Chris Mooney – The Republican Brain

April 09, 2012

Guest Host: John Shook

In this special episode of Point of Inquiry, we interview our host himself—about his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.

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 and host of Point of Inquiry 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.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, April 9th, 2012. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry. I’m John Shook and I’m guest hosting this episode. 

My role at the Center for Inquiry is director of education and also senior research fellow and of course, we’ve been long delighted to have Chris Mooney as one of our hosts for a point of inquiry. Point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values and public affairs and at the grassroots. I’m guest hosting today because it’s my pleasure to interview Chris Mooney. Hi, Chris. Hi, John. 

Chris Mooney’s new book, in case you’re not aware of it. It’s called The Republican Brain The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality. It really looks like a terrific new book. Congratulations. Thanks very much. Now remind the audience of some other books where you have been critical of Republicans on the subject of science. You’ve been at this awhile. 

Sure. I came out swinging on this topic in 2005 as the first book I did. And it was the most critical, perhaps until now. That was the height of the Bush administration. And so it was colored very much by what had happened during the Bush administration. The crazy thing is that the problems are worse now. George W. Bush, with respect to science and reality, appears moderate today. 

Moderate, yes. 

Bush in relation to that. No, in comparison to the kinds of denial that, you know, that you see now in the Tea Party. 

So the Republican brains are getting worse and they’re getting worse and the same scientific topics. 

Well, a lot a lot of things are happening. So it’s important. It’s important. Understand why. And so I what I wanted to do was take a new crack at this, because the Republican war on science was widely read, widely coming on, widely attacked. And it had a story, a scenario for why this is happening that I now think was incomplete and doesn’t account for really well. 

Well, briefly describe what are the couple of new missing pieces? What more do we know about Republicans that we didn’t know? 

Well, I tried to tell a story there that was I now view it as being on the surface of politics. And this is the way journalists do it. Right. They report about interest groups and follow the money, rivalry’s horse races, all that kind of stuff. So that’s what I thought. If they’re if they’re attacking science, it must be because the religious right and it must be because of corporate interests. You know, they’re bought off or they’re, you know, just kowtowing to God. Now, the cartoon, the God part is important, it turns out. Right. But the money thing, I think can be very misleading. So when I came back to this topic, what I realized was there’s this huge body of research that’s really mushroomed. I mean, it existed before, but it’s mushroomed in the last decade about the psychological underpinnings of ideology. 

And so it turns out that liberalism, conservatism run keep company with certain traits that have a huge bearing on how you process information, how you think. And I hadn’t tapped into that at all the first time around. And it turns out to be really, really big deal. 

You mean it’s more complicated than they have evil brains and we have the good brains? Way more complicated than that. 

But it’s also way more complicated than, you know, Exxon Mobil’s rich. Therefore, it paid for all these think tanks and therefore there’s global warming now. 

Well, there goes the Marxists and there goes the economic. Follow the money. Social forces, folks. Something deeper. It’s about the brain. 

Yeah, it’s about it. And I should say the brain the brain is a extraordinarily complex organ. And I’m not professing to say that we understand that, especially its role in politics. We’re starting to understand it. But the reason it’s fair to talk about the brain and to talk about the brains of liberals in the brains of conservatives is that the brain is what houses personality and houses psychology. And we know that those things are different. And we’re only now starting to actually scan the brain and start to detect maybe how that is reflected in actual brain structures. But that’s that’s the new frontier. There’s not that much research on it. I do talk about the research, but that’s not what you lead with. Here you lead with what you really have solid evidence on, which is from psychology going back 50 years. 

Sure. But you’ve noticed that some of the new cognitive science, some of the newer neuroscience is confirming many of the things that folks perhaps like you have been suspecting. 

I would call the brain scan stuff, which is the hot new stuff consistent with the other body of evidence. And if it wasn’t consistent, we really wouldn’t know what to do with it. And you’d have to you’d have to pause. But what’s amazing about this field of let’s call it psychology of ideology, which is what the book is, a lot of what the book is about is that a lot of the research is consistent. There aren’t any any sort of really sore thumbs stick out. No big contradictions. The stuff goes back a long way and it confirms what people have always said is a kind of a cliche. I mean, Gilbert and Sullivan crack jokes about this. You know, one hundred years ago, cliche about liberals and conservatives, they’re just different. You know, there’s different liberals are, you know, open mind and so open. Sometimes the rains fall out and conservatives are, you know, strict and follow a path. And this stuff is it’s not actually that controversial. And it turns out you can measure it. 

And turns out it has really big implications for well, for folks in the audience, not up to speed on the cognitive neuroscience of moral psychology and political psychology. Tell me what things really struck you. Coming out just in the last few years that you’ve been watching that are most relevant to what you want to say about Republican brains? Where does some of the striking findings you talk about in the early chapters of your book? 

