Monday, October 31, 2011

Into the Reason of Things: Jonathan Moreno's "The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America"

By Gregg Chadwick

Are we making monsters in university laboratories? How much is a life worth? Where does science start and religion end? When it comes to contemporary advances in science, the general public can feel lost on the margins as new discoveries whizz past like speeding rockets on the Bonneville Salt Flats. As humans we are primed to distrust or misunderstand unfamiliar things or states of being. Is it any wonder that popular culture since the dawn of the modern era is full of out of control scientific experimentation such as that found in Mary Shelley's cautionary novel Frankenstein?

Fear of the unknown may often be polarizing. Knowledge may be liberating. Jonathan Moreno's new book, The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America, shines a light on the issues surrounding contemporary scientific explorations. Moreno focuses on the current place of science and politics in the United States, yet Moreno also deftly explores through a long lens, the philosophical history of scientific thought and the political debates that have ensued

Gregg Chadwick
30"x22" monotype on paper 2011

Moreno argues in a balanced fashion, as his book considers the debates over the ethics undergirding contemporary scientific discoveries and explorations. Should the government fund scientific projects? Is there a limit to scientific advancement? The discussion becomes especially heated in the political sphere, when advancements in current Biology are considered. At times, the rhetoric adheres to a standard Red State vs. Blue State pattern. Moreno explains that, when considering science, alternatives exist to the stagnant polarization often found in the political sphere. Moreno quotes Charles Peirce's definition that science "does not consist so much in it does in diligent inquiry into truth for truth's sake, without any sort of axe to grind, nor for the sake of delight of contemplating it, but from the impulse to penetrate into the reason of things...."

Moreno's The Body Politic delves deeply into the battles over science in our era and ultimately calms our irrational fears by questioning the mad scientist trope: "The notion that science is an enemy of moral and civic education is puzzling. How then to account for the coincidence of the development of science with the growth of liberal democracy and the recognition of human rights since the eighteenth century?"

Jonathan Moreno's groundbreaking book, The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America, should be required reading for all students in the sciences and all those interested in our place in the universe. Highly recommended.

Neera Tanden, Chief Operating Officer, Center for American Progress
Distinguished Panelist:
Jonathan Moreno, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; David and Lyn Silfen University Professor, University of Pennsylvania; and Author, The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America
Andrew Light, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; and Associate Director, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, George Mason University

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