Environment

Inside Chris Mooney's Brain

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMar 27, 2012 4:05 PM

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Several weeks ago, in a post at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, I said that Chris Mooney's "new book argues that Republicans are genetically wired to be anti-science." In an email to me, Chris asserted that this characterization "misrepresented" his book, which is called "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality." I disagreed and suggested he leave a comment at the post, making his case. He declined. Now that Chris's book is available, let's have a look and see if I got it right. To be fair to Chris, I'm going to quote extensively from his introduction, where he lays out his approach and methodology. He writes:

I want to emphasize that this argument is not a form of what is called reductionism. Complex phenomena like human political behavior always have many causes, not one. This book fully recognizes that and does not embrace a position that could fairly be called determinism. Human brains are flexible and change daily; people have choices, and those choices alter who they are. Nevertheless, there are broad tendencies in the population that really matter, and cannot be ignored. We don't understand everything there is to know yet about the underlying reasons why conservatives and liberals are different. We don't know how all the puzzle pieces--cognitive styles, personality traits, psychological needs, moral intuitions, brain structures, and genes--fit together. This means that what I'm saying applies at the level of large groups, but may founder in the case of any particular individual. Still, we know enough to begin pooling together all the scientific evidence. And when you do--even if you provide all the caveats, and I've just exhausted them--there's a lot of consistency.

So, from this excerpt which is in his introduction, we can assume that Chris doesn't want readers to think his argument is based on genetics, which would be as reductionistic as it gets, But at the same time, he says, neural studies are telling us something about the Republican brain. A few pages later, Chris gets to what he believes all the social science and cognitive research suggests (my emphasis):

I'll synthesize a body of psychological evidence suggesting conservatives may be more rigid, less flexible in their style of thinking. But I'll also show the counterpoint--perhaps it is tougher to detect this left-right bias differential than we may think, and the cause of the present reality gap between liberals and conservatives lies elsewhere. And I'll examine what is in some ways the most revolutionary idea at all--the increasingly powerful notion that, while the environment assuredly matters, much of the left-right difference may ultimately be influenced by genetics, and even detectable in structures in the brains.

Based on these excerpted passages, it looks to me like Chris's brain is at war with itself. The result is that he ends up talking out of both sides of his mouth.

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