Best-selling author Chris Mooney uses cutting-edge research to explain the psychology behind why today’s Republicans reject reality - it’s just part of who they are. From climate change to evolution, the rejection of mainstream science among Republicans is growing, as is 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? Science writer Chris 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 and 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.
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.
Chris Mooney is the best-selling author of The Republican War on Science, the host of the Point of Inquiry podcast, and the author of The Intersection blog for Science Progress. He has written several books, as well as articles for Mother Jones, American Prospect, Harper’s, Washington Post, USA Today, and Slate. He has appeared on The Last Word, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Book TV, Science Friday, Morning Joe, and Fresh Air, among other programs.
I have to laugh. A search in Audible using the keywords Republican and Brain turn up “The Republican Brain – The Science of Why they Deny Science” and it also turns up Ann Coulter’s “If Democrats had any Brains, They’d Be Republicans”. One is a serious study and the other is penned by an entertainer. Having seen the performer Ann Coulter and not having much respect for her capacity to reason, I will pass on her book but I will do due diligence and Google her take on Evolution and Climate Change for this review.
It appears that just like many religious right Republicans, she rejects these two convincing science based findings. This book attempts to figure out why a large number of Republicans can ignore solid science. I wanted to know as well. I have Conservative friends and family that I like tremendously but cannot figure out why they reject science and find getting into discussions with them is futile.
There is a lot of solid research here and while the author is a liberal, he occasionally delivers biting criticism of the liberal state of mind. I wonder if Ann can find anything positive to say about a liberal in her book? Essentially the conservative frame of mind has its positive applications sometimes in society, but there is a lot of positives for the liberal bias. One study among many that impressed me talked about brains scans showing emotions being predominant with Republican reasoning and the cerebral area taking the lead with Liberal reasoning. Studies find a cluster of traits shared by many Republicans. One is they do not like uncertainty – liberals do not have a problem with this. It is no surprise that the majority of scientists are more likely to be liberal with the nature of the vocation being amenable to upheaval of certainties when new solid evidence comes in. A religious right Republican is more likely to let the more primitive emotional brain system kick in when presented with solid facts and dig in their heels and deny.
Surprisingly an educated Republican science denier is actually more recalcitrant than an uneducated one when good evidence comes in. They are more adept at bringing in complicated nonsense arguments. This is called being idiot smart. For me, the best way to describe this is to go back a few hundred years to Galileo’s time. His notion that the earth was not the center of the universe went against the teachings of the church. I’m sure many educated religious right people of that time scorned the conclusion that the earth revolved around the sun and came up with some very byzantine proofs to support the sun revolved around the earth view. But Galileo was right and he had good evidence to support his contentions. Darwin and the majority of climate change scientists are probably correct as well.
Liberals and Republicans are human and are capable of similar mistakes with motivated reasoning. I now have a better understanding that my Pollyanna wish to convince a science denier with cogent arguments will ultimately fail because they are reasoning with a more primitive human system that sometimes was the best answer when survival of the group was on the line.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
I confess that I selected this book because I thought it was more about genetics than it is. In truth, it barely touches upon the topic, and then principally from a group selection perspective which the author correctly acknowledges is out of vogue. Having said that, I was moderately interested in the content.
It is far from revolutionary. Different people are differently disposed to think in different ways. This means that each of us has our own in-built bias. That bias makes us prefer certain things over others. It predisposes us to accept certain arguments and it might enable us to accept as true that which is objectively false. None of this is new. Applying it to political psychology might be new, but it is hardly surprising.
Some of the studies are interesting, but without the detail of the testing it is hard to gauge their objective application beyond the test circumstance. And I say all of this as a self confessed "small l, liberal". Does this make me a contrarian or a paradigm liberal? I don't know. I suspect that the psychology of pigeon-holing people doesn't help make that judgment any easier; merely easier for the examiner to analyse.
I stopped worrying about the psychology of what I do a long time ago. Maybe that makes me a conservative. I work in the law. Perhaps that makes me authoritarian. I think I am a lot of many things and made up of many personality traits. That's what makes me human.
I think there is a worthwhile message in this book. Unfortunately, despite a concerted attempt to be balanced, the title is a real set-back. It looks like a device to sell books, and it is not the message of the book. The language is unnecessarily pejorative. The book is better than that and it would have benefited from omitting the rhetoric. This is most correct of the conclusion which even the author recognises as "kum ba yah".
