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republicanism: nature or nurture?
April 1, 2012 6:28 PM   Subscribe

The Republican Brain is Chris Mooney's second book investigating the reasons for the beliefs of conservative Americans, following 2005's The Republican War on Science. He asks why identified Republicans reject the scientific consensus on important issues, seemingly against their education achievement, finding an answer in brain structures.
posted by wilful (98 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Chris Mooney" sounds like some kind of bleeding-heart liberal name.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:48 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fair and balanced.
posted by zombieApoc at 6:49 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The right tries to explain the left in religious terms. It's the classic reason vs faith debate of the middle ages carried into modern times.
posted by stbalbach at 6:50 PM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


My theory is that right wingers don't "believe" in science the same way they claim to "believe" in their vengeful and prejudicial God, who will grant their prayers for a sale on tires at WalMart while letting a Somali child die of starvation in his mother's arms.

Which is to say, they don't really believe what they say about God -- or science, or anything else -- in their hearts, or they wouldn't act the way they do, bearing false witness constantly and spreading hate and fear as a modus operandi. But man do they protest and swear and insist that they are more faithful and closer to God than any of us sinners (see: Publican and Pharisee). Likewise, they make so much noise about liberty and freedom, yet when pressed what that means is their freedom to push other people around and control their lives. So what they say and what they claim to believe are two different kettles of fish. Freedom is for them, not you. Otherwise, it's just an excuse to kill some brown people on a large scale every few years, and on a smaller scale every day.

Same for science. They aren't all stupid. Some of them certainly know the truth. But it is the nature of ideology that it allows its adherents to deny without even the slightest cognitive dissonance what is plainly true in front of their eyes in favor of fantasy stories of utopia and dystopia, divine agency and exceptionalism, technology and dominion overcoming the relentless forces of a nature that was here long before us and which will eventually shrug us off like the parasites we have become.

If science proved their crazy bullshit had an ounce of truth to it -- in any domain, be it economics or biology or meteorology -- they would be all for it.
posted by spitbull at 6:50 PM on April 1, 2012 [40 favorites]


Democrats think like this, while republicans think like this.

But seriously, I get the feeling if the democratic elite started opposing science, the die hard democrats would go along. It's just that the elites know it would alienate too much of the base. The whole "Global Warming is False" thing is a talking point paid for by big oil, and the embryonic stem cell opposition is a wedge issue used on religious people by conservatives.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:51 PM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


The counterpoint argument, The Democratic Soul, would argue that these so called "scientists" are under the influence of demons.
posted by Artw at 6:57 PM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


How do we know the fossils in the earth aren't from biblical dragons?

Carbon dating doesn't work because of the great flood and cosmic rays.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:01 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


In connection with Mooney's work, there's also a longitudinal study of the University of Chicago's General Social Survey from 1974 to 2010 that shows how much conservatives have lost their faith in science. While there are sharp overall drops in confidence across all political groups (coinciding approximately with major technological disasters such as Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and the Challenger Space Shuttle), the conservatives never seem to recover theirs as much.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:02 PM on April 1, 2012


I think that if you choose to read closely, Chris Mooney hasn't just taken a few weeks off work to write a populist "let's get our hate on" screed, he's actually taken the time to look fairly closely at the scientific underpinnings of beliefs. I think it's too easily dismissed by those who choose to ignore what it's saying.

Not saying he's got it right, but I am saying he's done his homework more than those of you who choose to reflexively mock.
posted by wilful at 7:04 PM on April 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


He asks why identified Republicans reject the scientific consensus on important issues...

Because the money is interested in rejecting it and the propaganda consumers "ditto" it?
posted by DU at 7:04 PM on April 1, 2012


The difference is simple and it starts in the crèche, teaching kids what to think rather than how to think.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:05 PM on April 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


This seems like an over-simplification. I've met lots of leftie anti-vaxxers, and some (not all) of the arguments against nuclear power from the left border on the irrational, despite the well known carbon price that has to be paid.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:09 PM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


But seriously, I get the feeling if the democratic elite started opposing science, the die hard democrats would go along.

I highly doubt this. Who is the democratic elite that can influence how democrats think? When I think of the democratic elite, people like the Clintons or the Kennedy family come to mind. But I have one illustration of how potent a democratic elite opposition to science would be. There are some hollywood celebrities -- liberal elites, if you will -- who advocate against vaccinating children. Yet this is far from mainstream among democrats, and I would have to guess that almost 100% of scientifically educated democrats think that vaccinating kids is a good idea.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 7:11 PM on April 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


anigbrowl, if you read the Salon article, you'll see that opposition to nuclear power and vaccinations decreases towards the scientific consensus amongst those identified as on the left as they get more educated.
posted by wilful at 7:11 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, I meant that as a comment on this MeFi thread rather than the source material.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:15 PM on April 1, 2012


The authoritarians is an interesting book about research into the authoritarian mindset. There is definitely a real, measurable difference in people's attitudes.
. There are some hollywood celebrities -- liberal elites, if you will -- who advocate against vaccinating children. Yet this is far from mainstream among democrats, and I would have to guess that almost 100% of scientifically educated democrats think that vaccinating kids is a good idea.
RFK Jr. was an anti-vaxxer, who claimed thimerisol was causing autism.
posted by delmoi at 7:21 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


RFK Jr. was an anti-vaxxer, who claimed thimerisol was causing autism.


So? I haven't seen any surveys which show that to be a commonly held, let alone majority, position among democrats. My point is that mccarty.tim's equivalence isn't accurate and that there is a difference between high profile liberals having anti-scientific views and an entire population of republicans sharing anti-scientific views.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 7:25 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


spitbull: "My theory is that right wingers don't "believe" in science the same way they claim to "believe" in their vengeful and prejudicial God, who will grant their prayers for a sale on tires at WalMart while letting a Somali child die of starvation in his mother's arms.

