The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality Hardcover – Apr 1 2012
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From the Inside Flap
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.See all Product Description
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Top Customer Reviews
While the topics are few, they are powerful and should lead all political extremes to a greater understanding of why such a great divide exists between us. Liberalism attracts and maintains persons who are not only far more curious than their conservative brothers but are also more easily swayed if the data shows that their initial conclusions are not exact. Conservatism, on the other hand, attracts persons who are more single minded and, being so, present themselves in a more self-assured manner. Or more easily stated; liberals seek out data and from that develop a conclusion whereas conservatives develop a conclusion based on scant data and then, in turn, seek out data that will confirm this original stance. The 'whys' of this dynamic most certainly are not well defined at this point but lean towards a combination of both nature and nurture. Physiology and psychosocial development both enter into the molding of this part of one's personality.
The author, on the other hand, offers a style of writing that is very distracting. He continually inserted comments about how a topic will be dealt with in a latter chapter. That served as nothing more than an annoying diversion and distraction from what he was trying to explain at the time. Secondly, there is a great amount of repetition and `pulp-filler' that made the text a highly tiresome read at times. The basic conclusion of this text was repeated ad nauseum throughout. "We heard you the first time! We really did!" If his rambling wordiness was in fact totally eliminated the topics that were actually discussed could have been presented in less than 100 pages.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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 Science--and Reality is get over whatever initial reaction you have to the title.
Partisan labels are so loaded that it's easy for liberals and conservatives alike to mistake Mooney's nuanced overview of psychological research for a jeremiad about "stupid conservatives."
And, in fact, that reaction has typified many conservative and some liberal responses to the book.
Which sort of proves Mooney's point.
Thinking is more important than information
Decades ago, social scientists started tearing down the Enlightenment view that human beings rationally and methodically process information. In the old view, our brains were like filing cabinets into which we inserted new information to synthesize. In reality, we are motivated reasoners: we use facts and information to justify what we want to believe.
In many cases, the more educated or "smarter" someone is, the more able they are to seek out information that justifies their views. There's a fundamental difference, one of the researchers in Mooney's book points out, between being stupid and being misinformed.
And Mooney's book is all about misinformation, the brains it lands in, and how it gets there.
What's the difference between dominant liberalism and dominant conservatism?
One of the chief values that underpins liberalism, Mooney argues, is "Openness." Liberals are more likely to be open to new experiences, new cultures, and new ideas. They embrace uncertainty, ambiguity and messiness. Conservatives are more likely to exhibit Conscientiousness: a need for order, stability, clarity and cleanliness. As he puts it, people who rate high on conscientiousness are, "highly goal oriented, competent, and organized--and, on average, politically conservative."
But the other side of the Conscientious coin is a need for "closure" and definitive answers. Often, science doesn't provide them. And whenever science appears to conflict with the values of someone with a strong need for closure, they're more likely to reject the science.
We are all liberals, we are all conservatives
At various points in the book, Mooney weaves in a more nuanced view of the liberal-conservative divide. Many social scientists rely on four variables, not two, to describe how people view society: a predilection toward hierarchical structures (big business, the military) vs. egalitarian structures (community groups, social movements) and a communitarian view that emphasizes the needs of the group vs. an individualistic view of the world that emphasizes personal responsibility. Ultimately, American political movements have aligned along these four variables in different combinations over the years, but today extreme conservatives happen to be hierarchical individualists while extreme liberals tends to be communitarian egalitarians. While cumbersome, these terms get to deeper truths about how people think about the world.
There are several points in the book where Mooney compliments conservatives for their decisiveness and ability to bring order to the world. For instance, conservatives are more likely to work in hierarchical organizations like police forces and the military. And thank goodness for that. A country full of anti-authoritarians would probably be pretty ripe for invasion. And he suggests that societies are "balanced" by cooperation among conservatives and liberals.
How these personality traits play out in the real world
Mooney's psychological primer -- which is full of fascinating summaries of clever, thought-provoking studies -- provides a base layer of understanding as he moves into the changes in American politics and media that have made it easier for misinformation to find a willing home in many Americans' brains, particularly the most extreme hierarchical individualists that have aligned into the conservative movement.
