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Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future
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Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  508 ratings  ·  90 reviews
Climate change, the energy crisis, nuclear proliferation—many of the most urgent problems of the twenty-first century require scientific solutions, yet America is paying less and less attention to scientists. For every five hours of cable news, less than one minute is devoted to science, and the number of newspapers with science sections has shrunk from ninety-five to thir...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published June 8th 2010 by Basic Books (first published 2009)
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The subtitle of this book is something of a misnomer: the authors (rightly, in my opinion) take it for granted that the high (and, arguably, rising) rate of scientific illiteracy -- among the public in general but most importantly among politicians -- is damaging our society and, through the corresponding muddled thinking about such matters as AGW, threatening our future. Really, the subject of their book is what can be done to cure, or at least ameliorate the effects of, this dire situation.


I read this for a story I'm working on and to interview the author. It's about novella size, a quick read, and well articulated in its depiction of how woeful the state of our knowledge is on science, and perhaps more disturbing, how we have lost a basic respect for scientific inquiry and findings in present-day America and much of the western world.

Mooney, a science journalist, and Kirshenbaum, a scientist/writer, won my respect particularly in their sections about the conflicts between science...more
This book wasn't exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It made some good points about how little we as a society understand science.

I liked the non-polemical nature of the book - it wasn't just a cranky "you guys don't understand science" rant, followed by a variety of test results showing how ignorant society is. Instead, the book looks at the ways in which scientists and the science community don't do a good enough job of making their findings and their work relevant and acces...more
Tippy Jackson
I was really hoping for more from this short book. In the first chapter, the author identifies the rift between scientists and the American public. At first I was excited because rather than just pointing to statistics, the media and generally blaming the public for not caring, he identifies problems within the scientific community that also contribute to this divide. Many of the things he mentions I've personally encountered and they were things that have bothered me for a while. So, when he st...more
Tracy Black
First, the subtitle, "How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future", is very misleading. It was not at all about scientific illiteracy. It focused entirely on America's view of science and scientists, i.e. how important it is to us, our level of trust of scientists, and our interest in staying up to date. Not what I expected, but still interesting.
The 2 stars is because most of the book focused on the scientist's inablility to communicate with politicians and the general public. I strongly dis...more
Jun 23, 2010 Richard marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Down to a Science Science Café
Dunno if I'll make the time to read this. That 'Muricans are getting really bad at dealing with science is a truism; as someone whose daily entertainment time budget leans heavily towards science podcasts, I don't need any more lessons in how true this is.

But I can immediately see at least four reasons why this might be so, and other reviews inform me that the authors have ignored what I suspect are the most problematic.

First, does our education system do a decent job of laying the foundation? N...more
Carl Sagan, in his 1995 book “The Demon-Haunted World,” issued this sober warning:

"We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."

As Mooney and Kirschenbaum observe, “At...more
Dan Arel
I had a tough time picking 3 or 4 stars. I decided to go with 4 because even though I didnt agree with everything said, I did find it well written and very much worth reading.

The Good: The authors spell out why America is so far behind in science. They show the problems with our education, our attention span, media coverage, politics and more. They make a great case to why science is important and talk a lot about how scientists need to be more outgoing in trying to connect with the general publ...more
In this tone-deaf and ineffectual booklet, authors Mooney and Kirshenbaum demonstrate a decidedly pro-science position, but are simultaneously nursing a strong disdain for its practitioners. This unfortunately serves to sabotage their efforts of providing any sort of enlightenment. The authors are often quite effective in identifying important problems regarding science in American society, but consistently miss the mark when it comes to placing blame or in suggesting solutions.

For example, the...more
Oct 03, 2009 Grace rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lynda so she could give me her perspective
Forty-six percent of Americans believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.

Only 18 percent of Americans know a scientist personally and even fewer than that can name the government's top two scientific agencies.

When asked to name their scientific role models, 44 percent of Americans had no clue. Out of those who did respond, many chose Al Gore and Bill Gates.

