TIME: How do you think the debate over global warming has progressed since you published The Republican War on Science?
Mooney: We’ve come such a long way just because of political change — it’s not like the science changed at all, but the politics changed — and yet it’s still an incredible struggle. The vote in the House [on a bill to combat global warming] was superclose, and the Senate’s going to be probably even closer. The reason that issue is so hard is that we have a gigantic gap between scientists and the public — and by association, the politicians that represent them. Scientists have been quite strong on this for 20 years and still only half of America seems to know what they’re talking about.
In Unscientific America you’ve moved on to a more overarching discussion about “scientific illiteracy” in society that threatens to hinder productivity in the U.S. What are some ways we’ve fallen behind or are in danger of falling behind?
Science drives innovation which drives growth, and the concerns are very serious that we are slipping in that area. There are attempts to address it but they are nothing like what you saw after Sputnik when we really, really decided that we were going to be competitive. We’re not throwing everything into it. People just aren’t in tune to the role of science in the future of the country.
The interview touches on many significant themes of our book. Read the full Q&A online at TIME.