Sunday, November 13, 2011

Another Leftist claim of psychological dysfunction among conservatives

Leftists have been projecting their own psychological deficiencies onto Conservatives since at least 1950 -- and they are not going to give up any time soon.

The latest installment is a book by Warmist Chris Mooney called "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don't Believe in Science". Below is an announcement of it which I will follow with some comments

Over the last year here at DeSmogBlog, my writings have converged around a set of common themes. On the one hand, I've shown just how factually incorrect today's political conservatives are, documenting the disproportionate amount of misinformation believed by Fox News watchers and the disproportionate wrongness of the right when it comes to science.

At the same time, I've advanced a variety of psychological explanations for why we might be seeing so much political and scientific misinformation today on the right wing. For instance, I've unpacked the theory of motivated reasoning; and I've also talked about why conservative white males in particular seem to be such strong deniers of climate science.

All of this, I'm now prepared to say, is just the iceberg tip. You see, for the last year, I've been working on a book on the same topic, which explains why conservatives are so factually incorrect-drawing on the latest research in social psychology, political science, cognitive neuroscience, and other fields.

The book is now finished in draft form-due out next year with Wiley-and it is long past time to formally announce its existence. After all, it is already up on Amazon. But I can go farther by showing the draft cover image (the current subtitle is likely to change, as this phenomenon goes far, far beyond science, as does the book). I can also share the text that will soon go up to Amazon and elsewhere. Eat your heart out, Ann Coulter:
Bestselling 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.

* Goes beyond the standard claims about ignorance or corporate malfeasance to discover the real, scientific reasons why Republicans reject the widely accepted findings of mainstream science, economics, and history-as well as many undeniable policy facts (e.g., there were no "death panels" in the health care bill).

* Explains that the political parties reflect personality traits and psychological needs-with Republicans more wedded to certainty, Democrats to novelty-and this is the root of our divide over reality.

* Written by the author of The Republican War on Science, which was the first and still the most influential book to look at conservative rejection of scientific evidence. But the rejection of science is just the beginning.

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.

I know very well that this invites controversy, so let me say (even though I expect many conservatives will ignore it!) that the book also fully documents the handicaps and drawbacks of liberal/Democratic psychology. It's a yin-and-yang kind of thing; you can't make one argument without the other.

There's a reason Winston Churchill was a better wartime leader than Neville Chamberlain. There's a reason why the Tea Party got itself elected in under two years, while Occupy Wall Street is kinda all over the place. There's a reason why we have scores of environmental groups that often can't see eye to eye. There's a reason, as George Lakoff and others have noted, why Democrats (and scientists!) focus too much on policy facts and details rather than winning over people's hearts (and winning elections).

But when it comes to determining what's true about complex, technical subjects-issues full of ambiguity and uncertainty, where you can't just jump to conclusions and have to stay open-minded and tentative in your beliefs-I'll take the scientific-liberal approach any day. And after reading the book, I think so will you.


It's laughable how he can't see his own faults and instead attributes them to others. He praises "staying open-minded and tentative in your beliefs". Yet is a member of the terminally dogmatic Global Warming crowd with their desperately asserted "consensus". If only Warmists WOULD "stay open-minded and tentative in their beliefs" -- but there's no sign of it. Jim Hansen compares coal trains with Nazi death trains: Very subtle.

On one level what Mooney says is right. There is no doubt that Leftists and Rightists have differing brains. The repeated findings about the strong genetic determination of political orientation leave no doubt of that. But how those differences work is as yet unknown. It's all speculation and theory. I point to the fact that levels of happiness are dispositional and suggest that conservatives are born happy and Leftists are born whiners. But I have no more evidence for that speculation than Mooney does for his theories. It is certainly true that conservatives repeatedly show up in surveys as happier than those on the Left but whether that is a direct outcome of brain anatomy remains to be seen.

It is true that there are various psychological studies supporting his characterization of conservatives. I spent 20 years ripping metaphorical holes in the journal articles concerned. The studies are universally poorly done. Leftists are generally too lazy (for instance) to do doorknock research. They just hand out a bunch of questionnaires to their students and their students happily give the "researchers" back what they want. And that is supposed to tell us about all humanity.

And when we add to their lack of sampling their psychometric naivety, what we have is mere progaganda -- something more reminiscent of Dr. Goebbels than of science. To take just one instance of such naivety: They have lists of questions that they use to separate out people who are conservative from those on the Left. But when it comes to actual elections, we find that their alleged indices of conservatism give zero prediction of actual vote! Alleged conservatives are just as likely to vote Democrat as Republican! So the Leftist psychologists don't even know what conservatism is, let alone being able to research it.

But let us assume that despite their methodological negligence, the Leftist psychologists have somehow guessed right. Even then there still are deep holes in their reasoning. A classic accusation -- hinted at by Mooney above -- is that conservatives are "intolerant of ambiguity". But is that a vice? Might it not be a sign of mental laziness? Surely its opposite is the search for order -- and what a true scientist does is search for order in the phenomena he studies. So Leftists must make poor scientists -- and the global warming nonsense certainly confirms that. A majority of physical scientists seem to believe it -- despite it being nothing more than a poorly-founded prophecy. They are certainly accepting a lot of ambiguity there, a quite stultifying level of ambiguity.

The other type of study the moon-man refers to is activity studies in the brain. And it seems true that in the same situation, different areas of the brain "light up" among Leftists and Rightists. That is perfectly to be expected from the genetic studies. But the moon-man tries to infer things from such patterns of lighting up. But such research only scratches the surface of brain function so all such inferences are just speculation. More on that here

On the question of whether religion makes conservatives anti-science, I have what I think is an amusing commentary here

The moon-man will give comfort to Warmists but it is comfort that is as poorly founded as Warmism itself

Monday, November 07, 2011

Were the lying Dutchman's lies important?

Rush Limbaugh makes a case that the now discredited Dutch psychologist Diederik Stapel was riding the old Leftist hobbyhorse of trying to prove scientifically that conservatives are psychologically defective: Good projection but bad science.

The paper that Rush concentrates on is here and it implies that we dislike blacks because we often see them in messy "slum" environments. Even if that were a genuine finding, however, I don't really see it as much of a problem. Stapel did not claim that he had isolated the ONLY cause of negativity towards blacks and the possibility that the very high rate of violent crime among blacks has a central bearing on attitudes towards them was not addressed at all.

Stapel did however claim that a "heightened need for structure" was behind the effect that he observed -- i.e. it was only people with a heightened need for structure who let the messy environment influence them. That too seems innocuous enough at first sight but when one realizes that a heightened need for structure has been identified by many psychologists over the years as characteristic of conservatives, we begin to see the "conservatives are defective and that's why they don't like blacks" story emerging.

That a need for structure is a bad thing is of course highly debatable (does it mean that Leftists have a need for chaos?) but in any case I did many years of research on the "conservatives have a greater need for structure" hypothesis and other hypotheses like it and found that all the "proof" offered was based on research methods not much better than Stapel's. You can read my papers on the subject here.

Stapel also claimed that meat-eaters are a bad lot but I think Rush deals well with that claim.