The Republican Brain (or How Liberal Journalists Distort Science To Confirm Their Biases)

I don’t normally allow guest blog posts because… well, mostly because I’m a jerk and I like to keep my blog all to myself. But then I read this post on Chris Mooney’s upcoming “The Republican Brain”. It’s part of an on-going liberal “Science says that Republicans (or conservatives or religious people) are dumb (or driven by fear or some other negative neuro-psychological phenomena)” talking point.

So I asked my brother (a neuroscientist entering med school this fall) to take a look at the piece and comment on it. What you’ll find below is his response. If you look at nothing else, check out the chart where he suggests other liberal/conservative conclusions based on the same “evidence” Mooney uses to bolster his “science-y” nonsense.


Political Neuroscience

Whenever I see a study claiming “science proves XYZ about conservatives (or liberals)”, I roll my eyes and sigh. There is currently a problem of misuse and mis-referencing academic and peer-reviewed articles for the purpose of substantiating an argument or point-of-view that is already held by those offering up these studies. For those who use scientific results to convince their audience as part of a job, this amounts to nothing short of inherent bias, a position that is staunchly avoided and rejected by reputable scientists. Pervasive ignorance is nothing new, but with the advent of the internet the ignorant have easy access to science that is outside their area of expertise (or amateurism for that matter) and the misuse of science as a tool for manipulation has made the function and even purpose of the original studies grossly misunderstood.

Joshua Holland, Chris Mooney and The Republican Brain

Our example for today comes from an article published in Salon entitled “The Republican Fear Factor,” by Joshua Holland. In this article, Holland cites a recent study in Current Biology on the gray matter volume from individuals of different political persuasions. Holland points out that “the amygdala is an ancient brain structure that’s activated during states of fear and anxiety.” He then proceeds to interpret the results of aforementioned article (which finds that the amygdala is enlarged in conservatives compared to liberals) are evidence of conservatives living in a world of fear, even calling the world from a conservative’s perspective to be a “nightmarish landscape.”

The article continues in the now common, though still unpredictable, ramblings of the politically entrenched ideologues who are convinced all science (reason, common sense, credible faith, or any other citation used as a source of truth) supports their position. Often such overzealous ideologues attempt to discredit any source that contradicts their position, making manipulation of information their primary weapon for influence. This is not to say that idealists are categorically given to this tendency, nor is this any attack on ideals themselves. This critique is directed entirely at ideologues, i.e. those *blindly* committed to their belief systems who leave no room for discussion or counter-positions—these are the most common culprits.

While Holland and Mooney can be given credit for citing not just one, but two (TWO!) whole studies from reputable sources, their understanding of neuropsychology and scientific studies is patently flawed, evident from his misinterpretation of the findings. While I am by no means an expert in the field, I have an advantage over Holland: this actually *is* my field. I have five years of graduate/postgraduate experience in neuroscience research, with multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals. Holland’s handling of this study is such a far-cry from the kind of discussion these results would inspire in academic circles that addressing his article does not require an expert, just experience.

The Problem With Neuroscience and Journalists

While this is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis, I’ll identify some major, obvious problems with his interpretations. There is no brain structure that can be summarized completely in just a couple of sentences. Neither does there exist a higher-order brain structure to which we could attribute a complete understanding of its functions. It is true that the amygdala is activated in states of fear and anxiety. I’m not sure why Holland cites Chris Mooney, a journalist, for further explanation of the function of the amygdala. While Mooney works with scientists, it is in the art of communication; Mooney himself has no substantive background in science.

Holland could have found a renowned biologist and biochemist such as Leon Kass who pointed out that “the neuroscience area—which is absolutely in its infancy—is much more important than genetics,” Gerald D. Fischbach who said that “The brain immediately confronts us with its great complexity. The human brain weighs only three to four pounds but contains about 100 billion neurons. Although that extraordinary number is of the same order of magnitude as the number of stars in the Milky Way, it cannot account for the complexity of the brain,” or even an expert on information processing, such as the Emerson Pugh who wisely pointed out that the “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.”

I suspect I know why he didn’t cite these scientists: neither Holland nor Mooney are out to educate the public with this article, to fill the world with knowledge. This article is about winning, about attacking the enemy until it appears as defeated, inferior and cowering in its own nightmarish landscape. Citing an ideologue who agrees with him is easier than citing a scientist who will readily tell you that things are more complex than that.