Which is to say, they don't really believe what they say about God -- or science, or anything else -- in their hearts, or they wouldn't act the way they do, bearing false witness constantly and spreading hate and fear as a modus operandi. But man do they protest and swear and insist that they are more faithful and closer to God than any of us sinners (see: Publican and Pharisee). Likewise, they make so much noise about liberty and freedom, yet when pressed what that means is their freedom to push other people around and control their lives. So what they say and what they claim to believe are two different kettles of fish. Freedom is for them, not you. Otherwise, it's just an excuse to kill some brown people on a large scale every few years, and on a smaller scale every day.
"

This is an honest question, do you even know a religious person? I mean currently know anyone who believes in God who you feel comfortable talking with about the subject and have done so.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blasdelb: He was making a statements about "right wingers", and the intersection of "right wingers" and the religious, but not about religious people per se.
posted by phrontist at 7:31 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, it's not just a lifestyle choice?
posted by radwolf76 at 7:32 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hypothesize that they wish to eviscerate public (science) education so that more people will be ignorant enough fall for their bullshit.
posted by exogenous at 7:33 PM on April 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


The all-consuming irony is that this book is probably going to be chock full of pseduo-scientific "fMRI-SCANS PROVE" bullshit. Hard to take seriously anyone who thinks "Republican" is a good category in which to filter people for a socio-biological study.
posted by phrontist at 7:38 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fortunately, science works whether you believe in it or not.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:38 PM on April 1, 2012 [18 favorites]


phrontist, at least read the Salon article from the FPP. Mooney is talking about studies by social scientists who use categories like "hierarchical-individualist" and "egalitarian-communitarian." I'm not seeing any dodgy neuroscience stuff, and the researchers' models are more sophisticated than just Democrat-vs.-Republican.
posted by twirlip at 7:46 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


twirlip: I did. I followed his links to this page. I saw a chart with a liberal-conservative axis. I posted a dismissive comment.
posted by phrontist at 7:50 PM on April 1, 2012


Somewhat related: Paul Douglass, a broadcast meteorologist who is a Republican, speaks out about climate change: "Acknowledging Climate Science Doesn’t Make You A Liberal".
posted by plastic_animals at 7:54 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I posted a dismissive comment

ಠ_ಠ
posted by fuq at 7:54 PM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Blargh, I was about to make a post about a very similar book but it turns out to be a dupe... I'll dump it here!
Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, has a new book out with a surprising thesis. In The Righteous Mind he claims that human beings are motivated by not one but six fundamental virtues-- and that conservatives exemplify these better than liberals. Not everyone is comfortable with this. In an interview with BloggingHeads he outlines what led him to these conclusions.
posted by shii at 7:56 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that if you choose to read closely, Chris Mooney hasn't just taken a few weeks off work to write a populist "let's get our hate on" screed, he's actually taken the time to look fairly closely at the scientific underpinnings of beliefs

If he wanted to write about the science he could have. Instead he wrote a "let's get our hate on screed" and added a thin veneer of science over it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:58 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


phrontist, that page is explicitly "a list of peer reviewed papers that I've found that only discuss liberal-conservative differences in brain structure and function, in physiology, or in the kinds of stimuli that attract attention. And of course this is only one small area of research on liberal-conservative differences." I suspect you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
posted by twirlip at 8:02 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Instead he wrote a "let's get our hate on screed" and added a thin veneer of science over it.

Show your work, please.

Speaking as a non-liberal, I think there is evidence here of an interesting phenomenon, and while Mooney obviously has a political agenda, he seems to me to be talking about it in good faith and backing up his claims with something more than handwaving and rhetoric. I'd be very interested in reading a serious critique of his position; lazy dismissals are boring.
posted by twirlip at 8:10 PM on April 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


I am concerned that we are trying to measure the difference between liberal and conservative brains instead of rich vs. poor brains. It seems to me that the categories of liberal and conservative are contrived and mostly a construct of the societal engineering of the elite.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:13 PM on April 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Some would say that the political left in the US holds some attitudes that are distinctly anti-science, but no one dares level the critique in public, because to do so invites unrelenting excoriation and brutal personal attacks.
posted by Crotalus at 8:15 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


How utterly condescending, blasdelb.

You have no idea how many deeply religious people I know, or what my religious education was.

I am in fact, as phrontist correctly notes, talking about radical political conservatives, many of whom claim religion as a source of their political and scientific beliefs. My analogy, again, is that their disbelief in science is inversely just as phony baloney as their professed belief in a caricature of the teachings of Christ. Their support for religion is as disingenuous as their opposition to science.

They are an insult to actually religious or otherwise ethically guided people. They do as much damage to religion's value as to science's.

This is because they are angry racists and selfish rich people (and their dupes). Which as I recall, Christ said his Father didn't much like.
posted by spitbull at 8:32 PM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some would say that the political left in the US holds some attitudes that are distinctly anti-science, but no one dares level the critique in public, because to do so invites unrelenting excoriation and brutal personal attacks.

Please don't harm the conversation with vague criticisms ascribed to the possible opinions of "some".

If you want to say something, you should say it.
posted by graphnerd at 8:43 PM on April 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


Science writer Chris Mooney... explain[s] why conservatives today believe more wrong things; appear... 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.

I only care why if you can tell me how to stop it. Let's hope that's his next book.
posted by alms at 8:48 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


What would be a good example, I wonder, of a scientific position widely espoused by self-identified leftists which runs deeply counter to their core political beliefs?
posted by yoink at 8:51 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The brain is an organ for cooling the blood, so this approach is nonsense.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:52 PM on April 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


"some", crotalus? Weasel words.
posted by wilful at 8:55 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Instead he wrote a "let's get our hate on screed" and added a thin veneer of science over it.

