Chris Mooney

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Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist, blogger, podcaster, and experienced trainer of scientists in the art of communication. He is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science and The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.

Chris blogs for “Science Progress,” a website of the Center for American Progress. He is a host of the Point of Inquiry podcast and was recently seen on BBC 2 guest hosting a segment of “The Culture Show.”

In the past, Chris has also been visiting associate in the Center for Collaborative History at Princeton University, a 2009-2010 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, and a Templeton-Cambridge Fellow in Science and Religion. He is also a contributing editor to Science Progress and a senior correspondent for The American Prospect magazine.

Chris has been featured regularly by the national media, having appeared on The Daily Show With Jon StewartThe Colbert ReportMSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and “The Last Word,” CSPAN’s Book TV, and NPR’s Fresh Air With Terry Gross and Science Friday (here and here), among many other television and radio programs.

Among other accolades, in 2005 Chris was named one of Wired magazine’s ten “sexiest geeks.” In addition, The Republican War on Science was named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times book prize in the category of “Science and Technology,” and Chris’s Mother Jones feature story about ExxonMobil, conservative think tanks, and climate change was nominated for a National Magazine Award in the “public interest” category (as part of a cover package on global warming).

Chris’s 2005 article for Seed magazine on the Dover evolution trial was included in the volume Best American Science and Nature Writing 2006. In 2006, Chris won the “Preserving Core Values in Science” award from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. His 2009 article for The Nation, “Unpopular Science” (co-authored with Sheril Kirshenbaum) was included in Best American Science Writing 2010.

Chris was born in Mesa, Arizona, and grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana; he graduated from Yale University in 1999, where he wrote a column for the Yale Daily News. Before becoming a freelance writer, Chris worked for two years at The American Prospect as a writing fellow, then staff writer, then online editor (where he helped to create the popular blog Tapped).

Chris has contributed to a wide variety of other publications in recent years, including Wired, ScienceHarper’sSeedNew ScientistSlateSalonMother JonesLegal AffairsReasonThe American ScholarThe New RepublicThe Washington MonthlyColumbia Journalism Review,The Washington PostThe Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe. In addition, Chris’s blog, “The Intersection,” was a recipient of Scientific American’s 2005 Science and Technology web award, which noted that “science is lucky to have such a staunch ally in acclaimed journalist Chris Mooney.”

Chris speaks regularly at academic meetings, bookstores, university campuses, and other events. He has appeared at distinguished universities including the Harvard Medical School, MIT, Yale, Princeton, Rockefeller University, and Duke University Medical Center; at major venues such as the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and Town Hall Seattle; and at bookstores across the country, ranging from Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida to Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. In 2006, he was the keynote speaker for the 43rd Annual Dinner of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties and the Edward Lamb Peace Lecturer at Bowling Green State University. In 2007, he was the opening plenary speaker at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, Australia.

Chris has been profiled by The Toronto Star and The Seattle Times, and interviewed by many outlets including Grist and Mother Jones.

So Now They Call in the Scientists?

fred upton

So this is interesting.

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce–chaired by Fred Upton of Michigan, pictured here–will hold a hearing (though the Subcommittee on Energy and Power) on “Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations.” It looks like it is going to be, basically, a science fight. Several scientists, like Christopher Field of Stanford and Richard Somerville of Scripps, are testifying who are sure to affirm the mainstream scientific consensus view of global warming. But there are also more “skeptical” scientists, like John Christy of the University of Alabama-Huntsville, on the docket.

Global Warming and Snowstorms: Communication Nightmare, or Opportunity?

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group I greatly admire, has held a press conference (with attendant media coverage) to air an argument that is already quite intuitive to me, but is probably precisely the opposite for others: Namely, that global warming could mean more mega-snowstorms, of the sort North America has seen in the past several years.

On a physical level, the case is sublimely simple. One of the fundamental aspects of global warming is that it increases the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, because warmer air holds more water vapor. From there, it’s a piece of cake—more snow can fall in snowstorms than before.

Once and For All: Climate Denial is Not Postmodern

If our goal is to do something about the ever-growing problem of climate change denial, I believe we must first understand it—its forms, its motivations, its arguments.

That’s why I recoil every time I hear the argument—made over the weekend in the New York Times magazine by Judith Warner—that science denial used to be a left wing thing, centered on the so-called “postmodernists” of academia, but now things have flipped. Now it’s located on the right—witness climate denial. Or as Warner puts it:

That taking on the scientific establishment has become a favored activity of the right is quite a turnabout. After all, questioning accepted fact, revealing the myths and politics behind established certainties, is a tactic straight out of the left-wing playbook. In the 1960s and 1970s, the push back against scientific authority brought us the patients’ rights movement and was a key component of women’s rights activism. That questioning of authority veered in a more radical direction in the academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when left-wing scholars doing “science studies” increasingly began taking on the very idea of scientific truth.