If We Accept That Logic…

The results of this study suggest that there is a correlation between conservatism of the individual and gray matter volume of the amygdala. Using peer-reviewed journal articles, let’s look at a few other things that have this kind of association…

If we interpret this in the same way that Holland did, by oversimplifying the brain into one concise function, then we can say that extroverts and those with bipolar-disorder are extra fearful and more likely to be conservatives. Similarly, those with narcolepsy, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, high-risk for alcohol dependence, Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and pedophilic tendencies have significantly reduced fear (and probably more likely to be liberal).

Do Republicans Live In A Nightmarish Landscape?

Allow me to emphasize one group: those with post-traumatic stress disorder have reduced gray matter volume. For those unfamiliar with the symptoms of PTSD, the most common include:

1. “Reliving the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity,” which including repeated nightmares of the event and strong, uncomfortable reactions to situations that remind you of the event.

2. Avoidance, which includes “Emotional “numbing, or feeling as though you don’t care about anything.”

3. Arousal, which can include “having an exaggerated response to things that startle you… feeling more aware (hypervigilance)… feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger.”(13)

Some of these sound remarkably similar to the perspective Holland is claiming conservatives live in with their increased gray matter volume in the amygdala. In other words, those with PTSD have reduced gray matter volume in the amygdala and can literally be experiencing a “nightmarish landscape,” while conservatives with their enlarged gray matter in the amygdala are, as Holland believes, are experiencing the same thing. Those with PTSD can be crippled by fear, so maybe an enlarged amygdala makes conservatives far superior to liberals in dealing with the fear they face… Or maybe the amygdala is just not that simple. If gray matter volume were a direct correlation to function and behavior, how much easier a neuroscientists job would be! Actually, it probably wouldn’t be that simple because everything would be figured out by now and they would be out of a job.

Using the same logic, one could just as easily argue that taller people are naturally better at basketball. Basketball players have shown increased volume in their legs and hands over the average population. Since the legs have been determined scientifically to be the primary source of jumping and running and the shooting hoops occurs predominately with hands, we can conclude…

I looked only at the amygdala here because I’m lazy (and because the blog owner didn’t want me to attack the Holland’s other issue with the of the anterior cingulate cortex in a single blog post).

Using Science To Prove Bias

The point (and truth) is that we’ve got a lot of good ideas about some areas of the brain. It is absolutely true that the amygdala is activated in fear and anxiety responses. However, to say that this is *the* function of the amygdala or that increases in the size of the amygdala indicate a worldview that is warped by fear is journalistic extrapolation based on a pre-determined bias, nothing more.

I am confident that conservatives may react to fear differently than liberals. As indicated in the second study, conservatives look toward fear while liberals look away (14). This may be somewhat related to the higher ratio of conservatives to liberals among our armed servicemen and women—those whose job it is to run toward dangerous, fear-inducing conflict rather than away. Is this tendency to focus on sources of fear a weakness?

As an aside, I find it unprofessional that Holland is citing a Huffington Post article about this study (written and interpreted by our journalist friend, Mooney) without any link/citation to the study itself.

The eagerness to use the results of these studies to justify his position would be laughable if the general population didn’t find neuroscience to be beyond their grasp. As it is, it can barely be said that a basic understanding of neuroscience is within the grasp of even today’s renowned neuroscientists—and they’ll tell you that themselves. The point is that interpreting science is difficult, answers are not easy to come by, and almost nothing is as simple as online political editorials would have you believe.


1. Omura, Kazufumi; Todd Constable, R.; Canli, Turhan. Amygdala gray matter concentration is associated with extraversion and neuroticism. Neuroreport. 16(17):1905-1908, November 28, 2005.

2. Altshuler LL, Bartzokis G, Grieder T, Curran J, Mintz J. Amygdala enlargement in bipolar disorder and hippocampal reduction in schizophrenia: an mri study demonstrating neuroanatomic specificity. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1998;55(7):663-664.

3. Burgmer, Markus, Markus Gaubitz, Carsten Konrad, Marco Wrenger, Sebastian Hilgart, Gereon Heuft, and Bettina Pfleiderer. “Decreased Gray Matter Volumes in the Cingulo-Frontal Cortex and the Amygdala in Patients With Fibromyalgia.” Psychosomatic Medicine 71 (2009): 566-573.

4. Szeszko PR, Robinson D, Alvir JJ, et al. Orbital frontal and amygdala volume reductions in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999;56(10):913-919.

