The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters by Mark Henderson (book review).
With our move at SFC to looking more geeky than we already were, spotting a book called ‘The Geek Manifesto’ made me determined to take a look and the nice people at Bantam Press were happy to supply a book that was released earlier in 2012.
As the sub-title ‘Why Science Matters’ places it ever firmer within our remit, this is the kind of book that the people who matter, in this case politicians, who should read this, aren’t likely to pick it up. Author Mark Henderson targets both the UK and US governments and points out the depressing fact that there is not only few, but minimal to non-existent, politicians with a scientific background. What you have are people with a lawyer, business or journalist backgrounds and an indifference to science than outright hostility. The indifference caused because there is insufficient lobbying to bring science to their attention. Any attempts by volunteering them to go to science seminars had few attendees. Considering how much we in the western world rely on science and technology, I hope those of you who read this book will be disgusted by this attitude from high up which is across the board by political parties. If anything, it looks like it’s the only thing they have in agreement. Do they think science is magic and can look after itself, especially when research funding is continually cut back? Then again, considering the resurgence in homeopathy over here and creationism Stateside, maybe they do. Indifference is scary because they think science will look after itself, when research, usually through universities, needs sufficient funding to bring out the talents. Even that can be stemmed by the current Coalition in the UK who restrict teaching science those with a second-class degree which really is raising the goalpost to those who normally go off and work in industry than at schools. No wonder there are so few science teachers out there now.
In deference to Henderson, I know why few scientists become politicians. They are less prone to lying and see an impossible task to convince other politicians to their point of view, which as Henderson points out is indifference. However, he does point out throughout the book how we geeks can work behind the scenes more to getting politicians to listen and do something that helps everyone. We just need to do more of it.
It does make me wonder what government scientific advisors actually tell the politicians but as Henderson points out, citing the example of ‘The Thick Of It’ sit-com as mirroring life, if a governmental politician doesn’t have a scientific expert that matches their view, then they get another one that does. There’s a strong argument here that all scientists should be careful when it comes to interpretation of solid facts and if there is, then there really should be more than one scientific advisor in attendance so there is a more balanced opinion for pros and cons for any information although I suspect the politician will still only favour something he or she sees favouring a particular view, not whether it is founded on something as simple as commonsense. There is a definite need to get into their heads the facts first, followed by choices and opinions.
Henderson brings this home a lot in how scientific advice is ignored in all manner of issues, purely because it’s not seen as a vote-winner. Although the last thing I am is an advocate of recreational drugs, even I recognise that it won’t go away world-wide but it can be controlled and take the criminal element out of the equation and might actually cut usage. After all, who would want to do what the Government recommends? As scientist David Nutt pointed out, there are things far more dangerous than drugs but rarely get as much media time. Don’t know about you, I find that kind of frightening and at worse, dumb, when you are giving these people the power to run a country. When you get this book, prepared to get angry about the stupidity that comes from the top down. One thing for sure, the lack of scientific education at all schools has been dropping significantly over the years and this will hit it even more in a paradoxically more advanced world is a disaster waiting to happen.
Interestingly, something that is in common with both sides of the pond, it is the Conservatives and Republicans that are the least interested in science and use that as an attacking point against Labour and the Democrats than see it as a mutually shared interest to make sure the underlying important aspect of our countries is given sufficient ground to develop. Unlike the arts, there is more than just a general inclination towards science, you have to do a lot more work in getting qualifications before any financial reward in terms of wages happens. As can be seen by the lack of even the most simplest scientific knowledge from lessons at school, politicians are suffering or forgetting this part of their education and seem determined to bring people down to their level. Blood boiling time, yes? Especially when it is used to be counter-productive against nuclear power. Henderson points out that more people die mining coal than in the nuclear industry and that the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor was forty years old and current reactors have a lot more safeguards. I can add a further point that burning coal puts more radioactive particles into the atmosphere which makes them far more hazardous. What are politicians doing? They are listening to the harbingers than the scientists, mostly because the latter haven’t got a sufficiently loud voice. None of this is helped by the fact that the politicians don’t have any background knowledge of their own which is totally absurd.
There is far more than this in this book, looking at such diverse subjects as homeopathy to genetically manipulated foods and how unfounded protests by certain areas of the population – they probably don’t even use the Internet, let alone look in places like ours. Where GM is concerned, considering that over the centuries, Man has been manipulating both plant and animal stock to certain characteristics that when scientists can do it over fewer generations and have to do far more vigorous testing before having it let loose on the pubic, which would you prefer?
I’m hoping that you who are reading this already know a lot of the stuff above. The point of this book is to incite us geeks to take a more pro-active stance with both politicians and attitudes towards science and certainly raise the profile against the ignorance that currently circulates than sink without a thought. It’s certainly going to make some celebrity scientists out of all of this but providing they are more concerned with presenting decent scientific knowledge than their careers, is that such a bad thing? Something I agree with Henderson about. There’s certainly a lot more science mags out in the UK these days and more science programmes on TV but it does need more.
If you’re only going to buy one book to read for the new year, then make sure this is the one.
(pub: Bantam Press/Transworld. 325 page indexed hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-593-06823-6
pub: Corgi. Price: 416 page paperback. £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-055216-543-3)
check out website: www.transworld-publishers.co.uk and www.manifesto.co.uk