He covers the assimilation of Southern Democrats into the Republican Party and the resulting polarization in American politics as the country sorted itself along party lines. And he talks about the fascinating political journey Phyllis Schlafley took to illustrate how the conservative movement has changed over her lifetime. He chronicles the rise of the intellectual right and the expanded universe of think tanks that sprang up in the 1970s to provide analysis that justifies conservative ideology and policy.
He also covers the dominance of Fox News, talk radio and partisan blogs as information sources for conservatives. Their combined power and links to think tanks and the Republican Party can create an information bubble that can easily turn into a misinformation bubble.
From death panels to revisionist histories of America's founding, the misinformation machine is an equal-opportunity weapon against reality. As Shawn Lawrence Otto ably demonstrates in Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, we happen to be living in a time when scientists have discovered problems such as climate change that can hit a lot of ideological buttons and become ready targets for hierarchical / individualist oriented think tanks that feed misinformation into the bubble.
But aren't liberals guilty of the same biases?
Not really, Mooney argues. And certainly, I laugh whenever anyone equates Fox to MSNBC or NPR. Fox is so much more entertaining and delivers a coherent narrative to its viewers. MSNBC and NPR simply have different missions.
Mooney argues that liberals can certainly slip into anti-science and assimilate misinformation. But those anti-scientific views aren't allowed to dominate the liberal extremes or cross over into the mainstream.
Take the vaccine-autism "debate" for instance. It's a natural for extreme liberals who fear any possibility of environmental harm to believe misinformation linking vaccine use to autism, Mooney says. But leaders of that movement, including celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, have found their claims rejected by opinion elites on the left. So anti-vaccination attitudes have only gained a tenuous foothold in communities Mooney calls "granola" like Ashland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado.
Mooney credits liberals' Openness with their faculty for criticizing one another and reining in their extremists. And he points to other examples from nuclear power to natural gas fracking to prove his point. The bad claims and the extremists' craziest arguments get weeded out of the system. There is, he says, "a psychology of disobedience and anti-authoritarianism on the left that ensures that those making these claims will be challenged, sometimes quite vigorously or even viciously."
Put another way, when Ann Coulter says something provocative, conservatives share it on Facebook and say "Right on!" When Michael Moore says something provocative, his fellow liberals pounce on him for not being nuanced or accurate enough. If pressed, they will say they pretty much agree with what he says, but they don't like how he says it.
Mooney puts a finer point on it by telling stories about David Frum and other conservatives who were booted from their movement by being "too open" to new ideas and too willing to criticize their brethren. Meanwhile, Democrats rarely boot apostates from their ranks.
Ultimately, I found the shifting power dynamics of political movements and the media environments in which they operate a stronger explanation for where we stand today than the psychological research. And Mooney acknowledges that some of the most interesting and startling findings from social science research come with a healthy dose of uncertainty themselves.
So what do we do about it?
Mooney's closing chapter contains some concrete suggestions for how to address anti-science. This is a step up from Unscientific America, which he coauthored with Sheril Kirshenbaum. Like many readers, I enjoyed the book, but wanted a lot more discussion about what to do about the sorry state of our public discourse around scientific topics.
First, Mooney argues, we need to come to grips with the fact that more facts won't win the day if people are predisposed to rejecting or ignoring them. Mooney argues that listening to people and helping them see how their worldview is affirmed - not threatened - by scientific findings is one way to overcome these challenges.
He also encourages journalists to become more conversant in how liberals and conservatives view the world and to communicate that to their audiences. So don't just tell us there's a budget disagreement tell us why liberals' egalitarian values and conservatives' personal responsibility values are in conflict over spending and debt. In other words, stop letting politicians simply talk past each other.
He says liberals should learn to be more decisive and cites the Occupy Wall Street movement and the ongoing European debt crisis as typical liberal discussion-fests lacking clear leadership, focus or a willingness to make decisions. Heck, the occupiers designed their movement to avoid classic leadership. Sometimes one plan, any plan, is much better than endless debate.
Mooney's book offers a combination of detail, breeziness and narrative that should satisfy anyone who is frustrated by the prevalence of misinformation in America's political debates, particularly scientific misinformation.
And he offers some tantalizing suggestions for how this might be effectively addressed.
But more importantly, like any good science fan, he calls for more research. And he acknowledges his own uncertainty about his conclusions.
But, overall, the weight of the evidence Mooney presents for the simple idea that liberals and conservatives process information differently is incontrovertible. And in the current political context, those differences are ever more apparent.
