Monday, December 31, 2012

Shellacking "The Republican Brain"

Responding to a review of their book Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fantasies and the Rise of the Scientific Left in Pacific Standard -- which appeared there (unfavorably) alongside Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain -- co-author Alex Berezow gives Mooney's approach to science a(nother) well-deserved shellacking:
"Herbert fawned over Mooney’s book, the primary thrust of which is that psychology, neuroscience, and genetics explain why Republicans are “smart idiots” and reality deniers. Herbert found Mooney’s book “convincing,” despite the fact that few (if any) scientists would agree. In fact, Mooney’s main premise has been roundly debunked as pseudoscientific nonsense by a neuroscientist, a biochemist, and high-profile evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. As described in the New York Times, such critics resent the “bastardization [of neuroscience] by glib, sometimes ill-informed, popularizers.”

"Similarly, our book makes the point—among many others—that such politicization of science illustrates everything that is wrong with modern science journalism. In our chapter “The Death of Science Journalism,” we discuss how too many science writers have morphed into cheerleaders who uncritically embrace progressive political causes at the expense of good science. For these writers, science isn’t about uncovering the wonders of the natural world; instead, it’s just another platform from which to bash and demonize political opponents. We believe such journalistic malpractice epitomizes science writing at its absolute worst."
He goes on:
"My co-author and I clearly possess a very different science writing philosophy. We believe in order for science journalism to thrive, it must primarily focus on reporting science, not politics. And most importantly, writers should be as objective as possible, fighting for Team Science instead of dedicating their careers to promoting Team Red or Team Blue....

"Anyone who is willing to take off his partisan glasses will quickly come to the conclusion that both sides of the political spectrum—conservatives and progressives—are willing to throw science under the bus whenever it is politically expedient."
To be sure, every popular book about science doesn't have to gush over "the wonders of the natural world," but it does need to be scientifically accurate, which clearly Mooney's book is not. It just seems retrograde to me to be using science -- which has done so much to make political and religious differences irrelevant -- as a bludgeon in support of one's political ideology.


Papa Zu said...

David - I just started to read Science Left Behind. Did you read it?

David Appell said...

PZ: No, I haven't read it yet, but I think I will now. What do you think so far?