Sure. Well, I don’t. I mean, if you mean if you mean the striking finds about the brain and about the way liberals or conservatives differ, there’s more all the time. 

That’s what’s amazing is, you know, up to the end of the book, it’s like another study, another study, another study. Now that it’s out, the study that I had already knew was coming out about how alcohol consumption shifts liberals and conservatives to the right. We just came out really, you know, within a week or something or two. So that that study’s hilarious. Right. That gets everybody ticked off. 

I just it turns out when you’re drunk, you get a little more rigid in your thinking. 

Yeah. Or quick in your thinking and rapid in your thinking. So what’s interesting is that you have both things like alcohol time, pressure, being near a hand sanitizer, feeling mortal fear. All of these things can switch you politically. So that’s fascinating. So things that happened to you in your life or, you know, are kind of a natural experiment that move people left and right. So that suggests that ideology is already tied to the body. You know, in some way. But then there are these longstanding studies about personality and liberals being more open to experience, conservatives being less open to experience. But conservatives wanting order and structure and, you know, keeping cleaner apartment and things like that. You know, really, I bank the argument on openness to experience. Openness to experience is a widely studied personality trait. Openness to experience means wanting to try new things. That’s why liberals are OK with change. Conservatives are not new things in your personal life. New things in your ideological life. If you’re not open, that’s where the denial comes in. All the traits that go with a lack of openness include and all this is heavily researched stuff. They include the need for closure. All right. You know, wanting to have a fixed belief and not have a change, seizing on just enough information so that your fixed belief is reaffirmed. We studied anti evolutionists, for example, and they rate higher on need for closure. Conservatives rate higher need for closure, lack of integrative complexity. OK, again, another huge amount of research in that. If you have integrative complexity, it means you see other views and you perceive there’s this perspective, there’s this perspective, and then you’re able to integrate them and figure out what a middle ground is. If you lack it, you know, then it’s all good and evil. Black and white war war between two. 

You can only apply one perspective. And anything that death that is bad, your wisdom either with me or against me. 

Right. And then there’s authoritarianism. You know, it sounds it’s it’s yet another way of measuring this lack of openness. And again, that’s about rigidity, intolerance of uncertainty, viewing the world in a my way or the highway fashion. And so all of these things are politically correlated. They also have some correlations with conservative religiosity. Oh, right. 

Well, I’m sure our audience would like to hear about that. Right. So that’s the, you know, stereotype. 

Scratch a conservative. You’ll find them voting politically conservative and religiously conservative. Do you think that’s more so the case and the researchers backing that up? 

Yeah, I think that this but but what I would I would say that liberal religiosity is a different beast, right. So in other words, I don’t think that this research leads to sort of like the condemnation of all religion. No, there’s no one religious. Yeah. To me, it’s to me, it’s like there’s liberal politics and conservative politics. There’s liberal religiosity and conservative religiosity and liberal politics and liberal religiosity have a lot in common in the sense of tolerating uncertainty, nuance, ambiguity, etc. and conservative religiosity and conservative politics have more this, you know, fixity of views lack less tolerance of uncertainty, more black and white. That’s the psychological. Yeah, obviously they’re closely related. 

So what’s going on here is you have basic cognitive mechanisms in the brain that can be characterized as conservative or liberal. And then when you look at behavior, then you tend to see conservative and liberal behavior. Nice correlations there. 

Yeah. I mean, such as politics. Again, you look at how people organize their bedrooms, you’re going to see this real this pervades all of life. Yeah. I mean, you know, you liberals tend to be messier and they’re messier. 

You know, the conservatives more conventional and the decorations, more American flags, you know, much cleaner, more more cleaning supplies, ironing boards. I mean, I love the psychology of ideology stuff. But the point is. That America is. Divided, polarized, and it’s polarized politically, but these deep seeded, different kinds of personality, different kind of world views are driving that. 

And that also leads to because people can’t see eye to eye across these kinds of divides. 

But that also leads to completely different realities, which is what really bothers me is the inability to accept what’s true. All right. Because if you process information differently and you have different personnels and they also have different moral values, we didn’t talk about that that much. So and then you and then you fixate on beliefs and you define those beliefs as part of your tribe. And the way you process information is to cling to them rather than to be open to changing them. Then you have a real problem. And that’s what we have. We have Democrats and Republicans believing completely different things on a host of scientific issues, but also anything about the economy, anything about health care, anything about anything that one side takes a stand on, then the other side takes a reality denying stands. 

Well, you mentioned values. And of course, how we react to the world has a great deal to do with how we pursue what we value, even what we regard as valuable. So what do Republican brains really prioritize in terms of what they find valuable and important? 

