Toxic exchange

Science writer Chris Mooney has written a lighthearted article about his years-long stalking of U.S. Rep. James Gibbons’ claims about science.

Published by Seed magazine, the article begins, “Jim Gibbons and I go way back. Not that we’ve ever met—but we’ve been slamming each other for some time now.”

Mooney, former science reporter for the American Prospect, wrote a Feb. 29, 2004, essay in the Washington Post that called attention to the creation of the anti-science “Sound Science Caucus” in the House.

“Sound science” is a code word often used by industry and those critical of scientific studies and environmental protection, and permissive toward things like second hand smoke and pesticide use.

U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon and Gibbons responded with a statement posted on Cannon’s Web site that began, “Recently, a freelance journalist named Chris Mooney, an English graduate with no background in science …”

Mooney has also criticized an article written by U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo of California and Gibbons. The Pombo/Gibbons article cherry-picked the science literature for information favorable to mercury while excluding more numerous studies that described it as toxic and dangerous ("Mercury Rising,” RN&R, Jan. 19, 2006).

In addition, Mooney cited the Gibbons/mercury issue in his book The Republican War on Science.

In the Seed article, Mooney points out that Gibbons has a degree in mining and geology and has worked in hydrology: “So perhaps more than most politicians, Gibbons has a certain stake in having his rhetoric about sound science match the truth. It most emphatically doesn’t.”

After noting the growing attention paid to Gibbons’ mercury views in the governor’s race in Nevada, Mooney writes, “It’s too early to tell whether Gibbons’ mercury denial will truly damage his campaign … but it is safe to say that it has become a significant campaign issue. And that’s what is so heartening: For too long, too many politicians have felt that they can simply say whatever they want about matters of science, running roughshod over expert opinion and spewing talking points drawn up by corporate-funded PR firms or think tanks, in the process egregiously distorting accepted knowledge and effectively misleading the public.”

After her victory in the Democratic primary, Sen. Dina Titus posted a long statement on her Web site, including this: “[Gibbons], just last year, received a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters and claimed that the threat of mercury contamination in our rivers and streams was ‘overblown'.” Gibbons and mercury was one of the issues that Titus and her primary opponent Jim Gibson agreed on.