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The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  306 ratings  ·  58 reviews
"Whenever the people are well informed," Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, "they can be trusted with their own government." But what happens when they are not? The United States provide a good illustration: Politicians pass resolutions denying global warming's existence, that astrology can control the weather, and, in some states, even forbid using the words "Climate Change ...more
Paperback, 514 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Milkweed Editions
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4.37  · 
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 ·  306 ratings  ·  58 reviews

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Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

A dense and informative book about the war on science that threatens our democracy. The War on Science comes at quite the relevant time as our current US President often outright denies facts and spews falsehoods, much to the detriment of our country. Donald Trump serves as only one villain in the war on science, though, and Shawn Otto delves deep into the many players who refuse to believe the truth about climate change, evolution, the healthfulness of vaccinations, and many other impo
May 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Definitive Book on Science Denialism in America

“The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It” should be viewed as the definitive book on science denialism in America and belongs on the bookshelves of anyone in government or politics seeking to make public policy decisions that require sufficient knowledge, understanding and appreciation of science, including medicine and technology. This is no mere sequel to Otto’s earlier – and still terrific – “Fool Me T
Too much blind praise from unskeptical 'skeptics'

This book is uneven in spots, has seeming straw men in spots, and has errors of commission and omission in spots, among other things.

As best as I can tell, at least some of that is related to what I suss out as its apparent target audience — moderate mainline Protestants who aren't totally liberal politically but aren't totally conservative either. In fact, given some of the specific straw men and errors of omission, and Otto's residence, I'll ven
Alan Johnson
This book is very good at presenting and corroborating most of its major arguments. I was less impressed with some of the details. Science writers like Mr. Otto often have an excellent grasp of what science is all about. They are, unfortunately, often less knowledgeable about history and political philosophy. Another example of this phenomenon is discussed in my review of Michael Shermer's The Moral Arc. But then it is probably impossible to acquire an expertise in all relevant fields, each of ...more
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My favorite (among many) quotes from this book:

"We are living in a time of supranational corporations and a global economy based on feudalism and the false, unexamined assumption that the world is effectively unlimited."
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's late at night and I'm tired. I have neither the time nor the available brain cells to write notes on this long book that would do it justice. Suffice it to say that it offers an enormously exhaustive primer on the ongoing war that's being waged against inconvenient science by vested interests of various kinds, most notably corporate and political, primarily in this country but with due attention given to others. Otto gives us extensive historical background, too, so we can see where the mod ...more
Leigh Pomeroy
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Earlier this summer I recommended three excellent reads in "Tired of all Trump, all the time? Enlighten yourself with these books": Dark Money by Jane Mayer, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and Tipping Point for Planet Earth by Anthony D. Barnosky & Elizabeth A. Hadly.

Now I'm going to add a fourth:  The War on Science by Shawn Otto.

My first impressions of the book were:

1. It was originally released in paperback, not hardcover.

2. It was not your usual 250-page popular science book but a 426-page hef
Conor Wilson
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book wonderfully describes how we got to our current state of science denial in our culture. From religious fundamentalists rejecting evolution, to corporate interests spreading misinformation regarding climate change and a journalistic culture convinced that "there is no such thing as objectivity" which makes such science denial possible.

Shawn Otto makes the compelling case that the war on science is not merely a war on knowledge, but also a war on democracy. He argues that the ability to
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Otto explains the methodology behind attacks by vested corporate interests on scientific conclusions that might hurt their business, public good be damned. From asbestos manufacturers to tobacco to climate change, these business moguls have developed a multi-phase plan to attack scientific conclusions by vastly exaggerating "uncertainty' in the data and launching ad hominem attacks on scientists themselves. Scientists need to become more aware of the threat and more communicative in making their ...more
David Kent
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The War on Science is a must read book for scientists and anyone even remotely interested in science or policy or politics or decision-making or life. Yes, that means you.

