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From Janet Cooke to Chris Mooney

From Woodward and Bernstein’s cracking of Watergate to Janet Cooke’s fabricated 8 year old heroin addict and now with Chris Mooney — the Washington Post continues its long history with Pulitzer prizes. Is this a linear progression, a parabolic rebound or asymptotic degeneracy? Chris Mooney has just won a Pulitzer prize for a series of articles in the Washington Post on how two degree rises in temperature have already “unfairly” affected certain places on the globe. Actually it is the Washington Post that won this Pulitzer, but this is nothing like Michael Mann’s claimed Nobel prize. This was a Mooney operation start to finish.

Chris Mooney has been writing about climate for well over a decade. He’s a Yale English grad who’s taken up science writing. He was associated with the Skeptic organization, CFI (Center For Inquiry). He’s blogged at various places like Discovery Magazine, Science Progress and DeSmogBlog. He’s a left winger, so he started writing about the politics of science and wrote a book, The Republican War on Science.  Then he wrote the book, Storm World about hurricanes, which received praise from Judith Curry. He’s always been a bit dismissive of those on the other side of the political fence as him, and he started to really dial it up by writing a book with the provocative title, The Republican Brain. Since he was writing a lot on climate change and winning awards, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the prestigious American Geophysical Union. He also became something of science communication instructor.

As can be imagined, he was getting sort of a reputation for being on the extreme end of the climate debate. A lot of people took notice of this. Joe Duarte wrote a long scathing profile of Mooney that’s no longer up, but is in the Wayback Machine. It’s full of scorchers like this:

To him, any number of today’s political issues, even somewhat granular and opaque fights in Congress, can be adjudicated and sorted into “facts” and “myths” – whatever the Democratic position is, that’s factual and grounded in reality and wisdom, and always has a curious connection to science. Whatever the Republicans position is, it’s based on myth, soaked with disinformation, pushed by people who are disconnected from reality, and again this will have a mysterious connection to science, because science tells us whether we should keep the debt ceiling and whether we should like ObamaCare.

Mooney is one of those guys who looks younger than he is (so am I—it takes one to know one) and gives me the impression of someone who was a bit nerdy and cloistered who is out to prove how sharp and with it he is. Andrew Ferguson wrote a piece for the now defunct American Standard that really skewered him:

A lack of self-awareness isn’t peculiar to liberals or Democrats, of course, but to judge by the behavior of psychopundits, we can safely say that they are clueless not only about themselves but about their political opposites. A young psychopundit called Chris Mooney has just published a book entitled The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, which seeks to explain the Republican “assault on reality.” He is a very earnest fellow, and an ambitious one. He glances over an array of conservative political beliefs and sets himself a goal: “to understand how these false claims (and rationalizations) could exist and persist in human minds.”

Mooney’s wide-eyed acceptance of this social science, no matter how sloppy or ideologically motivated, is the kind of mistake we’re all likely to make once in a while, though seldom with his particular self-confidence and élan. We all of us, on the right and left and in the middle, outsource our understanding of large swaths of the world to authorities we deem trustworthy, from oncologists to plumbers to priests. Mooney shuts off his skepticism when he is confronted with what other people tell him is Science. He thinks of his intellectual servility as an unshakable devotion to reason, which pleasingly places him at odds with his irrational political opposites.

The whole thing is well worth reading. The Washington Examiner deserves our gratitude for preserving it in the link above.

Mooney has brought up some novel concepts discovered by researchers such as Dan Kahan of Yale:

The surprise—for some out there, anyway—lay in how the ingredients of this stew mix together. For citizens as a whole, more literacy and numeracy were correlated with somewhat more, rather than somewhat less, dismissal of the risk of global warming. When you drilled down into the cultural groups, meanwhile, it turned out that among the hierarchical-individualists (aka, conservatives), the relationship between greater math and science knowledge and dismissal of climate risks was even stronger. (The opposite relationship occurred among egalitarian communitarians—aka liberals).

This is bad, bad news for anyone who thinks that better math and science education will help us solve our problems on climate change. But it’s also something else. To me, it provides a kind of uber-explanation for climate skeptic and denier behavior in the public arena, and especially on the blogs.

In my experience, climate skeptics are nothing if not confident in their ability to challenge the science of climate change–and even to competently recalculate (and scientifically and mathematically refute) various published results. It’s funny how this high-level intellectual firepower is always used in service of debunking—rather than affirming or improving—mainstream science. But the fact is, if you go to blogs like WattsUpWithThat or Climate Audit, you certainly don’t find scientific and mathematical illiterates doubting climate change. Rather, you find scientific and mathematical sophisticates itching to blow holes in each new study.

