Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chris Mooney vs Chris Mooney

Goddammit, Brian.

Should we confront anti-scientists at all?

Chris Mooney, 2006--

And just as science-abusing corporations must be fought in the courts, science-abusing religious conservatives-- who would misinform our children about the origin of the human species and about virtually every thing having to do with sex-- must be fought in schools, the educational system, and the public arena more generally.
Chris Mooney, 2008--
First of all, what is the point of fighting and debating climate skeptics any more?

... if you actually bother to rebut the Heartlands and Discoverys of the world, you instantly enter into a discourse on their own terms. The strategic framing these groups employ to attack mainstream science heavily features the rhetoric of scientific uncertainty—and so if you try to answer their arguments, you’re inevitably committed to conveying more abstruse technical information and, thus, more uncertainty as soon as they wail back at you (which they thoroughly enjoy doing).

Does debating anti-scientists pump up the 'controversy'?

Chris Mooney, 2006--
Political attacks on science succeed, at least in part, because they confuse the public and policymakers, leading them to believe that a scientific "controversy" exists where one actually does not...
This would not happen so frequently, however, if journalists-- the chief purveyors of scientific information to the American public in controversial and politicized areas-- performed their job better.
Chris Mooney, 2008--
There’s certainly a longstanding mentality among progressive groups that nonsense must be refuted, often in rapid-fire mode if possible. But that mindset runs up against something else that ought to be obvious: controversy sells. If you create a big fuss over what your intellectual opponent is saying, you might well be helping him or her.

Should major science organizations speak out against anti-science?

Chris Mooney, 2006--
We must also mobilize the natural defenders of Enlightenment values: scientists themselves, who all too often fail to engage antievolutionists and other know-nothings in defense of what they hold dear. True, groups like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have shown historic willingness to step up when it counts, especially with powerful friend-of-the-court briefs in creationism lawsuits.
Chris Mooney, 2008--
Nevertheless—and to stick with environmental groups for a second–they fall into this trap constantly, refuting at length anti-environmental forces at rightwing think tanks or in the media. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund (now known simply as Environmental Defense) both published lengthy studies to refute New York Times contrarian John Tierney’s 1997 attack on the efficacy of recycling, to name just one example.

What is the role of Average Joe and Jane Scientist?

Chris Mooney, 2006--
But scientists have too often failed to counter creationist efforts at the local level, preferring to remain in their ivory towers.
Chris Mooney, 2008--
Unfortunately, yet another example of scientific defenders enabling anti-scientific forces has recently come to my attention. The rightwing comedian Ben Stein has a new movie out called Expelled, a supposed documentary about how evolutionary forces are suppressing the intelligent design movement’s intellectually valid dissent. Now, this is nonsense, but what better way to help nonsense thrive than to unleash public statements that would seem to confirm it or to be consistent with it?

**flips off Chris Mooney, 2006**

**flips off Chris Mooney, 2008**

36 comments:

Dr. Matthew said...

I love this new bizarre focus on framing, and the right-wings magical, mystical powers. As if scientists are incapable of continuing to use scientific terms. As if the right-wing ("mainstream") media use of those terms somehow precludes our own ability to withstand them. Blah.

Reynold said...

It just looks to me like he's changed his mind over time; only he doesn't seem to give a reason why. That's the only thing that bugs me.

Well, that, and he seems to advocate giving up. I wish Ken Ham, Dembski, et al would do the same.

dr. Matthew:
The problem is that the religious right themselves keep changing the meaning of the terms, or take advantage of people's ignorance of them.

An example: Vestigial organs. (This used to be on AIG. It's the same article though that the Talk Origins people refute here.

Sarfati's arguments are invalid for several reasons.

First, even if biologists truly had changed the definition of 'vestige', why would that be a problem in science? It would not—all science changes as new data is acquired and theories become clarified. Using Sarfati's logic we would reject modern theories like Einstein's theory of relativity, since "physicists changed the rules at whim when they lost".

Second, Sarfati quotes terse, layman's definitions from a popular dictionary and a children's encyclopedia as if they were scientific authorities. It is highly likely that the person who wrote those definitions was not an evolutionary biologist. For all we know, it even may have been an anti-evolutionist or young earth creationist! Any true scientist (or legitimate scholar of any sort) would consult an advanced scientific text for definitions of technical terms, especially when attempting to criticize them. In this case, the two-volume Encyclopedia of Evolution (Muller 2002), with technical discussions written by real practicing research biologists, would be one of many appropriate sources.

