Every once in a while I get to looking at some books. Here are some that are on my iPad iBooks bookshelf right now:
Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum
From a Scientist and a Writer: A Plea to Change Our Science-Anemic Culture
In his famous 1959 Rede lecture at Cambridge University, the scientifically-trained novelist C.P. Snow described science and the humanities as “two cultures,” separated by a “gulf of mutual incomprehension.” And the humanists had all the cultural power—the low prestige of science, Snow argued, left Western leaders too little educated in scientific subjects that were increasingly central to world problems: the elementary physics behind nuclear weapons, for instance, or the basics of plant science needed to feed the world’s growing population.
Now, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, a journalist-scientist team, offer an updated “two cultures” polemic for America in the 21st century. Just as in Snow’s time, some of our gravest challenges—climate change, the energy crisis, national economic competitiveness—and gravest threats—global pandemics, nuclear proliferation—have fundamentally scientific underpinnings. Yet we still live in a culture that rarely takes science seriously or has it on the radar.
For every five hours of cable news, less than a minute is devoted to science; 46 percent of Americans reject evolution and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old; the number of newspapers with weekly science sections has shrunken by two-thirds over the past several decades. The public is polarized over climate change—an issue where political party affiliation determines one’s view of reality—and in dangerous retreat from childhood vaccinations. Meanwhile, only 18 percent of Americans have even met a scientist to begin with; more than half can’t name a living scientist role model.
For this dismaying situation, Mooney and Kirshenbaum don’t let anyone off the hook. They highlight the anti-intellectual tendencies of the American public (and particularly the politicians and journalists who are supposed to serve it), but also challenge the scientists themselves, who despite the best of intentions have often failed to communicate about their work effectively to a broad public—and so have ceded their critical place in the public sphere to religious and commercial propagandists.
A plea for enhanced scientific literacy, Unscientific America urges those who care about the place of science in our society to take unprecedented action. We must begin to train a small army of ambassadors who can translate science’s message and make it relevant to the media, to politicians, and to the public in the broadest sense. An impassioned call to arms worthy of Snow’s original manifesto, this book lays the groundwork for reintegrating science into the public discourse—before it’s too late.
In 1997, marine biologist Olson recognized that scientists needed better communications skills to address a growing backlash against “rational data-based science.” Inspired by the “power of video,” Olson gave up a tenured professorship and went to Hollywood to reach a broader audience through filmmaking. The crucial lesson he learned was how to tell a good story, a largely absent concern for scientists, who focus on accuracy rather than audience engagement. It was a lesson Olson learned the hard way, after his intelligent design documentary, Flock of Dodos, flopped for lack of a lively story line. By “starting with a quirky little tidbit” about his mother and the intelligent design lawyer she lives next to, Olson found the hook he was missing. Olson values motivation over education, looking to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (“the most important and best-made piece of environmental media in history”) for a hugely successful example of his principles in action. As if to prove all he’s learned, Olson packs this highly entertaining book with more good stories than good advice, spurring readers to rethink their personal communication styles rather than ape Olson’s example.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
How to optimize educational spaces and teaching practices for more effective learning
Author David Thornburg, an award-winning futurist and educational consultant, maintains that in order to engage all students, learning institutions should offer a balance of Campfire spaces (home of the lecture), Watering Holes (home to conversations between peers), Caves (places for quiet reflection), and Life (places where students can apply what they’ve learned). In order to effectively use technology in the classroom, prepare students for future careers, and incorporate project-based learning, all teachers should be moving from acting as the “sage on the stage” to becoming the “guide on the side.”
Whether you are a school administrator interested in redesigning your school or a teacher who wants to prepare better lessons, From the Campfire to the Holodeck can help by providing insight on how to:
Boost student engagement
Enable project-based learning
Incorporate technology into the classroom
Encourage student-led learning
From the Campfire to the Holodeck is designed to help schools move from traditional lecture halls (Campfires) where students just receive information to schools that encourage immersive student-centered learning experiences (Holodecks).