5. Benegal, Vivek, Antony, George, Venkatasubramanian, Ganesan, Jayakumar, Peruvumba N. IMAGING STUDY: Gray matter volume abnormalities and externalizing symptoms in subjects at high risk for alcohol dependence. (2007) Addiction Biology. 12(1) 122-132.

6. J.C. Baron, G. Chételat, B. Desgranges, G. Perchey, B. Landeau, V. de la Sayette, F. Eustache, In Vivo Mapping of Gray Matter Loss with Voxel-Based Morphometry in Mild Alzheimer’s Disease, NeuroImage, Volume 14, Issue 2, August 2001, Pages 298-309, ISSN 1053-8119, 10.1006/nimg.2001.0848. (

7. Mark A. Rogers, Hidenori Yamasue, Osamu Abe, Haruyasu Yamada, Toshiyuki Ohtani, Akira Iwanami, Shigeki Aoki, Nobumasa Kato, Kiyoto Kasai, Smaller amygdala volume and reduced anterior cingulate gray matter density associated with history of post-traumatic stress disorder, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Volume 174, Issue 3, 30 December 2009, Pages 210-216, ISSN 0925-4927, 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2009.06.001. (

8. Kaufmann, Christian MSc; Schuld, Andreas MD; Pollmacher, Thomas MD; Auer, Dorothee P. MD. Reduced cortical gray matter in narcolepsy: Preliminary findings with voxel-based morphometry. Neurology. 58(12):1852-1855, June 25, 2002.

9. LANGE,C. IRLE,E. Enlarged amygdala volume and reduced hippocampal volume in young women with major depression. Psychological Medicine. (2004) 34(6), 1059-1064. 10.1017/S0033291703001806

10. Takeshi Yoshida, Robert W. McCarley, Motoaki Nakamura, KangUk Lee, Min-Seong Koo, Sylvain Bouix, Dean F. Salisbury, Lindsay Morra, Martha E. Shenton, Margaret A. Niznikiewicz, A prospective longitudinal volumetric MRI study of superior temporal gyrus gray matter and amygdala–hippocampal complex in chronic schizophrenia, Schizophrenia Research, Volume 113, Issue 1, August 2009, Pages 84-94, ISSN 0920-9964, 10.1016/j.schres.2009.05.004. (

11. K. Schiltz, J. Witzel, G. Northoff, K. Zierhut, U. Gubka, H. Fellmann et al. Brain pathology in pedophilic offenders: evidence of volume reduction in the right amygdala and related diencephalic structures. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 64 (2007), pp. 737–746

12. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M., Inc.; ©2005. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder; [updated 2005 Apr 30; cited 2005 Aug 12]; [about 4 p.]. Available from:

13. Smith KB, Oxley D, Hibbing MV, Alford JR, Hibbing JR (2011) Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations. PLoS ONE6(10): e25552. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025552


  1. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    And yet…Mooney’s book explains a lot of the obvious differences between liberals and conservatives, like the enthusiasm gap, persistent conservative belief in anti-empirical ideology like global warming denialism and birtherism, and conservative specific traits like backfire effect (only observed so far in conservatives).
    Also, Mooney does not claim conservatives are “dumber”…he says that conservatives are more emotional, and that liberals are more logical and empirical, based on the RELATIVE distribution of grey matter between the amygdala and the ACC.
    Conservatives tend to have more grey matter in the amygdala, liberals tend to have more in the ACC.
    I have read Mooney’s book, and a lot of the supporting literature, including Nyhan’s research on backfire effect, and the U Toronto study, and the papers on the savannah principle hypothesis.
    So okfine…where is the research contradicting Mooney’s hypoth? I have seen a lot of research supporting The Republican Brain.
    I am a scientist and as I understand the way science works, the model that best describes the data is successful. The author here may be a “neuroscientist” but he seems to have no rebuttal to the cognitive genomics and evolutionary neuroscience models proposed by Mooney and Holland. Contemporary red/blue genetics and neuropolitics are young theories. The author is free to propose an alternative that explains empirical, statistically measurable differences between conservative and liberal brains….yet he does not.

    This article is a Fail.

  2. politicalmath says:


    And yet… you say “but, I’m a scientist and Mooney’s explanation makes sense to me” is not science. In fact, you’ve completely ignored the entire argument and declared it a fail, addressing none of the concerns.

    I believe you’re a scientist. But my guess is you’re not very deep into neuroscience due to your complete inability to grasp the very simple concepts given here.

  3. And yet…Mooney’s book explains a lot of the obvious differences between liberals and conservatives, like the enthusiasm gap, persistent conservative belief in anti-empirical ideology like global warming denialism and birtherism, and conservative specific traits like backfire effect (only observed so far in conservatives).

