The Cost To the Planet of Fearing Science

(CBS/Penguin Group )
Time was when science was considered a value-neutral pursuit. That seems like an eternity ago. Nowadays, science is all too often viewed as as a political constituency and not always in our best interest. How much of a toll has the fear of science had on individuals and the planet? In Denialism, New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter examines the consequences of what's become a war against progress.

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write this book?

Michael Specter: I have been writing about science, technology and public health for many years and in that time I have seen people grow increasingly skeptical about whether science and technology play positive roles in our lives. I am all for skepticism; it's essential. But when people rely on their own misgivings always, and refuse even to acknowledge the value of cold, hard data it starts to scare me. We have made too many advances - and need too many more - to walk away from humanity's greatest intellectual triumph.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

MS: I assume you mean in the uncovering of facts, rather than the agony of trying to put words on a page (always surprisingly difficult no matter how often one does it.) I guess I was amazed at how deeply mistrustful Americans (and others, but I focus on our country the most) have become of political, scientific and intellectual authority. There are real reasons for that, and I go into some of them in the book, but the change has been so severe and so damaging that it never ceases to worry me.

JG: What would you be doing, if you weren't a writer?

MS: Provided I could have made my way through the endless schooling, maybe I would have become a molecular biologist or virologist. Or public health official. I am pretty fascinated with the interface of social policy, technology and medicine.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

MS: Well, a couple of things. The Locust and the Bird, which is an extraordinary memoir by the Arab writer Hanan al-Shaykh, about her mother's rigid and restricted life in 1930's Beirut. Great book. Also Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, by James E. McWilliams. He argues that we have to take a more sophisticated and, I hate to say it, science-based approach, to our genuine desire to create a more sustainable world. That doesn't always mean being a locavore. (A sentiment I share, and have written about at The New Yorker and also in one part of my book.)

JG: What's next for you?

MS: Back to work at The New Yorker, trying to write about scientific issues that excite, worry and entertain us.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.