Well, here I think that the trail has been blazed by a lot of people that we’re fortunate to have have had on point of inquiry. So I actually wrote an article saying, and I believe this, that three of our point of inquiry guests that talk about this topic are all in agreement with each other, whether they know it or not. And I think I’ve interviewed them in depth. So I think I know. And so they are George Lakoff, Jonathan Hite and Dan Kahan. To me, they’re all saying the same basic thing. Morality is emotional, automatic and prior to reasoning. Okay, so it pushes you the arguments you make are being driven by this thing that you’re not actually it’s a deep seated part of you that that’s partly emotional. 

You’re not this basic motivation. Yeah. I’ll use what you’re pursuing. 

I mean, what they’re saying is it’s prior to reason, reasons, slave to the passions. Right. And and morality. Humor and. Right. Right. And morality is is one of the passions left. 

Liberals or conservatives differ on these passions. And but both are automatic and really fast in terms of driving your reasoning. And then how do they differ? Well, they all have different schemes. But you notice some some real big overlaps, conservative morality, a lot of respect for hierarchy and authority. You see that in all three of those kind of schemes. Right. And each of their schemes. Liberals, though, always did the opposite, you know, world into equality, treat everybody equal. 

We want consensus, right. 

Or or we hate authority, screw authority, you know, rebelling, rebelling against authority. 

So that’s one of them. That’s one of the key dimensions. You know, another one to use the Cohon framework. But you you see this pop up in all of them as conservatives have this sense of individualism or, you know, trying to preserve their sense of liberty against oppression that they apply against government. And they think that government is the oppressor and they think that, you know, they must be free from this overbearing force. Whereas the liberal has the sort of the more communal, we will protect everybody. So the point is that these things drive us down roads of reasoning really powerfully and we don’t even know that they’re doing it. There’s other there’s other moral foundations and moral structures as well. But I mean, the left and the right differ on morality. They differ on personality. And then we start to trace it into the body and we find that it shows up in physiology. It shows up starting show up in brain structures. And I also talk about the part of the book that’s most controversial and most misunderstood is genetics, which where it also seems to have a footprint. Mm hmm. 

So the deepest to our core what you really are. 

Right. So so in other words, politics is some kind of reflection of human nature. And we don’t know why fully it is that way. 

Well, we are social animals. Right. Right. To manage. We don’t know why we produce. 

What we end up differing in these kind of ways is the real question. But it’s been it’s been misunderstood that when you talk about genes, it drives me crazy. But this is a popular misconception that’s, you know, flung in my face, flung in everybody’s face. People say, oh, you know, you mean you’re just born that way. You can’t change. You mean you’re you were hardwired. And none of this is right. This is a complete misunderstanding of how genes influence us. You know, with basically the pathway from genes to political views involves a huge number of steps. And things could go very different in each one of the steps. And. So what happens is the genes may be at the end of all the steps. They do have their effect is still there, but it’s been cut down to maybe, say, 40 percent. I mean, different studies give different estimates. 

So upbringing and social context can either reinforce or inhibit or supplement. Lot of things happen every day. Eagleson behavior. 

Yeah. The environment feeds back in every step, starting with the part where the genes make proteins. Right. I mean, you know, genes or they don’t. There’s epigenetics. I mean, genes, quote, switch on and switch off in response to the environment. So that’s the first environmental impact. But then there’s all the different ones. So it’s very complicated. And there’s no one gene and it’s not determinism, but it does seem to tell us something about politics. It means that politics is something really different than what we like to pretend that it is. 

Well, what it tells us is that in the right social context, with the right sort of ideology, people can gravitate self select towards it. And if it’s finding things that are satisfying what it will already need, there’s a sort of reinforcing project. People can commit more to that ideology. There’s a feedback the ideology can fine tune to really make it as tempting as possible. So you could have, for example, a cultural situation with, let’s say I’m simplifying enormously, two primary ideologies, very different, but capable of attracting very powerfully two kinds of people coming up, being, you know, in an upbringing. So if all a person’s ever known as a very, very conservative family and then a very conservative neighborhood and then a very conservative sort of education, odds are only odds. But odds are a conservative baby brain will end up being a conservative adult brain. And likewise for liberalism. So that’s what you’re saying about all these factors? 

Yeah. Also, don’t forget that if a 9/11 happens or something, there’s large scale events, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina. I mean, you just go through them. If there is excite a certain emotion in the country, then the different brains will respond and people can shift because of the larger context. I mean, 9/11 is great because it made liberals conservative. You know, it clearly did. There were liberal hawks. They wanted to attack Iraq. I was one of them. OK. I kind of repent now, but I was one of them. And I honestly, I’d say it’s it was my dang amygdala. All right. You know, I’m just saying this about me. I’m not generalizing. It was my amygdala, not anybody else’s. 

No, seriously. That’s a good illustration. It’s you know, it’s a very real here sensitivity. 

We all have a fear. Sensitivity and conservatism is repeatedly linked to fear, sensitivity and fear. Sensitivity is pretty strongly linked to the alleged war. Let me give you another example. 