    Of course it does.

    That is because Mooney’s book is based on the biases of liberals, and Mooney is only interested in providing information that confirms those biases. As you have stated, Mooney publishes nothing and cites no sources that would in any way contradict or otherwise modify his hypothesis.

    Were you actually a scientist and familiar with the requirements for writing scientific papers and literature, you would be aware that it is expected of YOU to acknowledge information that apparently or potentially contradicts your conclusion and explain why this information is not relevant or appropriate. In short, you are expected to demonstrate that you actually did research and considered alternative theories when designing your experiment, gathering your information, and presenting your conclusions.

    Mooney’s book is thus, by your own admittance, really no different than any publication made by Lysenko, who simply ignored any evidence to the contrary and thus was proclaimed “correct” throughout the socialist/liberal Soviet Union.

  4. Captain Obvious says:

    Every autumn the leaves turn orange and fall off the trees, which causes the students to return to school. I am a scientist and as I understand the way science works, the model that best describes the data is successful. But apparently I believe correlation is proof of causation. Some scientist.

  5. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    As far as I know it is not possible to build a biased fMRI. There are statistically significant differences between conservatives and liberals in brain morphology and function.
    The author of this article has obviously not read Mooney’s book. He is confused about the thesis of the book. The thesis is NOT that increased grey matter in the amygdala correlates with emotion and irrationality, the thesis is that differing RELATIVE amounts of grey matter in the amygdala and the ACC (anterior cingulate cortex) cause different measurable behaviors in liberals and conservatives.
    Because, there is a biological basis for behavior, correct?

  6. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    Politicalmath, the article does not address grey matter distribution in the ACC, which is half Mooney’s thesis, the article does not address current domain literature, and includes no cites or references.
    IPOF, the article is a classic field lab example of how conservative brains react to science they disapprove of.
    With emotion.

  7. going_todash says:

    The issue here is not whether the science is bad or whether there is a sufficiently satisfactory alternative model. The model that Chris Mooney is heralding may in fact be accurate!!!!! But if so, the representation of that model here is most certainly *not* accurate. Holland gives embedded value judgments, oversimplifies the science, and over-interprets the studies that he’s reading through his own political worldview.

    Nobody here is shouting down science and claiming that the studies are full of crap. The author of this blog post is saying that the journalist (at the very least Holland, and perhaps Mooney) is full of crap, dispensing moral superiority to his liberal readers on the basis of vastly over-simplified correlative results on liberals vs conservatives brain makeup.

    By the way quellcrest… what exactly is the distinction you’re making between *RELATIVE* and *ABSOLUTE* gray matter volume differences in the amygdala? Virtually every study on statistically significant differences in gray matter volume (including all the ones cited) are going to be *RELATIVE* to another group or to itself at another time period. As products of evolution, there is no *ABSOLUTE* gray matter volume that people are deviating from. Unless you’re arguing for some young world, 6 day creationist theory by which organisms can be determined to have some “set” gray matter volume to deviate from, everything is going to be *RELATIVE* deviations from other groups.

  8. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    And one more thing, politicalmath. Science is observation. My non-parametrics professor was a big fan of eyeballing the data, to see if it made empirical sense.
    And here I thought conservatives were all about common sense and observation.
    thanx for not instantly deleting my comments.
    its a new experience for me on a conservative site.
    is that bias? nope, its observation, because i can back it up with data.

  9. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    goingtodash…..well…you could read the literature for the results of the fMRI studies.
    In the HuffPo article on evolution and conservatives Chris cites 11 peer-reviewed studies I think, and you could certainly read those.
    But you won’t, because you are a conservative, and would prefer to poutrage over results you don’t like.

  10. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    you’re not very deep into neuroscience

    so? im deeper into evo bio, cog neurosci, cog genomics and evolutionary psychology.

    And what does your brother do? is he a practicing physician or a researcher?

  11. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    You guys are looking at this the wrong way. Its fascinating that these two peer models of cognition developed in the EEA. they were equally successful in allocating fitness benefits!!
    and even today, in evo theory of culture, the two models are pretty much equally successful. Chris even says that in his book. Half of homosapiens sapiens has conservative tendency, half has liberal. Perhaps the tension between the two paradigms is a fitness benefit in itself.

  12. going_todash says:

    “But you won’t, because you are a conservative, and would prefer to poutrage over results you don’t like.”