The book is actually much more than the title suggests. Shawn Otto (one of the founders of delves deep into the history of science, but also in the psychological, sociological, political, educational, and religious histories and their interactions with science. He points out that the early leaders of this nat
Collin Duncan
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I rarely find a book, fiction or otherwise, worth five stars. This book is worth a solid six.

First off, let me preface by saying this isn't your usual book bemoaning the "war on science" blaming some partisan politics with tired rhetoric. This book is completely bipartisan and is cruel to anyone and everyone that denies basic science. Deny global warming? Hate GMOs? This book targets any and all. It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat, a Republican or something else...if you appreciate and resp
Julie A
Sep 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Otto brilliantly and entertainingly weaves the links between scientific exploration, aesthetics, equality and democracy into a critique of the marginalization of science in public discourse and policy making, and its implications for the future of our democratic experiment and the planet. As an economist and former legislator, I could not recommend it more highly.

The book’s arguments extend well beyond the attack on science, to the diminished role more generally of research, knowledge, critical
Peter Mcloughlin
Very comprehensive look at the forces aligned against science, be postmodernism, conservative authoritarians, creationists, climate deniers with big support from fossil fuel companies. The characters are all familiar but the author gives a detailed history of this witches brew of antiscience which is threatening a new age of ignorance. The author rightly points out that the lights went out in the Greco-Roman world, The Arab world, and in parts of Europe at time and now is a particularly bad time ...more
Eric Gilliland
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
A must read for anyone who wants to understand the current political climate. The hostility aimed at scientists gets worse each year as our society continues to slip. Otto provides a history of the tensions between science and civilization and its three main adversaries of the moment: religious zealots, corporate PR machines determined to discredit global warming, and some post-modern academics who dismiss science as "just another way" of looking at the world. As Otto points, science differs fro ...more
Max Nova
"The War on Science" does a good job of contextualizing the current science/politics debate but is unevenly written and methinks it smacks a bit too much of half-baked undergraduate political ranting. Otto's book gave me a better understanding of recent anti-science political history and helped me frame the current issues, but his grandiose Malthusian rhetoric and interminable list of political recommendations at the end of the book made me doubt his reliability. There are some good ideas in her ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My original The War on Science audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

In an emergency, medics are taught to look for those that are not speaking among those who are screaming for help. In a similar light, we may be missing those most important scientific voices because they can’t be heard above the din of media attention some unscientific work gets. In the audiobook, The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It, by Shawn Otto, it’s cle
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have been wondering for a long time why it has become so popular to reject scientific findings or the benefits we reap from them. We are living in a country where significant amounts of people deny evolution, the age of the universe, the state of our planet's climate, the ethics of medical science, etc. And many of these issues seem to be tied to partisan beliefs as well. Otto has laid out an immense amount of research that has helped me understand much better the current climate of science de ...more
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, nonfiction
Good book overall and well worth reading. Some of the author's suggestions for overcoming the "war" are a little unrealistic. For instance, the idea that environmental scientists would ally with Green Peace, which many of us view as an ecoterrorism group, is probably not going to happen unless there is a major shift in the attitudes of Green Peace toward evidence-based science.
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is such an important topic right now. This is a great read for anyone following American and global politics and trying to make sense of how things can be the way they are when it seems like truth is becoming irrelevant.
James J Roper
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic and eye-opening. As a scientist, I realize that I should always take a stand on issues that are informed by science to make a small contriubtion to defend science against attacks by those with money and, consequently, power.
Dec 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Rather than solely a science lesson, this book is rich in history. A very good study in how we got to where we are with some hopeful ideas on where to go next.
Joeri Kooimans
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thesis
Living (allegedly) in post-truth times where science is seen as but another perspective, with no more objective value than less evidence-based opinions and views, this book offers a timely and necessary critique to our current discourse where alternative facts seem to gain more traction.

Otto makes a compelling case for science, and shows how it should inform our politics and policies. He gives nice historic examples of when and how science was valued and deemed of importance in different times a
Ashley Kennedy
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Awesome book, I learned a ton. Here are just a few quick notes about the main points or most interesting tidbits that stuck out to me. Apologies for oversimplifications of complex issues.

