Once We All Had Gills: Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World

Once We All Had Gills: Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World

Once We All Had Gills: Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World

Once We All Had Gills: Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World

Synopsis

In this book, Rudolf A. Raff reaches out to the scientifically queasy, using his life story and his growth as a scientist to illustrate why science matters, especially at a time when many Americans are both suspicious of science and hostile to scientific ways of thinking. Noting that science has too often been the object of controversy in school curriculums and debates on public policy issues ranging from energy and conservation to stem-cell research and climate change, Raff argues that when the public is confused or ill-informed, these issues tend to be decided on religious, economic, and political grounds that disregard the realities of the natural world. Speaking up for science and scientific literacy, Raff tells how and why he became an evolutionary biologist and describes some of the vibrant and living science of evolution. Once We All Had Gills is also the story of evolution writ large: its history, how it is studied, what it means, and why it has become a useful target in a cultural war against rational thought and the idea of a secular, religiously tolerant nation.

Excerpt

Most Americans you might meet on the street could name at least one living athlete, musician, celebrity, and politician, but far fewer could name any living scientist - or tell you what scientists do. a British poll of teens found that none could name a single living scientist. a poll of Americans found that fewer than 20 percent of respondents could name one. Sadly, despite living in an age defined by science and what it has produced, most Americans are content to enjoy the benefits without much intellectual engagement. Science is deeply integrated into the pillars of our culture, and on the flip side it is also part of political disputes over what is taught in schools and how public decisions are reached about energy policy, conservation, population size, contraception, vaccination, global warming, stem cell research, nuclear weapons, and many other issues that influence our lives and futures. When the public is befuddled, these issues will be decided in ill-informed ways based on religious, economic, and political biases that ignore the realities of the natural world.

What do we do about global warming when the public understands the science only vaguely at best and can’t tell the real science from the rosy predictions of cranks or the self-interested lobbying of paid denialists? Worse, many of our fellow citizens don’t think it matters anyway. Part of the problem lies with us, the scientists. We are excited about science and we enjoy our work. We discuss it exuberantly with our colleagues, but the voices of scientists talking among themselves don’t carry very far. We should reach out and make the effort to talk to more than just our research colleagues, to tell a personal story of where we came . . .

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