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The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality [Hardcover]

by Chris Mooney
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2012 1118094514 978-1118094518 1st
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.


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The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality + The Republican War on Science + Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free
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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.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1st edition (April 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118094514
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118094518
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,381 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
266 of 307 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get over the title and dive in 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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356 of 438 people found the following review helpful
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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100 of 128 people found the following review helpful
By wxnotes
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Chris Mooney wrote The Republican Brain from a liberal perspective, geared toward other liberal readers. The majority of the book confirms opinions that many scientifically-minded liberals hold about conservative bias and adds the latest in psychological research to explain why the dissemination of facts has become highly polarized in this country. To summarize:

1. Republicans distort facts for their benefit far more often than Democrats--global warming and history are cited most in this book, although Mooney uses a wide variety of examples.

2. There are known psychological reasons for these differences including development and use of different parts of the brain. These differences go on to influence personality, friends, career path, and even which states people move to. The most interesting study is the "smart idiot" effect, which means that politically knowledgeable conservatives are often more biased and less persuadable than ignorant conservatives or liberals (i.e., conservatives engage in motivated reasoning).

3. The liberal/conservative divide has widened over the past few decades not only because of the conservative revolution of the 1970s-80s, but also because of the growth of cable news and the Internet. The new sources allow conservatives to have easy access to like-minded thinkers and a wide array of "experts" to back up their erroneous claims and create a new reality that conforms to their worldview.

Overall, Mooney does an good job addressing the above points, and the book is well worth the read for anyone interested in the partisan divide. However, the book still left me disappointed and I found myself rushing through the detailed study with Dr. Everett Young, which should have contained less statistics and more analysis.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
This book was not an easy read. It took me months to wade through it. But it contained a lot of good information, and seemed fact-based. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Louann W.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Book
Gets a little repetitive, but the basic premise is intriguing. I especially appreciated the explanation of how fundamental personality traits such as "openness to... Read more
Published 1 month ago by MNmom
2.0 out of 5 stars I wish I had not bought this book.
This book contains some interesting information, but I have been interested in the difference between the psychology of conservatives and liberals for a long time. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Tada
4.0 out of 5 stars Learned a few things here
There is a place for thoughtless impetuousness, devoid of nuance. Had not Winston Churchill been of such a mind he might have dithered like Chamberlin until it was too late. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nicholas Galaday
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendously Insightful
This book explains a lot about why liberals and conservatives think and act differently. Psychology books and a psychologist I talked to confirm what the author says. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Crazy Uncle Doug
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Our Country Has Two Different Sets of "Facts"
This is definitely a book everyone should read. Far too often otherwise intelligent people come to view those who disagree with their political worldview as stupid, ignorant, evil,... Read more
Published 3 months ago by David Dickey
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine survey of literature--but an irritating tone
The author surveys a considerable amount of literature and this work, and that is to the good. It provides the reader with an entree to a body of research work. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Steven A. Peterson
5.0 out of 5 stars FACTS - NOT FEELINGS
He uses facts and studies to build his conclusions. He demonstrates how authoritarian personalities retrench and regroup into denial to support their belief systems. Read more
Published 4 months ago by H. Ronald Hartman
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, but somewhat depressing
There really is a structural difference between concrete-thinking, right-wing political groups vs. abstract-thinking, left-wing political groups. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Art
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of The Republic Brain by Chris Mooney
I find the information interesting. The book is well written and easy to read and understand, and based on controlled studies.
Published 4 months ago by Brenda Whitaker
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The Republican "Brain"?
Republicans have a way of giving credence to facts and track record as opposed to theory and progressive fantasy.
Mar 9, 2014 by Orion54 |  See all 2 posts
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