Third, regardless of popular misconception, from the beginning of modern evolutionary theory a complete absence of function has not been a requirement for vestigiality (Crapo 1985; Culver et al. 1995; Darwin 1872, pp. 601-609; Dodson 1960, p. 44; Griffiths 1992; McCabe 1912, p. 264; Merrell 1962, p. 101; Moody 1962, p. 40; Muller 2002; Naylor 1982; Strickberger 2000; Weismann 1886; Wiedersheim 1893, p. 2, p. 200, p. 205). Sarfati's claim is based upon ignorance, and he of course provides no historical references showing that evolutionary biologists actually changed the definition. As an obvious counterexample, Charles Darwin never claims vestigial organs must be functionless. In his famous section on vestigial organs in On the Origin of Species, written nearly 150 years ago, Darwin in fact emphasizes that vestiges can be functional and gives several examples:


Just read the TalkOrigin page and see the links they have there for further reading and thumb through the article that continues from where I left off...



This is how Answers in Genesis and creationists in general take advantage of people's ignorance.

That's why I figure more education is the key.

Agh. Just send that dog of yours after Mr Mooney. Nothing bites like a pitbull.

(And on an irrelevant note, nothing farts like a Deere)

Reynold said...

Sorry, that should have read: to Dr. Matthew, I'm just replying to what he said; I'm not quoting him in anyway.

Tyler DiPietro said...

I don't think the right-wing has "magical, mystical powers", but I do think it's fair to say that they have the public policy game down. That is to say, they understand the value of propaganda.

Public policy doesn't operate according to same rules as science. In science, you win with data, arguments and fruitful contributions. In public policy you win with rhetoric, slick packaging and cleverly chosen 5-dollar phrases. It's why IDists, instead of doing science, constantly berate the "scientific orthodoxy" made up of "neo-Darwinian technocrats" for "stifling debate" and "refusing to teach the controversy." All of that is much easier to understand, and more importantly, parrot to others, than any thoroughly argued science.

My beef with the framers is their bizarre insistence on conciliatory rhetoric, which leads them to browbeat aggressive folks like Dawkins for driving potential "allies" away. For reference, the archtypical example of framing success is usually the post-Reagan Republican Party, whose messages were anything but conciliatory.

As for Mooney's latest, I don't find it totally objectionable. Sometimes giving someone attention is itself a defeat, that much is unquestionable IMO. Returning to the example of the post-Reagan Republican Party, they seldom expend effort with thorough rebuttals to equally thorough critiques. They instead focus on spreading the propaganda. There seems to be a deontological belief among science activists that the best course of action is always to convey the best science. I tend more toward realpolitik, the best course of action is what convinces people that scientists are right and decimates the public image of denialists and industry PR reps, etc. Politics just operates by different ruls than what goes on in the scientific community.

Gary said...

I take it you don't believe Mooney has the right to change his mind based on his experience?

Why would that be?

BTW, there are some Right-wingers who are trying to take on creationist nonsense. They aren't all from the religious-right.

Take a look at DarwinCentral.org

Dale Husband said...

It's possible that Mooney has wised up and that the one of this year is the one who has learned from experience. I certainly have! Denialists will look for all sorts of excuses to reject and oppose what mainstream people do not any problem with.

Aaron said...

Science needs a PR staff, plain and simple.

The creationists, Discotute, AiG, etc. are running circles around the scientific community (with respect to the public opinion) because they've got dedicated marketing / propaganda folks.

NCSE, for example, needs to more aggressively spread positive propaganda. There are a number of effective lessons from both the Art of War and the Scientology black propaganda papers (seriously. Check Wikileaks for "Frank Miller") - among them:

- avoiding information vacuums: Creationists take advantage of the gaps in the public's knowledge about science. We should be sure to fill those vacuums before the creationists can; because they'll fill it with garbage.

- dead agenting: when Safarti or Wells or Ham or whomever says inaccurate stuff, efforts should be made to aggressively point out their deception; by getting the public to realize that this "agent" has provided bad info, the public will ideally ignore them.

