Fool Me Twice

Fool Me Twice book coverShawn Lawrence Otto
2011

Otto makes the stakes clear: with global warming and the other environmental pressures which our industrialized societies increasingly place on the Earth, this is exactly the wrong time for the United States to discount the findings of empirical science.

The religious right rejects the authority of science in favour of the authority of God. The progressive left distrusts the science that brought us Hiroshima and Bhopal. The corporate class ignores the warnings of science if they might be bad for business. And much of academia relegates science to the status of another local cultural narrative.

Thus it’s no surprise that science has so little sway over public policy — or much of a role in informing the decision-makers.

This dangerous weakness is the subject of Shawn Lawrence Otto’s readable and informative new book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, to be published October 11th by Rodale Press.

Otto is a co-founder of Science Debate 2008, the first time in American politics that the presidential candidates of both parties participated in a forum with the purpose of exploring the candidates’ positions on the most important science issues of the day.

Fool Me Twice is well-timed at the start of the 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination, especially in light of the prominence of candidates like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman, potential presidents with what can fairly be categorized as anti-science views.

However, much more than a political polemic, Otto’s book leads us through an insightful history of the relationship between science and public policy in the United States, then addresses the ways in which the political use of science needs to change so that we make full and beneficial use of the scientific knowledge on crucial topics such as global warming, stem cell research, and many more.

Otto makes the stakes clear: with global warming and the other environmental pressures which our industrialized societies increasingly place on the Earth, this is exactly the wrong time for the United States to discount the findings of empirical science.

It hasn’t always been like this, with science largely ignored and widely undervalued by a large part of the public, and one of the major contributions of Fool Me Twice is Otto’s patient exploration of the complex and often-changing relationship between science and society over the last half century.

From the science that won World War II (think code-breaking, radar, and the rest); to the moral anxiety that followed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, much less “duck and cover” drills closer to home; to the Apollo Program; to the late 1960’s rejection of anything, including science, that had to do with “The Man” — Otto weaves the complex history of our ambiguity about science.

When his attention turns to today, Otto explains how the contemporary attack on science comes from an unholy alliance, what Otto calls a “three-front antiscience war.” This unprecedented attack on the credibility of science is a combination of a fundamentalist backlash against unacceptable versions of the story of life, a corporate propaganda campaign to protect profits from scientific warnings about the negative effects of pollution, and a largely left-wing rejection of objectivity and rationality in favour of this or that form of “identity politics.”

The science wars of yesterday and today are described with clarity and insight. Even if you ignore or reject Otto’s solutions, the book is worth reading for its science history alone.

And although there are several passages where Otto lavishes too much praise on his friends — for example, both the Democrats in general and Al Gore in particular are portrayed as possible saviours of science — he balances his attack on the anti-science efforts of the right with a clear case against the anti-rational tendencies of the left, which has been long under the sway of the postmodern rejection of anything to do with rationalism — leading to impassioned but often irrational opposition to everything from vaccines to GM foods to the findings of neuropsychology, and uncritical support for things like discredited alternative medicines.

Fool Me Twice is insightful and timely, and the more people who read it, the better for all of us.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s