-Most journalists today not only usually lack a scientific background, but they are taught "there are two sides to every story" / "no such thing as objectivity" which lends itself to false equivalency. Meanwhile, most newspapers have cut costs by removing specialty sections like "science", making it harder for a
Jerrid Kruse
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author raises interesting points. First, that science is being fought from three sides: 1) postmodernists, 2) fundamentalists and 3) industry. The author's discussion about objectivity seems to lack some nuance. While I agree that science does move toward objectivity and that individual scientists cannot be objective, the author seems to place too much faith in the end product of science being objective. However, philosophers of science (beyond Kuhn, who was more of a historian) have made cl ...more
Ailith Twinning
Oct 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2018
TL;DR - I hate this book. Read Kurt Anderson's Fantasyland instead.

I kept adding paragraphs after each chapter and this got absurdly long. . . . let's pare it down.

1: Otto is not a historian or a scientist, he's an entertainer.
2: "SCIENCE!", a word he uses in more or less that way thousands of times, is horseshit.
3: Otto crosses into right-wing authoritarian arguments frequently, matching Christian Fundamentalists beat for beat just swapping the one word Jesus for Science. More troubling, is
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book that looks at the rise of the way science is being discussed in the media world today, shows why so many politicians can deny climate change, the lack of effectiveness of abstinence-only education and so on.

There are several points on which I would have liked a differentiated view, mostly because I have seen studies also prove that the very postmodernists the book derides have contributed to objectivity by questioning existing power structures and "facts" that were taken for
Roo Phillips
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic review of the current state of science--outside the lab. Otto reviews the unfortunate movement from objectivity to subjectivity in journalism, antiscience in the classroom, and blunt science denialism in government. From Tobacco to Climate Disruption, he illustrates how big business spends billions to manipulate our views, and how unprepared our politicians are at making scientifically based policies. Otto does a good job of staying neutral in any argument or debate, always taking th ...more
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is a stunning and comprehensive examination of vested interest groups, be they religious or political, knowingly denying and falsifying established truths. Most chilling for me was his section on journalists and how in the name of being objective, they will present viewpoints with no basis in science or fact simply to "balance" the established truth. Equally depressing were the chapters on corporate disinformation. Otto systematically lays out in their own words how they take establis ...more
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at the history of science and it's relationship with society. Makes interesting notes about the dangers of society's neglect of science through media, education, and politics. The book ended with excellent answers regarding how to change the perception of science for the better to continue to move our society, culture, and global capabilities forward. An important book for all citizens, discussing the downfalls of all sides of public debate and governmental leadership.
Joyce Reynolds-Ward
Jan 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this book, at least until Otto descended into knee-jerk attacks on postmodernism and identity politics. His anti-postmodernism rant is reminiscent of evangelical fundamentalist philosopher Francis Schaeffer and does not go well with the rest of his thesis. Then his attack on identity politics just clinched the deal for me--while I finished the book it wasn't a pleasant task.
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Shawn Lawrence Otto is an award-winning screenwriter, novelist and science advocate who wrote and coproduced the movie House of Sand and Fog, which was nominated for three Academy Awards. Sins of Our Fathers, a literary crime novel, is his first novel. It earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and is a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Otto is also the producer of the US Presi
“Even more troubling than the dismal failure of the abstinence-only approach, Webber says, was that repeat teen pregnancy also went up. It turns out that Texas kids thought, “If birth control doesn’t work, why use it?” 1 likes
“In Canada, after CBC producer Mary Lynk took the risky step of making the three-hour radio documentary Science under Siege based on some of the ideas contained in this book, a national discussion developed among scientists, journalists, and the public that brought politicians from the three opposition parties to the table to sign the Science Pledge of Evidence for Democracy, a nonprofit organization advocating for public policies to be based on evidence.” 0 likes
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