314 of 360 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get over the title and dive in
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...
Published on May 7, 2012 by Aaron C. Huertas
117 of 146 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not going to convince any conservatives--unfortunately
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:...
Published on May 2, 2012 by wxnotes
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72 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Do Republicans Wage War on Science?,
This review is from: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality (Hardcover)
Chris Mooney, whose 2005 bestseller "The Republican War on Science" called attention to the GOP's intolerance for inconvenient information, delves deeper into the dynamic that causes the American right to express scorn for that which independents, moderates, and progressives recognize as basic common sense. Mooney notes that the phenomenon of "motivated reasoning"--the belief in concepts that are manifestly false--plays a significant role in the right's rejection of reason. Thankfully, not all Republicans embrace "motivated reasoning"--and of course, those are the Republicans who've been effectively evicted from the GOP.
Mooney notes that right-wing motivated reasoning has resulted in the conservative movement psychologically segregating itself from the rest of the country. Veteran Republicans who deviate from the party line are shunned, scorned, savaged. The Republican brain creates its own world, with no connection to the real one.
Mooney does acknowledge that progressives have their own set of peculiar attitudes, and that the Democratic brain's response to such issues as hydraulic fracturing and nuclear energy can similarly be questioned. However, the forces that push back against illogic on the left are now few and far between on the right.
"The Republican Brain" explains why so much of the modern right seems so, well, strange--and why America will remain ideologically segregated for years to come.
80 of 112 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Sequel to the *Republican War on Science*,
This review is from: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality (Hardcover)
Back during the Bush era, Chris Mooney coined the phrase "the Republican War on Science." Mooney's bestselling book of that title was an excellent piece of muckraking journalism, capturing modern conservatism's dismayingly cavalier attitude (or even flat out opposition) to any science that contradicted their favored ideological positions--a problem Mooney discovered and documented even at the highest levels of the Republican party. Think evolution, climate science, or stem cell research, just to name a few examples.
*The Republican Brain* is a followup to that book. The first book focused on *what* was happening. This book focuses on why. GOP opposition to science has continued and even accelerated since the Bush years (think of this year's presidential primary race and some of the statements by Bachmann, Perry and Santorum). To explore the whys of Republican science denial, Mooney discusses the latest psychological research exploring the roots of ideology--how people are biologically predisposed to think in certain ways and reflexively defend their beliefs. Mooney supplements this discussion with conservative movement history, recent events, and a discussion of movement conservative policy positions (not just on science).
Predictably, some people will oppose this book without addressing any of the *scientific* work that this book describes. For some, a political rant is on the same level as an empirical study complete with evidence, repeatable experiments, and carefully reached conclusions. Such overheated responses to this book are actual examples of one of the things this book is about: emotional rhetoric and group solidarity that seems unable to engage reasonably with empirical evidence and scientific study.
Even if you disagree with the conclusions presented in this book, they are a thoughtful contribution to an important discussion. There is something wrong when many of the leaders from one of our two major political parties disagree with 98% of scientists on an issue like climate change, or 99.9% of scientists on an issue like evolution. How could this kind of situation come about? This book offers some good explanations for some things that are really looking for good explanations. Personally, I am wary of biological accounts of complex human subjects like politics (something I shared with the author while the book was being written), but Mooney presents things in a way that makes for an informative and convincing discussion, and also an open-ended one, which is why I'm giving the book five stars.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Its Ok but loses its way and has major flaws in last portion.,
This review is from: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science-— and Reality (Audio CD)
Note: This review is from a moderate liberal (Voted for Carter 2x!) This book tries to lay out the neurological case why conservatives think and react differently from liberals. Unfortunately, the research does not back up portions the case the author ties to make, and in the end, he (liberal) falls prey to the same cognitive errors that he's trying to prove afflict conservatives. While there may be something to his argument, his evidence is weak, and the last portion of the book is very muddled. So, read cautiously and realize that many of his conclusions are NOT supported by the evidence he states.
