Chris Mooney

American environmental journalist (1977-)

Christopher Cole Mooney (born September 20, 1977) is an American journalist and author of four books including The Republican War on Science (2005).

Chris Mooney in 2010



All quotes from the hardcover first edition, published by Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-04675-4, 4th printing

  • The success of science depends on an apparatus of democratic adjudication—anonymous peer review, open debate, the fact that a graduate student can criticize a tenured professor. These mechanisms are more or less explicitly designed to counter human self-deception. People always think they’re right, and powerful people will tend to use their authority to bolster their prestige and suppress inconvenient opposition. You try to set up the game of science so that the truth will out despite this ugly side of human nature.
  • But it is only half the story. If powerful religious commitments lead to politically driven abuses of science, so does an unswerving commitment to the bottom line.
    • Chapter 1, “The Threat” (p. 9; see also p. 224)
  • The Right’s war on science also spreads a massive amount of misinformation, and sometimes even fosters outright ignorance. Consider the creationist quest to thwart the teaching of the theory of evolution to public school children. Science has managed to answer one of the most profound questions around—where does the human species come from?—but religious conservatives don’t want anyone to know about it. And with the spread of ignorance and pseudoscience comes a decline in critical thinking—a lapse in our collective capacity to cut through all the lies and distortions and determine which ideas we should trust.
    • Chapter 1, “The Threat” (pp. 11-12)
  • When pressed, ideological appropriators of science will rarely relinquish a cherished idea no matter how many times it has been convincingly debunked. They seek to adopt the veneer of science, but not the critical rigor that should accompany it.
    • Chapter 2, “Political Science 101” (pp. 15-16)
  • “Healthy skepticism is an essential and treasured feature of scientific analysis,” Gibbons added. “But willful distortion of evidence has no place at the table of scientific inquiry.”
    • Chapter 5, “Defenseless Against the Dumb” (p. 59)
  • “You can’t prove what’s going to happen in the future,” explains Naomi Oreskes, who has written extensively on the uses of modeling. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a rational basis for action.”
    • Chapter 5, “Defenseless Against the Dumb” (p. 63)
  • But when they don’t like what science has to tell them, those wielding political power of the have another option besides running away from the truth: suppression.
    • Chapter 7, “The Greatest Hoax” (p. 95)
  • To be sure, it remains up to policymakers to decide whether the economic costs of such preventative measures outweigh the benefits. But that key question isn’t even being properly debated. Instead, climate change has become an issue on which conservatives have elected to fight over science at least as much as over economics, relying on stunning distortions and a shocking disregard for both expertise and the most reputable sources of scientific assessment and analysis.
    If this situation is maddening, it is also tragic. There may be no other issue today where a corruption of the necessary relationship between science and political decision-making has more potentially disastrous consequences. And together, James Inhofe and the Bush administration have made that corruption systematic and complete. Not only do they strive to prevent the public from understanding the gravity of the climate situation, but in sowing confusion and uncertainty, they help prevent us from doing anything about it. And this—this—is what the Right calls “rational, science-based thinking and policy-making.”
    • Chapter 7, “The Greatest Hoax” (p. 101)
  • As three of Meyer’s scientific critics have noted, “‘An unknown intelligent designer did something, somewhere, somehow, for no apparent reason’ is not a model.”
    • Chapter 11, “Creation Science” 2.0 (p. 180)
  • To be sure, the intelligent design movement does not claim an animus against science. Science abusers never do. Rather, the movement seeks to redefine the very nature of science to serve its objectives.
    • Chapter 11, “Creation Science” 2.0 (p. 184)
  • From acid rain to global climate change, from “creation science” to “intelligent design,” conservatives had been meddling with science for years, largely on behalf of their pro-industry and religiously conservative supporters.
    • Chapter 14, “Bush League Science” (p. 224)
  • Such flagrant misrepresentation goes far beyond mere dishonesty. It demonstrates a gross disregard for the welfare of the American public, whom Bush represents, and for the population of the entire globe, whose fate depends in large measure on the behavior of the American behemoth.
    • Chapter 14, “Bush League Science” (p. 233)
  • When politicians use bad science to justify themselves, rather than good science to make up their minds, we can safely assume that wrongheaded and even disastrous decisions lie ahead.
    • Chapter 14, “Bush League Science” (p. 242)
  • In a famous October 2004 New York Times article on the Bush administration, journalist Ron Suskind described his encounter with a “senior adviser” to the president:
    The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now and when we act, we create our own reality.”
    • Chapter 14, “Bush League Science” (p. 243)
  • Journalists should treat fringe scientific claims with considerable skepticism and find out what major peer-reviewed papers or assessments have to say about them. Moreover, they should adhere to the principle that the more outlandish or dramatic the claim, the more skepticism it warrants.
    • Epilogue, “What We Can Do” (p. 253)
  • But if we care about science and believe that it should play a crucial role in decisions about our future, we must steadfastly oppose further political gains by the modern Right. This political movement has patently demonstrated that it will not defend the integrity of science in any case in which science runs afoul of its core political constituencies. In so doing, it has ceded any right to govern a technologically advanced and sophisticated nation.
    • Epilogue, “What We Can Do” (p. 255)
  • “We have learned from encounters with such ventures as ‘creation science,’ which purportedly refutes the theory of evolution, that we must be sceptical when nonscientist advocates offer purported analyses of scientific data to reinforce conclusions that they have already reached on nonscientific grounds.”
    • Notes (p. 316; quoting Louis Guenin)

