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

Snow Job

If you really want to understand the embryonic stem-cell research debate, here's a reading assignment: Stephen Hall's 2003 book Merchants of Immortality . I flipped back to Hall when the stem-cell issue flared up two weeks ago, and President George W. Bush was seen posing with a curious array of children who had been "adopted" as leftover in vitro fertilization embryos, implanted in wombs, and brought to term thanks to the work of a group called Nightlight Christian Adoptions and its "Snowflakes" program. "There is no such thing as a spare embryo," Bush declared, flanked by "snowflakes" children (so named in order to signify that every embryo is unique). Later, Bush explained that he had appeared with these children in order to indicate that "there's an alternative to the destruction of life." It's not the first time conservatives have turned to the Snowflakes group in a pinch. As Hall relates in Merchants of Immortality , even before Bush made his fateful August 2001 decision to...

Republicans v. NIH

During the recent House of Representatives debate on embryonic stem-cell research, there were many moments that made you want to wince, but none rivaled a truly ridiculous statement by pro-life Representative Henry Hyde. "I myself am a 992-month-old embryo," Hyde declared, in a speech opposing a bipartisan bill to loosen the president's strict limitations on research funding. Alas, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would vigorously disagree with Hyde's statement. A medical glossary provided on the agency's very useful website devoted to embryonic stem-cell research defines an embryo as "the developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it becomes known as a fetus." So although I hate to break it to him, it appears that Hyde hasn't actually been an embryo for going on 990 months now. You'd think someone would have told him. Hyde's silly statement was, unfortunately, typical of the recent stem-cell debate. In arguing against...

Thinking Big About Hurricanes

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, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2...

Creating a Controversy

Here we go again. Newspapers and TV chat shows have been buzzing lately with news of the latest "controversy" in Kansas, over evolution and "intelligent design." Analogies to the famous Scopes trial of 1925 have been rampant, despite the seemingly obvious fact that in Kansas there is no trial . Rather, a series of trial-like hearings have been engineered by the creationist majority on the state's board of education, which aims to create the semblance of a "controversy" over evolution to justify changes to state educational standards. No controversy exists, however, in the forum where scientific debates are properly hosted and refereed: scientific publications. Accordingly, the scientific community has boycotted the hearings. There's nothing new about attempts to create a "controversy" over evolution by misrepresenting and selectively citing scientific information. However, the Kansas situation is distinguished by the fact that a little-noticed, but increasingly central, aspect of the...

If a Woodpecker Could

Once or twice each year in my little corner of Washington, D.C. (the hotel-crowd-oriented Woodley Park area), I encounter our friendly neighborhood pileated woodpecker. He's hard to miss, being crow-sized where other woodpeckers don't grow much bigger than robins. When he flies, often crossing the Taft Bridge to get from one part of Rock Creek Park to the other, he seems to sink a few feet in the air after each wing flap, only to bounce back up again with the next one. He has a bright red head, just like Woody Woodpecker, the only known pileated woodpecker celebrity. "No other living woodpecker could be confused with the pileated," the U.S. Geological Survey informs us . It must not have updated its Web site recently. The bigger and still more charismatic ivory-billed woodpecker, we learned on April 28, has been definitively spotted by bird-watching experts in Arkansas' Big Woods after more than 60 years without a confirmed sighting. Some bird guides had even stopped listing the ivory...

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