On Bloggingheads With Michael Specter

By Chris Mooney | November 14, 2009 1:17 pm

Building on our previous Slate discussion, I’ve now done a diavlog with the author of Denialism; I’m embedding it below:

We cover a lot of ground–why Americans are weird with respect to science; why Specter’s book focuses on less known cases of denialism than the standard evolution/global warming stuff; and we got in depth into issues like Vioxx, genetically modified foods, personalized medicine, synthetic biology, alternative medicine, and much more. So I hope you enjoy it.

P.S.: I’m aware that colleagues whom I respect, like Carl Zimmer and Sean Carroll, have a serious issue with Bloggingheads over two diavlogs in the past that featured creationists, and have decided they no longer want to participate. After that happened, I weighed their concerns, as well as the defenses offered by Robert Wright and others. I was torn, as I communicated to Carl and Sean. It was easy for me to see that mistakes were made at Bloggingheads, but not so easy for me to agree that this had to mean no longer participating in such a valuable venue for high level intellectual discussion.

So while I respect what Carl and Sean (and Phil!) think, I ultimately decided that I feel differently. Certainly, we should watch critically as Bloggingheads evolves. But the admission that mistakes were made, combined with the considerable reserve of goodwill that I bear towards the site for the innovation that it is and the many great dialogues it has fostered, were ultimately enough to make we want to keep participating, at least for the present.


Comments (7)

  1. When I read the Slate pieces, I was struck by how much more efficiently I can process information in that format than by wading through a bloggingheads-style video. To each her own, I suppose.

  2. Luke Vogel

    Excellent discussion, thanks. I found a great deal to be very interesting, I think one criticism I *may* have of Michael would be that he seemed to underestimate the full meaning, scope and potential influence of the “cluster effect” on the internet. Though, I do understand what he means about people with a predisposition to search out confirming information, I think he reveals the potential for a larger problem with the vaccine web site he points out that is completely bogus but even he admits appears to look legitimate. I think the “cluster effect” goes well beyond this and is a real problem and its turning into an easily accessible feed-back loop not unlike we see elsewhere but only much more immediate, reinforcing and hostile to opposing views.

  3. Luke Vogel

    I don’t think my saying Michael “seemed to underestimate” is quite right. What I more accurately mean is he may glance over the effect to quickly without exploring it’s potential a little deeper.

  4. We hear the Copenhagen Climate Conference will be a failure. No binding international agreement will be made. The last best hope for humanity to sensibly address climate destabilization has been turned into a steppingstone to nowhere.

    A colossal tragedy is in the making. Father Profit wins again and again. Mother Nature loses.

    Now for some good news: “THE(only)GAME(in town)” is in the bottom half of the ninth inning and, therefore, not yet over for Mother Nature.

  5. Sean McCorkle

    Yeah, good discussion. I think Chris is making a good point about the internet being a two-edged sword. It has been so effective at spreading knowledge but proves to be equally effective spreading misinformation.

    Luke @2 – Gordon Dickson envisioned a future where, as humanity colonizes space, people with similar backgrounds end up congregating on the same planets. Soldiers on one planet, scientists on another, religious people on a third, etc. (the Splinter Cultures). Socialization on the internet strikes me as almost having the same effect. I have near-instantaneous access to gazillions of people that have almost the same interests that I do, while I barely know my next-door neighbor.

  6. John Kwok


    Not only has Gordon Dickson thought of such a potential future, but so too has Jerry Pournelle, especially in his “Co – Dominion” series of novels and short stories, culminating with his “The Mote in God’s Eye”, which he co-wrote with Larry Niven.

    @ All –

    I remain skeptical about the utility of Bloggingheads.tv and believe that, for example, Chris’s interview with Carl Zimmer illustrated some of the flaws, most notably by not going into more than a cursory, almost superficial, treatment of the subject at hand. Instead, I agree that one might be better informed reading opinion pieces posted online, at such sites which are as politically diverse as Slate, Huffington Post and RealClearPolitics.

  7. Marion Delgado

    That mullah of market fundamentalism has made his living calling environmentalists religious. To return the favor, it’s opposition to this:


    … that he calls “anti-scientific.” So it’s “scientific” to talk about how ethical, “humble*” and public-spirited Monsanto is? It’s scientific to parrot biotech lobbyists?

    Seriously, how has his religion, market fundamentalism, actually worked out us mere natural humans, the people who aren’t corporate persons?

    *Specter’s actual term.


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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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