Conservatives Attack and Misunderstand a Book They Haven’t Read — A Book About Flawed Conservative Reasoning

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"Conservatives Attack and Misunderstand a Book They Haven’t Read — A Book About Flawed Conservative Reasoning"

by Chris Mooney, in a DeSmogBlog cross-post

This would be sad, if it weren’t also so telling.

On Monday I announced my new book The Republican Brain, which will be due out next spring. And I provided a brief description, as well as layering on plenty of nuance, like a good liberal, to make sure it wouldn’t be misinterpreted.

So much for that!

Beginning with Roger Pielke, Jr. (not technically a conservative, but, well…), and then spreading to climate “skeptic” blogs like Watts Up With That and Marc Morano’s Climate Depot, conservatives are claiming that the book is a form of “new eugenics” and that it describes them as “genetically/mentally/psychologically inferior,” and so on.

All of this is completely without foundation, and in fact, contradicted by my own book announcement, which discusses the many strengths (as well as weaknesses) of the conservative psychology, and describes the left-right difference as a kind of necessary yin and yang.

And none of the people saying these things (including over 100 commenters at Watts’ site) have read the book because it isn’t out yet, and won’t be for 6 months. In fact, it is still being edited.

Chalk up yet another example of conservative factual wrongness! Perhaps I can even fit it into the text.

But that’s not all. These conservatives have somehow gotten the idea that Pielke, Jr., “reviewed” the book, although he did nothing of the kind. Here’s Anthony Watts:

Chris Mooney has come up with new book to explain why people like you and I are “abby-normal” for not unthinkingly and uncritically accepting all aspects of global warmingclimate change climate disruption. I haven’t read it, though the cover itself speaks volumes. I won’t commit the same dumb mistake that Igor Peter Gleick committed when he wrote his bogus non-review of Donna LaFramboise’s IPCC book, so I’ll let somebody who has reviewed it speak about it. Dr. Roger Pielke Jr.

If this is not committing the “same dumb mistake,” it is definitely pretty close.

I won’t do any more to defend a book that isn’t even out yet, except to say two things: 1) It is based on solid science from psychology, political science, and other fields; 2) the sort of behavior we’re seeing here—jumping to conclusions based on heuristics (“judging a book by its cover”), misrepresenting opponents’ views based on no evidence…well, it turns out that these are precisely the kinds of things I’m criticizing. For a tiny taste, see this study, about “traditionalists” vastly misrepresenting the views of those who challenge them, in this case about changes to the English literature curriculum.

Thanks for helping to prove my argument, guys—6 months early!

I’m sure I can count on you in the second round, too.

– “Chris Mooney is host of the Point of Inquiry podcast (www.pointofinquiry.org) and the author of several books, including the bestselling book The Republican War on Science. This piece was originally published at DeSmogBlog.

Posts from around the science blogosphere debunking Pielke:

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23 Responses to Conservatives Attack and Misunderstand a Book They Haven’t Read — A Book About Flawed Conservative Reasoning

  1. Chris says:

    Hilarious, although if the reason they are so wrong is because their brains are different, is it still OK to laugh at them?

    • nota sock says:

      I laugh at them, and I have brain damage. Their way of thinking could be caused by any number of things as far as I know, but they choose to wrap themselves in fear and demand that everyone do the same. That is giggle worthy.

  2. Leif says:

    Chris: I cannot imagine any better rational for reading your book than provided for you by Pielke et. al. Hope you can reference their efforts on the cover.

    And thank you Roger for exposing yourself so blatantly. Perhaps I can supply a rain coat for you.

    Sweet.

  3. Davos says:

    You really don’t think there’s any possibility that Mooney is trying to be provocative with the title and/or the implications at all? Not even a hint?

    I have to admit, the first thing I saw when looking at the title was what would the reaction be if it were inside the “African” Brain or the “Female” Brain, as if there were a bio-chemical or neurological explanation for all behavior of the entire class (usually someone’s implied to be negative).

    I’ve never actually read the book either obviously, but I can’t help but think there’s a little provocation there (considering the red book color too). Grouping all conservatives under a certain identity may also be a challenging element too (I doubt you would be willing to say that all Liberals are equally pidgeon-able).

    In some ways, wouldn’t you be left with the idea that “folks who believe xyz” and refuse to consider “abc” tend to have _____ for a bio-chemical/neurological makeup? If so, what does that even mean? I’m trying to pre-identify Mooney’s possible conclusions, because they all seem problematic…

    Is he trying to say that (these people) can’t help themselves, so therefore lets ignore them and move on with human progress without them? That (these people) require a special combination-lock to get them to understand certain things? Or…the Pielke shot about ways to ‘fix’ said neuro-deficiencies.

    I guess it’s a good idea that this pre-release material was leaked out (perhaps even by the publisher themselves) so that (a) buzz can be generated, and (b) since it’s still being edited they can address any accusations in the writing while still getting their points across.

    • Davos says:

      I realize that ‘red’ is the color of the Republicans, but it is not the ‘color’ of anti-science ideology that apparently attracts some democrats as well. Also, the “They” in the title is provocative, especially considering the rhetorical anger that has been levied on others who have refered to other classed of diverse individuals as “they”.

      • Chris Winter says:

        You mean, the way you refer to the class of diverse individuals known as “Democrats”?

        Maybe I’m just missing your point here. Is it that you don’t think all Republicans should be lumped into the group “disbelievers in science”? I’m sure that was not the author’s intent. My guess is that he doesn’t have full control over title and subtitle; that’s the standard situation in publishing.

