Eruptions of Know-Nothingism

By Chris Mooney | March 4, 2009 2:03 pm


My latest Science Progress column sets Bobby Jindal’s latest comments mocking volcano monitoring in the context of longstanding attacks on individual scientific grants–which goes all the way back to Senator William Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece” awards, if not further. While this tradition is to some extent bipartisan, it has certainly been more honored of late by conservatives, as the examples of John McCain’s and Sarah Palin’s sneering at grizzly bear and fruit fly research during the campaign show. Or as I put it:

In each case–as with Jindal–experts patiently explained that this research serves a purpose and is eminently defensible, or even innovative. But it seems those who lampoon individual scientific research grants rarely bother to find out what they’re actually criticizing. It’s a point and blast–or point and laugh–technique that reeks of deep anti-intellectualism.

You can read the full column here.


Comments (15)

  1. Because it is today in good taste to eat of the beaver as of it orignal hamburger rather than to break teeth on the backside of bankers sat on volcanoes !

  2. What I feel sad about is that conservatives are shooting themselves in the foot by advancing such ridiculous clowns as potential party leaders. That is simply making it more difficult for the moderate conservatives to make their voices heard and gain credibility.

  3. Jon Winsor

    The strange thing is when incuriousity and being a “blank page” is seen by some as a plus.

  4. SLC

    A perfect example of a scientific paper that, at the time, had no obvious technological implication was a report on something called stimulated emission by an obscure employee of the Swiss Patent Office named Albert Einstein. Guess what, the fallout from that paper leads to the CD/DVD device in Mr. Mooneys’ computer which is powered by a laser, the fruit of Einsteins research.

  5. Kim

    Thanks for pointing out the attempt to eliminate the USGS entirely in the 1990’s. If geologists were a bit touchy about this particular attack, it’s because we remember having to fight people who claimed that the USGS was unnecessary (after all, Delorme publishes maps). The language in the stimulus bill about stream gages, volcanoes, and earthquakes reflects the arguments we were making to our elected officials ten years ago. (The good news, I guess, is that they remembered the argument.)

  6. Dark Tent

    Whatever else may have come of his statement about volcano monitoring (and his “story” about his role in dealing with the Katrina disaster), there is one positive result: on the national stage, Jindal is toast.

    That’s a very good thing.

    The last thing we need is another know-nothing in the White House.

  7. SLC

    Re Dark Tent

    I think it is very dangerous to label someone with a biology degree from Brown, Un. a know nothing. Actually, I consider Governor Jindal to be dangerous because he is highly intelligent. A highly intelligent demagogue ia always more dangerous then a dumb one.

  8. BJN

    It’s not anti-intellectualism, it’s cynical and opportunistic cherry-picking of projects that sound frivolous in a brief sound bite. The technique is dishonest since it’s not really an attack on particular projects, it’s a strategy to use frivolous-sounding parts to spread FUD against the plan as a whole.

  9. Dark Tent


    As a very wise man once said: “Stupid is as stupid does”.

    If Jindal is so smart, then why did he make such an idiotic (“know-nothing”) statement about volcano monitoring?

    And why did he tell a tall tale that could be (and was) checked in a microsecond on the internet?

    Perhaps ivy league credentials are over-rated (George Bush: BA: Yale, MBA: Harvard)

  10. SLC

    Re Dark Tent

    1. Governor Jindal was accepted at a medical school in Massachusetts. You don’t get admitted to medical school with gentleman Cs.

    2. Unfortunately, even very smart people believe stupid things. Examples include Linus Pauling re vitamin C and cancer, Peter Duesberg re HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, J. Allen Hynek re alien abductions, and Brian Josephson re cold fusion, PK, and ESP.

  11. Dark Tent


    As I indicated above actions and words impress me far more than credentials.

    I’ve seen enough stupidity from ivy league types over the past 8 years* and before (including first hand experience at an Ivy league school that i will leave un-named to protect the innocent and work at a high tech firm with a Harvard MBA who was clueless enough to get hired and fired in the span of 4 months) to last a lifetime, thankyou.

    Not that it surprises me, or anything. I was a physics major, but took a lot of intro science courses (chemistry, biology, physiology) with pre-meds, who impressed me far more with their brown-nosing and grade-grubbing skills than their scientific knowledge and analytical skills.

    But back to Jindal. Whether he is smart or not is really irrelevant regarding his chance of becoming President.

    How the public “sees” you is what matters most and whether he appreciates it or not, Jindal just did a number on that one, at least among the thinking public.

  12. Jon Winsor

    Here’s a blast from the past on Sarah Palin’s predecessor, Dan Quayle.

  13. Dark Tent

    Perhaps there is a better description than “know-nothing” for people like George Bush and Bobby Jindal, and Dan Quayle:

    “Don’t wanna know-nothing”

    (and I’ll fire you if you try to make me know something)

  14. SLC

    Re Dark Tent

    But back to Jindal. Whether he is smart or not is really irrelevant regarding his chance of becoming President.

    We have no disagreement here. The only point I was trying to make was that Governor Jindal is not to be underestimated. I consider him to be a very dangerous man, far more so then morons like Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh. The fact that he made a fool of himself in the response to President Obamas’ speech is all to the good.

    Here’s a link to a column in the Washington Post by Kathleen Parker who knows Governor Jindal very well.

  15. Dark Tent

    I think what makes people like George Bush so dangerous (to themselves and others) is that they are able to convince* so many millions of people (including themselves) that they actually are great leaders (great thinkers, great Deciders[TM}, great party guests [to down a beer and coke with], etc)

    In that regard (and that regard only, as far as i am concerned) Bush is “smart.”

    *I’m not so sure I would put Jindal in this category.
    Even many Republicans recognize his latest statements as just stupid.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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