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

Survival Of The Flimsiest

There's an anti-evolutionist brushfire sweeping the United States, and at its heart lies a paradox. These days, it seems, the less the creationists say about what they actually believe, the better they're likely to fare. In an attempt to avoid triggering the First Amendment's ban on commingling church and state, the more canny of today's fundamentalists have become clever minimalists. Rather than discussing anything immediately recognizable as the Christian God -- much less the Bible -- they invoke "science" itself to undermine one of the most robust scientific theories in history. This science-abusing strategy has reached a pinnacle in Kansas, where the state Board of Education, dominated by anti-evolutionists, has adopted standards that call for teaching about alleged "scientific criticisms" of evolutionary theory, and that redefine the nature of science itself to potentially include non-natural explanations. Call it the Ghostbusters approach: According to Kansas, scientists are now...

Big Easy, Hard Truths

Recently my mother, a refugee from Hurricane Katrina now holed up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pointed out something that had never occurred to me before: Despite having grown up in New Orleans, played football there, and gotten drunk for the first time there at a ridiculously young age, I had never had the quintessential experience of fleeing the city in fear of a hurricane. It was all a matter of timing. In 1995, the year the Atlantic Ocean kicked into its current, active storm cycle, I went away to college -- as far away from New Orleans as possible. So I spent my undergraduate autumns with only a vague awareness that my family was, from time to time, busy fleeing nature. I never had to sit in traffic for hours just to get a few miles beyond the city. I never had to return to find that the storm had turned aside, but that those who did not evacuate had been living it up at hurricane parties -- drinking the frozen red drinks that are also defiantly called Hurricanes, and scoffing at...

Thinking Big About Hurricanes

Editor's note: This article was published on May 23, 2005, exactly 100 days before New Orleans' levees were overpowered on Tuesday. Standing atop the levee that protects Metairie, Louisiana, a satellite of New Orleans, from Lake Pontchartrain to the north, everything seems normal at first. But scanning your eyes across the horizon -- as I did last November, when I visited my hometown for Thanksgiving -- you suddenly glimpse the city's startling vulnerability. It's simply a question of elevation: On one side of the levee, the lake's water level comes up much higher than the foundations and baseboards of the nearby homes on the other side. Only the most expensive houses, those sporting third-story crow's nests, have rooftops that clear the levee's height. In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it's possible that only those crow's nests would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake,...

Stop Him Before He Writes Again

Newspaper op-ed pages are supposed to be a forum for insightful commentary, diversity of opinion, and expert analyses of the issues of the day. Especially at major papers, they play an extremely powerful role in guiding and shaping the national discourse. All of this is as it should be. But unfortunately, precisely because op-ed slots are so coveted, these pages are carefully targeted by special interests, which sometimes succeed in using them to advance their own points of view. On the op-ed pages, then, not all is necessarily as it seems. This is worth bearing in mind when we consider a series of op-eds about global warming written by James R. Schlesinger, former CIA director, secretary of defense, and the nation's first secretary of energy during the Carter administration. On July 7, 2003, Schlesinger wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post headlined "Climate Change: The Science Isn't Settled." On January 22, 2004, he wrote a similar piece for the Los Angeles Times headlined "Cold...

The Right Fight

Circa 1996, many of the nation's intellectuals could be found chattering about the famous "Sokal hoax." Remember that? It all began when New York University physicist Alan Sokal submitted an article to the left-wing academic journal Social Text that basically amounted to gibberish. It essentially argued that physical reality does not exist: It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical "reality,'' no less than social "reality,'' is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific "knowledge," far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it; that the truth claims of science are inherently theory-laden and self-referential; and consequently, that the discourse of the scientific community, for all its undeniable value, cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counter-hegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities … . The article had a...

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