- guerilla misinformation squads: this is dirty propaganda, and may not even be something the science community want to do, as it would lower them to the level of their opponents; But getting some people to start spreading misinformation about the Creationist folks would be a rather effective strategic counter-measure: it would ideally occupy resources of the Creationist side of things to debunk / dismiss these misinformation bits, thereby detracting from resources they would otherwise use attacking science.

Just some ideas. But at the very least, science needs to affirmatively take a stand to educate the public better about these issues. Get Ken Miller, PZ, Phil Plait, and other affable science d00dz to go on television shows, do interviews, and get out there in the public eye; Get people to like them; Get people to identify with them, and UNITE PEOPLE that have been divided away by the creationist camp. The old strategy we've had of sitting back and taking punches is starting to wear thin -- we need to start throwing some hooks back in their direction.

Stephen Wells said...

Spreading misinformation about creationists is the last thing we should be doing. Spreading accurate information about them is far more damaging to their cause.

Terry S. said...

It seems t ome more like he's just had trying to fight anti-science, so he's gotten cynical and is expressing that there. Not something I would villify him over. =/

Terry S. said...

whoops. *..had little success trying to fight anti-science.

ERV said...

Its not that Mooney 'changed his mind'.

Its that Mooney is talking out both sides of his mouth and being a dick:
"Tsk tsk-- you scientists in your ivory towers."
"Tsk tsk-- you scientists, debating anti-science and giving them credibility."
"Tsk tsk-- why arent you scientists framing your arguments right."
"Tsk tsk-- shame on you scientists for not combating pseudoscience."

I was annoyed with the 'ivory tower' shit in 2006, but I still liked Mooneys message. Now hes being so weird I dont even know what his 'message' is.

windy said...

I take it you don't believe Mooney has the right to change his mind based on his experience?

The book ERV quotes features rather prominently in his blog's sidebar, so I don't see how it is out of line to point out inconsistencies between that and the blog post. If he no longer believes what he wrote in the book, at least he could elaborate on that a bit.

SLC said...

It is obvious what happened here between 2006 and 2008. Mr. Mooney met Matthew Nesbitt and the former has been brainwashed by the latter. If only Mr. Mooney had moved to Los Angeles in 2006!

Susan Cogan said...

Mooney is just flat wrong. We can't afford to allow all the crap to float around unanswered. It doesn't matter if we end up fighting on their terms. We can work on not doing that, but we need to fight.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Has anyone here noticed that Mooney was talking about dealing with denialist opponents that are already imploding, rather than ones in a stronger PR position? For weak opponents--but not strong ones--the strategy he is proposing makes a fair bit of sense. Maybe he was expecting readers to have figured out what kind of opponents he had in mind.

Chris Mooney said...

While my thinking has evolved somewhat over time, so that I now place a greater emphasis on the role of scientists being *strategic* in how they communicate and respond to misinformation campaigns, there are no real contradictions here that I can see. I agree with all of my quotes.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Chris Mooney: "there are no real contradictions here that I can see"

Of course there is a contradiction. In the quotes from 2006, you are speaking about how to respond generally to those who distort science, while in the final quotes from 2008, you are speaking about how to respond to the subset of the science distorters that are falling into obscurity all on their own. I mean, you may claim that that is nuance, but it is OBVIOUSLY a blatant contradiction. :)

Brian Schmidt said...

I think there are clear contradictions from 2006 to 2008, especially regarding whether to respond to anti-evolutionists, and that Chris' current approach is wrong. BUT, he's "evolved" in a single consistent direction (if wrong one), and so he could be accurately described as changing his mind whether he fully accepts it or not.

It's not "talking out of both sides of your mouth" to change your mind over a two year period. ERV needs to take a chill pill and focus on the merits, not on a poorly-reasoned claim of hypocrisy.

ERV said...

I disagree, Brian.

The entire Framing Fiasco was over how scientists should deal with anti-science and pseudoscience (ie this).

After all of that, now we get 'Aw, fuck it. And its all your fault pseudoscientists get attention. You should have ignored them.'

I find all of Mooneys recent actions (past ~1 year) highly offensive. I was almost getting over it because of the reasonableness of 'Science Debate 2008', and he had to go ruin it all again by talking out his ass. Cant even get the story right regarding Dawkins and EXPELLED.

