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.