And that's a fact we should all accept if we're interested in making our democracy stronger.
(Full disclosure: I've worked with the author before as part of my day job, but the opinion stated above is my own.)
1. How does it happen? How can intelligent people, including myself, fall for an ideology, and political platform, that is built on a foundation of ideas that sound good, but are not true?
2. How we can reach the many Republicans that are more reasonable than the ideologues on the party fringe?
3. How can I help others like me escape? How many millions of conservatives don't really believe in the conservative platform, but were sucked in by the hard-wired need for social conformity, even when it is against their own economic best interests?
I'd give Mooney an "A" on #1 and #2, and a "unanswered" on #3. The book overall though, is definitely worthy of a 5 rating for its clarity of message and effort at being objective and seeking truth over partisanship.
Even before I read Mooney's book I had some pretty good ideas about how I became conservative. The pulls of social conformity, i.e. tribalism, the appeal of certainty and simple message is extremely strong, especially when one is surrounded in nearly all areas of life by conservatives and conservative messaging (propaganda?).
Fortunately I have a brother and sister in-law, both of whom having training in science, that were able to get through to me - "to show me the light", as it were. I am incredibly thankful to them for enabling my escape from the lies and deceit that is conservatism - despite the comfort that those lies provided.
Mooney's book confirmed my assumptions and findings from prior reading with overwhelming scientific evidence. One might think that he used some of the conservative "truth confirming" tricks of motivated reasoning and selection and confirmation bias, but he genuinely seems to have bent over backwards to present the data with honesty and objectivity - as true "truth seeking" liberals generally do.
Mooney also had some good ideas about how to reach conservatives - find common ground, don't attack their beliefs head on and use conservative techniques of appealing to authority and emotion while telling a story. Don't deluge them in facts - which will ultimately backfire and reinforce the incorrect belief. Engaging with conservatives is an art-form and Mooney provides some helpful techniques.
To my dismay, he did not address my third question. I'm not sure if this question, how to reach conservatives that are not REALLY conservative, is lacking data, or is just not worth the effort due to the small numbers (or large? Do we even know?) of people that fall into this category. My own unscientific perspective is that the ratio of conservatives who don't "believe" is probably similar to the number of people in church each Sunday who don't really believe in God or in the doctrine of their religion. Why would it be any different?
I don't think many true Republicans will read "The Republican Brain" as they are not typically "open to experience", hence the reason why they are Republican. That is unfortunate as they are in most need of its message. I fear that GOP insistence on ideological conformity on topics that are blatantly wrong will be the death of their party - which is a shame given the benefit we all receive from having two strong, and well-informed, political parties.
It is my hope, however, that the vast middle of reasonable, open-minded and politically independent people that want to understand the psychology of today's political mind will READ THIS BOOK.
Enter "The Republican Brain". Decades of psychological and neuroscience research are beginning to paint a clearer picture of how and why we believe what we do. Our biology seems to be at the root of our ideology. Mooney lays out a convincing case that when our ideas are intertwined so deeply with our values, it can be almost impossible to view an issue through a lens of objectivity or be open to challenging one's beliefs. The conservative brain seems to be especially predisposed to what he calls "motivated reasoning", using inherently false information to support a strong ideological belief. In a sense, the book describes how values and political ideologies can overpower logic and reasoning. Democrats and liberals are not without fault, as Mooney's discussion of fracking and nuclear energy show, but research shows that the conservative brain is by far the most egregiously guilty. Instead of ripping off a painful band-aid and allowing their ideology to be challenged, the conservative brain seems more apt to pretend that the band-aid doesn't exist.
There's a great irony in the book itself. It's that those who most need to hear, embrace and respond to the message (modern conservatives), will likely disregard the scientific rigor held in its pages as yet another casualty of motivated reasoning. Because this book delivers such a painful message to the Republican brain, many will deny it outright and declare partisan warfare. Do not let them fool you. This is a discussion our society needs to have, and both sides have much to learn from the science of how we believe.
1. Republicans distort facts for their benefit far more often than Democrats--global warming and history are cited most in this book, although Mooney uses a wide variety of examples.
2. There are known psychological reasons for these differences including development and use of different parts of the brain. These differences go on to influence personality, friends, career path, and even which states people move to. The most interesting study is the "smart idiot" effect, which means that politically knowledgeable conservatives are often more biased and less persuadable than ignorant conservatives or liberals (i.e., conservatives engage in motivated reasoning).