He endlessly sights statistical tests of with accuracy to better than 1:10,000, based on ONE study of around 150 college students as the sample population, showing a 20% difference between the way liberals and conservatives think. He then extrapolates these the all conservatives in general. This is complete nonsense. The idea that such a small sample could be extrapolated to the populace at large is completely wrong. Small differences in how a question is phrased can cause the results to vary by over 50%. One would have to do many different trials (different phrasing) of thousands of individuals to make such claims and even then it would be a stretch. Using one study is just false. In the end, the author reaches far beyond his data, which is just what he accuses Conservatives of doing. Very disappointing!
Note: There has been some work that shows conservatives tend to have higher aversion to ambiguous conditions, which then leads them to have a more black & white view of the world, but its not well quantified, and will take years of more study to better define the neurological and social causes. Also, B&W thinking is not confined to conservatives.
36 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, but Timely,
This review is from: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality (Hardcover)
This reviewer really wanted to find some major flaws in this book. Honestly. The idea that many otherwise intelligent conservatives have difficulty with something as reality-based as science is apparent to anyone who has been involved in dinner table discussions and on-line arguments, but the idea that this tendency is tied into the very personality traits that makes one become a conservative and that the usual methods of persuasion by presenting more and better evidence are doomed to failure is disturbing.
In a way, this well-written book is a sequel to his earlier book The Republican War on Science in that it goes beyond the "what" and "how" to understand the "why." Mooney describes the trap that he and other science-types fall into by thinking that given the right information, conservatives will think like scientists and accept scientific principles that they currently reject. What he has found is that because of traits such as a tendency towards respect for authority, embracing tradition and black-and-white thinking, conservatives process contrary information more like lawyers - thinking of rebuttals and stubbornly opposing all attempts to change their minds.
The test of a book about science is whether the author accurately represents the science. In researching this book, Mooney has immersed himself into the field of political psychology and has even helped carry out an original research study. Not being a psychologist, this reviewer does not have the foundation to apply a meticulous critique, but Mooney has a number of citations and is basically in agreement with others who have looked at the link between personality type and processing of information, such as Jonathan Haidt. He has set the bar such that any credible criticism would need to come from the scientists themselves.
Quibbles? A couple. In discussing what liberals need to do, Mooney injects a reference to the 2012 election, which may serve to date the book and leave him open to the charge of looking too much at politics instead of science. A more subtle criticism is that his affirmation of the importance of conservative thought appears to be concentrated towards the end of the book and is not as affirming (for conservatives) as Haidt's "yin-yang" framing. But overall, Mooney bends over backwards to acknowledge and account for his own biases, and he treats opposition to certain sciences by the left as well (but noting that the left is more open to persuasion by facts).
Overall, though, this is an important book at a time when the Republican treatment of science is preventing us from facing up to the challenges of the future. Liberals and scientists can learn a great deal about what they are up against when researching and discussing controversial science, and conservatives could learn a great deal about their resistance to science - if they were to read the book with an open mind. Hmmm.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent, well-written and thorough introduction to the science of ideology,
As a student of biological anthropology, I have been watching the accumulating research in the science of ideology with great interest. It was over twenty-four years ago that E.O. Wilson presented to the National Academy of Sciences findings on the heritability of political attitudes across 4600 twins, as quantified in the Wilson-Patterson conservatism scale. It was 13 years ago that the VCU study of 30,000 twins confirmed that heritability.
But what has completely invigorated this relatively new science are studies during the last ten years, which take advantage of the advancement and spread of high-resolution real-time brain scanners. Chris Mooney covers all the latest fascinating research in this area, up to and including the 2011 studies printed in Current Biology, Political Psychology, and elsewhere. What these studies portray is a different cognitive style between liberals and conservatives: in essence, confirming what you already knew about that odd uncle who perpetually rants at the television - that he actually thinks differently from you and I. The Current Biology study demonstrates that conservatives have a larger amygdala (the brains fear center) while liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex (the brain's evaluation center).