Many Americans cannot answer these true/false questions correctly:
"Electrons are smaller than atoms, true or false."
"The universe be...more
Although the book scratched at the surface of compelling topics, I found it too slim to satisfy my interest. Very little is mentioned of George W Bush's policies (though that is likely addressed in Mooney's somewhat outdated 2005 title Republican War on Science). The authors tried to make an argument that Sagan was belittled by his colleagues because his public profile was too prominent, but they only devoted 2 pages to this. I agree with their central arguments that we don't need a general publ...more
Frankly speaking, this book was bullshit. From tired, sexist tropes about what scientists look and act like (unattractive! antisocial! white men!) that he obviously only researched from the Big Bang Theory to the entire point of the book being that scientists are mostly to blame for the scientific illiteracy of America. He was completely unwilling to put some of the blame on himself, even though the media plays a huge role in the lowered role of science. It completely glossed over the policy iss...more
I picked this book up because several of my GR friends read or rated Unscientific America and because it was on display in the downtown library. I saw the book on the shelf, recognized it from GR friend reviews and thought to go ahead and read Mooney's book to better myself.

I agree with several other reviews here; the ostentatious title of this book is misleading. there is more information here about the rise and fall of scientific research here in the US of A than correlative statistics regardi...more
It is nice to know that someone else thinks the way I do. I, however, been to known to become rather combative when confronted with someone that is scientifically illiterate.
This book is more polical than I thought, but overall I thought it was good. The premise of the book is that people in the US are not as literate in science as they really ought to be, or were a generation or two ago. It then goes on to lay a lot of blame for why this is.

While it blames the Bush administration (warning, this is pervasive, but not horribly so), the majority of the blame goes to the scientific community in general. The lack of communication skills; properly interfacing with politi...more
A short book that argues that while scientific illiteracy is a fact, there are many forces at work. It isn't just the education system or the media or government policy. Scientists themselves are encouraged to take responsibility for doing a better job of communicating complex ideas. The authors consider Carl Sagan to be the 'poster boy' for a scientist who could communicate with the public.

The book calls for communication training to be part of the education of young scientists.

If you tune into...more
Maughn Gregory
"Again and again, we find a disturbing disconnect between the knowledge contained in our greatest minds and how we live our lives, set our policies, define our identities, and inform and entertain ourselves." (p. 4)

I heard Mooney interviewed on a Point of Inquiry podcast ( and was so impressed that I ran out and read this book: a concise, insightful treatment of lots of topics that interest me, especially:

* How the work of science differs from that of pol...more
Tom Meyer
"A Brief Hagiography of Carl Sagan" and "Until the Last Republican Has Been Strangled by the Entrails of the Last New Atheist" would both have made superior subtitles. It's not that Kirshenbaum and Mooney are bereft of ideas, it's that they oversell their good ones while making fools of themselves otherwise.

Their two genuinely good ideas are to deflate the culture war aspects of science debate by appealing to the middle, and to vastly increase the number and quality of science ambassadors. Their...more
Mary Spiro
The term science literacy often refers to how much we can remember from science class in high school. Journalist Chris Mooney and scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum, authors of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, contend that science literacy extends beyond whether we can name the planets or know how long it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun. Science, they say, should be as much a part of our everyday lives as shopping, work, leisure, and even worship.
In e...more
This book brings three things I love together: science, politics and snark. It is an interesting history of the portrayal and perception of science.

