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

Congressional Malpractice

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist -- or "Bill Frist, M.D.," as his Senate Web site proudly proclaims -- is on the defensive lately. In recent days, Frist has been skewered for delivering a Senate floor speech in which he challenged Florida doctors' careful diagnosis of Terri Schiavo's "persistent vegetative state," a reinterpretation that Frist apparently based on little more than "an hour or so" of video footage. "As a physician, I was astounded" by Frist's display, Howard Markel recently wrote in The New Republic . "Long-distance doctoring is problematic on many levels but especially for a doctor who has not practiced much medicine for more than a decade." Indeed, Frist's politicized "diagnosis" in the Schiavo incident follows closely a flap in which the physician-senator plainly distorted biomedical information, this time with the apparent objective of humoring conservative devotees of abstinence education. Last December on ABC's This Week , George Stephanopoulos pressed Frist to...

Dreckonomics

On matters of environmental protection and regulation, free-market conservatives have two chief principles to which they claim to adhere: "sound science" and "cost-benefit analysis." As John D. Graham, cost-benefit guru and director of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has put it, "The Bush administration supports federal regulations that are based on sound science and economics." In the abstract, such a statement is difficult to argue with. When you start looking closely at the scientific and economic rationales for Bush administration actions, however, the impressive rhetoric quickly diverges from reality. As a case in point, consider the issue of mercury pollution (a timely example because this week, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, will finally announce how it plans to regulate the toxic substance). In the face of concerted lobbying by their pals in the electric-utility industry, conservatives have done a...

Junkie Science

In science or in economics, one occasionally comes upon a "natural experiment" -- a real-world event or confluence of events that fortuitously allows for the testing of one key variable. In a sense, "natural experiments" occur within the realm of politicized science as well. You might say that we witnessed one recently when the Bush administration revealed its approach to an issue that had also confronted the Clinton administration: the question of whether to support needle-exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV among (and by) intravenous drug users. Ultimately, neither administration had the guts to back these controversial programs. However, one administration felt compelled to twist scientific information to justify its stance, while the other did not. Can you guess which was which? In a typical needle-exchange program, addicts can swap dirty needles for ones that are sterile. Such programs originated in the 1980s to combat AIDS, and within a decade many industrialized...

Libertarian Rhapsody

I t's so hard to teach New Yorkers," says columnist John Tierney of The New York Times, lowering his binoculars and shaking his head. "I try twice a week, and it never works." It's morning in Manhattan's Riverside Park, and Tierney and I are standing near 89th Street, spying on dog walkers on the promenade below us and counting how many leash their pets upon leaving the enclosed dog run, as city law requires. We're in the data-collection stage of a mock scientific experiment conducted for Tierney's twice-weekly column "The Big City." Here is the protocol: Step 1: Tierney and I spend 15 minutes tabulating the ratio of unleashed to leashed dogs (3:1). Step 2: Tierney hands out $20 bills to law-abiding dog walkers and, as they gape, provides flyers that read: Big City Civility Award You are hereby awarded the sum of Twenty Dollars ($ 20.00) for engaging in civil behavior in a public place. Thank you for keeping your dog leashed. Tierney's objective is to test the libertarian hypothesis...

On Another Planet

You won't believe it until you read it. With its recently released report titled "Mercury in Perspective: Fact and Fiction About the Debate Over Mercury” , the GOP leadership of the House Committee on Resources has brought scientific debate on an already politicized issue to a new low. The 33-page document, issued by anti-environmentalist committee Chair Richard Pombo and fellow Republican Jim Gibbons of Nevada, is billed as a "comprehensive synopsis of the federal agency, private and recently peer-reviewed research used in the debate over regulating mercury." In fact, it's a misleading contrarian pamphlet aimed at convincing Americans that despite everything they may have heard, mercury levels in fish aren't dangerous and U.S.-based mercury emitters aren't a significant part of the problem. In order to achieve this feat, the Pombo report has to run roughshod over much of what we know about mercury risks from reliable sources like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the...

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