    Don’t get too emotional about this. I’m sorry if I stepped on your toes, but no need to sling insults here (and by the way you phrased it, you definitely seem to consider “conservative” as an insult). I thought we could have a reasonable discussion.

    Anyway, this article very explicitly states that it is in response to Joshua Holland’s article, *not* Chris Mooney’s book. Based on the two scientific articles that Holland cites, the language he uses to describe the conservatives’ perspective is a value-charged disparagement unfitting of the hard-work of those who actually conducted the research. If you can find the phrase “nightmarish landscape” in any of those studies (or language comparable to it) I will be concede and bow before your obviously superior scientific mind.

  13. politicalmath says:


    My brother is a research neuroscientist heading into med school. And you continue to miss the point. The point (which seemed clear to me) was not “this study is bad”. It was “this interpretation of this study is simplistic, biased and out of line with the practical interpretation of neurological data”.

    That you don’t seem to understand this *very simple* point makes me skeptical that you read the article.

    That you say “you are a conservative, so you won’t look at the data” only proves you’re an asshole.

    Answer this simple question: Why can we apply these correlations to conservatives, but not to liberals? If we apply them to liberals, we can say liberals are pedohpiles. This is obviously stupid, so why is it stupid for me to do it, but not stupid for you to do it.

    Please answer in a way that isn’t stupid.

  14. Geologist says:

    Quellcrist, I have to agree with Captain Obvious in the observation that you are a terrible scientist (if you are a scientist). “the model that best describes the data is successful.” What a load. All models are wrong, some models are useful. What is with you pseudo-scientists and your religious belief in the perfection of models? Oh, and your wrong about anthropogenic global warming too. “Anti-empirical idealogy” indeed. Pot meet kettle. Maybe you should go back to trolling your leftie sites on mommies computer and leave the science talk to the grown-ups.

  15. Matthew Berg says:

    “And yet…Mooney’s book explains a lot of the obvious differences between liberals and conservatives, like the enthusiasm gap, persistent conservative belief in anti-empirical ideology like global warming denialism and birtherism, and conservative specific traits like backfire effect (only observed so far in conservatives).”

    Selectively choosing your examples to match your preconceptions does not a persuasive argument make. One could just as easily point to 9/11 truthers or continued defense of the Killian documents after they were broadly debunked.

    Likewise, responses like this seem an excellent illustration of “the backfire effect”.

  16. Captain Obvious says:

    “The thesis is NOT that increased grey matter in the amygdala correlates with emotion and irrationality”

    Glad you noticed. So why are you defending an article that reaches such a conclusion from a study you agree says nothing of the kind?

  17. Mighty Skip says:


    You are a troll of the maximum degree. I too am a scientist and in all my years of private, academic and public research I’ve never heard a reputable scientist use the term “Fail.” Your instructors must be proud of your advance critical techniques.

    First off fMRI studies have been known to create bias ( which took me all of five seconds of research into publically available materials on various publish resource sites. Your responses are so insult laden and you laughably argue that the rebuttal posted here is based on emotion only? Are you that blind or just that beholden to ideology that you cannot detect the hypocrisy? The author sites contradictory research and points out the data cherry picking in the conclusions drawn by Mooney et al. He is not arguing against the data but in its sloppy interpretation. You seem to be arguing that that he does not provide data contradicting the grey matter distribution but that is not what the rebuttal is about. You apparently did not read this article very closely. And if you believe references are unquestioned authority you are truly not a very good scientist. For instance, one of the articles (Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits) has two rebuttal articles one (John R. Hibbing Kevin B. Smith, Douglas R. Oxley, John R. Alford, Matthew V. Hibbing, Peter K. Hatemi Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln) states:

    “First, they are comfortable classifying people simply as “liberal” or “conservative,” even though many people do not fit these overall molds and even though physiological responses correlate with certain specific issue clusters but not others. Second, Gewirtz and Cuthbert attempt to draw a connection between our results and issues of mental disorders by noting that “high responsiveness to threat is closely associated with anxiety disorders,” but this does not mean there is necessarily a correlation between physiological threat sensitivity and mental health in larger non-clinical populations. Responding vigorously to threats is evolutionarily sensible, so the inclination to treat all those who do as suffering from a disorder is inaccurate and should be avoided. The unquestioned importance of context should not blind us to the fact that people differ—politically and physiologically. Moreover, the richness of these differences is not adequately captured by dichotomous distinctions between liberals and conservatives or between those with disorders and those without.”