I remember someone once commenting that Mooney was trying to be the Ann Coulter of the left, but I don’t think he’s up to the task. Whatever you think of Ann Coulter, she is smart, funny, witty and absolutely fearless. Mooney wrangled his newfound notoriety into a nice, safe, hard to get position at the Washington Post. I suspect he may have a little trepidation about going back over some his climate psychology work. There are now people claiming to have refuted it.

As for his new Pulitzer prize winning work, I suppose it could be uncharacteristically good. I’ve been thumbing through it a bit. Washington Post pages tend to load slow and jump around a bit. This series is on regional weather and climate. I am finding interesting anecdotal claims.  I’ve never said increased CO2 is not causing changes. I do smell some over-embellishment and guilt mongering. This is not my favorite of the many facets of the climate issue. I’m more interested in energy, the politicization of science, the Mormonesque history of the hockey stick, behind the scenes intrigue and media bias relating to the field. As climate journalism goes, it’s probably a typically safe place for the Pulitzer committee and the Post to put their best face forward on this prominent issue. Though I despise Mooney’s other work, I can’t really begrudge his prize for this, yet—maybe if I get around to reading it in its entirety?

I actually have a few different huge bones to pick with the Pulitzer committee and the Washington Post. For a couple of years, I’ve been following journalist and podcaster, John Ziegler, who’s been putting an incredible amount of work into the Penn State/Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky scandal, that is so principled and amazing  that it’s just screaming out for a Pulitzer. As always, you can find lots of links to it in my pinned tweet, which I won’t fill your screen up with here. To understand the rest of my post, you’ll want to be at least a little familiar these links.

I’m also irritated by someone else who did win a Pulitzer prize. Sara Ganim was a twenty-something cub reporter working for a local paper. She got one for breaking this scandal and was made into the heroine of an HBO docudrama starring Al Pacino. In his podcasts, Ziegler has called her a first class fraud. He exclaims that she is either a journalistic savant or that she was leaked information from the prosecutors in a quest for more accusers. After breaking the biggest sports and child molestation story in history, she has not written a book. She went on to work at CNN where she has done little of note. What she is known for there is being caught laughing on camera at an abuse victim. It could be argued that it was not a laugh. At the end of the movie the Ganim character starts investigating a supposed claim from the ’70s of an accuser who claims to have told Joe Paterno about it. This accuser actually did get a settlement from Penn State. In this radio interview, Ziegler explains how absurd this claim is. There’s a surreal ambush interview on Piers Morgan where both Ziegler and Ganim appear.

I’m also irritated at the Washington Post over this. A reporter there named Will Hobson did a feature and followup for them in 2017/2018. John Ziegler was in touch with him throughout his investigation and set him up with some major interviews. Ziegler has an entertaining podcast where he describes his email exchanges with Hobson and how he chickened out on reporting anything substantial.

I like to say that this story is the best miniseries on the internet. There’s always some effort or project in the works to get this story into the mainstream media and a growing list of serious people who if not outright converts are at least seriously interested such as renowned science writer Mark Pendergrast (wrote a book), author Malcolm Gladwell (chapter in his latest book), memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, former Newsweek editor Bob Roe, Reporter Ralph Cipriano, former Federal Investigative Services Agent John Snedden, Glen Beck and more. He has a new documentary and podcast project in the works. They temporarily took most of the stuff off his framingpaterno.com website, but you can still go to older versions on the Wayback Machine.

If you like crime movies and courtroom dramas, this is great stuff. You can follow this ongoing drama on John Ziegler’s Twitter feed. You can even participate.

32 thoughts on “From Janet Cooke to Chris Mooney

  1. Mike, I had completely missed Judith Curry praising Mooney’s Storm World with a five-star review on Amazon in July 2007. That was bang in the middle of her ‘transition’ to dissenter – which I think you can see on Climate Audit from her Wow in August 2006, on a critique of treatment of hurricane data, through to I agree that anyone slogging through a GCM code is entitled to make potshots (which seems rather topical) in February 2008. It is sad how Mooney has gone. A Pulitzer winner like Walter Duranty.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. While looking for something else about Mooney I discovered something I’d completely forgotten, that I once transcribed an interview he did with Lewandowsky for Alex Cull’s site. It’s here
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20130603_sl
    In it Lew makes some surprising statements, including the admission that the link between belief in conspiracy theories and rejection of climate science was “.. a very weak relationship.”

