Stupid Smart Person: Chris Mooney

August 4th, 2009

I reserve the label of “stupid smart person” for people who obviously have a clue, can function and succeed in society, but obviously do obviously dumb things with some consistency.   Our chump today is Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War of Science, which I admired very much when I read it a few years ago.

So, Chris Mooney is an atheist who is pro-science and who has argued in favor of more aggressive framing of science issues (e.g., the way Republicans call bills relaxing pollution standards things like the Clean Water Act), and now writes a blog with Sheril Kirshenbaum at Discover.com called The Intersection.   Those are all positive things in my book, so why do I think he’s been stupid?

Well, it’s a bit more hypocrisy than stupidity, for the most part, and just a general failure to make cogent arguments that have supporting evidence.   He may be right in some cases, but he does a piss-poor job of convincing me.   Let’s start a little ways back.

First, Mooney, the master of the framing argument, immediately proclaimed that upon its release the Ben Stein creationist propaganda piece EXPELLED! to be a great success.   WTF?   Even if it was, a pro-science guy wouldn’t admit this immediately, according to Mooney’s positions.   Except he did.   The movie failed to meet the producers expectations by a large factor, may not have made a profit at all, and certainly failed to impact the public consciousness in a significant way.   But a creationist can point to Mooney and say it was a success when talking with reporters or followers.   See the comments on that post.

Furthermore, Mooney has made a big point of the issue of compatibility between science and religion, a false one in my opinion, based on the notion that there are people who engage in both.   Well, yeah.   Since when has an individual believing in two different things at the same time been proof of logical compatibility?   The answer is never.   Lawrence Krauss is totally right on this one.

Then Mooney is all about not pissing off the religious folks, turning them off from science by pointing out that science doesn’t support, or flat out contradicts, religous beliefs.   At the same time, he doesn’t mind pissing off potential allies by telling them to shut the fuck up and not to tell people this, even though it’s true.

So now, Mooney in collaboration with Sheril Kirshenbaum, has published a book called Unscientific American which points fingers at who has been derelict about the general problem of public illiteracy.   Guess who?   The Scientists, primarily.   What fuckers.   And I mean that.   They’re the ones who bring the knowledge in the first place and fucking PUBLISH THEIR FINDINGS.   But they apparently don’t dumb down their gigantimous jargon-filled vocabularies to talk directly to the little dumb people in the public masses who don’t read the scientific journals anyway.   Except a lot of us fucking do, all the time, in all the myriad ways, from teaching classes, to TV shows like Cosmos and Nova, to science fiction novels, to anthologies like Diamonds in the Sky, programs like Launch Pad, blogs like this one and many others, to a dozen or two dozen channels on cable TV, to coffee table books like A Brief History of Time.

Or, well, if it’s a different venue, maybe the journalists.   I’ll give them that cutbacks in science journalism are a real problem, but they seem fine relegating this issue way down the totem pole when they want to.

Or maybe it’s those damn “new atheists” who make the religious fundamentalists feel bad about being total ignoramuses about science.

Their solution is to train the science failures, the ones who can’t get academic jobs, in science education and communication.   WTF???!!!   To take those science journalism jobs that have vanished, as they explain?   Or maybe to do the same things the National Science Foundation and NASA already pay scientists to do through educational or public outreach grants, to the tune of billions of dollars per year?   Launch Pad and Diamonds in the Sky happened because of this funding, WHICH ALREADY EXISTS.

How about we blame the real culprits, the bad mother fuckers, who are really causing the problems as opposed to the people working hard to support scientific literacy?

We have political pundits like Rush Limbaugh spewing nonsense about science.   We have big oil and big tobacco, pumping large sums of money to discredit science.   And we have the deluded religious, telling each other that they can believe in the TV and computer, but not in evolution or the Big Bang.   But they’re NOT the problem?

Chris Mooney, you’re farking deluded if you believe the crap you’re shoveling.   You’re building bridges with this shit?

The majority of opinion of Unscientific American is that it’s a shallow and unconvincing book, and that I believe.

I respect Jason Rosenhouse’s reviews here and here, for starters, and you can find a lot more stuff like this.   Mooney seems to be a serious sourpuss interested in book sales a lot more than he is in scientific literacy.   He’s right, there’s a problem, but he seems to have totally fucked up figuring out why or what to do about.   To the extent he may be right, he hasn’t made a shadow of a convincing case.   He’s no scientist, that’s for sure, and neither is his collaborator, apparently, if this book is the evidence to judge them.

It’s a shame.   We need someone like Mooney who has had some sales and can draw some attention, but not if he’s just going to spout unsupported opinion.   Hell, I can do that better than him and for cheaper.

OK, I can fill this up with about twice as many links, but I’m going to sleep on it and head out to Rio tomorrow for the IAU Meeting there.   We’ll have about 2000 astronomers talking science there, and it should be fun.

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