Saturday, April 07, 2012

Why Conservatives Think Differently Than Liberals

There is a new book from Chris Mooney called The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don't Believe In Science which argues that liberals (Democrats) and conservatives (Republicans) actually do think qualitatively different about science. His thesis is precisely that; and his book is about "how the left and right differ psychologically, and how this fuels a divide over reality and what’s true."

Last week I blogged about a recent sociological article which demonstrates significant differences in how liberal, moderates and conservatives view science.

One of my favorite bloggers, Kevin Drum, has recently been discussing this issue with Mooney himself at his excellent blog:
First: Kevin notes that conservatives only really bash science today on two issues, evolution and climate change. I agree that these are the two leading issues of the moment, but doesn’t Kevin remember stem cell research? It was quite prominent up until recently, and in the 2004 election it led the pack of science issues. And doesn’t contraception count as a science issue? In my book I detail numerous cases of conservatives denying science whenever it has something to do with reproductive health, contraception, or abortion. 
And for that matter, who said it was just science we’re talking about? I deliberately subtitled the book “The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality” so as to include belief that President Obama is a Muslim, or a socialist, or wasn’t born in the United States; the huge array of false claims about health care reform and the economy; falsehoods about American history, and much else. 
Precisely because we are talking about something that is partly dispositional about conservatives, there is no reason to think that their denial of reality would begin and end with science issues. Rather, there is every reason to think that this behavior—springing in part, I argue, from psychological traits like more rigidity or fixity of views, less openness to new information, more authoritarianism, and so on—would infect all areas where they had an emotional stake.
Mooney also says more about the thesis of his book at Salon,
It is important to acknowledge that authoritarianism refers to a psychological trait or disposition, not an explicit ideology. At least theoretically, it’s content neutral. So it’s conceivable that in a very different political context, authoritarians might well have lined up behind science, rather than against it. That would be an odd political case, though; especially in a democracy, it’s not very likely that authoritarianism and science will get along very well together, any more than that authoritarianism and liberalism will go together. They’re just such deeply opposed ways of thinking — and being. You could argue that the clash between science and authoritarianism dates all the way back to the time of Galileo, if not farther.
What do you think? Do you believe that conservatives and liberals are different at a psychological level, and that this explains their different views on science and fact?

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