Chris Mooney

Chris Mooney is a Prospect senior correspondent and, most recently, author of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatened Our Future (with Sheril Kirshenbaum).

Recent Articles

A Dirty Business

Cynically using science to stall policy is the research equivalent of filing frivolous legal motions.

(Flickr/Seth Anderson)
The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment , by Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter, Oxford University Press, 223 pages, $27.95 Few people today will recall what happened to the little Pennsylvania town of Donora in the fall of 1948 or what happened afterward, when it appears that two crimes were committed -- one by industry, the other by science acting as an accomplice. Just days before Harry Truman's surprising presidential electoral victory over Thomas E. Dewey, a cloud of toxic smog settled over Donora, killing 20 people and sickening half the population. The toxic emissions almost certainly came from a nearby zinc plant owned by U.S. Steel, and at first it seemed to be enough of a scandal and tragedy to jolt the Truman administration into action. But then U.S. Steel went to work, commissioning studies by a sympathetic researcher named Robert Kehoe, who used various scientific ploys to guide the inquiry away from the company. Somehow the studies that Kehoe...

A Really Long Heat Wave

Popular writers and scientists alike are trying to help readers understand climate change, but doing so requires new thinking about the scale of time.

The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing The Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate By David Archer, Princeton University Press, 180 pages, $22.95 Forecast: The Consequences Of Climate Change, From The Amazon To The Arctic, From Darfur To Napa Valley By Stephan Faris, Henry Holt and Co., 256 pages, $25.00 "Timescale" is a word one hears regularly from climate scientists like the University of Chicago's David Archer and rarely if ever from journalists like Stephan Faris. Reporters -- and I am one of them -- talk of time spans, time frames, time lines, and, of course, deadlines. But "time scale " conjures up an expanse of time so immense -- not just decades or centuries but millennia and beyond -- that it is alien to everyday human concerns and news media demands. Journalism is episodic and event-driven, always in search of the dramatic and the new. Global warming repeatedly fails that standard. A reporter cannot say "it happened today" of a phenomenon that is slow moving, incremental, and...

The Manufacture of Uncertainty

In his new book, Doubt is Their Product, David Michaels describes how the corporate practice of "manufacturing uncertainty" has taken over our regulatory system and undermined our health.

Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Michaels (Oxford University Press, 359 pages, $27.95) The sabotage of science is now a routine part of American politics. The same corporate strategy of bombarding the courts and regulatory agencies with a barrage of dubious scientific information has been tried on innumerable occasions -- and it has nearly always worked, at least for a time. Tobacco. Asbestos. Lead. Vinyl chloride. Chromium. Formaldehyde. Arsenic. Atrazine. Benzene. Beryllium. Mercury. Vioxx. And on and on. In battles over regulating these and many other dangerous substances, money has bought science, and then science -- or, more precisely, artificially exaggerated uncertainty about scientific findings -- has greatly delayed action to protect public and worker safety. And in many cases, people have died. Tobacco companies perfected the ruse, which was later copycatted by other polluting or health-endangering industries. One...

This Will Mean the World to Us

Despite decades of delay, the next administration could still move us toward a solution before devastating climate change becomes irreversible.

Is it any wonder that progress on global climate change has been so slow? As the University of Washington ethicist Stephen Gardiner has recently argued, nothing in human experience has prepared us to deal with a problem that has such far-flung causes and uneven and momentous effects. No one source of emissions is to blame: Global warming springs from many acts of energy consumption over many years in many places across the planet. And if and when the temperatures and the seas rise, the toll will fall on some nations (mainly poorer ones) more than others, while the costs of any policy to avert warming will be distributed differently and require present generations to make sacrifices for future ones. Scientific uncertainty complicates matters still further, as does the lack of strong global institutions capable of tackling something this big and complex. Add in massive social inertia, and, as Gardiner puts it, global warming amounts to the "perfect moral storm." Perhaps, though, there's...

The Right Chemistry

When the 2005 Nobel Prize in chemistry was announced last October in Stockholm, the new laureates -- Yves Chauvin of the Institute Français du Pétrole, Robert Grubbs of Caltech, and Richard Schrock of MIT -- won recognition for creating “fantastic opportunities for producing new molecules.” They had explained and developed a reaction known as metathesis, which allows chemists to selectively design organic molecules by trading atoms across different compounds. In search of an analogy to help the pubic grasp this concept, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences likened the process to changing partners in a dance. Then came the political statement: The advance represented a “great step forward for green chemistry,” the academy declared. It allowed chemists to slash the number of steps needed to produce a desired molecule, as well as to reduce the number of unwanted and often dangerous byproducts. The Nobel Prize citation marks the official arrival of green chemistry. A concept that grew...

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