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RS79 - Chris Mooney on The Republican War on Science

Release date: January 27 2013

Can science denialism be blamed on a "Republican brain"? In other words: is there something about the psychology of Republicans that makes them inclined to reject the scientific consensus on topics like evolution and climate change? Special guest Chris Mooney argues there is, elaborating on the thesis in his popular book, "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality."  Massimo and Julia debate whether the evidence support Chris's thesis.

Chris's pick: "How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes"

Reader Comments (7)

At the end of the podcast, Massimo mentioned the idea that people become more conservative as they age. It is my understanding that this is largely a misconception due to the fact that older people are generally more conservative than younger people. It appears that people become less conservative on average as they age, particular for many social issues. I'm sure that the picture is more complicated depending on the issue, but my understanding is that the available research points to the general trend of becoming less socially conservative over time

January 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterccbowers

It seemed that Julia and Massimo let Chris off pretty easy in this episode. Perhaps it is because he is a journalist and not an academic that they gave him pretty wide leeway? I would have expected more skepticism given the tenuous evidence and far-reaching conclusions presented. Massimo is right that politics is probably determined by a different brain arrangement almost by definition, but I certainly was not convinced of the causal chain presented.

It may be true, it may not, but I didn't find the presentation convincing.

January 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCkaloon

I enjoyed this podcast though I agree to some degree with the comment by Ckaloon above.

I think we need to distinguish between when someone, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, rejects scientific evidence about a particular matter because they literally reject the science and when they do this for political reasons. In Nonsense on Stilts, Massimo says that Stephen Jay Gould's objections to sociobiology "were in part well founded on scientific grounds, but were also the result of an unapologetic ideological commitment that seemed to have priority over the science and that led Gould to some unorthodox moves..."

In Cold-Blooded Kindness, Barbara Oakley writes that, "Some feminists who have read this book have expressed concern that having a better scientific understanding of battered women could play into the hands of unscrupulous prosecutors."

A Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History website page on a project on race by the American Anthropological Association tells visitors that, "The idea of 'race' has been used historically to describe these differences and justify mistreatment of people and even genocide. Today, contemporary scientific understanding of human variation is beginning to challenge 'racial' differences, and even question the very concept of race."

To many people this means that the concept of race should be done away with regardless of whether it can be scientifically supported.

There are many cases where ideological commitments seem to take priority over science, and I think this is probably the case for many Republicans and conservatives as well as Democrats, liberals and Marxists, etc. For all we know, Obama could be an atheist, but we know that for a politician to admit this in public and to fail to pay lip service to "God" would be political suicide. (I wonder if Moody has ever wondered aloud how someone with a "Democrat brain" such as Obama could believe in a supernatural personal creator God, but maybe Moody suspects that Obama's public displays of theism are just for show. If so, why not give the same benefit of the doubt to Republican politicians who publicly express belief in ideas as scientifically unsupportable as the idea that a supernatural personal creator God exists?) Surely there are Republicans who accept evolution who publicly say or imply otherwise to appeal to certain constituents, and this may also be true where global warming, homosexuality and many other issues are concerned.

Aside from all that, much appreciation to Rationally Speaking Podcast producer Benny Pollak for producing such a great podcast!

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEurydice

Correction to my previous post: sorry for misspelling Chris Mooney's name as "Moody."

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEurydice

Agreed Eurydice - great podcast regardless, and great work in general by Massimo and Julia. I really look forward to their latest downloads dropping into my podcatcher app each week or so.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCkaloon
Great episode. Straw Vulcan Award sounds really kool.
January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
A lot of people change their viewpoint entirely as they go through life. A person could have conservative views in their early life, move strongly towards progressive views in college, and then move back towards conservative views after they start a business and have to pay taxes.
February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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