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Debating Science edited by Dane Scott and Blake Francis

01/06/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Debating Science edited in the USA - or Buy Debating Science edited in the UK

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pub: Humanity Books/Prometheus Books. 277 page enlarged paperback. Price: $25.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59102-699-0.

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The title ‘ Debating Science’ is defined by its sub-title, ‘ Deliberation, Values And The Common Good’. Actually, this book is all about the ethics and requirements of science in our reality.

Although I thought co-editor Dane Scott’s opening chapter rather too stolid, things really got going with chapter two, ‘ Overcoming Scientific Ideology’ by Bernard Rollin, and hitting home that only a quarter of the current American population was scientifically savvy, which seems a backward step in this technologically advanced century. Considering how much of their activities like driving and the Internet depends on such things, I have to confess what does go through the other three-quarters heads and more really should be done to make science more interesting in what is supposed to be the most advanced country. I don’t think the numbers are probably going to be that impressive for the UK come to that. People generally tend to show a tendency to be users than want to know what makes things tick to make the best of what they’ve got. Mind you, we don’t have the American religious bent filling in the gap.

Christopher J. Preston’s chapter, ‘ Overcoming Philosophobia’, is also telling in the lack of training in ethics, especially in American veterinary practices. I can’t help but think things are sliding down the slippery slope over the pond. To balance this out, ‘ Bridging The Gap’ by Julian Culp and Nicole Hassoun, points out the lack of research and development in global health has been substantially improved by the Gates Foundation investing in such. I would add a particular comment that relying on only one or two rich foundations could give too much reliance and governments should remember efforts in the third world will also benefit us. Without some pure research, we might never have had the silicon chips that run our computers and be stuck with the odd vacuum tube based monster-sized computers of the 50s. This is highlighted even more by David Castle in his chapter, ‘ Biotechnology And The Pursuit Of Food Security’, in that it is better and cheaper to supply fertiliser, seed and support than the finished product to the third world.

There are a couple chapters devoted to climate change and the ponderance that the USA could do more to reduce its carbon footprint on the world, especially as it’s the one creating the most emissions, quickly being caught up by China. In some respects, politics is getting in the way of good sense in not raising the price of fuel so that it isn’t used so freely across the pond. In case you wonder why I’m having a dig at the USA, please remember this book is written by Americans, who are clearly having their say here, even if on occasions it is a little subtle.

Ronald Sandler in his chapter, ‘ Value-Sensitive Design And Nanotechnology’, makes a telling observation that Man is only possible because of his capacity for culture and social co-operation. I wish he’d gone on to explore why it’s falling apart as the other authors in this book have pointed out. My own suspicions are that we’ve allowed too much specialisation to take place and we could certainly need more people with cross-specialisations or with general interests to take the floor as they see more of the overall picture.

Although I’m not sure if this book is designed for the average reader and more for those in the scientific or academic community, some of the detail in here will make you think but whether you can do anything about it is debatable. If anything, it’s a shame that there isn’t a book of this sort aimed at the non-scientific community as a wake-up call to what they are turning away from. I hope that this book will encourage more people to voice their opinions on this subject and to remind the people in the street of the importance of science in their lives.

GF Willmetts

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