3. The liberal/conservative divide has widened over the past few decades not only because of the conservative revolution of the 1970s-80s, but also because of the growth of cable news and the Internet. The new sources allow conservatives to have easy access to like-minded thinkers and a wide array of "experts" to back up their erroneous claims and create a new reality that conforms to their worldview.
Overall, Mooney does an good job addressing the above points, and the book is well worth the read for anyone interested in the partisan divide. However, the book still left me disappointed and I found myself rushing through the detailed study with Dr. Everett Young, which should have contained less statistics and more analysis. As Mooney explains in the prelude, his previous book, The Republican War on Science, was highly popular among liberals but did nothing to change conservative opinions. The reason of course is the inherent propensity in conservatives to predispose of any information that contradicts their deeply held beliefs. But any liberal who has attempted to debate a conservative already knows this: facts, logic, and scientific reasoning always fail in such discussions. Mooney's writing style is geared toward liberals and he admits that conservatives will not buy his arguments--although at least now he knows why!
I was hoping for more advice on how liberals should address and debate conservatives considering the advances in psychology. Mooney offers a few tidbits, mostly in the conclusion. To address the problems with rewriting history, liberals need to leave the debunking to the experts and instead tell their own stories about historical figures that are accurate, interesting, and emphasize liberal values. He also elaborates on a political point that has been discussed among liberals in recent years--it is pointless to try and compromise with conservatives (especially Obama vs Congress). Liberals need to "be more conservative" not in their political views, but by acquiring some of the positive traits of conservatives such as unity, loyalty, and shared purpose. This theme is similar to the "pep talk" that Mooney has given to scientists in the past and it applies to any advocacy group looking for influence.
Based on the recent advances in liberal vs. conservative psychology, there is a book to be written about how liberals should address and debate conservatives. From the Republican Brain, we now know why conservatives refuse to accept certain facts, but what is now needed it a detailed guide for how liberals should go about changing conservative falsehoods and winning arguments.
I hesitate to give this book only 3/5 stars, but this book has some repetition, loses focus at times in the second half, and has some undeveloped ideas. Other authors such as Malcolm Gladwell and recently Charles Duhigg are better at grasping the applications of psychological studies. But considering that Mooney only worked on this book for a year, he is well on his way to becoming an expert on the liberal vs. conservative divide.
For those interested in reading M. Hanson's review and the comments to which I refer in my discussion, the review is on p. 6 of the reviews, with the link to comments located beneath it. The numbers of cited comments are given in parentheses (1-10 are on p. 1 of the comments, 11-20 on p. 2 etc). If you click on "your post" or "an earlier post" above each entry, you can see the text that is being addressed. My initial posts were to Hanson.(19, 22)
My first post to Enigma was to defend climate scientist Michael Mann's graph of historical temperatures that become known as the "hockey stick," and to contest the accuracy of several points that Enigma had made.(58) He replied by refusing to read the evidence to which I supplied the links, accused me of relying on leftists, like Al Gore and climate scientist James Hansen (actually a political independent), and of being dogmatic, ideological, and non-scientific. He claimed that his position was with science and fell between the ideologies of left and right.(63) He presented a chart he had constructed to make this clear. And he gave me five links to published papers that he claimed were "from scientific journals not ideological blogs that say the Mann hockey stick graph is pure BS."(63) In fact, none of the papers he cited mentioned the graph and none disproved its accuracy, although the first one reached a cautious conclusion that, if confirmed, could challenge Mann's graph.(135) But various other graphs have shown that the most recent temperatures are unmatched in the last thousand years (the greatest point of contention).