You wrote a book called Storm World. As a follow up to your first Republican war on science, there was a big event. Katrina was was a big event. And it also triggered a lot of reactions about science, particularly climate change. 

So maybe talk a little bit about how an event like that or a warning sign about climate change from science might affect a Republican brain differently from a Democratic or liberal brain? 

Yeah, I think Katrina was in terms of one of these mega shift events. It it hurt conservatives and helped liberals. And but I think the reason was not necessarily scientific. I think the reason was the emotion of empathy and, you know, seeing all this suffering on television 24/7. Your heart goes out. And that’s a liberal moment. 

And that’s sort of the liberal emotion equality that empathy hasn’t been extended to the climate scientists. Right selves. Right. Where’s the disconnect there? What’s what’s wrong with science? It’s truth. Yeah. 

Science just threatens people’s values. And if you’ve got people who are rigid and their values are threatened and you tell them that this science is your enemy, then they will they will attack it. And especially if they’re intelligent, they’ll come up with all kinds of ingenious ways of attacking it. 

And very clever that they’re right up with clever rationals. 

You know, I call this the smart idiot effect in the book. And what’s amazing is how many studies we now have showing that for conservatives, a higher level of education is correlated with rejecting reality. 

More on climate change and on other issues, like is President Obama a Muslim? And did the health care bill contain death panels? 

Higher level education is probably a proxy for doing things like watching Fox News. 

In other words, you’re engaged more. And so you’re a conservative. So you go to the place that ends up being a misinformation source. But it also might signal this kind of rigidity where, you know, it’s not that you’re dumb, but you’re fixed in your views. And if you’re both intelligent but also non flexible, then you gather more information. 

It just helps you build your pyramid higher. But you’re not going to topple your pyramid and you’re shift to something else. So you’ve got all the rationalizations and arguments that you want. And we see them on Fox News. Right. The book takes a pretty big whack at Fox News. I mean, it does. You know, I don’t know what to tell you. There are seven studies. They all show that watching Fox makes you more misinformed. That’s a news channel. I mean, the data are clear. They’re unequivocal. What I talk about in the book about Fox that has not been talked about is OK. 

People always liberals love these studies showing that FOX leads that lead to people being misinformed. They love those studies, but. They don’t talk about it in the way that I talk about it, because I talk about people selecting in the fox and I talk about authoritarianism, which is a certain kind of conservatism, the very rigid kind of conservatism and all the studies that show that if you’re an authoritarian, then you select information that agrees with you. So probably fought the Fox Effect. There’s no doubt the fox covers things in a misleading way that’s been documented endlessly. 

But probably people are also opting in and ready to have there is something about the way they presented as well in terms of message tone. Are there triggers here? Some of those Virtu American Tighes are awful emotional trigger. 

I mean, Fox, you know, the American flag icon that they use. I mean, that that clearly resonates with and this is you know, this is a conservative strength. We didn’t talk about that much, but their sense of group loyalty and unity and hatred, patriotism. And I mean, that’s a deep seeded emotion. So so things like that. But also in terms of, you know, the conservative conscientiousness which which, you know, is order and structure and but also, you know, kind of decisiveness. 

So when you have Fox hosts or anchors who really project confidence and certainty and, you know, and just it, you know, without equivocation, that feels right to whereas a liberal would like to, that isn’t that guy has no nuance, man. You know, like, come on, this issue’s complicated. Get into the weeds. Where’s the debate? Yeah. Where’s the perspective? It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right at all. 

So it’s kind of like watching a presidential debate. You know, I you know, when I really, really started covering politics, it was George W. Bush and Al Gore. And they had these exact contrasting styles. 

Bush was all, you know, state simple things. And I was like, I’m a liberal. So I’m like, how can anyone, like, listen to this? And a Gore would be all nuance, like, yeah, yeah, yeah. And then at the end, like what? You know, people can’t see it. Of course they can’t see it. Half of them. Half of them. Bush sounds just right to them and Gore sounds just writing them for this is personality and it it’s political. 

Well, there’s a bit of a paradox, and maybe you can clear it up. You mentioned earlier that the more conservative brain likes authoritative method. They like answers. They like a pathway to truth. And in fact, you’ve seen the same studies. If you take a look at people majoring in science and engineering and sort of more of these applied fields, you see surprisingly high levels of religiosity. It’s not like they start out very low against religion. It’s only later when scientists, you know, have careers and other sorts of professional reinforcement or become very well known that then their religious belief almost evaporates. But if you took a poll among majors at colleges and universities. 

Somehow the brain can accommodate these two worldviews simultaneously. It’s a fascinating it’s a fascinating phenomenon. But you’re saying it all comes down to values. So even somebody who would accept the science answers in the textbook in college will go off and then start reading or watching Fox News and they’ll reject one piece of that scientific puzzle if it violates core values. In other words, they’re with the truth only so far. I think the story you’re trying to tell. 

