Unscientific America on NPR's "Living on Earth"

By Chris Mooney | July 18, 2009 11:16 am

I just did my first national radio interview for the book–with NPR’s Living on Earth. They put together a really fun segment in which I not only explain the book’s arguments to host Jeff Young, but also provide running commentary on one of the best examples I’ve seen of using the new media to communicate positively and entertainingly about science–CERN’s “Large Hadron Rap” video:

You can listen to the whole “Living on Earth” segment here. Here’s an excerpt:

YOUNG: Well give me some examples of challenges we face where the average Joe needs to know something about science.

MOONEY: Well there are certainly many and I think by far the largest right now is the climate change issue. That’s the one where the most is at stake for the future, and it’s also the one where you see such a huge gap between the average American in terms of what they think the state of scientific understanding is and then the scientific community on the other hand. The scientists are something like 85 percent sure that it’s human caused. And the public is more like, you know, 50 percent sure. And if you break it out by party affiliation, and this has been done many times, the Republicans overwhelmingly don’t accept the science. So you got a politicized issue and you’ve got a huge gap between scientists and the public. You add that to unfortunately a lot of bad media coverage of the issue over time and you pretty much get the gridlock that we have.

YOUNG: Something you point out here I found pretty interesting and that is among those Republicans who do not think that climate change is caused by humans, it doesn’t seem to matter how educated they are. Even well educated Republicans hold that belief.

MOONEY: Yeah, it’s really amazing, isn’t it? This is a different Pew study. They studied global warming opinions and they looked at party affiliation and level of education. And what they found for Republicans is that the higher the level of education, the less likely they are to accept scientific reality. And for Democrats and Independents it’s precisely the opposite. I don’t find that actually surprising having been involved with debating the climate debate for a long time.

You look at someone who doesn’t accept the science of global warming, like George Will the Washington Post Columnist or Michael Criton the late novelist, someone like that, these people are not stupid, you know, they’re actually quite intelligent, and their intelligence itself is what lets them come up with arguments against the scientific position of the scientific community that are quite ingenious and very misleading.

Again, the full “Living on Earth” segment is here.

Comments (36)

  1. Chris, has it occurred to you that the correlation between climate science skeptics and devout Christians is even greater than between skeptics and Republicans? It’s the same for evolution deniers, etc. — the most immediate way to determine how likely someone is to be anti-science (and anti-intellectual) is not whether they are politically conservative, but if they are deeply religious.

    Maybe you’re focusing your attention on the wrong cohort.

  2. Ben Nelson

    The first thing that came to mind in watching that video was your phrase “Nerd Culture”.

    Hooray?

  3. This is so deeply biased, and flawed. Just like the science behind global warming.

    1. It’s laughable to cite that “scientists are like 85% sure that it’s human caused” because you leave out so much important information, such as…

    a. how many of those scientists are actually climatologists;
    b. implying 85%, even if it were true, is a slam dunk;
    c. that 50% of public approval means the other 50% is stupid;
    d. that because Republicans are the majority of skeptics, they must be wrong.

    Well, it’s nice that you can finally admit, and we can both agree, that there are plenty of ignorant Democrats… for there are plenty of them in your 50% claim. It’s also very likely that Republicans are the realists whose appreciation for rugged individualism and small government, gives them a greater appreciation for “cause and effect” and the “healthy mistrust” of government of which our founding fathers warned us.

    Gore’s science has been proven, over and over, to be full of more holes than swiss cheese. John Christy, a UN Panel climatologist, who was also a recipient of the Nobel Prize goes into great detail to explain the details based on SCIENCE and NUMBERS… not voodoo, and spin, like the charismatic Gore.

    Global Warming: What Do the Numbers Show?

    Nice try… but it’s just wayyy too easy to blame the Republicans for preventing you from your pseudo-Utopian society.

  4. Erasmussimo

    Sam, the level of confidence among scientists in AGW may not be readily quantified, but it is certainly very high. The National Academy of Sciences has issued their judgement that AGW presents us with a serious problem. I think that represents an unquestionable consensus among scientists with the appropriate credentials.