When I pointed out the flaws in his claims,(65) he responded with a list of 38 international academies, societies, and institutes of science that he said were on his side.(71) Stunningly, James Hansen, whom he put on the left side of his chart with the anti-science, dogmatic ideologues, heads NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, one of the institutions on his list of those exemplifying scientific truth! One wonders, if he has any familiarity with the institutions on his approved list, why he was unaware of this well-known fact. Another study that I discussed in my first response to him(58) was conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, which appears twice on his favored list. He never acknowledged the reference and repeatedly accused me of reading only biased blogs, while he got his science from the listed institutions. He claimed that all of these institutions had "temperature charts that say [Michael] Mann's hockey stick [graph of 6 centuries or 1000 years, according to which version he meant] was wrong."(71) What he refused to do was to even acknowledge the evidence I presented, much less try to point to any flaws in it. I compared this strategy to choosing superheroes to fight for our side when we were kids;(135) I suggested that saying the institutions were on his side was simply a verbal game if he could not indicate what particular ideas of theirs he agreed with and that I contested, but he never managed to produce any "chart" (I believe he meant any graph, but he produced neither) constructed by, or endorsed by, one of the museums on his list or any statement made by them with which he agreed. When I quoted from a research paper disproving criticisms that Mann's graph was based on manipulations of data and methods, and when I supplied further links to other science reports confirming the validity of Mann's graph,(101) Enigma's only response was to continue to claim that I only read partisan blogs, and that real science joined him between the politicized views of the left and right.
Enigma continually counseled me to "go to the source for real science,"(25) but he never gave me a reference to a scientific publication produced by any of the institutions he listed, much less used evidence in such publications to rebut any statements I made. I contested his claim that "all of these highly esteemed and internationally well thought of scientific organizations [on his list] have temperature charts that say Mann's hockey stick is wrong." and I challenged him to show an example.(117) He replied with a link to an investment website (possibly an error, except that he had given me the same link in an earlier post and claimed that it "shows NOAA charts" (it didn't).(125, 96) I responded by sending him a link to some hockey stick graphs with a text that confirmed Mann's graph in its essential characteristics at the NOAA website (on his approved list)(99), but was unable to find those described by Enigma.(96) He also gave me a link to a site with 125 graphs that he claimed disproved Mann's hockey stick, many of which did not cover the same region or time period, and others that were so odd it was not clear on what basis they had been constructed.(125) At the time I had not scanned all the way down the site, but checking back, I discovered a long list of hyperlinked article titles below the graph section with titles such as "? Are Lefties/Elites/Libs Destroying/Ignoring Empirical Science" and "Science / Academia Journals Bias/Distortion." It seems that, after all his assertions of standing for pure science as exemplified by his listed institutions, and coaching me to avoid biased blogs, Enigma's understanding of global warming was shaped by a dogmatic, ideological, non-scientific website! It is true that this website does have a category of peer-reviewed studies. But the interpretations provided by the blog master often attribute significance to the researcher's conclusions that they do not warrant, as here: [...]l and here:[...] Had he looked instead at the sources on his recommended list, he would have found statements such as the one by NCAR concerning the graph of Mann et al.:
"A number of recent studies have re-examined the methods used and suggested adjustments. Yet the basic message of the hockey stick remains valid, as a panel of the National Academy of Sciences found in a 2006 report. That panel concluded that the warming trend since 1900, and especially since the 1970s, is highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented in the last millennium."
In addition the National Academy of Sciences report,(58) and the NOAA graphs and commentary, I supplied links to two "hockey stick graphs" used by other institutions on his list to explain climate history, and two descriptions from listed institutions that fit the basic properties of Mann's graph.(91, 99) Enigma never removed these institutions from his list, despite their statements and graphs that completely contradict his claim of siding with them, and he continued to include the list in subsequent posts (five times in all) to show that, unlike me, he sided with science. He also repeated his left--center--right chart two more times to prove he was in the middle with science and I wasn't, since I got my evidence from "ideological" blogs. While I continued to find further statements in publications written by institutions on his list that agreed with my position and that seemed to contradict his, he never offered a single statement from any publication of "his" scientific institutions to support his claims. I pointed to a special issue of the journal of The Royal Society (which appears on his science institution list and is also the one institution used in his left-center-right diagram represent science) entirely devoted to papers presented at a conference on a future world with an increased temperature of 4 degrees Centigrade, now a growing possibility and contrary to his notion of global warming as presenting little risk.(121) He responded,
"They DID - but your [sic] forgot to mention (actually the blogs you rely on for your propaganda didn't tell you this) that they also put [out] a special issue devoted to papers that disputed the 4 degree rise. WHOOPS - you see John, that's how real science is done, they look at all of the arguments and follow the one with the most amount of evidence."
But he never offered to provide a link, a title, for date to this issue, and I was never able to locate it, despite Googling it under any likely terms I could think of.