        • Davos says:

          Republicans or Democrats for that matter. My point is that just about all previous attempts to both (a) group people together by some commonality, and (b) explain or define their behavior in terms of bio-, neuro-, psycho-, physio, or chemical composition, it hasn’t ended well. The reason for this is that in order for this newly derived information to be meaningful, it would have to be (implicitly or explicitly) actionable in some way. “I’m just throwin’ it out there” is not meaningful.

          • Davos:

            On the contrary, “explain[ing] or defin[ing…] behavior in terms of bio-, neuro-, psycho-, physio, or chemical composition” has worked remarkably well for certain conditions such as Huntington’s disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and others. What was your point again?

            — frank

          • kermit says:

            Are you really saying that scientific data isn’t meaningful unless one already has a way to act on it with practical results? And how are we to determine how to act on it if it’s kept in wraps?

            In any case, some of us value data for its own sake.

  4. Peter Gleick says:

    Oh, Chris, by the way, it is NOT committing the “same dumb mistake”. I read Laframboise book. So, this is Watts’ own brand new “dumb mistake”.

    Good luck on the new book. Oh, and don’t waste time responding to the trolls. As my kids taught me: DNFTT

  5. Alex says:

    The link on “http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/11/12/366713/romm/2011/05/07/208042/roger-pielke-jr-false-accusation-gore-exaggerating/”

    seems to be wrong.

  6. Russell says:

    Chris’s indiscriminate critique fails to recognize that there are as many species of conservatives and libertarians as old and new world primates

    http://takimag.com/article/climate_of_here#axzz1Y2nc8fO1.html

    The schism extends to evolutionary biology as well

    http://takimag.com/article/the_protocols_of_the_elders_of_bryanthe_discovery_institute_inherits_the_wi#axzz1casLK5DI.html

  7. Merrelyn Emery says:

    When you have a closed systems view of the world that cannot encompass novelty or change you don’t need to read books, ME

  8. john atcheson says:

    It is kind of ironic that the conservatives react with fear and loathing after — from what I gather — the book details research that says they are prone to be subject to fear and loathing.

    BTW, there are books out supporting Mooney’s observations, as well as peer reviewed studies from both psychologists and psychiatrists using everything from statistical analysis of surveys to MRIs.

    As with Mooney, these studies don’t ascribe a “good” and “bad” to the traits of liberal and conservatives — indeed in times of steady state conditions, there seems to be great value in conservatism’s tendency to keep liberals on point and in focus.

    Unfortunately, these aren’t such times, and this tendency is deadly.

  9. Daryl McCann says:

    But first we must let them know how many of those “non-republican” brains that are out there.

    I created a petition entitled All United States government officials.: Pledge to reduce man-made CO2 in the United States by 50% in 5 years., because I care deeply about this very important issue.

    I’m trying to collect 1,000,000 signatures in one year, and I could really use your help.

    To read more about what I’m trying to do and to sign my petition, click here:
    http://www.change.org/petitions/all-united-states-government-officials-pledge-to-reduce-man-made-co2-in-the-united-states-by-50-in-5-years?share_id=TjbtneVcMD&pe=d2e

    It’ll just take a minute!

    Once you’re done, please ask your friends to sign the petition as well. Grassroots movements succeed because people like you are willing to spread the word!

    Daryl

  10. Chris says:

    First some context. I’m British and left leaning and tend to view the anti-science rhetoric emanating from parts of the U.S right with disbelief.

    But really? You’re surprised? The strap line on the cover is incendiary flamebait that attempts to paint all Republicans as people who reject all science.

    You then sit back piously and say ‘ooh they’re all upset’.

    I love how you say your own book announcement presents a more nuanced pictures, when it kicks off with the hilarious suggestion that:

    ’ 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.’

    I read a lot of science books, but this one has been framed in terms of political polemic and is consequently embarrassing.

    • Tim says:

      As a left-leaning American who is at least as disgusted and amazed with the Republican party’s willingness to exploit the worst in American anti-intellectualism, I have exactly the same impression of this book. If the contents of the book are anything like its title and subtitle, it’ll be a huge embarrassment.

  11. Davos says:

    @Frank,

    I think you might more clearly understand me more than you let on, which is why you omitted the first part of my reasoning (the whole ‘forced-grouping of diverse individuals’ part). Huntington’s disease and forms of M.S. are not first deduced by grouping together people who have the same “no” vote on policy topics (regardless of reason).

    Ironically, the two you suggested (and I recognize you indicate there are others) are both degenerative with exhibitive early signs. This is another reason why some out there may come to perceive Mooney’s book as largely provocative or offensive prior to reading (because they only know of these kinds of cases that medically evolve from research like this).

  12. Raul M. says:

    At the time the original Am. Constitution was written, it may be correct that weather extremes were an act of God.
    But with AGW is that belief outdated in that with the separation of church and state simply with a storm being an act of god, those who believe that a storm is of retribution for man’s ill behavior supposed to claim no such ill behavior to claim a space in a comfortable storm shelter and then to claim that the storm was caused by moral ineptitude of others.
    Or do those who deny AGW have to gain refusal of the comfortable storm shelter because the storm was an act of god and the only comfortable storm shelter is a gov. building. There is supposed to be separation of church and state.
    Of course non-core issue candidates will be able to change their minds about it if there is a storm anyway.
    Just thinking

  13. I appreciate the link from Chris M – to get to posts I’ve written on the unusual Roger Pielke Jr., please try:

    http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/search?q=pielke