Of course, I am not living in the USA. Politics in Australia is marked by a sameness (nearly everyone, on both sides of the political divide, is a moderate by US standards). There are the truth deniers, but generally we shake our heads and ignore them so they can follow their own truth. We have a Christian Right, but it does not come close to the US, and we have no equivalent to the Tea Party. All of this allows me to be immediately more complacent even though I know that in 15 years we will have what the US has now. I lament that happening, but I remain a true liberal to the extent that I continue to believe that good argument usually wins. Good argument does not equal truth. Maybe you have to be a lawyer to accept this conundrum. I don't know the answers, but I don't think reading this will hurt your chance at understanding. Just suspend your judgment, bite your annoyance down from time to time and it is a worthwhile listen. No complaints about the performance.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of The Republican Brain to be better than the print version?
I am always a fan of books in print, but this is a good one to read in the car. Personally, I tend to pick non-fiction books apart, so it takes forever for me to read them. I was glad to have this in audio format if only for the benefit of getting through it quickly and not being so nitpicky.
Have you listened to any of William Hughes’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Never heard any of William Hughes' books before, but he was very good. I enjoyed listening to him.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
It was definitely hard to turn it off, but it is so long that it would be hard to find that much time all at once.
Any additional comments?
Please disregard any reviews that claim this book is biased. I would question whether that person had even read the book, since the author clearly tries to understand the psychology of why BOTH parties think and act the way they do. Mooney does a great job of showing the differences between the parties and noting how each party adds value to our country. It is not a question of intelligence or morality. He makes no claim that Republicans are idiots or crazy, as one reviewer on this site interprets this book. He simply explains that conservatives and liberals are wired differently.
I think this topic is extremely important - it is something that has always frustrated me as a liberal. I know many conservatives who I consider to be smart and genuinely good people. How then can they be so wrong when it comes to scientific fact?
This book's premise is that humans, in general, are hardwired to respond emotionally at first and then justify that response using facts. Everyone does this, regardless of political affiliation. The primary difference between conservatives and liberals is their level of openness - liberals tend to be very open to change and new ideas, where conservatives tend to be more closed, valuing tradition and hierarchy. Liberals, therefore, are more apt to change their minds when presented with facts and data consistently over time. Conservatives, however, react in just the opposite way - sometimes they will even cling harder to previously held beliefs when presented with opposing data. Understanding why this happens is crucial in determining how we communicate. I hope that people who read this book will not only come away with a better understanding of how the two parties think, but also start considering ways that we can work together toward common goals.
48 of 54 people found this review helpful
I was a bit skeptical coming into this book, thinking it would be little more than a partisan rant, but it was actually more fair-minded than I expected. I may be biased because I'm liberal, but I found the evidence pretty convincing that misinformation is a bigger problem on the right than it is on the left, and that this asymmetry can be traced to specific personality traits and cognitive styles pinned down by psychology and neuroscience experiments. I found this evidence pretty disheartening, as it suggests little hope for future bipartisanship, but it is important information that needs to be disseminated (even though conservatives will find a way to dismiss it). If you've ever wondered why liberals and conservatives can't get along, this book is for you. If you suspect that the right is more full of it than the left and are looking for evidence, this book is for you. If you're conservative, you will probably hate it and find a way to dismiss every word of it. If you're on open-minded conservative, you'll probably still hate it, but you might learn a few things.
43 of 54 people found this review helpful
In short, Mooney uses science to uncover how open and closed brains work. This is not opinion; this is science using the scientific method. In his journey, he indeed changes his thesis to accommodate the observations and results. He doesn’t just make the stuff up.
Ironically, some of these reviews for this book are the very result of what Mooney discusses. I laughed out loud at a few, they make Mooney’s point exactly… but alas, I’ll let you hear the book. Once you do, come back and read the reviews again. Most importantly, look at the specific arguments that these reviewers make. The wording and phrasing demonstrate specifically what Mooney’s research uncovers, a sort of wired blindness to reality. The book discusses why this is the case.
The most interesting aspect was the bio-feedback notion, i.e. that people become entrenched in a certain way of thinking and that the very act of this behavior strengthens the brain’s wiring. This can be shown using brain scans and empirically demonstrated using survey results.
