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Denying Science by John Grant

1/12/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Denying Science in the USA - or Buy Denying Science in the UK

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pub: Prometheus Books. page hardback. Price: $25.00 (US) GBP21.95 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-399-2).

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‘Denying Science’ by John Grant is really an examination of how little school kids, especially in America, must pay attention to their lessons considering how little knowledge they end up with about the sciences and what they believe to be true. All right, he doesn’t actually say that but considering how uninformed a large percentage of adults are about science then there must be some serious consideration as to why education is failing so much that parents want to give creationism the time of day there. Much of this book focuses on people denying science in the USA but the UK gets the occasional look-in as well.

From the introduction, Grant hits on the fact that non-scientific bias happen all the time and even notable scientists let their beliefs get in the way of what turns out to be true. One thing that is odd about the results of the various polls he consulted about what people believed in what the split between those who believed in a God, around 75%, and those in the paranormal, around 30%, makes me wonder if we’re seeing a true division here and how much was a shared interest ie where was the dividing line. Then again, I’ve come across Americans who have a belief in something without ever looking at the evidence so there must be an examination of ego somewhere in all of this. Over here, we’ve often thought some things were true but we’ve also been rather quick to change our opinions when faced with actual evidence.

Grant makes a good point about how much science came from the Muslims and how many stars were named by them, including Rigel, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Altair and Vega. Yep, there was a time when the Muslims were ahead in science. But then, so were the Greeks. I wish Grant had pointed out the problems of what happens when countries or faiths move away from science as both give good examples. For one, going more religious and the other, I guess, too much sun.

Where Grant really goes to town is how the law in the USA and to some extent in the UK can be manipulated by so-called ‘expert’ witnesses. I imagine many people believe that these ‘experts’ credentials have been checked to ensure they are truly authoritative. It’s rather frightening to discover how many of them are self-proclaimed. I think if anything, there needs to be laws in place to ensure that any called ‘experts’ do not have any vested interest in the outcome of a court case or make any financial gain from it and not tied to either side of the court and truly independent. His case against misleading evidence leading to executions in America should make all of you think.

Actually, I think I should re-classify this as ‘expert’ singular. A lot of these problems, as with the Wakefield claims against the MMR vaccine was by one ‘expert’ and the emphasis of this by the press in believing without checking. The public, unfortunately, tend to think the press get it right all the time and even they will admit that they don’t…eventually. I suspect, with this example and something I wish Grant had actually explored, was the reasons why other scientific experts or people in authority, ie in government, don’t contest such claims more loudly. A lot of the time, I suspect they think such claims will blow over, someone else will come forward and as many work in industry, cannot speak independently and the greatest bugbear, face being sued or can’t be bothered. Of course, by then, things have moved along too far for the herd to hear them, as Grant himself points out in his chapter but scientists must be more willing to stand up and be counted. It’s also far too long since anyone has come up with the reason why the number of autism cases are rising other than perhaps more people know what the condition is these days. If anything, I suspect there is a close parallel to dyslexia not being recognised and children thought to be stupid who couldn’t learn how to read. Now more people know what autism is, the more cases that are revealed.

There are several chapters devoted to the subject of creationism theory and their rationale about God being responsible for everything. I can’t help feel that this is still a demonstration of the clash between types of people that we’ve seen over the centuries where people are struggling to understand reality. As Grant points out, there are still people in the civilised world who don’t even know that they are on a planet orbiting a star. It must raise some odd issues as to the microcosm that they live in but can see why it extends to people who anchor their beliefs in religion and rationalise everything out of that.

The other main subject that is given a lot of space is global warming and the people who don’t believe it’s happening. Grant makes a serious case against ExxonMobil and Koch Industries who are investing money in promoting this in their own self-interest. It’s a shame that they don’t invest their money in research into other uses for oil and sorting out air pollution which would be more profitable than take that course of action but then all they are demonstrating is how short-sighted they are when it comes to profit. Maybe they’re confusing profit with prophet? They’re certainly manipulating the deniers and such for their own ends. Grant also makes the point that more people have been killed involved with coal-based power stations than with nuclear power stations. This is truly enlightening and should be used as ammunition when people think they have to choose between the two.

There’s a lot about this book that should make you angry at the shortcomings of those denying real science in this world we live on. Grant makes note of the key players involved in all of this and their motivation. Not all of them are driven by religion. Certainly, this book should be on most judges and politicians reading list as quickly as possible.

If you’re wavering between the two types, then this book will certainly make you think. About the only group that probably won’t are the science deniers themselves and this is the group that needs the most persuasion that they are wrong. I think the deniers should read this book or even just pointed at the chapters relating to how ExxonMobil are manipulating them for their own profit. Maybe then you can press on the fact that they need to understand science and economics and that goes back to education which is where I came in. Read and be angry.

GF Willmetts

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