I responded with references to two publications The Royal Society published to explain the present state of knowledge about global warming to the general public, one in 2005 and a more extensive one in 2010.(135) I extracted a series of statements from them that appeared to contradict positions he had taken in his responses to me. Once again, he never addressed my evidence or gave any indication that he had read anything published by any institution on his approved list. But soon he was back with his now-familiar attack:
"You spew out blogosphere BS and your [sic] refuse to engage in real science.
Oh and let's one more time look at these right wing blogs I use:"
This sarcasm is followed by the same list of approved science institutions, from which he never cites a publication (except the one that can't be found), nor acknowledged those I cited.(143) Spot checking a number of the websites of other institutions on the list reveals that the majority seem to have no department devoted to global warming and no publication explaining their understanding of the subject. So one must ask, how does Enigma extract information from these institutions that explains their positions? Evidently he makes "use" of them simply by listing their names repeatedly. This use has a striking resemblance to Mooney's description of the rigid right's inflexible concept of one model fitting all situations: in contrast to supply side economist Bruce Bartlett, who recognized that Keynesian economics would work better in the present situation, "the rigid right keeps pushing tax cuts, and now, 'don't print money'--not so much thoughts any longer, but chants."(p. 201) Repeated displays of "the list"(and of a shorter list of three climate blogs I cited, among my other references) were Enigma's analogous response to any argument and any evidence, "not so much thoughts any longer, but chants."
He also continued to repeat his evasion of my evidence but kept listing three blogs I had mentioned, which he claimed were evidence of my anti-science attitude, while ignoring the fact, which I pointed out, that any claims made on these blogs were supported by links to the original research papers. He responded to a further extensive analysis I made of his arguments (which were often simply assertions) by reproducing his list of institutions and writing, "John your fight is with science not with me I will let the above institutions do the talking for me."(152)
The problem with that proposal is that the only institutions of his that do any "talking" describe scientific understandings that agree with mine and contradict his. He could not explain why I should have a fight with them.
When Enigma got around to actually discussing scientific research, it was Fox's report of a study that he read and from which he decided the key take-away conclusion was:
"'As respondents' science literacy scores increased, their concern with climate change decreased.'
To which he added, "Seems the less you know about science the more sensationalistic and 'scared' you get about climate change - yup that seems about right."(126)
But when one checks with the actual study, readily available online, the significant conclusion is that
"[m]embers of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest."
As it turns out, the leader of the study, Dan M. Kahan, provided some of the underlying evidence for Chris Mooney's chapter 2, "Smart Idiots," and his study concludes 1.) that people's sense of risk from a possible threat, such as global warming, are skewed by the cultural group to which they belong; 2.) that the more mathematical and scientific factual knowledge they have, the more confident they feel in their beliefs, so that 3.) they become more polarize. For those who are egalitarian and communitarian (Harry Truman and St. Francis of Assisi), greater knowledge of math and science resulted in greater alarm about global warming, and for those who are hierarchical and individualistic (Mitt Romney and Donald Trump,) greater knowledge about math and science resulted in less alarm. Kahan's study is not concerned with which view is correct, but there is a large body of evidence demonstrating that global warming is real, anthropogenic, and a cause for great concern, a view accepted by the very institutions on Enigma's list. Consequently, as Mooney suggests, Republicans are in denial of the situation. And the saying goes, " "If you can keep your head about you while everyone else is losing theirs, then you probably don't understand the situation."