    You seem to think that the science is unconvincing. I suggest that you take some more time to familiarize yourself with the science. The scientists are quite certain about the matter — why aren’t you?

  5. SLC

    Re Sam Freedom

    a. how many of those scientists are actually climatologists;

    How many of the deniers are actually climatologists? Damn few.

  6. SLC

    Re Sam Freedom

    Prof. Christy who is the presenter at the Youtube file that Mr. Freedom linked, to is a perfect example of the Richard “Racehorse” Haynes phenomena, which I have previously alluded to. Up until recently, he was a human caused global warming skeptic. Apparently he now is no longer a skeptic but, instead, argues that global warming is a positive thing. This is, apparently, also the current position of Prof. Pat Michaels of UVA. Nothing like moving the goal posts.

    http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/personfactsheet.php?id=903

  7. Lowell

    You guys have avoided an important issue. Your new book asserts that Richard Dawkins takes the position that “scientific norms and practices . . . entirely preclude God’s existence.”

    Dawkins doesn’t say that, and neither does anybody else, as far as I can tell. Dawkins says he’s a 6 out of 7 on the atheism scale. In other words, there’s no good reason to believe in Yahweh or any other god, and he lives his life under the assumption that no such being exists.

    Does that sound like he asserts that science “entirely preclude[s] God’s existence”? Not to me. So what’s the deal? Are you ever going to address that? At the very least, will there be an errata in later publications? Or are you just hacks?

  8. Um. And here I thought these thread dealing with science were going to escape the phony religion war. Well, hope springs eternal and maybe they’ll be able to eventually.

    — Nice try… but it’s just wayyy too easy to blame the Republicans for preventing you from your pseudo-Utopian society. Sam

    The Republicans and their kept media are the two biggest political factors that have prevented progress on the environment for the past thirty or more years. There hasn’t been a single issue I can think of where they haven’t lied about what science shows, and on the lower levels, they deny the most raw facts of climate change that can be measured. It’s Mammonism that is destroying us, a purely materialistic religion that corrupts everything including the basic requirements for democracy to exist. Fighting that is what the phony and indiscriminate war on religion prevents. If Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson can together to make an anti-global warming spot, it should show that’s not where the biggest problem lies.

  9. foolfodder

    Lowell, Chris has admitted his error about this: http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2009/7/12/85744/9954/271#c271

    PZ,
    I’ve looked at the passage again (should have been a lot more careful before), and you are right–and I made an error. It does clearly ascribe this view to Dawkins.

    Now that I’ve read your criticism on your blog, I think “entirely preclude” states too strongly Dawkins’ position, and we should have been more nuanced here. However he does still try to claim that God’s existence is a scientific question.

    Thanks for catching this.

  10. Lowell

    Thanks, foolfodder. I saw that. A notpology that Bill Dembski would be proud of.

    If you read carefully you’ll see that the only error Chris admitted was claiming in that DailyKos thread that the book did not ascribe the hardline position to Dawkins. (It clearly does, of course.) He never acknowledges the important problem: that Dawkins doesn’t think science “preclude[s] God’s existence.”

    Mooney and Kirshenbaum didn’t state Dawkins’s position “too strongly.” They just flat out misrepresented it. (In the exact same way that creationists do.) He doesn’t think science “precludes God’s existence.” He just doesn’t see any evidence for Yahweh or any other god, so there’s no reason to act as if such a creature existed.

    I don’t expect a clear explanation anymore as to whether this was intentional or just negligent. It’s clear Mooney and Kirshenbaum aren’t going to address it. The only thing left to ask is whether there will be an errata or some other change in the next printing of the book (assuming there is one).

  11. Matt Penfold

    Lowell, Chris has admitted his error about this: http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2009/7/12/85744/9954/271#c271

    Just a pity the error is in print for all time. Books are so much less transitory than blogs.

    It is a pretty major error to make since the accusation Mooney made is one that has been made a number of times before and has been rebutted a number of times before.