Show your work, please.
I'm not sure what you want shown here.

Given his earlier works it seems blindingly clear to me that he started out this project with planning to bash on Republicans. He dipped into the scientific research on human behavior and pulled out what he needed to write his screed.

Once again, if he just wanted to write about the science he could have. Would have been an interesting book. But that's not the book he set out to write.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:00 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


What would be a good example, I wonder, of a scientific position widely espoused by self-identified leftists which runs deeply counter to their core political beliefs?

I am likewise curious. Crotalus?
posted by adamdschneider at 9:05 PM on April 1, 2012


The "brain" stuff is unfortunate, suffering from the usual problem with brain studies: assuming that if you find a brain structure that correlates with some behavior, that shows the behavior is innate, as opposed to showing that the brain can be shaped by what it learns. It's odd, in the book he repeatedly cautions us not to make this mistake, quoting scientist after scientist saying as much, yet usually a few pages later, there he is talking about innate causes, genetics, and telling evolutionary just-so stories. It's not entirely his fault -- the scientists he relies on need to tell these stories too, otherwise it's just a paper that says: "being brought up to be fearful makes your brain more fearful". But it's a bit frustrating, and I think not ultimately helpful for the growing body of research that suggests that conservatives and liberals differ in numerous deep (though probably only slightly innate, as opposed to learned) ways, and furthermore, that one of those ways is, by almost all reasonable measures, better.
posted by chortly at 9:05 PM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


"some", crotalus? Weasel words.

Man, weasels get such a bad rap. And they are so adorable. I disapprove of their unreasonable association with nonsensical unsupported allegations.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:18 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


So I'm curious to know how they identified these conservatives. Was it through self-selection, was it through attitudinal analysis, voting preference?
posted by storybored at 9:23 PM on April 1, 2012


Many years ago, I worked as an LSD counselor, guiding people on their trips. During one session, a young woman stripped off her clothes and started walking around saying that she was a baby. In another session, a guy started telling me about how, when he was a kid, he killed his father by pushing him into a farm thrasher. Another time a guy was convinced he was some form of plant life. Usually we'd just give them a lot of Niacin. If you're tripping, Niacin (vitamin B3) can block the uptake of various neurotransmitters, stopping the trip, and then suddenly you're just like "what was I thinking?"

Anyway, I get the same feeling nowadays when I talk to a lot of Republicans. But I'm still looking for the right kind of Niacin.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:33 PM on April 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


What would be a good example, I wonder, of a scientific position widely espoused by self-identified leftists which runs deeply counter to their core political beliefs?

That humans have free will.

Really, that is kind of an unfalsifiable question, because part of 'being liberal' is belief in science, whether or not you have any clue what science is or how it works or why you should believe it.

I would also be curious about the subjects of these studies and how they were selected. I do believe there are some physiological differences between the extremes of people who go one way or the other politically, and am curious about that. However I am not inclined to trust Mr. Mooney's presentation of the evidence. Reading his blog work over the past year, I have come to think that he is only interested in presenting one part of the story-- the part that says Republicans are woo woo loonies. There are a lot of other factors missing from that discussion.
posted by zennie at 9:54 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


As the author of an anti-Republican politics book who weathered the boom and bust of the "why Bush sux" genre, I want to say how sad I find it that the publishing market is still driven by the very narrow and cynical angle of "Why The Other Side Sucks." Every book in this genre is designed to soothe your existing ideas, rather than shake them up. It's a lifestyle thing. It's like how if you are into knitting, they want to sell you Knitting: The Book.

I am sure Chris Mooney did a fine job arguing that conservatives have brain problems, but from the viewpoint of publishers this is just the latest iteration of Michael Savage's Liberalism Is A Mental Disorder, etc.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:56 PM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


What would be a good example, I wonder, of a scientific position widely espoused by self-identified leftists which runs deeply counter to their core political beliefs?

That humans have free will.

what
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:57 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's more of a political position that runs counter to my core scientific beliefs.
posted by silby at 10:20 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What would be a good example, I wonder, of a scientific position widely espoused by self-identified leftists which runs deeply counter to their core political beliefs?

That humans have free will.


Actually, I read the question wrong, and I think you did, too. I read it as a non-scientific position.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:21 PM on April 1, 2012


Please stop with climate change. I know your hearts are in the right place, I know we are destroying the ecosystem, just not through anthropogenic climate change. The evidence does not support this view and you're eroding public trust in all things scientific. It is not an established fact, those who do not support it are in no way in the same league as the birther crowd.
posted by karmiolz at 10:32 PM on April 1, 2012


I am sure Chris Mooney did a fine job arguing that conservatives have brain problems, but from the viewpoint of publishers this is just the latest iteration of Michael Savage's Liberalism Is A Mental Disorder, etc.

That's one pretty cynical way to look at it but your childish cynicism doesn't lessen the potential importance of Mooney's work. Science, as pointed out earlier, doesn't require you to believe. American conservatives have gone completely off the deep and a rigorous analysis of exactly why that has happened is desperately needed. So this is the point where we find out what most citizens are made of; some, confronted with such a vast problem, will surrender to nihilism and others will simply bury their heads and hope it all blows over. But others will choose to examine the problem, grapple with it, and, though they'll almost certainly get some things wrong, make an attempt to solve it.

