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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading. Brilliant writing., April 2, 2012
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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.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 19, 2012 7:04:37 AM PDT
profesora says:
The Tea Party was heavily bankrolled by the Koch Brothers and other right-wing donors and organizations. They paid for buses to carry Tea Partiers from all over the country to Washington DC and to state capitals for protests. They paid for pre-made signage and materials for the protesters, along with food and drink. The Tea Party was heavily promoted and "front-paged" by ubiquitous and powerful broadcast outlets such as FOX. Sure, Occupy Wall Street has received donations from all sorts of organizations, but piecemeal, and there is no comparison in terms of the dollar value, especially factoring in the multimillion dollar value of FOX airtime 24/7, which is what the Tea Party got for free. I don't think Mooney's analogy was well-framed because one can't compare the effectiveness of the two movements without factoring in the role of outside funding and publicity.
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