Conservatives Attack Scientific Findings About Why They Hate Science (Helping to Confirm the Science)
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Two months have passed since my new book, The Republican Brain, was published, and so far it has gotten a lot of media attention. However, the coverage has followed a noteworthy pattern: while progressives and liberals seem intrigued about what I’m saying, the so-called “mainstream” media—the CNNs of the world—have shied away from the subject.
What’s up with this? Well, a book with conclusions closely related to mine—Norman Ornstein’s and Thomas Mann’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism—seems as though it is being handled similarly by some in the press. And perhaps there’s a reason: Centrist (aka “mainstream”) journalists might well prefer that the findings of these books not be true.
You see, if I’m wrong, then the press can happily go on doing what it has always done: Splitting the difference between the political left and the political right, and employing “on the one hand, on the other hand” treatments that presume we’re all equally biased, all equally self-interested...just in different directions.
The trouble is, I’ve presented a substantial body of scientific evidence suggesting that this simply isn’t the case . More specifically, the science I’ve presented suggests that the political right and left are quite different animals; that they perceive the world differently and handle evidence differently; and most importantly, that the polarization and the denial of science in modern American politics are fundamentally the fault of the authoritarian right. (Mann and Ornstein argue something very similar about today’s Republican Party.)
In other words, if my book is right, we have to discard much that we thought we knew about politics. If the science of political ideology is right, then the ground shifts beneath us.
It is very natural, then, that a lot of people—centrist journalists perhaps most of all--don’t want to accept what I’m saying. The problem is, where is the scientific counterargument to what I’m saying?
Current State of the Science Supports The Republican Brain Thesis
The evidence for my thesis—that liberals and conservatives differ by personality, psychological needs, moral intuitions, and numerous other traits; and that this is what is lurking behind our political battles over what is true, on issues ranging from global warming to whether President Obama was born in the U.S.--was lying in plain sight in the scientific literature. I simply compiled it and reported on it. Notably, this evidence is not dependent on the work of any one scientist or group of scientists, on any one methodology, or on any one discipline. It is cross-disciplinary, and it is growing.
No wonder that since the book came out, I’ve heard from a number of researchers whose work I’ve reported on, saying that I’ve done an accurate job. Indeed, there have been a number of public remarks from people of expertise, saying essentially the same thing.
Most prominent among these is Jonathan Haidt, the University of Virginia moral psychologist and the author of the much discussed book The Righteous Mind . Notably, Haidt defines himself as a “centrist,” not a liberal. On MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes , Haidt had this to say about my thesis:
Chris has done a great job of surveying the literature. I want to give him a stamp of approval. He is not cherry picking, he is representing the current state of thinking about politics and personality.
Haidt went further, adding that his own science casts additional light here:
I want to fully agree with Chris that the psychology does predispose liberals more to be receptive to science; my own research has found that conservatives are better at group-binding, at loyalty, and so if you put them in a group-versus-group conflict, yes the right is more prone, psychologically, to band around and sort of, circle the wagons.