And while I'm not persuaded that genetics offers much here the evidence that educated conservatives are more likely to disbelieve science really is striking. It suggests that what's happening here isn't a garden-variety "political manipulation of the ignorant" and it explains why simplistic Marxist notions of class/wealth aren't applicable. That conservatives en mass become more radicalized by education, modern media aka the "free press", and the web suggests that this is not simply the case of a destructive ideology "catching on" -- really it seems that powerful technological and economic are at work here and they are accelerating.
posted by nixerman at 10:35 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which is to say, they don't really believe what they say about God -- or science, or anything else -- in their hearts...
Am I understanding correctly that your argument is that conservatives are disingenuous about their beliefs? That they don't actually believe in god, and that they do actually trust science?

If so, I find it difficult to understand how you came to this conclusion. I grew up around a lot of conservatives and was pretty good friends with a few of them, and never had any reason to believe that they didn't honestly believe the things they were saying.
posted by !Jim at 10:51 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


karmiolz, I'm not going to derail the thread just on your quixotic views, just state that every single credible scientific organisation in the world (RS, NAS, AAS, etc etc etc etc etc) disagrees with your opinion on this.
posted by wilful at 11:02 PM on April 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


Neuro folly: the quest for biological bases for politics:
The rhetorical pattern is very common: assert that biological basic processes are important precursors of political ideas or behavior, accuse skeptics of being head-in-the-sand anti-science types (as Kieran so well undermined), and then demonstrate a minor finding that violates epistemological principles about causality and holds that the environment remains likely the dispositive cause.

I do not doubt that biological factors influence social and political outcomes. However, I think:

These factors are not necessarily unidirectional; for example, environmental cues likely affect the production and uptake of serotonin and, therefore, the behavior of genetically-cued behaviors including but not limited to voting. So the relationship between environment and genes is almost certainly not a simple interaction (as in GxE) but likely a chain of indederminate length of genetic and environmental co-causes...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:22 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


!Jim it is hardly a new idea that some religious people make a big noise about the trappings of their religion but their behaviour belies their faith. It was a big thing that Jesus went on about, and I doubt human nature has changed that much since. Slacktivist has written a lot of criticism from an evangelical point of view, of exactly that way of being evangelical. I think that 'sincere belief' must manifest through behaviour, and if there is a disconnect between action and words, the actions of a person are more indicative of their sincere conviction.

Similarly, on science, I do believe that the anti-science lobby in their hearts embrace science - for example they value medical treatment, military uses of science, industrial applications of science. If given the choice between prayer and antibiotics they will use antibiotics.
posted by communicator at 11:25 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


*watches as comment thread plays out exactly as predicted in the article*
posted by j03 at 11:28 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


!Jim it is hardly a new idea that some religious people make a big noise about the trappings of their religion but their behaviour belies their faith
It seems like the real point you're making here is that conservatives' behavior is not consistent with their espoused beliefs. I was doubting the assertion that conservatives don't actually believe what they say they do.

As far as Christianity goes, the brand of Christianity that evangelicals subscribe to is one that is heavily shaped by history and culture. They believe that the way to be Christian is to be firmly anti-homosexual and anti-choice, and their actions line align well with that. You can argue that that isn't Christianity, but then the argument gets reduced to the whole "no true Scotsman" thing. Whether you agree with their interpretation of their faith or not, their stated beliefs and actions are consistent.

As as the medical science thing goes, I really think that's something that cuts across the political spectrum. I know a handful of hippy-type people, and other liberals who hate modern medicine, and given the opportunity will talk at length about how a lot of it is actually bad for you and espouse the virtues of herbal remedies and acupuncture and the like. I'm not sure if you know people like this, but I'd bet that you can imagine them, because you've seem them portrayed in the media. Anyway, when those people get really sick, they go to the doctor like the rest of us.

Another example I can think of in terms of liberal beliefs that run counter to science is a lot of approaches to food, like the locavore and organic food, and anti-genetic-modification movemements. Pesticides and genetically modified crops have some problems, but the reality is that they also dramatically increase crop yields, which makes food production far more sustainable. Similarly, I saw an op-ed recently that pointed out that if we all ate locally-grown food, the carbon cost would actually be higher, because food we want would have to be grown far out of its ideal growing conditions [or something like that, I'm paraphrasing here.]

What I'm saying is that I think the tendency to cherry-pick the parts of science we subscribe to based on how they relate to our a priori beliefs is a characteristic of human nature. The fact that conservatives do it more, and in opposition to better-established science, is because they have less faith in science, not because they are being disingenuous.
posted by !Jim at 11:44 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


!Jim, this point is gone into quite explicitly in the salon article. While there is no doubt that irrational views can be held by anyone of any ideological strip (and intelligence level, and educational attainment), the data strongly suggests that identified republicans are substantially less likely to change their minds when confronted with evidence as to the scientific truth of a certain matter, and this problem gets worse as they increase their education standard.
posted by wilful at 11:51 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know a handful of hippy-type people, and other liberals who hate modern medicine

Are any of your hippy-type, modern medicicine, organic food promoting acquaintences PhDs or Masters in Science? Because the aricle says liberals are more likely to hold anti-scientific beliefs if they have lower levels of education.
posted by j03 at 11:54 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please stop with climate change. I know your hearts are in the right place, I know we are destroying the ecosystem, just not through anthropogenic climate change. The evidence does not support this view and you're eroding public trust in all things scientific. It is not an established fact

You know what? I have a ball. perhaps you'd like to bounce it.
posted by gompa at 1:50 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


So? I haven't seen any surveys which show that to be a commonly held, let alone majority, position among democrats. My point is that mccarty.tim's equivalence isn't accurate and that there is a difference between high profile liberals having anti-scientific views and an entire population of republicans sharing anti-scientific views.
So... your point is correct. Anyway the problem is there are no 'liberal elites' who drive opinion the way rush Limbaugh or someone does on the right.
Please stop with climate change. I know your hearts are in the right place, I know we are destroying the ecosystem, just not through anthropogenic climate change. The evidence does not support this view and you're eroding public trust in all things scientific. It is not an established fact, those who do not support it are in no way in the same league as the birther crowd.
Lol. You're delusional. It is absolutely in the same league as the birther stuff at this point.
posted by delmoi at 2:49 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know a handful of hippy-type people, and other liberals who hate modern medicine

Are any of your hippy-type, modern medicicine, organic food promoting acquaintences PhDs or Masters in Science? Because the aricle says liberals are more likely to hold anti-scientific beliefs if they have lower levels of education.