    He then goes on to repeat a particular lie nine times. (I counted them.) Here it gets surrealist because you sense that Mooney, as a competent journalist/propagandist, is doing his best to get the discussion back to normality, prompting Lew to deliver his story in a rational fashion, while Lew won’t let go of this particular whopper. Then Mooney actually challenges Lew on whether what he describes in his paper is really conspiratorial thinking. You can sense Lew’s alarm systems whirr into action – and he agrees with Mooney, and ends up noting that:

    it’s very important to understand.. in the connection of climate science at least, that the number of people who engage in that kind of thinking is rather small. In our sample it was quite small, it was a significant number, but it was not a, a, a large number. So there is a small number of people who engage in that and it’s important to, to bear that in mind. And so, rather than engaging with conspiracy theorists, which is completely impossible, ..I think it is very important to talk to the vast majority of people who do not engage in conspiratorial thinking, and to address messages to those, er, people, and… what is very successful, or promising at least, is to tell people and remind them how great the consensus, the scientific consensus really is…

    So two cheers for Mooney, who – unintentionally – caused Lew five awkward minutes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Richard, someone else brought up Walter Duranty. I’d never heard of him. I’m glad he didn’t work for the Washington Post or I would really look remiss for missing him. I already feel remiss enough for completely forgetting Mooney’s fawning softball podcast interviews with Michael Mann and Stephen Lewandowsky.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Geoff, I actually listen to a lot of podcasts and I’ve heard all Mooney’s Point of Inquiry ones. He did a couple of them with Michael Mann.He also did a later series of podcast called Inquiring Minds where he interviews Mann and Lewandowsky again. The closest thing I remember to a challenging question is when he (asked) Mann something like “You really didn’t delete any emails?” Man replied “Of course not” or words to that effect.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mike
    One minute before your reference to Mooney’s fawning softball podcast with Lew, I said why I found it not so fawning. Where’s the blog discipline?

    Rereading the transcript seven years after I’d forgotten all about it, I felt a kind of admiration for Mooney’s “professionalism.” His softball nearly knocked Lew out of the ground, and it took some prompting from Chris to get him back into the game.

    [Update]
    I write fast, but not fast enough to post a reply to you in the same minute that you post. Is there something wrong with the WordPress clock, or is it the time lapse between here and Australia?

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Mike, I’d never heard of Gareth Jones till recently. Died at 29 and deserved that Pulitzer a million times more than Duranty.

    Geoff looks like he disagrees with your ‘softball’ re the interview with Lew – but then disagreement is what this site is all about. (Ok, I’m too late to point this out. Blog discipline all over the place!)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. As Duarte notes, Mooney can’t help but bend everything to Dem/Libs good, Rep/Cons bad, including that finding from Kahan, which is both excellent work and entirely *symmetrical* regarding the behaviour of Dem/Libs and Rep/Cons, telling us something very useful. He likewise always seems to work backwards from any climate questioning must = bad (in this case, wicked even, as they’re doing it deliberately and intelligently not because they have flawed brains). However, I’ve noticed myself the kind of glimpses that Geoff points out above, which might not exactly be redeeming in scale, but I think do highlight that inside, he is well-motivated and thinks of himself as a crusader for science, justice, and the ‘right things’. While such is the way with the great majority of the culturally convinced, there’s always seemed to me more of a sense of naivety about Mooney than one normally sees. Like a kid who still believes in the tooth fairy, but also monsters under the bed.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Geoff, I hit “Post Comment” just as the orange ball flashed in the bell. I’m just going from memory of podcasts I sort of listen to while doing something else. If I notice something interesting, I listen to them again.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I hope everyone enjoyed Mike’s excerpt above from the Desmog article “A Little Knowledge”: Why The Biggest Problem With Climate “Skeptics” May Be Their Confidence, climaxing in the only statement I’ve ever read that merits the cliché “beyond parody”:

    It’s funny how this high-level intellectual firepower is always used in service of debunking—rather than affirming or improving—mainstream science.

    To put it politely, Mooney has the mental model of pre-Enlightenment man. How anyone born late last century could believe simultaneously that debunking is the opposite of improving science, that affirming science is even a thing (let alone a thing anyone should waste their high-powered intellect doing), and that he knows the first thing about science is a mystery for the ages. I’m somewhat sympathetic to the charitable view: that Mooney is just a bungling well-meaner who’s been promoted in spite of himself (but without protest) to a position of influence he’s intellectually unequipped to wield by a political movement he’s too stupid to understand, but Judas F. Priest, where does such a pig-ignorant scientific analphabet get off selling books about What Science Says About The Science Of Why Republicans Deny The Science Of Why They Hate Science?

