About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rationally Speaking podcast: Chris Mooney on the Republican brain

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."


  1. Does Michael Shermer have a Republican brain? Do Oprah and Deepak Chopra have Democrat brains? Do American Islamists and Chinese Communists have Democrat brains?

    Shermer recently wrote a column on "The Liberals' War on Science"

    I can understand liberal/conservative brains and Republican/Democrat war on science, but the other way around sounds weird.

  2. Shermer: "The left's war on science begins with the stats cited above: 41 percent of Democrats are young Earth creationists, and 19 percent doubt that Earth is getting warmer. These numbers do not exactly bolster the common belief that liberals are the people of the science book."

    Hmm, he seems to be conflating three different things there. Left, Democrat, and liberal. Only a portion of Democrats are liberal (and I imagine it's a fairly small portion). Fewer still are leftists.

  3. People are motivated to deny claims that undermine their values. That's just motivated reasoning. Religious conservatives who fear that evolution undermines morality are motivated to deny evolution. Libertarians who fear that global warming leads to regulations are motivated to deny global warming. Liberals who fear that innate differences lead to discrimination are motivated to deny innate differences.

    But why can't some people accept that, for example, vaccines prevent more illness than they cause, even if they think it's immoral to force people to be vaccinated? I think because everyone is a little bit consequentialist, and it creates cognitive dissonance to admit that strict adherence to your values causes harm.

    So how do they rationalize denying the science? One way is by assuming that the science is agenda-driven. Laymen are not qualified to tell whether the actual scientific arguments are right or wrong, so it comes down to which authority they trust. Religious fundamentalists trust their religious leaders. Libertarians don't trust government research, and liberals don't trust corporate-funded research.

    And I don't buy that liberals are "so open-minded their brains fall out." Those who accuse skeptics of being close-minded are usually close-minded themselves.

    1. I agree; in fact a true skeptic is probably one of the least closed-minded people you will meet. Skeptics reject or accept ideas based on evidence rather than argument. Give a skeptic new evidence and they will be happy to incorporate that into their world view.

      I note that global warming "skeptics" and evolution "skeptics" and vaccine "skeptics" don't seem to fall into that mould, however.

  4. The issue here is not science, as liberal-leftists would like it to be. The issue is the protected scientism regarding two leftist moral issues, global warming and evolution. Global warming is essential to the leftist need for victims to save, and this one is a beauty: the earth and everything on it. Evolution is accompanied by a denial of any intellectual responsibility for understanding the jump from molecule to living being, and is the moral Origins Belief set for the atheist worldview.

    These are protected and designated as science which must be never questioned, unless one wishes to be called names such as is done here. But real science is not locked down, and is massively inhabited by non-liberal-leftys in the industrial R&D world where the scientific method is still uncorrupted by worship of non-falsifible hypotheses which satisfy political and religious agendas.


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