Western Herald – Best-selling author and journalist shares thoughts on the evolution of science policy

Best-selling author and journalist shares thoughts on the evolution of science policy

Tyler Wilson
News Reporter

Noted science journalist and best-selling author Chris Mooney spoke Thursday night in the Richmond Center on Western Michigan University’s main campus to an overflowing crowd.

Mooney’s presentation discussed the evolution of American science policy  over the past eight years and how he anticipates it will fare during President Obama’s second term.  According to Mooney, many scientists are thrilled to see Obama re-elected.  Obama’s policies of supporting and funding scientific research give scientists an optimistic future to continue their respective research and further their scientific advancements.

The event was hosted by WMU’s University Center for the Humanities and co-sponsored by multiple science departments and other units. Mooney’s presentation entitled, “Political Science 2012: What the Election Means for Science Policy on Climate Change and Beyond,” explored how the re-election of President Obama will benefit science policy, and in particular, global warming.

Mooney is a science and political journalist, blogger, podcaster and experienced trainer of scientists in the art of communication.  He has written four books including Unscientific America, Storm World, The Republican War on Science and most recently, The Republican Brain: the Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.

Mooney is well known for using podcasting and multimedia to spread his work.  He hosts a podcast site called Point of Inquiry, blogs for Psychology Today, is a contributing writer for Mother Jones and hosts Climate Desk Live, which is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact of global warming on our environment.  (Additional information may be found at Mooney’s website.)

“Scientists are really happy with the results,” said Mooney. “It means that scientists will be more comfortable working with federal agencies and enjoy increased research budgets. Obama is a big solution to science policy, especially with respect on funding of science.”

Mooney discussed science policy specifically with reference to the topic of global warming, which refers to an overall global rise in temperatures owing to the rapid increase of carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities. Research has found that one-third of all emissions come from power plants that generate electricity to power our homes and businesses. Mooney presented scientific data predicting that with the same rate of carbon dioxide emission the temperature of the earth’s oceans will rise four degrees by the year 2100.  This four degree change will likely change migration patterns of marine life and kill certain species of fish.  Sea levels could rise as a result, affecting millions of people living on the coastline.

“It is the most important problem facing the planet in the long term,” he said. “However, the issue always seems to fall in the short term.”

Mooney’s presentation mentioned California’s policies on reducing carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, especially dealing with exhaust from motorized vehicles.  He said that states have been some of the leaders in passing environmental laws and carbon emission legislation.  With Congress deeply divided on many issues, global warming still seems to be a topic that is not addressed enough at the federal level.

“Since Congress isn’t doing much [to pass laws], the states and the EPA are doing everything,” said Mooney.  “Nobody thinks that this is the most logical way of doing this.  It turns out to be the case that these things are making so much progress.  I think that it is impressive that without any [federal] laws, we are on track to meet Obama’s small Copenhagen commitment of reducing emissions.”

The global warming issue even was overlooked during the 2012 campaign.  Mooney mentioned that during the presidential debates none of the candidates extensively covered the global warming issue.

“During the presidential debates, not one moderator asked a climate change question,” he said.  “I find that appalling. I really see the presidential debates ignoring climate change until [hurricane] Sandy came along and sticking climate change in the pivotal last week of the campaign as a stunning send up of just how shallow our political culture is.”

Mooney said that climate change is deeply polarized between Democrats and Republicans.  Being able to see bipartisanship on this issue would be beneficial to the United States, but it will not be likely in the near future.  With many scientists claiming the catastrophic events of hurricane Sandy on global warming, the issue is now playing a more active role in both parties’ platforms for re-election bids and scientists continue to study and find ways to prevent this world-wide issue.

“Science policy has become increasing fraud and politicized since the Bush years,” he said.  “The dynamics have been hostile to certain types of science. Obama’s election in 2008 and 2012 are both seen as anecdotes to Bush era abuses.  Scientists have been supportive of Obama because he put in place safeguards on abuses from the past, he is friendlier to scientific funding and he is more serious on global warming.”

Mooney concluded his presentation by briefly discussing the thesis of his latest book, The Republican Brain: the Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality, which is devoted to exploring research that suggests differences in party affiliation may reflect deep-seated differences in psychology. To resolve global warming and reduce green house gasses, it must be Congress that must step up and work together to make change.  The earth is our only home and any way to preserve our home and keep it clean and healthy for the next generation will be both beneficial in the short run and the future of not just today’s society but the future of mankind.

“The theory of bipartisan is valid, but the process of doing it is very hard,” said Mooney. “If we want to understand on why people are deeply divided on scientific policy you need to look inside brain and the psychology behind the left and the right.”

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