    OK, having read this comment I’m writing, I’m convinced: fuck him. No more Mr Somewhat Empathetic Guy.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Brad: “OK, having read this comment I’m writing, I’m convinced”

    Love means never having to say I’m sorry and from now on I will never even hear the disagreement of others. Your genius has surpassed even itself, my friend. And you didn’t need me to tell you that.

    (I agree about Mooney too.)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mooney getting a Pulitzer while involved with the Jeff Bezos Post just indicates Bezos bought up the Pulitzer prize as another trinket.
    Mooney being compared to a televangelist makes televangelists look bad. Bezos’ “newspaper” was going zero for the fabricated Russia collusion scam . If WaPo reports that it won’t rain, take an umbrella.
    Mooney does for journalism what Lewandowsky does for ethical research.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Richard Drake,
    Kudos for the Richard Duranty angle.
    History can note that Mooney has now been honored the same way as Stalin’s best defender in the West.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Mike,

    > Richard, someone else brought up Walter Duranty.

    You and I were talking about it yesterday. If it wasn’t you who brought it up, then by elimination I guess it was me.

    And the Walter Duranty Memorial Prize for Holodomor Denial in Science Reportage goes to…https://t.co/BRxT9UCTAR(Mooney can safely spend the cash; the Pulitzer committee's threshold for retraction was high enough to protect Duranty's honor for 88 years.)— Climate Nuremberg (@BradPKeyes) May 10, 2020

    https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

    PS terrific post, Mike!

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Brad, yes I confess guilt for not visiting Climate Nuremberg frequently enough.
    Chris Mooney, the Walter Duranty of climate!
    Chris Mooney, the journalists whose treatment of conservatives could win the Goebbels prize in promoting tolerance of minority views.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Hunterson, I actually like having big colorful rich characters owning our media outlets. What’s the alternative, Pravda, Joseph Goebbels? I haven’t really seen much about Jeff Bezos’s views. He’s sort of the new Katherine Graham, although as the richest person in the world, I don’t think he has to worry about getting his tit caught in a big fat ringer over the Post’s Trump coverage. The real question is who’s the next Ben Bradlee?

    [Took the liberty of editing Bezo’s -> Bezos’s and Bradley -> Bradlee Mike. Hope the latter’s right. – mod]

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Thanks for the spell checking. I’m sort of wondering if it should be Bezos’ instead of Bezos’s. I’m sure I would pronounce it with one single syllabic ‘s’ at the end. Or could the unnamed mod be making fun of my spelling?

    [All I’ll say is that Bezo’s was wrong. I never know with people ending with ‘s’. — anonymod]

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hat tip to Brad Keyes for alerting me elsewhere to this blog post. Having not paid attention to the latest Pulitzer news, I wasn’t even aware the Prize have been awarded to Chris “Desmogblog” Mooney. I have him tagged ( http://gelbspanfiles.com/?tag=chris-mooney ) in two posts at my blog regarding his dubious association with Naomi Oreskes’ fabricated story of discovering who Fred Singer was, and in regard to Mooney’s anti-journalism enslavement to Ross Gelbspan for the accusation about ‘industry-paid skeptic scientists.’

    Desmogblog itself, as I detail here http://gelbspanfiles.com/?p=2728 , was founded entirely on notions of anti-science dismissals of climate assessments, and on unquestioned beliefs in accusations which are the antithesis of journalistic due diligence. The joke I’ve made over the years is how the big whirring sound you hear over in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C. is the late Watergate WashPo editor Ben Bradlee spinning in his grave over the label of “journalist” being given to Chris Mooney. Notice how the whirring noise just got exponentially louder?

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Hunterson, I actually compare Lew and not Mooney to a television evangelist. Mooney actually got a Templeton fellowship for smoothing the relationship between science and religion.

    https://scienceblogs.com/terrasig/2010/03/02/congratulations-to-chris-moone

    I’d say this is probably one of the better things Mooney’s done. Militant atheists can be sort of full of themselves and obnoxious. Mooney did a Point of Inquiry debate with fiery atheist, PZ Myers (who sounds a lot softer than he writes):

    https://pointofinquiry.org/2010/10/pz_myers_jennifer_michael_hecht_chris_mooney_new_atheism_or_accommodation/

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Mike,

    there’s no standard answer to the dilemma of apostrophizing a terminal s in the singular. If you’d pronounce it without an extra syllable, then I guess Bezos’ is the right spelling for you. And it looks better than Bezos’s.