This analysis is so wrong that one barely knows how to begin.

The Strange Case of Ralph Hall

Rep. Ralph Hall, the Republican Chair of the House Committee on Science, represents Texas’s fourth congressional district, which is located in the far northeast part of the state bordering on Oklahoma and Arkansas. A number of its counties—Lamar, Fannin, Red River, Grayson, and Cass—are currently included in federal disaster designations because they’re suffering from serious drought conditions. And according to the National Weather Service, droughts are expected to either develop, persist, or worsen throughout Texas over the course of this year.

So like any good legislator would, Hall has tried to help his district cope with these difficult challenges. For instance, he recently signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calling for more support to counties in his region as they seek to cope with drought.

Here’s the thing, though: Scientific assessments tell us that under human induced climate change, the risk of drought conditions like these, to Texas, will only increase.

The Denialists Progress: From Doubt-Mongering to Certainty

rep. blaine luetkemeyer

Over the weekend, the U.S. House of Representatives voted along partisan lines in favor of an amendment sponsored by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri (pictured at left) to cut funding for the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). When I flagged this incredible news on my Discover blog, the clean energy activist Michael Noble tweeted back: “Gone, even that old refrain: ‘needs more study.’” 

The more I think about it, the more profound that little remark becomes.

Time was when I, and many others tracking and critiquing the climate “skeptics,” would linger on their manufacture of uncertainty, their sowing and merchandising of doubt. “Doubt is our product,” as the infamous tobacco memo put it.

The Coming Classroom Climate Conflict

I’ve just completed a trip out to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado—a town that’s in many ways the chief hub for our country’s climate scientists, as well as for a variety of other researchers (especially on weather and renewable energy) and many science education specialists. My visit was focused on science communication, but another theme kept coming up: climate science education, and the conflicts arising therein.

A lot of people out here seem worried about growing resistance to climate science teaching in schools. It was a regular topic of conversation, and at the end of my public talk, one audience member asked whether there needs to be an equivalent of the National Center for Science Education for the climate issue. (The National Center for Science Education is the leading organization defending the teaching of evolution in the U.S.). And no wonder: This state has already seen one of the most direct attacks on climate education yet—although it seems to have fizzled.

He Said, She Said, We’re (Not) Clueless

Recently (thanks, Wonk Room!) I came upon a classic case study of why the debate on climate change–and indeed, debates on public issues in general–has grown so dysfunctional.

The story begins with a new report from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which has produced many previous studies on how to create so-called “green jobs.” The new study finds that two pending Environmental Protection Agency regulations will also create jobs—a lot of them–by greening the electric power industry.

In the wake of recent Republican attempts to restrict the EPA’s powers and dramatically cut its budget—plans bolstered by the accusation that the agency is destroying jobs—the PERI study is politically salient in the extreme. And indeed, it was recently cited by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson before Congress.

Enter the critics:

Who Needs Scientists When You’ve Got James Inhofe?

The big news so far from the current hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power—concerning the so-called “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011”—is that Senator James Inhofe, the leading climate change denier in the U.S. Congress, has a book coming out.

Criticism Intensifies of New Mexico’s Climate Denying Energy Secretary, Harrison Schmitt

harrison schmitt, astronaut

Harrison Schmitt has had an impressive and storied career: Apollo astronaut and moonwalker, U.S. Senator,  Ph.D. geologist. Since his recent appointment to head the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources, however, much attention is being focused on Schmitt’s highly unconventional views about climate change.

It’s not just that Republican Governor Susana Martinez’s new pick for the state’s top energy and environment role is a climate denier. It’s the highly politicized nature of his views and past statements–and just how wrong he is about technical matters in climate science–that’s particular stunning.

The Mystery of Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is a very smart, very intellectual kind of guy. Not only does he hold a Ph.D., but he professes to love science. In May 2002, after leaving Congress, he could be found calling for a tripling of the budget of the National Science Foundation. 

Just look at this 2008 Slate exchange, discussing Gingrich’s plans to use market mechanisms to address global warming:

Kensington, Md.: Kudos to you for this new initiative, and we all need for you to be successful (speaking as a liberal here). But why do you suppose conservatives have been so virulently hostile to science these past few decades? It’s really like watching the 16th century papacy coming to terms with astronomy.

Newt Gingrich: Since I headed the Republican House which doubled the size of the NIH budget, served on the Hart-Rudman Comission, which said the decline of math and science education was our second greatest threat as a country, and helped save the international space station when short-sighted people wanted to kill it, I’m not sure I identify with your question.

I  identify with it. While Gingrich and his revolutionaries were running the congressional show in the 1990s, they dismantled their own scientific advisory office, the Office of Technology Assessment. Then they held show hearings to cast doubt on the science of climate and the science of ozone depletion.

They loved science–except when they didn’t.

Now Gingrich is back again, as a possible GOP presidential candidate. And he is calling for nothing less than dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency.