March 27, 2015

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

The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality
The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality by Chris C. Mooney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting book that casts the eternal difference between liberal and conservative, progressive and regressive, and in the US, Democrats and Republicans, in the light of science and psychology, with some fascinating results.

It helped shed light, at least for me, on an everyday Internet phenomenon: why you can get into a "discussion" (read: argument) with some idjit who refuses to accept evolution, or denies climate change, or subscribes to the vaccines-cause-autism nonsense, or insists that Sandy Hook was a "false flag" operation that didn't really happen because Obummer is coming to take our GUNNNNZZZZ!!! (yes, I argued with some asshole for quite a while over this), and no matter how much logic and reason you bombard them with, or how many links you throw their way (and every single link you come up with is the product of a "biased liberal website"), they will...not...change their minds.

I couldn't understand it. I'm used to changing my viewpoint if a sufficient amount of evidence pointing in another direction comes in. When you work in a medical field, you pretty much have to. I mean, people thought Vioxx was a great drug too...until studies appeared indicating that it killed people, and it was yanked off the market. (The FDA didn't come off too well in that flustercluck either, but that's another subject.) I get my news from various sources, including (gasp!) the old-fashioned, pre-Cambrian newsprint page. (As in, my state's largest paper, definitely not a "liberal site," whatever the hell that means. Most of the time, I think it means anything that doesn't agree with a conservative's already-fixed opinions.) I couldn't comprehend why anyone would blindly charge ahead, in the face of accepted scientific evidence, and deny reality--and in fact, be proud of it.

This book helped with that a great deal.

It has to do with the basic psychology of liberals and conservatives--Openness to Experience versus Resistance to Change, hierarchs versus egalitarians, individualists versus communitarians. There are a lot of fairly involved terms thrown around in this book: cognitive dissonance, motivated reasoning, smart idiots, confirmation bias, and on and on. The author explains these well, and goes into great detail regarding the studies he offers up as proof of his thesis, including a study he helped design. His overall tone, it seems to me, is very even-handed and matter-of-fact, even as he's showing that conservatives are simply wrong about any number of things, and they will not accept it.

This would be fine (as my mother always said about a particularly jackassy relative: "Leave him alone in his glory") if they weren't threatening to drag this country and the entire damn world down with them, in the case of climate change. It would also be fine if they weren't attempting to roll back every good thing this country has ever done, namely the New Deal, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act (and getting the Supreme Court's help, in the case of the latter). As the old saying goes, elections have consequences, and at this point in time, letting Republicans run things invites some very bad consequences indeed.

At any rate, this book does a good job of exposing and illustrating this. I also own the author's previous book, The Republican War on Science, but have not yet read it. I must rectify that soon; I think it would be a very good companion to this one.

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