    Friends of the Keyeses’ will vouch for the fact that we persons of s-termination aren’t likely to take offense either way!

    As for the various Templeton Prizes for the Mystification of Science, as they say, “should you ever fall on hard times…”

    The congratulatory announcement you link to contains this, uh, innovative logic:

    And wait. How is it that 2% of the US population and 0.25% of the world population is Jewish yet 27% and 28% of Nobel laureates in Physiology/Medicine or Chemistry, respectively, are Jewish? Seems more consistent, although not causal, that a little religion helps your science.

    There are laws that protect skin shades from discrimination. And rightly so. But conflating race and religion is the first step towards granting ideas the same immunity.

    LANDIS’S INTERCOM: Justin Pitt to see you.

    ELAINE: Justin Pitt?

    LANDIS: He was a very close friend of Mrs. Onassis’s.

    ELAINE: “Mrs. Onassis’s”? That’s hard to pronounce.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. In Geoff’s terrific transcript, I don’t think Mooney quite lives up to the hype about speaking truth to Lew. (Admittedly, though, I’m disadvantaged by missing out on the non-verbal aspects of the interview, so who knows.)

    I’ve often derided Lewandowsky for his lazy elision of ‘conspiracist’ with ‘conspiratorial’ thinking. The ascription of the latter is literally the commission of the former. After all, who thinks conspiratorially? Conspirators. And what do conspirators do? Conspire. Against Lew.

    But Mooney takes this confusion one step further—in its “logical” direction—by misusing the verb itself.

    And the question is, when someone is, when people are motivated, do they all respond the same way, grasping at any kind of straw, or do some people say: “No, you know, that idea doesn’t sound like it would work.” I mean, you know, in other words, you need an additional criterion to say that when motivated, some people conspire, and some people don’t.

    So it’s official: what conspiracists do, when they theorize about conspiracies and the conspirators who form them, is “conspire.”

    And just like that, the expressive range of English collapses ever so slightly. Give that man a Templeton!

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Mooney, Lew’s acolyte and fellow research scammer interviewing Lew about their word games designed to dehumanize those who dare disagree with their bizarre illiterate view of climate, science and humanity brings to mind the term “banality of evil”. And let’s never forget how Mooney liked to play dress-up back in the day. Maybe a Goebbels chatting it up in a cozy little bit of hell with Lysenko…

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Brad Keyes’es excerpt seems to imply that Mooney suffers from some sort of cognitive disorder that forces him to torture language into circular nonsense.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. > forces Mooney to torture language into circular nonsense.

    Which excerpt did you have in mind, his Popper-denying comment or his conspiracy theory / conspiracy mixup?

    In the latter case, the torture allegation strikes me as granting Mooney too much agency. I think it’s more likely a case of naive semi-literacy. Language tortures him, not vice versa.

    The former comment is less excusable.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Thanks for pointing out my mistake. So the SS is the Lewandowsky acolyte. Mooney is the grifting censorious schmuck who writes mind numbingly illiterate crap pretending to be scholarship…but then so does Cook, Lewandowsky, Oreskes, (Oreskes’ is full of shit, or is it Oreskes’es writing is purile shit? Should anyone care?) Then of course Lewandowsky, collecting, and debasing, formerly impressive honors. It is almost like they and the rest of the climate thought police are facets of some giant turd polluting the academic punch bowl. Is it the facets that disgust or the entire turd? Hard to actually care about subtle differences with no distinction. As ATTP used to demonstrate so well, the climate fanatic offers feces for thought all the way through.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Hunterson7. Be not disturbed by mixing up a Gestapo-ed Cook with some other acolyte of similar persuasion. During fevered episodes in my past they all merged together
    into a slowly pulsating, organic ball from which Oreskes, Lew, Cook and others could emerge to spread their common message. After recovery that strange image persisted in my mind’s eye, especially after seeing Brad’s oddly revolting and pulsating images of the Oreskes-Lew plexus.

    I have so far resisted treatment.

    Liked by 4 people

  26. Alan, I hope you didn’t gaze upon the solar plexus with the naked eye! Or if you did, I hope at least you used someone else’s, or several someones’ else!

    Have I Toht you nothing?

    Liked by 2 people

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