But on the other hand, I'd wager that the (very unfairly stereotyped - what exactly is "unscientific" about organic food, for instance?) hippies are fully aware of anthropogenic climate change and very concerned (as they should be). While, on the other hand, there's a lot of oh-so-rationalist geeks who can take apart and rebuild a computer blindfolded who honestly believe that the scientific consensus on climate change is a conspiracy to enrich Al Gore and academic researchers.

I'd much rather throw my lot in with the hippies, thank you very much. At least their beliefs aren't destroying the planet.
posted by jhandey at 3:51 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Hippies' beliefs on nuclear power kind of are.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:56 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe there is a test we can do when children are young and we can separate out all the functionalist-cognitive and educate them be benevolently rule with empirical evidence and take all the unthinking-authoritarians and send them to be in the front lines of the coming human-insect war?
posted by fuq at 4:44 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


RFK Jr. was an anti-vaxxer

Yeah, Digital never did anything right after the PDP-11.
posted by DarkForest at 5:40 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


fuq: "Maybe there is a test we can do when children are young and we can separate out all the functionalist-cognitive and educate them be benevolently rule with empirical evidence and take all the unthinking-authoritarians and send them to be in the front lines of the coming human-insect war?"

I hold at your neck the gom jabar...
posted by radwolf76 at 5:42 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Hippies' beliefs on nuclear power kind of are.

Not even close. There's been a pretty strong push lately for nuclear power as the savior of the planet from greenhouse gases - interestingly enough, it really got started in earnest once Germany and Japan announced their intentions to abandon nuclear.

Nuclear power is not the only way to reduce emissions. Not by a long shot. Renewable energy has been making huge strides globally, and there is also the option of simply using less energy. Which is the option humanity will be taking sooner or later (probably sooner), since resources aren't infinite. Especially not uranium.

In fact, to borrow the skeptic's term, I sense some "woo" around discussions of energy - but mostly from those who fancy themselves as "realists". So much in the realists' arguments depends on the beneficence of the divine Market - but there's very little discussion about the huge subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuels, for example, which dwarf those given to renewables. No externalities. No acknowledgements that radioactive rocks in the ground really don't give too much thought about the laws of supply and demand - they will not multiply themselves because we'd really like them to.
posted by jhandey at 6:22 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another example I can think of in terms of liberal beliefs that run counter to science is a lot of approaches to food, like the locavore and organic food, and anti-genetic-modification movemements. Pesticides and genetically modified crops have some problems, but the reality is that they also dramatically increase crop yields, which makes food production far more sustainable. Similarly, I saw an op-ed recently that pointed out that if we all ate locally-grown food, the carbon cost would actually be higher, because food we want would have to be grown far out of its ideal growing conditions [or something like that, I'm paraphrasing here.]

I really don't feel like fighting this battle right now, but there are very solid arguments in favor of local and organic food, and very good reasons to be cautious about genetically-modified organisms. Saying that the only way to avoid mass starvation is to go the pesticide/GMO path is a classic false dichotomy. And depending on fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers that also damage the natural resource base that is required to grow any sort of food is the very opposite of sustainable.
posted by jhandey at 6:32 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


> This seems like an over-simplification. [Because I know some personal anecdotes...]

*sigh*
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 6:35 AM on April 2, 2012


Phrontist: Blasdelb: He was making a statements about "right wingers", and the intersection of "right wingers" and the religious, but not about religious people per se.

OK… let’s rephrase. Do you even know a right-wing religious person? I mean currently know anyone who believes in God and votes Republican who you feel comfortable talking with about the subject and have done so?

Spitbull: “This is because they are angry racists and selfish rich people (and their dupes). Which as I recall, Christ said his Father didn't much like.”

But previously, Spitbull: How utterly condescending, blasdelb.

The irony! It burns!
posted by Jahaza at 6:52 AM on April 2, 2012


Aside from the relevant "correlation is not causation" angle, I think the urge to pathologize the holders of particular political beliefs is one we should resist.

Saying that there is something wrong with your interlocutor's psychology, or their brain, or their brain configuration, is an ad hominem attack dressed in the language of reasonable discourse.

In so far as it casts doubt on a group's ability to participate as equals in rational discourse, it is comparable to the racist physiognomy of centuries past.

I think it can also serve as an apology for this kind of behavior. If the integrity of your brain is not in question, but you still refuse to acknowledge the manifest evidence that humans are destroying the environment, then we can confidently assume you have far less innocent reasons for promoting an agenda destructive to people and the environment.

Let's not let honestly harmful political opinions take up residence in the same house with the blameless delusions we ascribe to an anxious or melancholic brain.
posted by edguardo at 6:59 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Really, The Authoritarians explains it all. I know I'm repeating delmoi's link, but it bears repeating. Not all republicans are authoritarians, but because of the recent tone of the party, people who are authoritarians tend to migrate toward it, the same way they migrate toward particular strains of religion. They lack, probably because they were never taught, confidence in their own ability to determine truth from non-truth, and so they choose authorities that make it easy for them.