Yeah. And it’s not necessarily a lack of intelligence. 

Right. Right. It’s about values. 

It’s. Yeah. I mean, it’s about. It’s about feeling. 

And it could have been, by the way, if this issue is global warming, it could have been the case that global warming never got politicized. I mean, in some, you know, alternative history of the United States, very different. Somehow we had different leaders. It was talked about differently. It was addressed and forgotten about. I mean, I don’t know. That’s hard to imagine. But just say it. That was the case. 

One could imagine a scenario where global warming became obvious, let’s say, in the in the 60s or 70s and Nixon was president who was already signing environmentalism bills all over the dialog. 

We should have all the fossil fuels faster. I mean, that’s that’s a good point. 

No, it’s right. So so, you know, it was never necessary. It was still contingent that that issue ended up being the one that we fought over. But once you fight over something, then the open people and the closed people or the rigid people are going to fight differently. 

And there’s a huge chasm that opens up between them, doesn’t it? 

Yeah. And so it I mean, in a different country, in a different time, the issues would be different. But look, you still always have a left and a right, don’t you? You still have the Friends of Change and the foes of change. And so a lot a lot is a lot of concern. This is another misunderstanding that I’m getting, is that people often people haven’t read the book. Seem to think that nature nurture some sort of either or. And they say, well, they know conservatives are. 

I mean, they liked science 30 years ago and they don’t like it now. So it’s not nature. I mean, and, you know, it doesn’t it doesn’t work that way. No. 

I mean, it’s it’s always both, and especially for a complex social trait like political views. It’s both. And in fact, the answer to that particular objection which you get is actually the mobilization of modern conservatism in America has been documented, including by one of our other of inquiry guests. Jonathan Wiler documented to have activated authoritarianism and moved it right. So different people are conservative now than were then. And different psychological profiles, a conservative. So it’s there is a perfect nature nurture example. And politics is complicated. You know, you go to, you know, the former Soviet Union. The arguments been made very convincingly. Authoritarians were on the left, all right. They were supporting the regime. They were supportive. 

So it’s not the specific ideology. It’s the way that I. Dyle ideology conducts itself. Right? 

Right. But in general, they don’t show up on the left very much. And it’s sort of it’s called the Loch Ness Monster of Political Psychology to find a left wing authoritarian. I mean, in a non communist regime. 


Well, I can’t be of any help there, but I know our audience would love to know how do we step back from the brink? 

Are we learning enough about the liberal brains and the conservative brains to kind of back us out of this dead and argumentative chasm we’ve gotten ourselves into? In short, you got some advice for how we can make science appeal again, even some of this controversial science appeal again. Is it a different message? Re writing the narrative? What can we do? 

Well, there’s three kinds of answers. All right. One is, if you want to communicate on a specific issue with a specific person and group, then this kind of stuff definitely tells you what’s likely to work and not going to work, but only up to a point. And we can talk about that. Second, the kind of answer is, well, if liberals and conservatives would both accept this knowledge, could it provide a basis for them to get along better? My answer is yes, if both sides accepted it. But no, I don’t believe that will happen because conservatives are going to see this as an attack on them. And there’s just no, it’s just obvious they’re going to and they’re going to misunderstand it and they already are. 

And that’s exactly what I expected and that’s what they’ve always done. And then the third answer is, if conservatives completely misunderstand it, then how can non conservatives use it to get ahead? And so there’s three kinds of a conundrum. Yeah, there’s three kinds of answers. 

And I don’t know, should we go through all that? 

Well, we need a bit of hope here because, you know, you read this book and and listen to the psychology and and even though you’ve made a good case that the whole process is not deterministic right now, it can seem very stuck. 

It can seem very much like a hopeless situation where everybody’s just talking past each other. 

Well, let’s start small. I mean, there’s just no doubt it’s been shown in controlled studies that if you know the values of the person you’re communicating with, arguing with, then you know better how not to prompt a negative or defensive reaction that shuts down all ability. 

For example, like shouting Truth, truth, truth, you’re an idiot. 

If you don’t accept mean arguing facts is arguing facts when a divide is about values doesn’t work. 

Right. I mean, you’re you’re missing the whole point. People just people just bolt down the hatch more. 

More truth just gets you more stuff. No. 

So if you so you have to open someone up by talking about things in a way that resonates with who they are. And so you have to know who they are. And then, you know, if you’re talking interpersonally with someone and you are, you know, on, you know, have shared ground or you can frame things, this is a way that it isn’t a threat, then maybe you can start to talk about things that are controversial and make them not. 

So instead of going directly after something like the evidence for climate change people, you might or you might talk about other things that you both value and then try to get back on the path of what it will take to preserve those things that we agree about that are valuable. 