    Maybe it will be corrected if the book gets a paperback release. I do trust Mooney has written to Dawkins apologising, since that would be the civil thing to do.

  12. Hank Roberts

    So pick another egregious problem, that if solved will help with climate change.

    Factory farms and antibiotic resistance.

    It’s opportune:
    http://www.grist.org/article/2009-07-17-mrsa-gets-worser-fda-get-serious-about-antibiotic-abuse/

    Any and all science bloggers and scientists (except a few paid at pork.com) will agree on this one.

  13. — did not ascribe the hardline position to Dawkins.

    Yes, the entire world knows he’s got a completely open mind on the question. He’s downright agnostic.

    Maybe having designated threads to deal with the people who aren’t particularly interested in science could at least segregate that discussion. Take it from me, once your name’s on their list you’ll keep getting trolled by the new atheists.

  14. And what they found for Republicans is that the higher the level of education, the less likely they are to accept scientific reality.

    I remember – though can’t find at the moment – a poll that showed the same thing for economic reality. Interesting. How about for creationism? Surely that’s a bit different?

  15. Sorbet

    O yes, those nasty new atheists. Why don’t they pay any attention to evidence. Nasty, totalitarian new atheists. Keep them away from me please.

  16. — Nasty, totalitarian new atheists. Keep them away from me please.

    Works for me.

  17. Sorbet

    Doesn’t seem to since you cannot have enough of arguing with them. You stick to them like fly to fly paper.

  18. Am I supposed to say “and so’s your old man” or something?

    We’re in the midst of a human made mass extinction event, one that might end up in killing us all. There isn’t any more time to waste on that nonsense.

  19. As a political Conservative with a Ph.D. I don’t seem to fit the mold. I am a global warming alarmist of the Tim Flannery variety while at the same time I regard the Darwinian fantasy as a monumental joke. There is no place for ideology in science and Darwinism is pure atheist inspired ideology.

    Global warming and climate change also seem to have ideological associations. Most Conservatives seem to discount it, often vehemently. While I am no fan of Al Gore politically, I feel he was effective in calling attention to the perils of our abuse of the environment.

    I am inclined to agree with Anthony McCarthy #18

    jadavison.wordpress.com

  20. Folks,
    Some comments have been deleted for reasons that should be obvious.
    We will not tolerate comments about the Holocaust regardless of the analogy.
    Thank you,
    Sheril

  21. Betula

    Am I missing something here?

    Mooney says…..

    “what they found for Republicans is that the higher the level of education, the less likely they are to accept scientific reality. And for Democrats and Independents it’s precisely the opposite.”

    So the more educated Republicans are, the less likely they are able to understand what the less educated Democrats and Independents understand?

    And then he says this….

    “their intelligence itself is what lets them come up with arguments against the scientific position of the scientific community that are quite ingenious and very misleading.”

    So their intelligence is getting in the way of their ability to accept a theory without questioning that theory? They need to be dumber in order to accept it?

    If only they were less educated they would understand!

    Don’t think, it can only hurt the team!

    Never let a good education get in the way of the facts!

    They are educated beyond their intelligence!

  22. Sorbet

    I did not know that McCarthy also believes that Darwinism is a fantasy. Sorry Sheril, but an analogy was what it was. Both events have mountains of evidence in their support and to deny either one of them is plain ridiculous.

  23. How anyone can accept the Darwinian model is a mystery. It is the most failed hypothesis in the history of science dwarfing the Phlogiston of Chemistry and the Ether of Physics. It should have been abandoned in 1871 when St. George Mivart asked the question -

    “How can natural selection have been involved with a structure which had not yet appeared?”

    Every aspect of the Darwinian thesis is anti-evolutionary, serving only to maintain the status quo and thereby ensure ultimate exctinction. How wrong can an hypothesis possibly be?

    jadavison.wordpress.com

  24. Sorbet

    Please re-explain your (or rather Mivart’s) unlettered question again. Thanks.

  25. Re scientists being “85 percent” sure of human-caused warming: if the latest IPCC report is being used as your metric, Chris should have said “over 95 percent” sure.