As for the religion and the "they can't possibly really believe all that stuff" stuff, I don't think that is true. There are of course going to be some examples of that happening; your preachers who are just in it for the money or your congregation members who only go for the ice cream socials, but they are exceptions more than the rule. They key is that many religious organizations emphasize the fact that the stuff they are teaching is NOT internally consistent, and that the faithful need to pray real hard to figure out where the truth is for them. And depending on what the people around them believe, they end up believing one interpretation or another. They are comfortable believing in inconsistent things because they are taught that it is supposed to be inconsistent.
posted by gjc at 7:01 AM on April 2, 2012


They key is that many religious organizations emphasize the fact that the stuff they are teaching is NOT internally consistent, and that the faithful need to pray real hard to figure out where the truth is for them.

Perhaps these groups are numerically many as a number of organizations, but in terms of the number of believers covered, this is going to be a pretty small portion, I think. You've excluded Orthodox Judaism, Catholicism, most non-liberal Protestant churches, Mormonism, mainstream Islam, mainstream Buddhism, etc.
posted by Jahaza at 7:07 AM on April 2, 2012


Fortunately, science works whether you believe in it or not.

Not if you defund the fuck out of it, remove it from curricula, etc. Unfortunately, it is not only a methodology but something which depends on a social context in which it can survive.
posted by O Blitiri at 7:20 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


i thought it was because people who identify with the republican party have a compulsive need to be dicks.
posted by liza at 7:28 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of the appeal of being a denier is that it gets under the skin of liberals. I think a lot of conservatives of a certain stripe purposefully take the opposite of the consensus view on “climate change” because it is annoying and hopefully, a little disruptive. Generally, these types of conservatives have little inclination for public OWS style agitation to try to steer public opinion to their point of view. Instead, they agitate on a much more sublime level, without necessarily being convinced that their actions will have an impact, but nonetheless, leaves them with some degree of satisfaction that they are working against liberal interests. Think Ron Swanson.

On the most miniscule level, this type of conservative tries to disrupt the liberal agenda by answering poll questions incorrectly, putting a black dot in the wrong oval when a form asks for national origin, and referencing the Simpson’s episode where the family watches Mexico and Portugal vie for the title of greatest county in the world, when the World Cup is on TV. If only tangentially effective, seeing the look on the face of an earnest college student’s face, who is going door to door for Greenpeace, and after you have given them a check for $20, is well worth the price when you tell them that you think Greenpeace has done a great job promoting global warming because last winter it was freezing.

To the extent some types of conservative’s actions or words cause some sort of liberal handwringing, or momentarily disrupt their narrative or worldview, then some small victory has been achieved. There are of course a lot of conservative global warming deniers. Many though, subscribe to the notion that liberal advocacy of the climate change problem is a crutch to support a broader liberal agenda. To that end, liberals have undermined the scientific findings behind climate change that would otherwise attract a few conservatives.

Finally, assuming the proof of man-caused-climate-change is staring us right in the face and the deniers have zero proof to continue denying, conservative support is not likely to coalesce behind the liberal advocates because their prescribed cure is likely to make the situation worse.
posted by otto42 at 7:42 AM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Blasdelb: "This is an honest question, do you even know a religious person? I mean currently know anyone who believes in God who you feel comfortable talking with about the subject and have done so."
    spitbull: How utterly condescending, blasdelb.
      Oh man, that is pretty rich.
    spitbull: You have no idea how many deeply religious people I know, or what my religious education was.
      ... Which is why I asked.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:43 AM on April 2, 2012


mccarty.tim: But seriously, I get the feeling if the democratic elite started opposing science, the die hard democrats would go along.

Your feeling is an interesting hypothesis. "Interesting", because it is inherently rather untestable, and so very safe for you to believe in.

It's just that the elites know it would alienate too much of the base.

Oops, spoke too soon. You just disproved it.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:45 AM on April 2, 2012


Part of the appeal of being a denier is that it gets under the skin of liberals.

Yes, I think that's a large part of it. They are like "griefers" but they are destroying not a game but a planet.

They are life hating filth and moral garbage. ^_^
posted by fleetmouse at 8:09 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am a humanist and scientist before I am a liberal, conservative, republican or democrat. Arguably, I will vote for whatever team best represents my interests without chipping away at one or more moral pillars. IOW, I don't care what you call yourself if your platform aligns best with mine. And that might be another difference: Labels are just labels to me, I need to know how you define "liberal" before I agree that you're my kind of liberal and give you a vote.

(Someone asked me the other day if I was a feminist, and I responded that I couldn't say either way whether I was a feminist according to their use of the word because we hadn't talked about definitions and that by and large I'm a humanist more or less agreeing with the Humanist use of the term, but it seemed at the time like my response wasn't accepted as anything other than a waffle, which was kind of sad.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:16 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, I think that's a large part of it. They are like "griefers" but they are destroying not a game but a planet.

They are life hating filth and moral garbage. ^_^
posted by fleetmouse at 8:09 AM on April 2 [2 favorites +] [!]

Are you saying that deniers are cognizant of their denying decisions and therefore "life hating filth and moral garbage" or are they intellectually incapable of accepting the science behind global warming as the author of The Republican Brain supposes?

Are conservatives filthy or stupid? Or are they filthy and stupid?
posted by otto42 at 9:40 AM on April 2, 2012


So? I haven't seen any surveys which show that to be a commonly held, let alone majority, position among democrats. My point is that mccarty.tim's equivalence isn't accurate and that there is a difference between high profile liberals having anti-scientific views and an entire population of republicans sharing anti-scientific views.

