At the request of Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, several of us were sent pre-publication copies of their new book, Unscientific America, a discussion of America’s scientific illiteracy and a prescription for fixing it.
One of the recipients was P. Z. Myers of Pharyngula fame, who is strongly criticized in the book for his atheism and the “crackergate” affair, which Mooney and Kirshenbaum consider inimical to public acceptance of science. Mooney and Kirshenbaum posted a note on their website that they had sent P. Z. a copy of their book, asking him to refrain from reviewing it until he had read the whole thing.
We hope that like Dr. Coyne, you will suspend judgment until reading the book, at which point we’ll be interested to hear what you think.
After reading the whole thing, Myers posted a strongly negative review of it on his website, concluding:
The bottom line is that Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s book recites the obvious at us, that there is a fundamental disconnect between science and the popular imagination in our country, but offers no new solutions, and in fact would like to narrow our options to a blithe and accommodating compromise of science with rampant ignorance. Their own bigotry blinds them to a range of approaches offered by the “New Atheists”…a group that is not so closed to the wide range of necessarily differing tactics that such a deep problem requires as Mooney and Kirshenbaum are. It’s not a badly written book, but it’s something worse: it’s utterly useless.
Mooney and Kirshenbaum, of course, don’t like this judgment, but dismiss it on the grounds of reviewer bias:
If you want a take that throughly trashes the book, well then this is it. But of course, that’s not surprising, given that the book not only criticizes Myers but, indeed, identifies him as part of the problem. . .
. . . Indeed, it appears that judging the book based on what New Atheists say about it, alone, could lead you to make pretty strong factual errors about its contents. Consider what happens in this blog comment thread to one Jim Lippard: see here, here, here, and finally here–where after making various false claims about our book’s contents, Lippard admits to not having read it.
Perhaps judging a book critical of the New Atheists based on what the New Atheists say about it on blogs it is hazardous to your understanding.
o.k. So my question is this: what am I supposed to do? I’ve almost finished the book, and have neither made public statements about it nor published any pre-reviews. I don’t have a crackergate in my background, either. However, I suppose I could be considered a “new atheist,” though I don’t like the term and I’ve been an atheist since 1967.
Does this mean that Mooney and Kirshenbaum won’t consider my review as a serious intellectual appraisal? Or will they dismiss it only if it’s negative? I really don’t want to waste time on this if the authors of the book are going to regard any effort as biased from the outset. So, Mooney and Kirshenbaum, what say ye? Do you want to hear a review or not? If not, why did you send us the book?