In elegant and often moving prose, Chris Mooney gives the reader an amazing sweep of the new science of ideology, from its beginnings in the enlightenment with Condorcet, through Festinger's research at Stanford on motivated reasoning and cognitive dissonance in the 1950's, to the more recent contributions by Lakoff, Altemeyer, Kahan, Pinker, Westen, McCrae, Hirsh, Chait, Gerber, Schreiber, Goldberg and Haidt.
This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the underpinnings of ideology, particularly since both the amount and breadth of research in this area continues to expand. Almost every day one hears of a new study, such as the one published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Neuroethics: "New Study Confirms and Extends Earlier Finding Linking Socially-Conservative Value Judgments to Anti-Social Personality Traits".
This is a VERY exciting time for the science of ideology and for brain research in general, and Chris captures both the excitement and the broad ramifications of this science. And he does it in such a balanced and dispassionate way, that no one need be offended.
50 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading. Brilliant writing.,
This review is from: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality (Kindle Edition)
Ok, let's first dispense with some of the inevitable criticisms by others:
1) The title. "With a title like this, how can Mooney possibly expect any Republicans to read this book?" He doesn't. Mooney knew that, even if he had tried to nuance or disguise one of his central tenets (that of right/left asymmetry in regards to embracing scientific and historical reality), his book still would not be read by many conservatives. It was not written for them. It was written for the myriad scientists, academicians, progressives, liberals and moderates who have been frustrated for years now (frankly at our wits end) over ideology trumping reality, dogma trumping science, and disinformation trumping the truth in this country. And, what has been, up until recently, mostly a frustration (over evolution denial, dogmatic economic positions, historical revisionism, etc.), has now taken on much higher stakes with climate change denial. Many of us are legitimately concerned that failure to address this problematic human relationship with the truth in a very timely manner will put us in great peril.
2) Bias. "This book is just another example of biased liberal attacks on conservatives." Mooney could have played the politically correct card, trying to feign some false balance (like so many others in media and social science). But, perhaps more than any other science journalist, he understands the stakes and knows that we don't have the luxury of continuing to dance around the truth. And, he is courageous enough to put himself in the line of fire to move us forward. He takes pains to avoid overreaching and being misunderstood. The depth and breadth of his research is inspiring. His case is clear, well-defended and well-organized: It is the Republican brain that, at least at this point in American history, is putting our nation and our species in jeopardy...but not for the reasons many liberals would assume. Republicans are rejecting science (when threatened by its conclusions) not because they're stupid or greedy, insensitive or uncaring. Quite the opposite: they do it for what they honestly believe to be quite valid and ethical reasons. And, like everything else in the real world, this is not a black and white story. Mooney does not let liberals off the hook. All our brains are part of this inconvenient, though somewhat asymmetrical, story.
3) We win. "This is just an attempt for liberals to gloat over the science." Ok, some liberal readers will view the findings presented in this book as simply points scored for their "team." But, Mooney's goal in this book is to find out WHY conservative-leaning brains, in particular, are "at war" with science, and WHAT we can do about it, for everyone's best interest. And, his research leads him to conclude that the liberal brain is going to need to get past its own "enlightenment" biases if it hopes to have any chance of changing today's political dialogue.
4) Provisional. "The science is preliminary and the evidence inconclusive." Such is the nature of science...statistical, perpetually tentative, and, well, tedious. The fact the Mooney is capable of turning such a vast body of scientific work (involving the psychological, neuroscientific, genetic and experiential underpinnings of the political brain) into such a cohesive and captivating narrative, while remaining true to the nuanced, grey and probabilistic nature of science, is remarkable. Mooney thinks like a scientist, yet writes like the best-selling journalist/author that he is. He is a rare breed in these days of dwindling opportunities for true science journalists.
Much of the book is dedicated to the theory of "motivated reasoning," the major cognitive underpinning of reality denial...a theory built upon decades of converging lines of research in social and political psychology and cognitive science. Mooney dives into this research with gusto, distilling multiple theories of cognition, personality, morality and behavior, while additionally venturing into the neuroscience literature to find suggestive neuroanatomical correlates of these theories. But, perhaps most impressively, Mooney himself adds to this body of knowledge by helping to design and implement a study of his own. This study has some surprising results, forcing him to rethink and modify some of his budding models...in the true spirit of science.
