The historian and the pope

For popular books, it is traditional to get a big shot to write an introduction in hopes that star power will increase sales. I remember countless science fiction books from when I was a kid with introductions by Isaac Asimov or Harlan Ellison. Stephen King later stepped into the role of ubiquitous introductions.

So there is a strange thrill from the fact that Naomi Oreskes wrote the introduction for Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. Naomi, a geologist turned historian of science, was faculty at UCSD when I was a grad student. I took a course and an independent study with her, and she was a member of my dissertation committee. She’s since moved to Harvard and become a heavyweight in reflections on climate change. Her book Merchants of Doubt (with Erik Conway) is a fascinating study of the forces behind science denial.

The “introduction by Isaac Asminov” vibe that I get is out of place, of course. Scholars who are invited to write introductions are meant more to lend critical authenticity than star power. And her introduction attaches to an edition by an indie publisher.

Still, she turns some nice phrases, labelling “an uncritical techno-fideism— a ‘blind confidence in technical solutions’— the market logic that harnesses it with a single-minded focus on profit, without thinking about the actual goals of human activity.”

More excerpts are offered by Andrew Revkin at the NYTimes. You can watch Revkin’s interview with Naomi on YouTube.

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