Right. People polarize. If you throw facts around when values are the battle, I mean, there’s tons of research on that. So the problem with what I just said is that it’s the communication environment in the real world isn’t closed. It isn’t a laboratory. And what if, you know, if you have a great conversation with a conservative and you feel like you’ve made progress and then Fox News comes in and Blair’s, you know, secret memo says liberals are trying to exploit you by talking about your values or I just just imagine that. 

Right, then forget it. You know, it’s it’s all over. So propaganda. Right. So you. 

So any headway? So that’s what’s difficult about this. Is this open? Communications environment, we’re really the things that make the big difference are 9/11 and major events that causes cost shifts. So that I mean, that’s that’s the realism. Take on how you can inter interpersonal you can make some progress, but you have to be realistic about the communication environment. Second, you know, my my pitch, if conservatives wanted to say, all right, the science is coming in and it looks like we really this is this is a worldview thing and. 

We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot by clashing and not really understanding why we’re clashing, so why don’t we just like take a time out and and and acknowledge this? I really think that in that idealistic scenario, then we could make a kind of strengths and weaknesses argument. 

You know, liberals are good for something. Conservatives good for others. We need them both. That’s why we’re why they’re here. 

Maybe I’m not going to make an evolutionary claim, but some people might say that we don’t really know why we have them both. But it’s so so liberals, what are they good at? Nuance, complexity. You know, all kinds of policy wonk jobs for you guys. All right. All kinds of scientific jobs for you guys. Conservers where they get at leadership, decisiveness, staying the course. Determination. Lots of use. I mean, that that that would be a scientifically based piece. The thing is. I don’t the react the historic reaction of conservatives to this research is always there, calling us stupid. They’re calling us crazy. It’s not true. It’s not true. But that’s always the reaction. And, you know, it’s kind of like quick reaction. Judge a book by its cover. Reaction. I don’t know, again, with the uncontrolled communication environment, it’s I don’t know how you get past that again, you might in the one on ones conversations, but I get it. Fox News, you know, one of the studies I talked about in the book, which is when he really the big study 10 years ago that synthesized all this meta analysis of all the psychology of liberals or conservatives, you know, I think it was National Review called it the Conservatives are crazy study. It wasn’t the conservative or crazy study. But as soon as you do that title, as soon as you do that, it’s over. Right. Nobody’s saying that. But it doesn’t matter because everybody’s defensive. Right. Right. So, you know, so let’s. So I don’t have tons of hope for, you know, both sides accepting the reality of who they are. 

Equally, they can get in their own bubble chambers. The liberal rhetoric is the conservative brain doesn’t have any nuanced perspective. 

They can’t see the figures to be that liberals didn’t want to accept this either. And they had all these issues with, you know, talking about human nature and stuff. 

I sense that that’s less the case, the socio biology rates. 

I sense that that’s kind of passé. I mean, one of the arguments I make is that liberals do go in for fads. Right. But they change conservatives. They stay fixed. The evidence has a chance with liberals. Yeah, maybe it takes a generation even. But, I mean, do you do you think that there’s the same resistance to evolutionary psychology and quote, social biology now? There was a decade, two decades looking back over the last 200 years. 

It’s been a love hate relationship on the left. For example, one of the biggest problems that the left had in the progressive era before World War One was all of this social Darwinism. 

And as far as the evidence seemed to lead, we know now that’s not the case. Social Darwinism actually had some powerful biological arguments in favor of it. Now that we know they’re complete hogwash. But science isn’t always a friend to liberalism either. 

Well, yeah, going back. If you go back farther than you get weird configurations, I would argue that this is getting off of our point. But I would argue that signs of liberalism are natural allies over history. But I’m sure there definitely cases where that’s not true. I don’t. Well, I’m I’m a liberal, of course. I also love science reporting on science. And to me, to find that politics is partly human nature and even has a partial genetic basis is eye opening. 

And I don’t find it threatening. I find I think it I think it is enlightening. 

Well, you’re a liberal. You find it liberate. I don’t know. 

I mean, you know, if if I if I liberals are supposed to care about equality, that’s like one of the key liberal emotions and values. So if you perceived a real threat to equality here, then I think that you would expect liberals to get really upset. I don’t perceive a threat to quality here. You know, I mean that if you take it in that direction, then yeah, yeah, we definitely get some resistance. But I just think this is I mean, you know, we want everyone to work better together. Everyone is going to. Oh, everyone’s gonna get you have the same rights. Everyone’s. 

We just need a more functional politics, something less threatening and a little bit more outcome oriented to deal. Yeah. 

So I don’t. So I don’t see the equality thing being an issue. Then the final thing is then, you know, if if you can’t compromise, how do you use this now hash to get what you want. 

And then that’s, that’s sort of more about it might be a zero sum game for a while. If the conservatives win, the liberals have to. 