But the book is more than an unpacking of the pertinent science. It is also a history lesson, taking us from the French Revolution through the liberal extremes of the 60s (and the conservative response/mobilization of the religious right), to the rightward shift of the Republican Party in the last couple decades (helped along by the advent of conservative think tanks, talk radio, the internet and Fox News). And Mooney makes an admirable attempt at parsing out some of the relevant, but complex, nature/nurture entanglements, with the above history supplying much of the nurture.
He ends the book by throwing an olive branch to the right, espousing his respect (a respect that has grown while writing this book) for many conservative traits, such as leadership, decisiveness, unwavering dedication, and loyalty. And, if you, like I initially did, think this sounds like pandering, consider the example put forth by Mooney: Which has been a more effective movement: The Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street?
Mooney points out that conservatism and liberalism both represent core parts of human nature. According to Mooney, we need them both...sorry, I can't help but be reminded of Good Kirk/Bad Kirk...and liberals are going to need to be more conservative, in many senses, if they are to be more influential in framing our national discourse.
Count me in.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Political Brains might have been a better title,
Mooney has invested a considerable amount of time writing The Republican Brain and has constructed a well thought out presentation. The research he cites is extensive and accurately used. I downloaded several papers from Nature and Science and agree with his conclusions that he presents in the book.
He includes several views of personality traits from various researchers with novel ways at looking at politically active or inactive voters and party supporters. He has made it possible for a reader to use these views of political perspectives to categorize all of us who have entered comments here and have an appreciation of what other traits are co-related.
It has been a fascinating journey through discussions of brain development, neurological research, social psychology, and political science with just enough detail about supporting experiments to keep the writing interesting and not become bogged down. I am pleased by how much I have learned.
For those who want more details of experiments or his sources he has an extensive Notes section laid out in a format that makes it pleasant to use. I really liked this work.
44 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious writer who cares about accuracy,
Disclosure: I worked on some research presented in this book and inspired by some of Chris's ideas. I designed a research experiment along with Chris and participated in administering it to research subjects.
I have also read much of the book, including portions I had nothing to do with.
Look, of course Chris is a liberal, and of course he's a participant in the ideology wars. But reading this book, you'll discover what I learned in working with him: Chris is not only a powerful writer, he is (a) committed to evidence and to the truth--where evidence does not reflect well on liberals by conventional standards, he is nonetheless interested in that evidence, and is perfectly happy to discuss it; and he is (b) perhaps the single most broadly knowledgeable human being alive on the extant research concerning psychological differences between conservatives and liberals. I have a Ph.D. in this, and I know far, far less than Chris about it.
Conservatives will be angry, of course. But perhaps they needn't be. Chris is not saying conservatives are unintelligent. Read the book if you don't believe me. That claim won't be in there. Chris simply collects in one place the wide research about the differences in cognitive style that give rise to different kinds of ideological thinking, and argues that these differences might help explain why conservatives in this day and age seem to reject empirical evidence on the major issues more readily than liberals do, and hold political beliefs in strong contravention of such evidence.
Much evidence is in, as this book details. Seeing the world in more black-and-white terms IS associated with conservatism. Less curiosity is also. This needn't make conservatives inferior. In fact, such a cognitive style can have advantages, especially where decisiveness is required. But it's certainly plausible that a quickly decisive cognitive style is also less interested in updating its internal map of the outside world to comport with EVIDENCE. That's kind of where Chris is headed here.
Chris knows his subject matter well, and he cares about getting it right. That's why I worked with him, and that's why this book, although written by a liberal and marketed at liberals, is way, way more than just a fluffy feel-good diatribe. Chris is quite serious about getting it right.
23 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mooney is onto something here...,
The title "Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality" guarantees Republicans won't take kindly to it - as evidence by the negative reviews suddenly pouring in from people who have not read the book beyond the book jacket. The science of Chris Mooney's "Republican Brain" is hard to deny, and has disturbing implications for both the right - who would benefit from learning precisely why it is their party is so prone to running off a cliff - and the left whom assumes more information and education necessarily means the truth and facts will win out.