In the end, Mooney even argues that open (liberal) people have weaknesses that closed (conservative) people don’t have, and that the open brained people need to consider and use some of the valuable aspects of the closed brain. This brings to light the idea there is value in both kinds of thinking.
If you’re somewhat of a liberal, this is a great book. Get it, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll love this book.
If you’re somewhat conservative, you might also want to give it a try. If you do, force yourself to consider the information and the facts. The very act of thinking about the material will actually change the way your brain works (seriously, they have used brain scans to prove it).
And finally, if you’re VERY conservative, forget about it. This book will drive you completely nuts. You won’t understand it. In fact, you actually can’t absorb the information. Asking you to listen would be like handing a printed book to a blind person. I’m not trying to be insulting; I just don’t want you wasting the credit.
15 of 20 people found this review helpful
In spite of a fairly even-handed critique of both sides, I doubt whether most conservatives would feel comfortable with this book.
For me, a liberal, this book has already helped me cope with the "I don't want to hear any viewpoint except my own" attitude I get from most conservatives. I do, however, understand their insecurities a lot better. Not that there's anything that can be done about it. If you're expecting a book that will help you convince conservatives that they're wrong, this isn't it. Nor will it help you sleep at night when you think of these people doggedly holding to views that are contrary to the best interest of our country, humanity, and the planet. What it basically explains is why there is absolutely no way to convince these people they are wrong by any logical means.
The book goes on to explain why we need conservatives in our political mix. They are loyal, decisive, and persistent. Swell. But do we really need so many of them?
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to The Republican Brain the most enjoyable?
The insights into authoritarian brains vs open brains. The title, "The Republican Brain," is a smart one, because it grabs attention, but it is not so much about political affiliation but how likely you are to affiliate with a certain way of thinking based on how your brain receives and processes information. It was helpful to understand, on a scientific and practical level, how certain affinities for openness or hierarchy will color a person's outlook and how they receive information. It helped me to rethink how I approach debates of all kinds, as well.
Who was your favorite character and why?
What about William Hughes’s performance did you like?
It was conversational. He had a lot of statistical information to relay in an interesting way, and he did a commendable job.
What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?
Facts don't matter as much as certainty and closure to those most likely to agree with Republican points of view. This is saving me countless hours trying to pull together the most convincing facts to present to a conservative.
Any additional comments?
Don't dismiss or pass over this book because of the title. Insights like these are crucial for bringing together our divided citizenry. Why should liberals, especially, listen to it? Because they are the most likely to take the information and adjust in ways that will help us all be more effective. Why should conservatives listen to it? One, they will find equal amounts of commendation for what they bring to the world as critiques of where they are missing out on it. I will shake the hand of any self-identified Republican who listens to and hears the whole thing. There's not a bunch of conservative bashing in here; rather profound insights into why we think the way we do - and the research is just getting started.
9 of 12 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about The Republican Brain?
I loved the studies that showed that trying to argue reason with a conservative is about as constructive as banging my head against a wall. It has steeply decreased by comments on Facebook. I have found humor is much more effective than facts.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Which character – as performed by William Hughes – was your favorite?
If you could give The Republican Brain a new subtitle, what would it be?
Stop trying to argue reason with your conservative friends.
Any additional comments?
It isn't all conservative bashing. The author has positive things to say about conservatives and negative things to say about liberals.
4 of 6 people found this review helpful
this explains why my mom always skips right to the end of books after reading the first chapter, she emailed me after supposedly starting to read this,"I just can't get into this French guy, I'll try again later. Love, Mom" Hmmm... is the author French?... but of course being a liberal, I agreed to let her take me to, "Hillary ' s America" which she believed every word of without question... I have to remember I can't make her change her mind, or dazzle her with actual facts- I have learned to stop arguing with one of her ex roomates about the virtue of Fox news and the worthless and biased information on every other channnel, especially CNN and the New York Times.... there are no words, but I'm all for the truce! :)
Would you listen to The Republican Brain again? Why?
Yes, there is so much information and listening to the book again lets you pick up even more information.
What other book might you compare The Republican Brain to and why?
I couldn't compare it to any other book I've read.
What does William Hughes bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
I just like listening to books in my car on my hour plus drive to work and back.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Any additional comments?
A great read for Republicans or Democrats.
3 of 7 people found this review helpful