Well, it’s you know, in there I think it’s borrowing the things about conservatism that have clearly worked and using those to appeal to the middle, because there are we haven’t mentioned moderates, independents, I mean, their ideological blends and their psychological personality blends. And they’re people that are, you know, conservative on one measure but, you know, liberal on another. But but but real, you know, pure liberal ways of communicating and framing issues are not going to work for them because they’ve got these little, you know, conservative modules, so to speak. 

Right. They have they have a lot of channels going right at once. They’re not only listening to the liberal channel. 

So in that sense, I mean, this knowledge can be used to make your your message more broadly appealing to people who don’t agree with you, who are not necessarily conservatives, but the ones that move, the ones who framings the narratives, the stuff Lakoff has long been talking. 

Yeah, but also Styles. You know, I mean, one of this this point about decisiveness, which I think is the great strength of the conservative personality. And you can see why you need it if you’re in a position of leadership. You know, you have to, you know, kind of make up your mind and not look back. You know, there’s a lot of decisions have to be made. I mean, projecting that kind of style is something that inspires people to think that you’re a good leader and you think that science does itself a disservice. 

Sometimes it doesn’t. 

That’s my failing by only talking about the hesitancies and uncertainties and what ifs. 

It limits its its audience. I mean, I’m not saying that scientific leaders should, you know, model themselves on really the size of the presidents. I mean, you know, science is a special, special room. But I’m saying that political leaders. 

In terms of in terms of, you know, giving off too much nuance for a lot of I mean, yeah, fine when you’re actually deliberating, but when you’re speaking and in your style, then I think that a lot of people actually don’t like that. I think that doesn’t feel right. 

So cutting edge, real, you know, investigatory science, you need a lot of nuance perspective. Oh, yeah, there’s a lot of error correction. But when it comes to settled science and let’s face it, a lot of climate science is quick, becoming pretty much settled science. I mean, it’s not up there with the law of gravity, but right now there are certain things that are becoming pretty or some of it’s basic, just basic physics. So when around this time to talk to the public, for scientists to say this is what we believe is really going on, for politicians to say this is going on and here’s what we might have to do about it, then the time for nuance and perspective and, well, what ifs, maybes, maybe that needs to subside and maybe a little bit more authority needs to come in. 

I would go I would go some way down that road. 

I mean, as a journalist, I have seen scientific reports on climate change where basically they caveated things more than they probably needed to, and they just left themselves open to being misunderstood and misquoted by by by playing a post liberal brain. I can’t know how many of uncertainties and nuances beyond what realism even was the science. So, you know, I mean, in it. So that happens. There’s it’s so easy to get the, quote, liberal scientific mind to add more nuance. I mean, that’s that’s their value. That’s just cake. You know, that’s this is like please. You know what fun. We’ll be happy to go back to work on on this and have some details. 

We’ve talked elsewhere about how people in science and in science, communication and in journalism can be more effective. So we’re not going to go too much more down that road. But I do want to ask you about some things you say towards the end of the book. Now, in your conclusion, as we’ve been talking about, you talk about how liberals need to resort sometimes to more conservative brain values in their messaging style and tone to get a progressive message across. 

Can you give one more example that isn’t about climate science, just to help folks understand what what really is at stake here? 

Well, I’m just trying to think of the best example to use. 

Maybe something in medical ethics, stem cell research, future medicines, where we see religious hang ups. The conservative brain feeling threatened about another value being taken away from them. 

I’m just thinking about, you know, actual political moments. And, you know, to me, I end with kind of the contrast of one of things I thought of as a contrast of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. And you know how the Tea Party was. They just had one goal and I’m just going to get it and get and get it. And how Occupy Wall Street was always I mean, it it has been is had been a success in terms of getting people to talk about the 99 percent and the one. But, you know, in terms of saying we’re not really supporting President Obama, we’re you know, we’re down the middle and all this kind of stuff, that didn’t make any sense. I mean, you just saw you just saw the liberal lack of unity compared to the conservative unity there. 

So power that was the main complaint. Yeah. They would go ask and even ask some of the quasar leadership, what exactly do you want? Well, it was either nothing or 99 things. 

That’s why the Tea Party was so was so good. It was single minded. Yes. Single minded and purposeful. And in in politics, these are these are in mass politics. These are an advantage. 

Well, let’s shift it just a bit because we’re getting close to the end. How about some advice for organizations that are devoted to the advancement of OSA secularism? A lot of liberal and progressive history there, but not exclusively. Lots of secular organizations have come and gone. Many are still around and very strong at the start of the 21st century. 

Are we doing anything wrong? 

Chris, is there is there any advice you might give to a hypothetical secular organization about message and tone? 