I think on average, it is the liberal ideal of Enlightenment that takes the biggest blow here, and it is those who put their faith in reason who will find their most basic assumptions undermined by the very science and reason they most value. Mooney demonstrates that, contrary to liberal assumptions, the more educated and knowledgeable a person of a particular worldview, the MORE LIKELY they are to believe Obama is a Muslim or distrust the overwhelming consensus of climate change. The fact that more liberals aren't impulsively trying to deny this attests to both how well documented Mooney's argument is, and of the basic differences in approach between both conservatives and liberals. One with an empirical worldview who wants to study and find the truth, and are constantly questioning their own biases will read this book and find themselves having to reconsider their views of the world.If they are like me, that is precisely why they read: to be convinced to see the world in different way that you did before. One who buys this book to tell them what they want to hear and reconfirm what they already believe are precisely the kind of people this book attempts to understand. And he does a very convincing job of showing both why they will attack it with bad reviews, and not read it.
Those whom have a tendency toward more black-and-white tribalism will review this book without having read it, with arguments that one wouldn't need to refute because they are already dealt with in these very pages, if they had bothered to look. But such a person would not read this book for the very reason this book lays out so well: because they fear the arguments inside may very well be convincing, and challenge the assumptions they hold dear.And as such, might convince others, and therefore must be shut down.
Regardless of party affiliation, anyone with a scientific approach to finding truth and enough faith in the soundness of their views would want to have their position challenged by the evidence laid out here to see if the case is persuasive. Those inclined to have a more favorable view of science would have no fear, and in fact welcome a persuasive argument that might bring them a little closer to understanding the partisan divide and the effects of the diversification of media that allow those who want to live in a bubble to shut out all disloyal information streams.
If you're curious about what sorts of people are most prone to be antagonistic to alternative views, one could read the well-documented research Mooney cites. Or simply take a look at those who are attacking this book without even the most basic familiarity with what it actually says - all attestations to the contrary.
19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Thought-Out, Credible Sources,
Author Mooney (previously 'The Republican War on Science') begins with the surprising news that not only do many conservatives have issues with Darwin and evolution, but Einstein and his theory of relativity as well. Turns out that 'Conservapedia,' the right-wing answer to 'Wikipedia' - claimed 285+ million page views and the creation of one of Phyllis Schlafly's children (Andrew Schlafly), has a nearly 6,000 word, equation-filled entry countering the theory of relativity and its political aspects - GPS devices and PET scans notwithstanding. (What really rankles Andrew is that 'Virtually no one who is taught and believes Relativity continues to read the Bible.')
Mooney doesn't claim that liberals are never wrong or biased - just much less frequently than conservatives, especially Tea Partiers. (Examples include opposition to fracking and nuclear power, as well as belief that more money improves pupil outcomes.) His goal in 'The Republican Brain' is not to catalogue conservative errors, but to understand how these errors exist and persist. (He did list several, however - Obama is a Muslim, tax cuts increase government revenue, the U.S. was founded as a 'Christian nation,' denying global warming, and Obamacare is a 'government takeover of health care.') The cause is mostly, but not entirely, psychologically caused, per Mooney, not a lack of intelligence/knowledge. (Eg. Andrew Schlafly is a Harvard Law graduate with an engineering degree from Princeton, and used to work for Intel and Bell Labs.)
Mooney's approach, fortunately, is not rooted in anecdotal reporting such as that of Malcomb Gladwell, but published, peer-reviewed research plus interviews with experts in the field. Mooney tells us that conservatives are predisposed to have psychological traits that include authoritarianism (seeing the world in black and white, intolerant of uncertainty), lack of openness to experience, and a higher need for closure.
Mooney also provides an environmental explanation - that a set of key interest groups (eg. corporate anti-regulatory interests and religious conservatives) have become important to obtaining/funding conservative votes. These groups also built think tanks to enhance the credibility of their end-runs around scientific expertise, and reduce supporters' inclination to assess additional evidence.
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The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality by Chris Mooney (Hardcover - April 1, 2012)