Hey, been to Oklahoma yet, Chris? Dutifully defending science in Sand Diego and Philly, soldier? LOL! Naive.

J. J. Ramsey said...

ERV: "After all of that, now we get 'Aw, fuck it. And its all your fault pseudoscientists get attention. You should have ignored them.'"

Oh, please! You keep writing as if Mooney thinks that ignoring pseudoscientists is always the best strategy. Not only, though, does he focus on the pseudoscientists in weak positions, which should be a big clue right there, but even the headline of the article reads "Sometimes Refuting Unscientific Nonsense Reinforces It." Note that pointing out someone else wrote the headline doesn't help you, since it would mean that yet another person twigged that Mooney isn't talking about a strategy to apply to all the denialists.

At least when Mark H on the Denialism blog disagreed with Mooney, he actually dealt with what Mooney wrote and the issues he brought up instead of a knee-jerk strawman. He's offered something far more intelligent than you have.

Ichthyic said...


I find all of Mooneys recent actions (past ~1 year) highly offensive.


actually, I'm beginning to think it has a LOT to do with his association with Nisbet.

He knows from recent experience that Nisbet has the ear of AAAS, among others, and he decided to hitch his wagon to this way of thinking. Hence, the appearences with Nisbet over the last year.

that, or Nisbet has found some sort of ancient voodoo magic to hypnotize the weak minded.

frankly, based on his response stating he sees no contradiction between his current and previous statements, I'm actually leaning towards the latter!

Chris:

run away from Nisbet as fast as you can, before you become permanently zombified!

windy said...

Not only, though, does he focus on the pseudoscientists in weak positions, which should be a big clue right there, but even the headline of the article reads "Sometimes Refuting Unscientific Nonsense Reinforces It."

For the rest of us, who aren't mind readers: Chris, is J.J.'s summary of your position accurate?

The original article lists the DI in the same group as HI:

The reason is that if you actually bother to rebut the Heartlands and Discoverys of the world, you instantly enter into a discourse on their own terms.

Is the DI a group that would have fallen into obscurity on its own? Has rebutting them been counterproductive?

J. J. Ramsey said...

If you look at what Mooney wrote before that, it read "If so, it follows that the defenders of climate science ought to be at least as leery of outright engagement with Heartland as the defenders of evolutionary science are when it comes to engaging with Discovery." [emphasis mine]

The key word here is "leery." That doesn't mean that outright engagement should never be done, but it means that one ought to be really cautious of the traps that one may encounter in doing so. The DI is currently in a stronger position than the HI, so while the traps are similar, the need for engagement isn't necessarily the same.

matthew said...

j.j ramsey said: "The key word here is "leery." That doesn't mean that outright engagement should never be done..."

Yet, in the same article CM also asks: "Couldn’t all the energy and resources bestowed on rebutting our enemies be better used to help promote our friends—perhaps, say, by devoting resources to getting the word out about individuals who have written pro-environment books? Rather than reacting, couldn’t we be setting the agenda?"

Note that he didn't say "some", or "most", he said "all."

Aside from that, I'm surpised he used the word "enemies." I would have thought that that is a Framing no-no.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Matthew: "Note that he didn't say "some", or 'most', he said 'all.'"

Point taken. That said, the "sometimes" in the headline is clear, as is the "may" in "it may play right into their hands," and his examples of opponents are those that are currently weak. There is also the matter that when he was talking about putting all our energies into something, that "something" involved going on the offensive rather than reacting, which runs counter to the whole "ZOMG! He's advocating do-nothingism," or as Myers put it, wishing the conflict away.

Matthew: "Aside from that, I'm surpised he used the word 'enemies.' I would have thought that that is a Framing no-no."

Why? Framing may involve being conciliatory towards those one wants to persuade, but it doesn't follow from this that one is conciliatory towards the professional liars.

ERV said...

JJ-- Did you totally miss Blog Wars II: The Framing Fiasco?

Im not being sarcastic/mean/whatever-- Im serious. Ill hunt down some posts, if you did, because it sounds like it...

J. J. Ramsey said...

ERV: "Did you totally miss Blog Wars II: The Framing Fiasco?"

I certainly remember a whole to-do where PZ Myers and Larry Moran spun framing as craven spin, which led to lots of heat, knee-jerking, and table-banging but little insight. It also led to a lot of bloggers and their readers being misled about what framing is. Matthew seemed to be repeating some of the misinformation from then.

