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Conservatives Attack Scientific Findings About Why They Hate Science (Helping to Confirm the Science)

Some would like to dismiss the inconvenient findings about the political right, but the science won’t let them.

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…Mooney is a partisan, and he's looking at the data with the thesis that members of the Republican Party are more close-minded, less scientific, and more willing to disregard experts. And, well, the science backs him up on this. The fact that the research supports his position doesn't sully him OR the science. He's not the one doing the research; Mooney's biases cannot affect studies that he's completely uninvolved in. Of course, he does like what he reads, but is [there] a shame in being right? There isn't.

Everett Young, my collaborator in Chapter 13 of the book, is a Ph.D. political psychologist. He  writes:

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.

I am not a scientist, and have never claimed to be. I am a science journalist. But it is precisely because I report on science and interview the scientists involved that I am able to stick closely to what they have to say, and what they have learned.

Which is, in and of itself, inconvenient for the reality-denying right.

The Right’s Arguments Against the Science Are Ill-Informed At Best

So what do conservatives have to say in response to this science? Honestly, the objections are quite weak, and frankly provide a wealth of new evidence in support of the book’s argument—that conservatives tend to simply reject science and evidence when it threatens their beliefs. The main conservative counterargument relies on little more than misrepresenting the book and its arguments.  Jonah Goldberg claimed, in  USA Today , that I was saying there is something wrong with conservatives; that they have “bad brains.” Nonsense, and I refuted Goldberg  here.

Hank Campbell and Alex Berezow went even further,  claiming the book espouses a new form of eugenics and calls Republicans “genetically inferior.” The book says nothing of the sort. (Andrea Kuszewski  skewered their various errors.)

Ernest Istook, the former member of Congress and now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation,  hit the same note:

Conservatives are simpletons with a mental defect.

That claim is offensive, odious, obnoxious and downright deranged. But it’s the thesis of a book that liberals are buying up, written by Chris Mooney, called “The Republican Brain.”

Well, no, it isn’t the thesis. With all of these critics, one wonders whether they actually read the book.

A slightly more serious conservative critique came from Andrew Ferguson of the  Weekly Standard  who, in a  cover story, dismissed both me and Jonathan Haidt, based upon various methodological critiques of psychology studies, especially those relying on subject pools of undergraduates. Ferguson is calling into question the sampling and methodological practices that are used regularly in papers published in the leading journals of the field. In other words, he’s  attacking science.

But not only are these methods  eminently defensible; and not only have psychologists been  weighing such concerns for decades. The case I’m making  doesn’t rest solely on these kinds of studies, or on the work of any one scholar or methodology. Indeed, most recently, the research on psychological differences between left and right has been backed up by physiological research, and even, tentatively, by some brain studies. Thus, Ferguson’s argument also collapses.

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