  26. Brian Schmidt #24

    I have paraphrased Mivart’s question. I recommend that you read Mivart in the original as I have. I don’t see why you can’t grasp the significance of his question. It is devastating to the Darwinian thesis which is why the Darwinians pretend he never existed. That is the way they have always treated all of their critics. We do not exist. We must not exist. Now do you get it? If not I refer you to my weblog below.

    jadavison.wordpress.com

  27. Woops

    My response was directed to Sorbet #24, not Brian Schmidt #25. Sorry about that.

  28. Sorbet

    Natural selection can be involved with a structure that has not yet appeared. For instance it was involved with the making of what we today call the human eye long before humans came into existence. The eye came into being starting from rudimentary light-gathering structures. For a reference I would recommend Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins’s book “Climbing Mount Improbable” and Brown University biologist Ken Miller’s book “Finding Darwin’s God”

  29. Sorbet, whoever that is and we probably will never know.

    You have got to be kidding. There is not a word in either of those books that ever had anything to do with the origin of species or of any other taxanomic category, not a word.

    “It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatsoever for believing it to be true.”
    Bertrand Russell

    Darwinism is nothing more than the mandatory position for the congenital atheist. It is the most absurd proposal ever conjured up in the history of human communication. Those who still adhere to it have painted themselves into a corner from which there is no escape except to completely renounce it as Alfred Russel Wallace, the cofounder of the Darwinian fantasy, did in his final book -

    “The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose.”

    jadavison.wordpress.com

  30. Sorbet

    Who is talking about the origin of species? Why haven’t you answered the question about the eye?

  31. Sorbet, whoever that is.

    There are no transitional predecessors for eyes, whether they be molluscan, arthropod or vertebrate. As far as that is concerned, at the other end of the structural spectrum, there are no known predecessors for any of the cell organelles either. The whole notion of gradualism is a myth just like every other aspect of the Darwinian hoax. Just because a structure is simple does not mean it is ancestral. Conversely, complicated structures need not have simple evolutionary predecessors either. What we see in the living world are the expressions of preformed, “prescribed” “blueprints” which were present very early in the evolutionary sequence and were expressed in an all-or-none manner on a predetermined schedule as phylogeny unfolded. Chance played at best a trivial role in that sequence.

    As far as can be ascertained, all of evolution has involved enormous leaps (saltations) NONE of which can be linked through gradual transformation. The only thing that has been continuous is reproduction which could not possibly in the past have been though sexual reproduction, because sexual reproduction is INCOMPETENT as a creative mechanism. All it is good for is maintaining the status quo and ensuring ultimate extinction. That is precisely the testimony of the fossil record. Sexual reproduction and its associated Mendelian genetics HAD in the past and still HAVE absolutely nothing to do with organic evolution except to bring it to a screeching halt.

    Furthermore, there is very little evidence of favoring a monophyletic evolution either. I am inclined to agree with Leo Berg -

    “Organisms have developed from tens of thousands of primary forms, i.e, polyphyletically.”
    Nomogenesis, page 406

    Besides, progressive evolution ceased long ago with not a new genus in the last 2 million years and not a new verifiable species in historic times.

    The history of life as revealed by the fossil record is the loss of creative potential with time, exactly as is the case with ontogeny today and in the past.

    I don’t expect a “true believer” like yourself to accept this thesis, a scenario in complete accord with what we REALLY know about the history of life.

    I believe, with Robert Broom, that the whole business was planned from beginning to end. I further believe that the end may be any time now. For more heresy I refer you to my papers and my weblog.

    jadavison.wordpress.com

  32. Sorbet

    “There are no transitional predecessors for eyes”

    Sorry, but you sound like a proponent of Intelligent Design. Can you tell me why all those light sensing organs in so many organisms are not the precursors of eyes?

  33. Sorbet

    Not a chance what?

  34. Not a chance that I will attempt to reason with you or with any other Darwinian mystic.

    “The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time.”
    Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, page 28

  35. Sorbet

    “Never argue with fools. They drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience”- Anon

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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 Salon.com 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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