All quotes from the hardcover first edition, published by Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-01305-0, 1st printing
Co-authored with Sheril Kirshenbaum

  • Today this country is also home to a populace that, to an alarming extent, ignores scientific advances or outright rejects scientific principles.
    • Chapter 1, “Why Pluto Matters” (p. 3)
  • For a very long time, American scientists have found themselves pitted against both our businesslike, can-do attitudes and our piety.
    • Chapter 1, “Why Pluto Matters” (p. 5)
  • Without the Internet, the modern vaccine-skeptic movement probably wouldn’t exist, at least not in it current form.
    • Chapter 1, “Why Pluto Matters” (p. 6)
  • And then there’s religion, the source of the deepest fissure in the science-society relationship.
    • Chapter 1, “Why Pluto Matters” (p. 7)
  • A change in administration doesn’t automatically fix the underlying problems, which include the corporate media’s marginalizing of science, ongoing divides over science and religion, and an American culture that all too often questions the value of intellect and even glorifies dumbness.
    • Chapter 1, “Why Pluto Matters” (p. 8)
  • In 1957, he appointed the first official presidential science advisor, MIT president James Killian, and launched the distinguished President’s Science Advisory Committee. As Eisenhower would later put it, “this bunch of scientists was one of the few groups that I encountered in Washington who seemed to be there to help the country and not to help themselves.”
    • Chapter 3, “From Sputnik to Sagan” (p. 27)
  • The emergence of the religious right onto the political stage in the 1970s—motivated in part by its adherents’ resentment of the nation’s intellectual and scientific elites—was also a major factor in curtailing the role of science in public policy.
    • Chapter 3, “From Sputnik to Sagan” (p. 29)
  • As perhaps the chief public face of American science during this period, Carl Sagan wasn’t merely a popularizer but a fierce advocate for the proper use of science in the real world. During the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan necessarily became his chief foe, for Reagan brought anti-science into the American political mainstream as never before.
    • Chapter 3, “From Sputnik to Sagan” (p. 37)
  • At the same time (i. e., 1994), the Republican party continued to define itself in adulation of Reagan and in opposition to mainstream science.
    • Chapter 4, “Third Culture, or Nerd Culture?” (p. 42)
  • They didn’t even understand the science they presumed to criticize.
    • Chapter 4, “Third Culture, or Nerd Culture?” (p. 46)
  • In part, the divorce of science and politics can be explained by the very different worldviews that inform each field.
    • Chapter 5, “Science Escape 2008” (p. 57)
  • Whereas good science is rewarded for being painstaking and nuanced, politics is the enemy of subtlety.
    • Chapter 5, “Science Escape 2008” (p. 58)
  • Many decisions about science policy are made not through decision or analysis but on ideological and political grounds.
    • Chapter 5, “Science Escape 2008” (p. 60)
  • No one in Congress senses the need for science in their daily lives.
    • Chapter 5, “Science Escape 2008” (p. 60)
  • Media coverage tends to be episodic and event-driven, always in search of the dramatic and the new.
    • Chapter 6, “Unpopular Science” (p. 71)
  • The scientific case for rejecting such bad science (or non-science) is indisputable. But that doesn’t make it persuasive to creationists or other religiously motivated evolution skeptics.
    • Chapter 8, “Bruising Their Religion” (p. 99)
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