It is likely that Enigma missed Mooney's discussion of Kahan's research because, as he admitted to M. Hanson, the review writer, "I scanned the book in the store today and felt much of what you wrote about."(4) This revealing statement, taken with Enigma's other responses to information and evidence and his advice to read more science (although he apparently doesn't), fits nicely with Mooney's "smart idiot effect": "Republicans or conservatives who know more about the issue, or are more educated, are shown to be more in denial, and often more sure of themselves too--and are confident they don't need any more information on the issue."(p.48) As Mooney points out, this makes it extremely difficult to persuade someone from a group espousing different cultural or religious values of a subject such as global warming by using reasoning and evidence--as I now realize only too well. And more specifically, Mooney collaborated on designing several tests, the most significant conclusion from which was that Republicans read fast, perhaps, Mooney thinks, because "conservatives, more than liberals, may have been going on quicker and less informed impressions rather than deeply engaging with the material were provided." (p. 257) Enigma's quick scan of Mooney's book as well as his responses throughout our discourse offer striking evidence confirming this view. And the word he uses to indicate his agreement--"felt"--indicated that he makes decisions quickly and on the basis of feeling, while, as Mooney says, "liberals have more need for cognition."(p. 69)
As Enigma observes, getting your science from sources that are dogmatic, ideological, and non-scientific isn't a good idea, but evidently he doesn't find the rule necessary to practice. In the very next post he quoted the entire letter that a group of 16 scientists and non-scientists, six of whom had ties to fossil fuel companies,(154) and very few of whom were engaged in recent climate research, had published in the dogmatic, ideological, and non-scientific Wall Street Journal (coincidentally also owned by Rupert Murdoch).(127)
The letter begins with an account of Ivar Giaever's resignation from the American Physical Society (APS) because of the Society's stated position: "The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring," (the presence in the statement of the word "incontrovertible" was denied by the APS president).(154) It continues by attempting to create doubt about global warming's seriousness by reciting a series of long-disproved charges.
The letter prompted a response by 255 climate scientists, which the WSJ refused to publish, but the highly respected journal Science did. The letter pointed out that "there is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend." All of the scientists were members of National Academy of Sciences, an institution that appears (twice) on Enigma's list of approved scientific institutions.(154)
The WSJ published another response by 37 climate scientists, who pointed out that, of the 16 signers of the original letter, few were climate scientists and those who were actually researching held views "that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert."(154)
Revealingly, Enigma relied for global warming science on a letter by non-climate scientists, published in the highly biased WSJ, to support his belief in the lack of consensus about global warming, rather than on the scientific understanding of the 225 members of the NAS, one of the institutions he claims to "use."
In my view, my extended discussion with Enigma, in which I worked as hard as possible to buttress my claims with evidence, confirms Mooney's ideas about the Republican brain--particularly the amazing resistance even to acknowledge that evidence has been presented (to a degree that I could not have dreamed possible) and, as we see daily among Republican politicians, a willingness to continue to make statements long after they have been proven false many times over, as Mooney discusses (pp. 5-7). Other conservative commenters joined our discussion, describing global warming warnings as "the work of fascistic radicals looking for an excuse to gain more tyrannical control over our lives"(149) (this written by an older man who professed to have "several earned doctorates") and, by a much younger man, as a plot "pushed by globalists with political agendas" leading to "world government."(109) (113) Another commenter the last-cited writer asked the young man, "Even if you would rather be dead than red, are your personal political beliefs of such importance that you are THE ONE who should have the right to dictate to everyone else that they must die along with you? He replied, simplifying the choice as an authoritarian conservative would,(pp. 72-74) and displaying unconcern for harm to others, as a conservative individualist would,(80) "I would rather die by mans causes than live as a slave to man."(124) These two conservative commenters also claimed that Enigma refuted my arguments(147), and they questioned my logic.(153) I view these reactions as "motivated reasoning," discussed by Mooney.(pp. 26-55)
The bottom line is, that while there is much more to learn in this area of study, Mooney's conclusions are generally valid, although hard to accept. One would very much like to believe that it is possible to convince people about the reality of matters such as global warming by presenting evidence to support a carefully reasoned argument that would overcome cultural bias. But I guess that's my liberal bias. Unfortunately, the current Republican willingness to win people over by emotion--especially fear--rather than evidence suggests, despite their one-star reviews of Mooney's book, that they are well aware of the research Mooney reports on and are using techniques to exploit it, as indicated by the repetition of baseless claims of "death panels," and lies about the president's birthplace despite his birth certificate, about his supposed increases in taxing and spending, about his religion, and a host of other misinformation. The polarization that Mooney describes has increased and has contributed to the present political split, with the far right driving out the center. Current Republican political behavior, including dismissal of the other side and repeated use of blatant, pants-on-fire lies, is replicated in nuce by Enigma's insistence on repeatedly presenting a list of science institutions with which he seems completely unfamiliar to back his claim that he sides with science, his refusal to respond to proof that he doesn't side with these institutions (and I do), his unwillingness to look at evidence that shows his positions to be mistaken, and his reliance of biased sources for information, a practice of which he accuses me. While being highly critical of Mooney's book, Enigma is a prime, if extreme, example of someone who evaluates and supports his convictions with a Republican brain of the kind Mooney describes.