Chris Mooney

Primary tabs

Chris Mooney's picture

Personal Information

Twitter URL
Profile Info

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.

James Inhofe Takes the Climate Conspiracy Theory to New Heights—While His Home State Reels from Record Heat

James Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, has a new book out. It is entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

I have not read it yet. So I cannot say much about its contents, but I can say this: The title suggests that Inhofe, like Rick Santorum, is endorsing the global warming conspiracy theory. Indeed, where Santorum only muttered the word “hoax” without a great deal of elaboration, it looks like Inhofe is going to put some real meat onto those paranoid bones.

Let me once again reiterate why the global warming conspiracy theory is, well, just plain ridiculous.

To believe that global warming is a “hoax,” or that there is a “conspiracy,” you must believe in coordinated action on the part of scientists, environmental ministers, politicians, and NGOs around the world. It won’t do just to situate the hoax in the United States and its own scientific and NGO community, because the idea of human-caused global warming is endorsed by scientists, and scientific academies, around the globe.

Any one of these could blow the whistle on the so-called “hoax.” That this has not happened either means there is no hoax, or that the degree of conspiracy and collusion—among people who are notoriously individualistic and non-conformist, by the way–is mindboggling. We're talking about some serious cat-herding going on.

Want to Improve Science Communication? Start with Bad PowerPoint Habits

In the past three months, I’ve spoken on panels at two scientific mega-conferences—the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco, which draws tens of thousands of scientists, and the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting, which this year was held in Vancouver (and pulls in about eight thousand).

As a science communication trainer and advocate, I’ve noticed much at these events that makes me very hopeful. More so than ever before, these conferences are thronged with panels on how to improve science communication, particularly with respect to pressing concerns like climate change. Indeed, a powerful theme at the AAAS meeting, articulated by organization president Nina Federoff, was that science is under attack—an attack that must be countered, including through direct-to-public communication efforts by scientists themselves (of which the excellent communicator Michael Mann provides a great recent example).

Federoff is absolutely right in her message. Science communication is, indeed, vital—and scientific organizations like AAAS and the AGU are driving a very welcome change in scientific culture with their efforts.

But here’s the thing: While these organizations have the best of intentions, there may be inadvertent aspects of what they do that actually undermine their stated goals. In particular, in this piece I’m going to argue we can make science communication better not only by having lots of panels on the matter, but by changing some very simple and basic things about how scientists present their knowledge at conferences like AGU and AAAS.

Rick Santorum, Attacking Scientists, Claims He’s not Anti-Science

Rick Santorum is becoming the anti-science gift that keeps on giving.

Yesterday, while speaking in his home state, the former Pennsylvania senator once again tilted at the idea of human caused global warming, saying that it is based on “phony studies,” and really a case of “political science.”

This is, you will note, a clear attack on climate scientists. It suggests 1) that climate researchers have either done bad research or, worse still, perpetrated falsified or fraudulent research; 2) that the norms of their field are somehow inadequate to prevent dubious conclusions from becoming accepted; 3) overall, climatology is a body of research that you just can’t take seriously.

Any climatologist would find this insulting. Any climatologist would consider this an affront.

Which is why it is so amazing that Santorum then went on to claim that he isn’t anti-science—no, it’s the Democrats who are the problem:

Republicans Aren’t the “Truth Party,” Mr. Santorum. They’re the “Certainty Party.”

Rick Santorum has been talking about the “politicization of science” a lot lately—although (a pet peeve of mine) he seems to have a problem with pronouncing the phrase. He says “polititization.” Check it out here.

Not as bad as the people who say “political-ization,” but don't get me started.

Anyway, this is part of a broader narrative Santorum has woven, one in which the left wants to misuse science in order to exert control over you and quash your freedoms. This is particularly apparent in Santorum’s recent CPAC speech, where he once again hints at a climate conspiracy theory: Global warming was made up to help leftists take control of the global economy.

In another recent speech in Oklahoma, meanwhile, Santorum said similar things but made a point of asserting that Republicans are not the ones politicizing science. “You hear all the time, the left: ‘The conservatives are the anti-science party,’” Santorum said. “No. No we’re not. We’re the truth party.”

Well, actually, the data clearly show that Republicans distrust the scientific community more than Democrats do, at least on environmental issues. They really are more “anti-science,” at least when the term is defined in this manner—based on trust in the scientific community.

Nevertheless, I understand what Santorum means.

Santorum Calls Global Warming a “Hoax,” Suggesting a Full-Fledged Climate Conspiracy Theory

Conservatism is a political philosophy that is, at its most fundamental, about resisting change.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that an outrageous and absurd line uttered about global warming in 2003—Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe’s assertion that it is the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”—has not, nearly a decade later, been discredited on the right. Instead, this idea has persisted.

Indeed, the “hoax” charge was recently reiterated by Rick Santorum—who uttered it in Colorado on Monday en route to his three state primary triumph yesterday.

