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

Ethics for Realists

You don't have to be anti-abortion to agree with the following statement: A human embryo has greater moral standing than a human skin cell. While I -- and many others -- would disagree with the notion that early embryos should enjoy all the same rights and protections as fully developed human beings, it's hard to argue that they should lack any protections at all. It follows that before research can be ethically conducted involving human embryos, certain conditions should be met. These would include donor consent, limits on how long a research embryo can be allowed to develop before stem cells are extracted from it, and so forth. But the deep, dark secret of the embryonic-stem-cell debate is that, amid all the moralistic grandstanding, the question of standards for conducting research has been largely ignored. The entire stem-cell discussion has been focused on whether government should fund research in the first place, with little recognition that with government funding comes...

Unnatural Law

Recently, a federal judge in Utah came down with a disturbing ruling, essentially undercutting the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) February 2004 attempt, following the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, to ban herbal supplements containing ephedra, which is also known as ma huang and is used for weight loss. According to the FDA, the substance increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death. But under the peculiar and misguided law that the agency must follow in dealing with dietary supplements, such evidence may not suffice to justify regulatory action to protect the public. The scandal here is the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which places the burden of proof on the FDA to prove that substances are dangerous before they can be taken off the market, rather than on supplement manufacturers to prove that their products are safe and effective before they're sold. Manufacturers don't even have to keep track of reported health...

A Cherry-Picking Accident

Consider a thought experiment. First, suppose that a prominent U.S. senator had joined a lawsuit over a Clinton administration report on climate change, charging that the document was produced unlawfully and was scientifically flawed, and that its release must therefore be blocked. We're not talking about freely spoken criticism here, mind you. We're talking about going to court and asking that the powers of the state be brought to bear in ensuring that a government report be effectively squelched. Second, suppose that the hallowed National Academy of Sciences (NAS), in a report on the state of climate science produced less than a year later, relied heavily on the legally attacked Clinton report for a key section on the potential consequences of climate change for the United States. And we're not talking about a passing citation. We're talking about using the Clinton report as the basis for two pages of an NAS report -- a clear stamp of approval from the highest echelon of science...

Misleading.gov

Last year, when a profound schism erupted between the American scientific community and the Bush administration, a key point of contention concerned the alteration of sexual health information on several government Web sites. A National Cancer Institute fact sheet temporarily suggested the possibility of a link between abortion and breast cancer (scientists say with near unanimity that there isn't one). A statement explaining why educating teens about how to use condoms does not increase sexual activity was deleted from a Centers for Disease Control fact sheet. And so forth. If science defenders were angry about these actions, they ought to be on an absolute rampage over a new Web site, www.4parents.gov , sponsored by three separate branches of the Department of Health and Human Services: the Office of Public Health and Science, the Office of Population Affairs, and the Public Health Service. The site is described as "part of a new national public education campaign" to help parents...

Climate Challenge

Normally, when two of the president's key advisers publicly contradict each other -- see Colin Powell versus Donald Rumsfeld during George W. Bush's first term -- it's a big story. But when the issue is the literally world-altering problem of global climate change, apparently it's nothing more than occasion for a yawn from the news media. Earlier this month James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, made a stunning statement about the science of climate change. Speaking with the BBC, Connaughton claimed, ''We are still working on the issue of causation, the extent to which humans are a factor" in global warming. This is years behind the state of scientific understanding. As Peter Gleick of the Oakland, California-based Pacific Institute countered in The New York Times letters section, "Most of us in the climate field are no longer working on causation, but on understanding and reducing the worst economic, social, and environmental consequences of...

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