The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science (or Many Other Inconvenient Truths)
"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science (or Many Other Inconvenient Truths)"
by Chris Mooney, in a DeSmogBlog cross-post
Over the last year here at DeSmogBlog, my writings have converged around a set of common themes. On the one hand, I’ve shown just how factually incorrect today’s political conservatives are, documenting the disproportionate amount of misinformation believed by Fox News watchers and the disproportionate wrongness of the right when it comes to science.
At the same time, I’ve advanced a variety of psychological explanations for why we might be seeing so much political and scientific misinformation today on the right wing. For instance, I’ve unpacked the theory of motivated reasoning; and I’ve also talked about why conservative white males in particular seem to be such strong deniers of climate science.
All of this, I’m now prepared to say, is just the iceberg tip. You see, for the last year, I’ve been working on a book on the same topic, which explains why conservatives are so factually incorrect—drawing on the latest research in social psychology, political science, cognitive neuroscience, and other fields.
The book is now finished in draft form—due out next year with Wiley—and it is long past time to formally announce its existence. After all, it is already up on Amazon. But I can go farther by showing the draft cover image (the current subtitle is likely to change, as this phenomenon goes far, far beyond science, as does the book). I can also share the text that will soon go up to Amazon and elsewhere. Eat your heart out, Ann Coulter:
Bestselling author Chris Mooney uses cutting-edge research to explain the psychology behind why today’s Republicans reject reality—it’s just part of who they are.
From climate change to evolution, the rejection of mainstream science among Republicans is growing, as is the denial of expert consensus on the economy, American history, foreign policy and much more. Why won’t Republicans accept things that most experts agree on? Why are they constantly fighting against the facts?
Science writer Chris Mooney explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things; appear more likely than Democrats to oppose new ideas and less likely to change their beliefs in the face of new facts; and sometimes respond to compelling evidence by doubling down on their current beliefs.
· Goes beyond the standard claims about ignorance or corporate malfeasance to discover the real, scientific reasons why Republicans reject the widely accepted findings of mainstream science, economics, and history—as well as many undeniable policy facts (e.g., there were no “death panels” in the health care bill).
· Explains that the political parties reflect personality traits and psychological needs—with Republicans more wedded to certainty, Democrats to novelty—and this is the root of our divide over reality.
· Written by the author of The Republican War on Science, which was the first and still the most influential book to look at conservative rejection of scientific evidence. But the rejection of science is just the beginning…
Certain to spark discussion and debate, The Republican Brain also promises to add to the lengthy list of persuasive scientific findings that Republicans reject and deny.
I know very well that this invites controversy, so let me say (even though I expect many conservatives will ignore it!) that the book also fully documents the handicaps and drawbacks of liberal/Democratic psychology. It’s a yin-and-yang kind of thing; you can’t make one argument without the other.
There’s a reason Winston Churchill was a better wartime leader than Neville Chamberlain. There’s a reason why the Tea Party got itself elected in under two years, while Occupy Wall Street is kinda all over the place. There’s a reason why we have scores of environmental groups that often can’t see eye to eye. There’s a reason, as George Lakoff and others have noted, why Democrats (and scientists!) focus too much on policy facts and details rather than winning over people’s hearts (and winning elections).
But when it comes to determining what’s true about complex, technical subjects—issues full of ambiguity and uncertainty, where you can’t just jump to conclusions and have to stay open-minded and tentative in your beliefs—I’ll take the scientific-liberal approach any day. And after reading the book, I think so will you.
The implications of this argument about liberalism, conservatism, and the facts are vast. For instance, media “balance,” and the allegedly neutral fact-checking enterprise, founder completely if the two political camps have a different relationship with ambiguity, nuance, certainty, and ultimately, facts.
Meanwhile, cases of liberals or moderates attacking their own allies and making really weak arguments—e.g., absurd suggestions that conservatives aren’t actually more wrong about science, or that scientists are just politically biased—will come into focus as (admittedly annoying) instances of the core liberal search for novelty, complexity, and new ways of looking at things. In other words, liberal contrarians just can’t help it! They need to be different, puckish, disobedient.
Very real cases of liberals, or leftists, also being wrong about the facts, on issues like vaccination, will also be discussed and explained.
I’ll be saying a lot more in coming months, including (I hope) rolling out some novel inquiries undertaken for the book.
Meanwhile, if you want to know more, the always awesome David Roberts has recently written two perceptive columns with a very similar theme. See here and here. And Andrew Kuszewski has covered the cognitive neuroscience of liberalism and conservatism in a very smart piece here. This will also be the subject of a panel at the 2012 Science Online conference, convened by myself and Andrea.
My book synthesizes all of this, and much more, and, I hope, pushes the ball further.
Chris Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine, senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and author of the bestselling book The Republican War on Science. This piece was originally published at DeSmogBlog.