Depending on where you get your data from, about 25% of Americans do not believe in global warming, while about 18% who believe vaccines cause autism, and 30% are not sure. I don't really think either side gets to win the "more scientific" award on this front.
posted by phoenixy at 9:43 AM on April 2, 2012


Depending on where you get your data from, about 25% of Americans do not believe in global warming, while about 18% who believe vaccines cause autism, and 30% are not sure. I don't really think either side gets to win the "more scientific" award on this front.

Where in that vaccine poll does it show that anti-vaxxers are more likely to be liberal?
posted by oneirodynia at 11:08 AM on April 2, 2012


Fortunately, science works whether you believe in it or not.

That's a lovely sentiment, but when it comes to implementing the science, you need buy-in from people to effect real-world change. The science may indeed be correct, but if people don't believe the science, it doesn't "work".

So, yes it does matter whether you believe in it or not.
posted by LordSludge at 11:15 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender!: So? I haven't seen any surveys which show that to be a commonly held, let alone majority, position among democrats. My point is that mccarty.tim's equivalence isn't accurate and that there is a difference between high profile liberals having anti-scientific views and an entire population of republicans sharing anti-scientific views.

phoenixy: Depending on where you get your data from, about 25% of Americans do not believe in global warming, while about 18% who believe vaccines cause autism, and 30% are not sure. I don't really think either side gets to win the "more scientific" award on this front.

phoenixy, I'm curious why you believe that statistics about the beliefs of "Americans" proves that liberals and democrats often have anti-scientific views...
posted by IAmBroom at 12:36 PM on April 2, 2012


phoenixy, I'm curious why you believe that statistics about the beliefs of "Americans" proves that liberals and democrats often have anti-scientific views...

As far as I can tell nobody has done research on the political views of anti-vaxxers (these polls are poorly worded, but suggests an approximately 50/50 split politically). But given that such a large percentage of the US population entertains this anti-scientific view and that there is no particular data to suggest that this belief is the special provenance of one political party, it seems highly likely (although not absolutely proven) that this anti-scientific viewpoint is held by large numbers of both liberals and conservatives alike.
posted by phoenixy at 1:03 PM on April 2, 2012


Another example I can think of in terms of liberal beliefs that run counter to science is a lot of approaches to food, like the locavore and organic food, and anti-genetic-modification movemements. Pesticides and genetically modified crops have some problems, but the reality is that they also dramatically increase crop yields, which makes food production far more sustainable.

There's plenty of scientific research that can tell you what's wrong with the modern industrial food system. Are you mistaking "science" for a 1950's style belief in the benevolence of progress and technology?
posted by Space Coyote at 2:44 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Prominent Leftists have questioned the ideology behind some scientific claims:
The weak points in the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism that excludes history and its process, are at once evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality.—Capital/Marx
The Left should take a page from Marx, and learn how to criticize the political agenda that lies behind some scientific work. Why let the Right have all the fun?
posted by No Robots at 3:35 PM on April 2, 2012




But given that such a large percentage of the US population entertains this anti-scientific view and that there is no particular data to suggest that this belief is the special provenance of one political party, it seems highly likely (although not absolutely proven) that this anti-scientific viewpoint is held by large numbers of both liberals and conservatives alike.

This is not how logic works.

Just because you have no evidence of the political beliefs of anti-vaxxers, doesn't mean they lie on both sides of the political spectrum. It means that you don't know. It's OK to admit when you don't know something. Ironically enough, that's how science starts.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:37 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's obvious that right from the 30s into the 70s the left was absolutely guilty as charged for condoning even encouraging anti-rational positions. And there are a few of these shibboleths still going around. But I think it's unarguable that since the 80s it is the Right that has left the planet.
posted by wilful at 5:02 PM on April 2, 2012


I see I completely skipped over the polls that you cited. Mea culpa, phoenixy.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:11 PM on April 2, 2012


Here is an update to my original "why" link, by prominent left-wing Australian economist John Quiggin:
In the light of comments, mostly at Crooked Timber, I’ve rewritten this completely, trying to be as clear as possible about how I read Mooney and what I think myself.

Chris Mooney has a great talent for knowing just when to push the envelope. Back in 2005, when CT held a book event on The Republican War on Science, the idea that Republicans as a group were hostile to science and scientists was somewhere between controversial and unthinkable, as far as mainstream Sensible opinion was concerned. Now, it’s a truth universally recognised – even the professional Repub defense team doesn’t deny it, preferring the (demonstrably false) line that Dems are just as bad.

Now, with The Republican Brain Chris pushes the argument a step further with the question: why are Republicans the way they are, and what, if anything, can be done about if?

Before we start, I’ll observe that the set of “conservative Republicans” has changed over time, as have the specific set of policies associated with these terms and the general temperament that goes with this. On the first point, we’ve seen the disappearance of Eisenhower Republicans, the Southern realignment and the rise of the religious right, all of which have increased the concentration of dogmatic authoritarians in the Repub party. On the second, the emergence of environmentalism as a major political line of division is probably the most important development. The fact that Republicans/conservative are increasingly anti-science reflects both of these trends.

It’s also important to observe that Republican/conservative alignment can’t be explained simply in terms of class, geography and education though all these factors play a role. With a few exceptions (notably including blacks and scientists) a substantial portion of nearly every demographic group votes Republican and self-describes as conservative. So, explanations solely based on (for example) class interests, can’t explain voting behavior without a lot of (self?)deception, and that raises the question of why some people are more easily deceived.

Some people may regard themselves as Republican/conservative simply because they have adopted, without thinking too much about it, the political positions that are regarded as normal by their family, social circle and so on. Lots of people simply aren’t interested enough in either politics or science to devote a lot of thought to these issues. Typically, such people will hold a range of views that aren’t particularly consistent either internally or with any standard ideological line.