Anonymous said...

I love the smell of atheists bashing each other in the morning!

Bahahahahaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!1

matthew said...

j.j. ramsey: "There is also the matter that when he was talking about putting all our energies into something, that "something" involved going on the offensive rather than reacting, which runs counter to the whole "ZOMG! He's advocating do-nothingism," or as Myers put it, wishing the conflict away.

Not the way I read it. Mooney says that we should not directly respond to AGW deniers claims. The "offensive" that he explains is for scientists to do more to push their own understanding into the public sphere via books and whatnot. He says that we should not respond to them directly, I consider that ignoring them. That's the sticking point that I and others are having trouble buying. (Though I'd never say that scientists shouldn't be proactive regardless and do what they can to spread what they know!) There are already books out exposing their distortions, but that will not stop them and certainly will not help (us and the public) when these people are interviewed on the teevee or appear in newspapers. The reporters are not going to consult and read from books, they want a warm body.

j.j. ramsey: "Why? Framing may involve being conciliatory towards those one wants to persuade, but it doesn't follow from this that one is conciliatory towards the professional liars."

Creationists spread false information. AGW deniers spread false information. Mooney has gone on and on about how everyone should be nice to creationists as not to offend those who hold more moderate religious beliefs. So now he's calling AGW deniers "enemies". What percentage of the American public is not so sure about AGW? I'm betting it's pretty darn high. See my point? It's ironic too, because in comparison, the after effects of believing in a 6k year old earth pale in comparison to the after effects of not doing anything to slow down/prepare for AGW. This really isn't an important point though... just an aside I thought was uncharacteristic.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Matthew: "Mooney has gone on and on about how everyone should be nice to creationists as not to offend those who hold more moderate religious beliefs."

As far as I've seen, that is utter and complete garbage. Nowhere has Mooney ever said anything about being nice to the likes of Dembski, Behe, Ken Ham, or other cdesign proponentists. Either you aren't paying attention, or you are stretching the meaning of "creationist" like taffy, and in the latter case, the analogy with the climate change denialists breaks down.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Matthew: "but that will not stop them and certainly will not help (us and the public) when these people are interviewed on the teevee or appear in newspapers."

That presumes that they still are being interviewed, rather than treated as passe, old news.

Also, remember that what you absolutely DO NOT WANT is "he said, she said" coverage, which plays right into the opponents' uncertainty frame. Direct rebuttal tends to lead to that kind of unwanted "he said, she said" journalism.

badger3k said...

ERV, I agree with your sentiment, and that's why rarely pay attention to what Mooney or Nisbet write anymore. It's funny that they try to argue so much about framing yet consistently fail at framing their ideas in the way they want.

I do wonder if part of his "strategy" (if you want to call it that) is to tone down/appease so as to try to reach a wider effort for his speaking/book tours?

Anonymous - surprise! Atheists are not the monolithic, dogmatic group that fundies and other morons wish to portray us as. We are a "group" that has so many different views we only agree on one thing - that we have no belief in sky-mommies and daddies.

SLC said...

When Mr. Mooney posts something about his favorite topic, global warming, a schmuck calling himself lance always posts a denialist comment. I have yet to se Mr. Mooney responding to anything Mr. lance posts. Thus, Mr. Mooney follows his own advice about ignoring denialists. Unfortunately, this means that Mr. lances' comment usually goes unanswered.

J. J. Ramsey said...

SLC, not answering Lance's posts is probably the lesser of evils. Mooney is busy, and replying to Lance would lead to a counterreply, which would lead to another reply from Mooney, and so on, until one of them runs out of time and patience. Chances are, Lance is probably the one with the most time, and so he'd probably "win" such a back and forth with Mooney, regardless of whether he's right. Not answering Lance at all means that he doesn't give the appearance of Lance winning the debate.

J. J. Ramsey said...

In the aftermath of the recent debacle with Mooney and Nisbet, I've decided that I was too soft on them.

ERV said...

*hugs JJ*

I treat this blog like a diary of sorts, and Ive been annoyed with Mooney since 2006 and the frames since they were born (search teh blag for 'framing'). I should have been more direct with you on the backstory of my annoyance and short temper with Mooney.