest within the Religious Right in hearing pro-science messages from physicist Lawrence Krauss and biologist E. O. Wilson; however, instead, Otto offers the reader only the future prospect of ecological doom as a credible possibility ignored by some intransigent, quite zealous, Conservative clerics and scholars, such as Fundamentalist Protestant Christian evangelist Charles Colson and Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor Jacob Neusner ("Chapter Eleven"). Nor do I agree with his wholesale condemnation of Conservative talk radio, especially when there are programs like the John Batchelor Show, that try their best to be both informative and objective, as well as the mainstream media's reluctance in emphasizing the reality of our ongoing war against Islamofascism, or in investigating the "spontaneous" origin of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its ties to the Radical Left. And yet, these omissions do not detract from the overall excellence of Otto's book and of its dire warnings with regards to current and future American public - and especially, political - interaction with science, since our failure to heed them may mean the end of our two and a quarter centuries-old democratic republic. Americans, both Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, need to become conversant with science; "Fool Me Twice" is merely a most auspicious beginning in demonstrating how.