July 12, 2009

The Mooney/Kirshenbaum Strategy

I must issue an apology to Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. I admit to having wondered whether their intention in criticizing the world's most popular science blogger and a much-awarded science communicator whose books all remain in print as being bad for science literacy was merely to generate publicity for their own book. After all, picking a fight with someone better known than you has proven successful in drawing heaps of attention to people who would otherwise be ignored.

But lo, I shouldn't have doubted, for while digging back into the history of such conflicts, I discovered what their true purpose in making such an attack must be, and it is a noble purpose. They are simply trying to help the "New Atheists"' cause. We already know atheism has a huge PR problem.

No, I suspect this is a gift to Pharyngula, a gift to Richard Dawkins. The controversy raises the profile of the New Atheists, people--especially with a book like this, which is by its very nature courting controversy and baiting working science communicators.

It took some time and thought, but I must now conclude that Chris and Sheril are doing more here than merely trying to set themselves up as a new voice emerging reflecting our diversity, tolerance, the encouragement of ideas, and ultimately, in fact, promoting a similar message to that of Expelled...that we must question what we're told--in religion, in science, in life.

Because if the general public thinks all they've got to say is 'shut up,' they lose.

8 comments:

Mike Haubrich said...

And here I suspected that they were actually trying to boost publicity by sending a review copy to PZ.

Clever strategy, and kudos to them. We all played our parts in their game.

Jason Thibeault said...

This whole concept reminds me of this for some reason, and I can't pin down why:

http://wonkette.com/407270/michael-steele-totally-meant-to-do-that

(Okay, I so can pin down why, but I can't escape the critical mass of snark that's going on here.)

Greg said...

Ah, but you are ignoring the essential point of their book, which is quite valid.

And since I'm mostly reading material these days published before 1899, I'm going to use the word "quite" quite a bit.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Greg, I agree that their essential point is valid, and I agree that scientists have a part to play in fixing the problem. However, that does not and will not stop me from pointing to their hypocrisy and double standards any more than agreeing that family plays an important part in people's lives will stop me from mocking Governor Sanford.

When even Publishers Weekly, the big review magazine, notes that Chris and Sheril are obviously, but not credibly, trying to position themselves as the mediators of a national debate, it's worth bringing up. It doesn't mean that I've stopped caring about science communication.

Jason Thibeault said...

Hilariously, Chris and Sheril seem to have plenty of time to respond back and forth with the denizens of Daily Kos. Thought you might like to know.

Philip H. said...

Stephanie,
Playing Devil's Advocate a bit, if you don't want Sheril and Chris mediating the national debate on the roles of religion and science, then whom do you nominate? Surely not the good Prof. Meyers? His blog-o-sphere followers aren't exactly always civilized, and he seems to want them to run amok so as to drive his traffic numbers up, all the while pulling a "who me" blanket over his own eyes.

Stephanie Zvan said...

I don't have anyone specific in mind. Most of the people I hang with are people who, frankly, are more interested in pushing limits than finding compromises.

I do have a list of qualifications, though. They include things like being meticulous in accurately describing the positions of people you disagree with, addressing criticism instead of labeling it unproductive, soliciting input and not requiring that people pay for access to your solutions. None of those requirements are being met here.

Jay said...

Until you can get a publication or website, or something that attracts a wide audience of laypeople with science, you have nothing to mediate.

The only thing to do until there is a common point to elaborate science and entertain everyone is to keep pointing out the failures of media to communicate science accurately.