That’s got to sting

Jerry Coyne has published his review of Unscientific America in Science. It begins this way:

In Unscientific America, a book slight in both length and substance, science writers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum argue that America’s future is deeply endangered by the scientific illiteracy of its citizens and that this problem derives from two failings of scientists themselves: their vociferous atheism and their ham-handed and ineffectual efforts to communicate the importance of science to the public.

And ends this way:

More than at any time in my life, I see Americans awash in popular science. Bookstores teem with volumes by Stephen Gould, Steven Pinker, Brian Greene, Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku, Edward O. Wilson, and Jared Diamond; natural history museums have become user friendly; and entire television channels are devoted to science and nature. Science education is readily available to anyone who is curious. And yes, we scientists need–and want–to share our love of science with the public. Still, we must compete with the infinite variety of claims on people’s time and interests, including sports, movies, and reality shows. No matter how much atheists stifle themselves, no matter how many scientists reach out to the public via new media, we may not find the appetite for science infinitely elastic. This does not mean, of course, that we should refrain from feeding it. But figuring out where and how to intervene will take a lot more work than the shallow and unreflective analysis of Unscientific America.

In between he describes how what little data the authors present does not support their claims, suggests that the problem of science illiteracy is much more complicated than they let on (duh), and that their suggested solutions are either trivial and suggested before, or wrong.

Somehow, I don’t think this review is one that Mooney and Kirshenbaum will highlight on their blog. It’s probably the review that will be most influential to scientists, however.

Coyne J (2009) Selling science. Science 325(5941):678-679.