This raises at least two points for me that bear addressing:

A Conservative Ignores the Science on Why…Conservatives Ignore the Science

David Klinghoffer, of the anti-evolutionist Discovery Institute, has a revealing article in the conservative American Spectator entitled: “Republicans and Science (as opposed to liberals and the science they’ve politicized).”

Why “revealing”? Klinghoffer seeks to explain the real reason why conservatives like himself resist certain scientific findings. But in the process, he shows a surprising, er, inattentiveness to the scientific research on this very topic.

At the same time, Klinghoffer also strikingly affirms the results of that research by…denying science for ideological reasons that are quite obviously rooted in deep-set (and even gut level) conservative moral impulses.

In other words, he’s doing precisely what the science tells us he is going to do.

Fox News Versus The Muppets: Do Conservatives Have Different Senses of Humor Than Liberals?

You’ve probably already heard: In a video “press conference” that has already been seen by almost two million people, Kermit and Miss Piggy take on, and take down, Fox News.

The provocation? A comment by a conservative media watcher, Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center, on the Fox Business Channel—accusing the new Muppets movie of being  “liberal” since the bad guy in the film turns out to be an oil tycoon. It was just part of Fox Business host Eric Bolling going on about whether liberals, through the flick, are “trying to brainwash your kids against capitalism.”

In the press conference, Kermit responds to the charge by noting that in the movie, the Muppets are actually riding in a “gas guzzling Rolls Royce.”

Miss Piggy then goes one better, calling the accusation “almost as laughable as accusing Fox News as being, you know, news.”

Now even Bill O’Reilly has weighed in, telling the Muppets to “watch it.” I think he may have been joking. I think.

I wouldn’t make so much of this, were it not for the fact that this kind of thing happens all the time. I mean, it was just last year that Fox picked a fight with SpongeBob Squarepants—because SpongeBob dared to be accurate about global warming.

And liberals laughed, and snickered.

In Which Climate “Skeptics” Drop the Lysenko Bomb. No, I’m Not Kidding….

There has been a much justified uproar over last week’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which a group of scientific “skeptics” reiterate the old line that we don’t have to worry about global warming, and that those who do so are engaging in climate “alarmism.” Ample refutations have been penned; in some ways best of all, my friend Jamie Vernon showed that even hotbeds of leftwing extremism like Chevron, ExxonMobil, and the Pentagon are now concerned about and taking action on global warming.

The Wall Street Journal is, indeed, completely out in the cold on this matter.

There are many ways to refute the op-ed, but I want to focus on one not enough emphasized—the tone and some of the actual words and analogies used by its writers.

The Uneasy Relationship Between Explaining Science to Conservatives...and Explaining Conservatives Scientifically

Over the past year or more, I’ve profited from a series of conversations and exchanges with Yale’s Dan Kahan, the NSF supported researcher who has made great waves studying how our cultural values predispose us to discount certain risks (like, say, climate change). Kahan’s schematic for approaching this question—dividing us up into hierarchs versus egalitarians, and individualists versus communitarians—is a very helpful one that gets to the root of all manner of dysfunctions and misadventures in the relationship between politics, the U.S. public, and science.

Kahan says that his goal is to create a “science of science communication”: In other words, understanding enough about what really makes people tick (including in politicized areas) so that we know how to present them with science in a way that does not lead to knee-jerk rejections of it. Thus, for instance, presenting conservatives with factual information about global warming packaged as evidence in favor of expanding nuclear power actually makes them less defensive, and more willing to accept what the science says—because now it has been framed in a way that fits their value systems.

This is a very worthy project—but it doesn’t only tell us how to communicate science to conservatives. It tells us something scientific about who conservatives are. They are people who are often motivated—instinctively, at a gut level–to support, default to, or justify hierarchical systems for organizing society: Systems in which people aren’t equal, whether along class, gender, or racial lines. And they are motivated to support or default to individualistic systems for organizing (or not organizing) society: People don’t get help from government. They’re on their own, to succeed or fail as they choose.

It is one thing to accurately and scientifically explain how these values motivate conservatives. And it is another to reflect on whether one considers these values to be the ones upon which a virtuous and just society really ought to be built.

Newt Gingrich on Science: The "Say Anything" Candidate

After smashing Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary, former House speaker Newt Gingrich has now emerged as tied with the onetime Republican presidential frontrunner. So it’s time to look closely at Gingrich's record on science—which is not, perhaps, as dismal as Rick Santorum’s, but still gives ample cause for concern.

When it comes to Newt on science, we're presented with a complex picture. Gingrich holds a Ph.D. in history, which suggests that he might be considered a scholar and intellectual. And he professes to love science and technology. Ten years ago in 2002, he called for tripling the budget of the National Science Foundation, a goal I heartily endorse.

And yet…here are no less than four issues where Gingrich’s science record raises serious concern:

The Undermining of Science Advice. In 1995, Gingrich-led congressional Republicans did away with the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which had previously served as their in-house source of science advice. As I reported in my book The Republican War on Science, Gingrich instead espoused a “free market” approach to scientific expertise: Rather than having institutional science advice in place, members of Congress could just meet with scientists as they saw fit in order to inform themselves.