An obvious inference is that, if people could be given better information they would change their views. But, as Mooney shows, and has become steadily more evident thanks to the Internet, better educated and informed Republicans are more likely to hold crazy views consistently and less likely to change them in response to new information.

That leads to Mooney’s primary conclusion, that Republicans/conservatives don’t simply have different beliefs from liberals/Democrats (or, for that matter, leftists), or even different values. They have (bear in mind that this a statement about population averages) different psychological characteristics, summarised as high authoritarianism and low openness to ideas different from their own.

I find this pretty convincing. It seems to me that there is an authoritarian type of personality which, in the specific circumstances of the US right now, and for non-poor whites, produces a predisposition to Republican voting and “conservative” political attitudes. In particular this type of personality is (more) strongly associated with confirmation bias. That is, not only do they ignore evidence contrary to their initial position, they tend to reinforce their commitment as a result. The creation of an alternate universe in which this bias can be repeatedly amplified (Fox News, rightwing think tanks and so on) both reinforces this kind of thinking and encourages self-selection.

I don’t think there is the symmetry here that some of the commenters are suggesting. Looking at the standard examples of nuclear power and GM foods, it seems to me that, on the whole people on the left have been more open to evidence than in the corresponding cases on the right. In the case of nuclear power, it seemed for a while (say, from the mid-90s until a few years ago) as if the safety problems might be soluble at a reasonable cost in which case an expansion of nuclear power would be preferable to more coal-fired power stations. While the evidence pointed that way, opposition to nuclear power was muted. As it turned out, the problems couldn’t be solved, at least not at a reasonable cost, and Fukushima was the last straw.

In the case of GM foods, the evidence has mostly supported the position that the use of GM technology per se doesn’t create significant health risks, and AFAICT that has been fairly widely accepted on the left (Greenpeace is a notable exception, but I don’t think their position is representative of the left as a whole). That doesn’t rule out opposition to GM on ethical or aesthetic grounds, or opposition to the whole structure of the food industry – the whole point is that you can have preferences and beliefs without assuming that the facts will always be those most convenient to you.

Similar points may be made about “alternative” medicine, particularly opposition to vaccination. It’s primarily, though not exclusively (consider Michelle Bachmann), associated with liberals and leftists in the same way as creationism is primarily, though not exclusively, associated with evangelical conservatives. But, faced with scientific criticism, there hasn’t been anything like the political pushback and doubling down we’ve seen with creationism. The Huffington Post, which was a big outlet for anti-vaxers has started publishing one of their most vigorous critics, Seth Mnookin.

This brings us finally to the question that set off all the fireworks in the original post. To what extent are authoritarian personalities the product of environment, genes or some combination of the two. Again, it’s worth pointing out that, even if there is a genetic role in personality, there’s no such thing as a genetic predisposition to be a conservative/Republican. The content of these terms isn’t fixed, and the implications are very different depending on social circumstances. To take the most obvious case from comments: Republican policies and rhetoric appeal strongly to (US) white tribal/ethnic loyalty. So, US whites who respond well to in-group appeals are likely to vote Republican and call themselves conservatives. US blacks with similar predispositions obviously won’t vote Republican and are unlikely to call themselves conservatives.

To take another example from Mooney’s book, authoritarian attitudes in the US are typically associated with support for free-market/pro-business economic policies and virulent hostility to “socialism”. By contrast, in the former Soviet Bloc, the same attitudes are associated with support for the old order and positive feelings about “socialism” (I’m using the scare quotes to indicate that, in both cases, the term is something of a blank canvas, onto which all sorts of things can be projected). And indeed, in this context, the term “conservative” is commonly applied to hardline members of the surviving Communist parties.

Following up on a comment, this way of looking at things has a lot of similarities with Corey Robin, and The Reactionary Mind. The difference between Robin’s choice of Mind and Mooney’s choice of Brain is significant. As I argued when I looked at his book, I think Robin doesn’t take enough account of personality/temperament. While most soi-disant “conservatives” are authoritarian reactionaries, there is a genuinely conservative temperament which will tend to align with political conservatism in periods when the general tendency of politics is towards the left.

So, does the genetic part of the story matter. As (I think) Andrew Gelman has observed, in this context and many others, it’s just code for things we can’t change. As long as authoritarian personalities are stable over the adult lifetime of those concerned, it doesn’t matter much whether they are determined by genes, by toilet training (as in the caricature version of Freudian psychology I learned in my youth) or by some much more complex process. That said, I think the evidence that heredity (and therefore genes) plays at least some role in the determination of personality is pretty convincing.

The political implication, which has drawn some flak in the comments, but which I think is correct is that there is no point in political engagement with authoritarian conservatives. In a political environment where they are concentrated in one party,politics is going to be a matter the only strategy open to liberals is to outnumber and outvote them by peeling off as many peripheral groups (for example, those who deviate from the approved cultural identity in some way) as possible. Obviously, that’s an unpalatable conclusion in all sorts of ways, but I think it’s a valid one.
posted by wilful at 5:57 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


No Robots: The Left should take a page from Marx, and learn how to criticize the political agenda that lies behind some scientific work. Why let the Right have all the fun?

The Left already does that with its criticism of research into racial group differences (racist pseudo-science) and evolutionary psychology (sexist just-so stories).
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:20 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or see any economics thread. Oh wait, economics isn't a science (according to many on the left), so we can just ignore it.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:53 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Left should engage in all-out war with certain strains of science. Nuclear energy seems a good candidate. I would also suggest that a spiritualized Left could make good hay attacking the theory of evolution as a colonialist relic.
posted by No Robots at 8:07 PM on April 2, 2012


Heh. Looks like Obama's taking up my suggestion.
posted by No Robots at 8:18 PM on April 3, 2012


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