However, in Part 2, the snark soon becomes bitter and accusatory. The first author, who is a journalist, seems upset that ScienceDebate2008, which was put on by two Hollywood writers, wasn't as successful as he hoped it would be. Justifiable, but it comes out sounding whiny and as if from a child throwing a tantrum. He plays to stereotypes and calls...more
A discussion of the acceptance of science by the American general public. It explains how we went from the gung-ho days of post-Sputnik science promotion to the current situation, in which people distrust science and think evolution is dangerous to their religions. It appears that the culprits are scientists themselves, who have tendencies to be abrasive (like the New Atheists movement) or unwilling/unable to successfully share their work with the public, and the media, which have cut science re...more
Mar 19, 2010 Jane rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Caitlin, Marlene, Margy, Sarah
Scientists' lack of skills in communicating the importance of their discoveries, and the media's lack of attention to science because it can't be encapsulated in sound bites, have starved the public of information on which our future depends, claim the authors.
Americans are more interested in a final product than in the scientific process and are suspicious of deep intellectual pursuits. (Read Richard Hofstader's 1962 book "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life"). The media conglomerates, answer...more
Brette Chapin
The title of this book, “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future”, is misleading. I expected the authors to take a pro-scientist, pro-education approach, but for most of the book I felt that they were playing the blame-game. More surprising still is that they seem to find scientists heavily at fault. They start out by discussing the “demotion” of Pluto from its status as a planet and criticizing this decision as largely based on semantics. They also object to the dec...more
C. Derick Varn
Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum's book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy threatens our future is both interesting and odd. The book has generated much controversy, many negative reviews, and actually many themes in the book have been further and more clearly developed in Mooney and Kirshenbaum's blogging and article writing in the last year. If anything my complaints are that the book is too short and thus several interesting themes are undeveloped, data seems rhetorically mull...more
Intriguing (and scary!) look at the divide between science and politics. While the overall concept is absolutely vital to our world (science and, more specifically, WHY IT MATTERS, needs to be conveyed far more accurately and regularly to the general public) the authors didn't go as deeply as I would've liked into what should actually be done. Other than touting their own grassroots attempt to get politicians to debate science issues in 2008 (which garnered only moderate attention), the text see...more
It was a decent book. It didn't really go into too much depth in regards to the problems America faces in it's stance on science & how it is viewed & consumed by the general public. The books is very brief. It also doesn't hesitate to criticize on some missed opportunities by those in the scientific community itself, a good example being it's reaction to Carl Sagan & his popularization of science. They get mad that the public doesn't understand it but when someone makes that task a l...more
This book had an excellent premise, but ultimately failed to completely deliver. The authors, whose shared blog I have long enjoyed, make a convincing, if intuitive, argument of the embarrassing grasp of basic science in America today. The arguments regarding polling data, the failing of the media, and the influence of fundamental religion are sound and have long since been the concern of many astute observers. The authors deserve kudos for their artful articulation. Further, I personally have a...more
Danielle Spitzer
In their novel Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum analyze the various causes of plight of mainstream scientific literacy and the consequences it will have on our nation in the near and distant future. In particular, they discuss the rifts science has formed with politics, the press, the entertainment industry, and the religious community. Mooney and Kirshenbaum do not fall into the biased trap of many scientists, who solely...more
Laura Gurrin

This book reads like a series of college-level essays about science in america, grouped around the theme that americans are scientifically illiterate, and Something Must be Done! Science is important - but people don't understand it. There are too many nerds on tv and not enough good scientific role models; scientists don't know how to engage the public well; politicians pander to the masses - shocker, right? And best of all - there's a lot of crap on the internet. You heard it here first! Oh a...more
From my CBR5 Review...

I should know better than to ever go into Powell’s without a firm agreement with myself that I will NOT buy any books that aren’t already on my Goodreads list. I mean, I’ve got 138 waiting for me – do I REALLY need to walk up and down the aisles of this massive indie bookstore, pulling off books that catch my eye?

Yes, yes I do. Unfortunately, I wish I hadn’t picked up this one.

Subtitled “How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future,” Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s book purports...more
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Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist, blogger, podcaster, and experienced trainer of scientists in the art of communication. He is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science and the forthcoming The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality (April 2012). He blogs for "Science Progress," a website of the Cen...more
More about Chris C. Mooney...
The Republican War on Science The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming

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