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The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality 1st Edition

187 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1118094518
ISBN-10: 1118094514
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Editorial Reviews

Review

* ""Drawing on a growing body of empirical research, he provides an intelligent, nuanced and persuasive account of how conservatives and liberals tend to differ at the level of psychology and personality"" (Financial Times, April 2012)

From the Inside Flap

Why do so many Republicans believe man-made climate change is a hoax? The two most common explanations are that the deniers are uninformed or that they have been bought off by corporate money. Bestselling author Chris Mooney isn't buying either of those arguments. In fact, as he points out, the better educated a conservative is, the more likely he is to dismiss climate change concerns. How can that be?

Part of the answer lies with motivated reasoning—the psychological phenomenon of preferring only evidence that backs up your belief—but in The Republican Brain, Mooney explains that is just the tip of the cognitive iceberg. There is a growing body of evidence that conservatives and liberals don't just have differing ideologies; they have different psychologies. How could the rejection of mainstream science be growing among Republicans, along with 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? Increasingly, the answer appears to be: it's just part of who they are.

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; are 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.

The answer begins with some measurable personality traits that strongly correspond with political preferences. For instance, people more wedded to certainty tend to become conservatives; people craving novelty, liberals. Surprisingly, openness to new experiences and fastidiousness are better predictors of political preference than income or education. If you like to keep your house neat and see the world in a relatively black and white way, you're probably going to vote Republican. If you've recently moved to a big city to see what else life has to offer, you're probably going to vote Democrat. These basic differences in openness and curiosity, Mooney argues, fuel an "expertise gap" between left and right that explains much of the battle today over what is true.

Being a good liberal, Mooney also has to explore the implications of these findings for Democrats as well. Are they really wishy-washy flip-floppers? Well, sometimes. Can't they be just as dogmatic about issues close to their hearts, like autism and vaccines, or nuclear power? His research leads to some surprising conclusions.

While the evolutionary advantages of both liberal and conservative psychologies seem obvious, clashes between them in modern life have led to a crisis in our politics. A significant chunk of the electorate, it seems, will never accept the facts as they are, no matter how strong the evidence. Understanding the psychology of the left and the right, Mooney argues, should therefore fundamentally alter the way we approach the he-said-he-said of public debates.

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1st edition (April 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118094514
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118094518
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist, blogger, podcaster, and experienced trainer of scientists in the art of communication. He is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science and most recently The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality (April 2012). He blogs for Science Progress, a website of the Center for American Progress and Center for American Progress Action Fund, and is a host of the Point of Inquiry podcast.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

334 of 381 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Huertas on May 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here's a tl;dr version...Get over the title and read the book. People don't process information rationally and they often view science through the lens of their own political and psychological biases.

Okay, back to the original review:

The first thing you need to do when you pick up Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality is get over whatever initial reaction you have to the title.

Partisan labels are so loaded that it's easy for liberals and conservatives alike to mistake Mooney's nuanced overview of psychological research for a jeremiad about "stupid conservatives."

And, in fact, that reaction has typified many conservative and some liberal responses to the book.

Which sort of proves Mooney's point.

Thinking is more important than information

Decades ago, social scientists started tearing down the Enlightenment view that human beings rationally and methodically process information. In the old view, our brains were like filing cabinets into which we inserted new information to synthesize. In reality, we are motivated reasoners: we use facts and information to justify what we want to believe.

In many cases, the more educated or "smarter" someone is, the more able they are to seek out information that justifies their views. There's a fundamental difference, one of the researchers in Mooney's book points out, between being stupid and being misinformed.

And Mooney's book is all about misinformation, the brains it lands in, and how it gets there.

What's the difference between dominant liberalism and dominant conservatism?

One of the chief values that underpins liberalism, Mooney argues, is "Openness.
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60 of 70 people found the following review helpful By L. Lazar on July 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a former self-labeled conservative, I hoped Mooney's "The Republican Brain" would help me better understand three questions that I've been pondering for a long time:

1. How does it happen? How can intelligent people, including myself, fall for an ideology, and political platform, that is built on a foundation of ideas that sound good, but are not true?
2. How we can reach the many Republicans that are more reasonable than the ideologues on the party fringe?
3. How can I help others like me escape? How many millions of conservatives don't really believe in the conservative platform, but were sucked in by the hard-wired need for social conformity, even when it is against their own economic best interests?

I'd give Mooney an "A" on #1 and #2, and a "unanswered" on #3. The book overall though, is definitely worthy of a 5 rating for its clarity of message and effort at being objective and seeking truth over partisanship.

Even before I read Mooney's book I had some pretty good ideas about how I became conservative. The pulls of social conformity, i.e. tribalism, the appeal of certainty and simple message is extremely strong, especially when one is surrounded in nearly all areas of life by conservatives and conservative messaging (propaganda?).

Fortunately I have a brother and sister in-law, both of whom having training in science, that were able to get through to me - "to show me the light", as it were. I am incredibly thankful to them for enabling my escape from the lies and deceit that is conservatism - despite the comfort that those lies provided.

Mooney's book confirmed my assumptions and findings from prior reading with overwhelming scientific evidence.
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375 of 462 people found the following review helpful By Joe Hanson on March 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
When Chris Mooney wrote "The Republican War on Science", his outstanding report on science denial and suppression in the modern conservative movement, many hoped that the problems therein would fade away along with George W. Bush. But as they intervening years have shown, the discourse around the politics of science has only grown more heated and partisan. Why isn't careful scientific experimentation, peer review and huge consensus on the science behind issues like climate change or stem cell research enough to persuade opponents of science? Why can't we just "out-fact" the deniers?

Enter "The Republican Brain". Decades of psychological and neuroscience research are beginning to paint a clearer picture of how and why we believe what we do. Our biology seems to be at the root of our ideology. Mooney lays out a convincing case that when our ideas are intertwined so deeply with our values, it can be almost impossible to view an issue through a lens of objectivity or be open to challenging one's beliefs. The conservative brain seems to be especially predisposed to what he calls "motivated reasoning", using inherently false information to support a strong ideological belief. In a sense, the book describes how values and political ideologies can overpower logic and reasoning. Democrats and liberals are not without fault, as Mooney's discussion of fracking and nuclear energy show, but research shows that the conservative brain is by far the most egregiously guilty. Instead of ripping off a painful band-aid and allowing their ideology to be challenged, the conservative brain seems more apt to pretend that the band-aid doesn't exist.

There's a great irony in the book itself.
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