It will be interesting to see Specter’s response in the fourth installment of the Book Club debate (if there is one). Mooney certainly has a point about that many issues do not become topics of national conversations until our highest authorities make them so. But what pushes the authorities to do that? Specter was indeed out on a limb when he suggested that the “lowest common denominator [on the Web] is inching upward.” One hopes that even in this debilitated media landscape, however, the press retains some of its power to set the nation’s political agenda, and it must work hard to reassert that age-old prerogative.

Of course, scientific illiteracy and denialism will not be vanquished easily by any means (elementary/secondary education is another crucial factor), but it’s helpful to have rational voices like Specter and Mooney hashing out their causes and cures.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.