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

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

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by Chris Mooney

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* "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)

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Turner Publishing Company
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Meet the Author

Chris Mooney is the bestselling author of The Republican War on Science, the host of the "Point of Inquiry" podcast, and the author of "The Intersection" blog for Science Progress. In addition to three books, in the past he has written for Mother Jones, the American Prospect, Harper's, the Washington Post, USA Today, and Slate. He has appeared on The Last Word, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Book TV, Science Friday, Morning Joe, and Fresh Air, among other programs.

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The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
DuelCitizen More than 1 year ago
This book is exactly what I've been looking for. As someone who knows a lot of Republicans, and would really like to respect them, this book gives wonderful insight into the thought processes employed by our nation's more troubled political half. How can so many good, kind, reasonably intelligent people be led into such ridiculous insanity? The paranoia, the judgment, the extreme conservatism to the point of being fearful of literally any kind of progress -- there had to be an explanation. Thank you, Chris Mooney, for giving it to us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There had to be a rational set of reasons that explain why the modern Republican Party is led by irrational clowns. This book offers an excellent early set of those reasons.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Insightful and fair, this book provides answers for those of frustrated with the ways apparently rational people deny factual data.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Life was so much simpler in the old days when you could tell who was right and wrong just by looking at the color of their hats. Then again, it wasn’t that simple even back then, at least not in the real world. Mooney explained in The Republican Brain how much more difficult it is to change the mind of a conservative than to do so of a liberal. Conservatives, by definition, seek to maintain a sense of stability. They become less open to experience that would indicate we should accept change. They tend to protect the tribe and the mythos—the values and culture—that define the tribe by denying empirical evidence and downplaying scientific and educational institutions providing that evidence. In contrast, liberals tend to seek new information even if potentially contrary to their long-held beliefs. Liberals tend to recognize nuance rather than absolutes and are comfortable with the gray areas in their sense of the world. These gray areas are the motivation that makes learning an exciting experience. Mooney emphasized these are indeed tendencies, not absolutes to pin on anyone labeled Conservative or Liberal. These tendencies also provide insight into much of the frustration I experience trying to discuss a scientific or social principle with Conservative friends, colleagues, or clients. Loyalty to the tribe and its mythos—by Liberals as well as Conservatives—often leads to denial of reality and an intense desire to dismiss demonstrable facts or develop a twisted logic to deny the existence of those facts. Mooney provided a well-documented and entertaining explanation, dovetailing on his previous work, The Republican War on Science, of the often intense desire to maintain that mythos, and the interaction of leaders and followers through information and misinformation, both of which are easier than ever to obtain and express, and at least as difficult to parse. As someone with openness to experience, Mooney would no doubt accept constructive criticism as he would accept praise. Mooney described his contribution to research intended to determine if there is a relationship between motivated reasoning and ideology. He was excessively apologetic about using research terminology and statistics. These “wonky” moments are just what we need to show readers the difference in rigor between a scientist demonstrating a real phenomenon and a pundit telling us what we should believe. Furthermore, I am not convinced the measurement described in the research was actually a good construct for motivated reasoning. In the research, participants were asked what they know or believe about particular issues and later asked how much their minds were swayed by stories that may or may not have been true. If instead of looking at the change as evidence of motivated reasoning, Mooney had considered the learning theory of constructivism, the conclusion might have made more sense. People do alter their understanding of reality when new information is brought to their attention, but a single essay is unlikely create a major shift when balanced with years of knowledge accumulation. I hope Mooney builds on his analyses of Republican thought with a third book explaining, if logic and evidence cannot move invested followers of misinformation into reality, what can bring those who are not open to experience into that state of readiness? Or at least how can we save those on the fence from becoming absorbed into a camp dedicated to misinformation?
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Extemporalias More than 1 year ago
Some will be threatened by the truth of this book. America is changing and Mooney captures part of the reason.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wont ever spend a penny on anything this "author" tries to peddle
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hate to tell this to all those democratic people but acting as if the republican party is a bunch of misinformed and crazy people is not going to make your party any better. Just to point something out also, that to anyone who thinks this is a fair book, the person who wrote this was very obviously a democrat, so it couldnt be fair unless someone with no party wrote it. Republicans are NOT led by crazy people. Our country cannot be great unless along with all the freedoms there is a degree of sense. This book is horrible and it puts republicans in an unecessarily bad light.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author presents litle hard evidence for his assertions of illogical conservative positions. For example, because poeple who believe, wrongly, that Saddam Hussain was involved in 9/11 also watched Fox News, he concludes Fox News must be the source of the misinformation, yet he cannot cite one specific instance of misinformation on Fox News. He repeatedly misstates conservative positions to set make strawman arguments, and makes value judgements that liberal misinformation is not as serious as conservative misinformation. The main thing I learned from this book is that is not necessary to be smart to write a book.
MJS98 More than 1 year ago
By far one of the worst books ever written Aside from the numerous spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, this book rambles from subject to subject without end I have to wonder if the author was impaired while penning this mess