OK. Well, to me, political liberals, scientists, academics and secularist atheists are much more in the same boat than not. They tend to be. I mean, these are, you know, rejecters and challenges of orthodoxy. These are people with one of the traits we enjoy about need for cognition, which tends tends to be liberal, highly complex, structured thought, not not quick thinking and horse sense. Right. That’s something we all share, so in this sense, we’re going to have the broad liberal weaknesses. All right. Too much nuance, too little purpose, too much, too much herding cats, fighting among ourselves and loving a good intellectual debate rather than. 

All right. 

You know, you know, you know, dividing over little details and everybody wanting to say over here, look, I’m different. I’m unique. And I challenge him. And I challenge him. Do it. You know, it’s the People’s Front JDA versus the Judean People’s Front. You know, we have that problem. 

A great Monty Python. Yeah. No, that’s just. 

I mean, that splitters. Right. Have you noticed this in our movement? Maybe a little bit. So I see that is just. Let’s be aware that we tend that way rather than the other way we air in that direction. And it can be an error to go too far. And that’s. 

And everybody’s noticing we’re not the only ones noticing about this world ourselves. 

Yeah. I mean, as I say in the book, look at how many environmental groups there are that have all filled different niches and they’re always attacking each other. You could say the same thing for secular groups. There’s more environmental groups and there’s they have more money. But I think that the principle is similar. So I. I believe that it feels weird. It feels unnatural, which is why we don’t do it. But I think call for unity based on understanding who we are and what direction we, Aaron, would be a real plus. 

So resort to some hierarchy. Resort to, say, hierarchy. Firm leadership. I’m just quoting. Were you I mean, I said you are. He kind of goes a little too far. The liberal brain balance audience. Yeah. You push it, you push the button, you push the button there. Not so much hierarchy. But clearly what you would like to see is more people going in the same direction on our core values. 

Yeah. And just people realizing that, yes, we could argue endlessly about this and how to do it, but that’s our weakness. 

Let me give you one more hypothetical. It turns out that this election cycle, as far as I know and I could be wrong, but I think at least two, there might be a couple more I don’t know about. At least two serious contenders for congressional districts are running this year who are open atheists, not to name names, but one is in North Carolina and another one is Arizona. And it’s easy to find out on the Internet all about them. 

I’m not interested in personality or their particular challenges. We generally, however, would like to see a seculars like to see more representation from the non believing group. But we also know that these politicians have a really tough road. There has been no open atheist to win their first election to Congress yet. Pete Stark, of course, announcing he wasn’t so much of a believer after many reelections. Right. 

Could you give again, hypothetically, some advice for a hypothetical person running for a significant state or congressional office? And they’re in a district where, you know, they they could win. What did they have to avoid saying and what might they try giving a couple of speeches that would sound appealing to those independents, to those moderates, that you got to have some of them to have a chance nowadays? 

I think that I think the most important thing is probably patriotism. The flag again. Yeah. I mean. I think everybody’s patriotic just in different ways. 

You know, I think being aware that they’re likely to be attacked and misrepresented, as, you know, basically immoral by religious conservatives and this is wrong. And the only way to answer that is to have a moral message. Let’s hear it. Unity message. That’s what I would say. 

And the Constitution doesn’t get more unifying than standing behind the Constitution than there is plenty of, you know, in the Constitution. 

And I honestly, I think secularists could this is a place for almost a message of I’m not saying this is a campaign strategy necessarily, but it’s something that I feel very strongly a message of moral outrage over the betrayal of American heritage from the religious right, which lies about and trashes the memory of this country and who it is and betrays our values and our history by, you know, dragging through the mud. 

The memories of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison. I mean, why don’t we show some moral indignation about betraying our Thursday reverence, to use the word. 

Yeah. How come? I mean, there they are. They’ve always got the monopoly on history and heritage and or the original revolutionaries, even though they’re completely wrong. 

Why don’t we show some emotion about these kind of. That’s that’s another one. My little brief. 

Fascinating. We have to stand for something. We have to stand for something that we all agree about. And we have to really be able to show that we’re dedicated to it and that we really prioritize it. In times when nuance is not that important and standing on little pet principle might not be the wisest course of action. 

Know, unlearn what you’ve learned. 

It’s a very hard thing to do now. But it’s easier if you’re over the generations. Liberal brains stand a chance because we. What do we know about conservative brains? Not so much. Right. Well, thank you very much, Chris Mooney, for explaining a little bit. And there is so much more. In his latest book, it’s an absolute must read for everyone. Even Republican brains, though, they might not like it so much. It is called the Republican brain, the science of why they deny science and reality. Thank you very much, Chris Mooney. 

You’ve been a great guest host. Thank you. 

And thank you for listening to this episode, a point of inquiry to join the discussion about today’s show visit point of inquiry dot org. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry, dawg, or on Twitter at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. Views expressed on point of inquiry are not necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your guest host, John Shook. 

Chris Mooney