    And a second (Jonathan C. Gewirtz, Bruce N. Cuthbert, Department of Psychology ,University of Minnesota, Minneapolis) states:

    “One can only speculate about potential sources of the conservatives’ fear during the experiment, but suspicion of the entire scientific research enterprise is a likely one. Participants were not asked about their views toward science and scientists. However, one of the 14 measures of protectiveness was belief in “biblical truth,” and individuals who do not believe in the theory of evolution are significantly more likely than those who do to say that scientific advances will harm mankind (3).

    If such speculation were justified, then we would predict that the results would be reversed if the experiment were repeated in a context that is particularly threatening to liberals, such as a gun show. Until this prediction is put to the test, it is safer to assume that political attitudes are related to people’s responses to threat under specific circumstances rather than to a phenotypic difference in physiological responsiveness to threats in general.”

    What the writer of this article is doing is in a long line of tradition of scientific research. All results are to be questioned and analyzed. This is hardly outside the bounds of acceptable rebuttal. Your casual dismissal of contradictory evidence is disturbing if your claim of your profession is accurate. And is more in line with a propagandist than I scientist. Which you I suspect consider both one and the same; which causes me great pause for the future of science.

  18. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    Politicalmath. Im talking about Mooney’s book, I haven’t read the Holland article.
    Part of Mooney’s thesis is that conservative emotion and irrationality is becoming harmful to the US. Im not sure I agree with that. I think it is part of an evo theory of culture process that is going to change conservative memetic phenomes in this country. And I could have predicted your brother is on the practicing physician path.
    My dad was a surgeon, a Rhodes scholar, and a conservative.

    Matthew–Backfire effect has only been observed in conservatives. It is where correction of a falsehood increases salience(belief) in the falsehood.
    Here is the cite.

  19. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    “One can only speculate about potential sources of the conservatives’ fear during the experiment, but suspicion of the entire scientific research enterprise is a likely one. Participants were not asked about their views toward science and scientists. However, one of the 14 measures of protectiveness was belief in “biblical truth,” and individuals who do not believe in the theory of evolution are significantly more likely than those who do to say that scientific advances will harm mankind (3)”

    exactly. you and Mooney should co-author. conservatives fear science. conservatives fear progress. why? is is because they have more grey matter in the amygdala and less in the ACC? lets investigate!

  20. Professor says:

    Well the obvious conclusion for me is that conservatives are brave in the face of their fear, while liberals are cowardly, mentally ill, and prone to alcoholism and pedophilia. Bet I could write a biased book that “proves” it too. Heck, I see it every day…

  21. Geologist says:

    Nice rebuttal Mighty Skip. Ignoring anyone that disagrees with the decided outcome is indeed indicative of modern “scientists” like Quellcrist despite the weight of their arguments. I also agree that “scientists” like Quellcrist threaten the entire future of science but you should note his specialities…how about that evolutionary psychology for an example of firm scientific principles, or even better the evolutionary theory of culture. He is not a real scientist but all too many people are deluded by the chicanery.

  22. politicalmath says:


    Even as a crappy statistician, I know there is a mountain of difference between “there is a correlation between conservative belief and anxiety about scientific results” and “conservatives fear science”.

    Once again, the fact that you can’t seem keep this *very simple* principle in mind makes me suspect you’re are either a) not a scientist b) allowing your biases to override your scientific instincts.

    Thank you for answering my previous question. Wait… did you answer my previous question? Oh, I see now that you did not. How strange… I wouldn’t have thought a scientist such as yourself would avoid simple and direct investigative questions. I’m sure it was a simple oversight and not a fear of science on your part.

  23. exactly. you and Mooney should co-author. conservatives fear science. conservatives fear progress. why? is is because they have more grey matter in the amygdala and less in the ACC? lets investigate!

    Ah, but you see, you fail right off the bat.

    How do you define “conservative”?

    How do you define “progress”?

    Answer: you twist and manipulate the definitions of both.

    For instance, if you don’t support the government paying for abortions, you are “conservative” and hate “science” and “progress”.

    The Obama Party is simply following in the footsteps of the fascist regimes which preceded it, in which the eugenics of the Nazis, the collectivism of the Soviets, and the agrarianism of Mao are deemed as “progress” based on “science” and that those who oppose it are intractable imbeciles.

    The Nazis had an entire library of measurements that “proved” Jews, Slavs, and anyone else they deemed to be so were inferior, all collected and recorded nicely and scientifically. It was not done for the purposes of scientific advancement; it was done solely for the purposes of propaganda.

    And thus Mooney and you are doing. You hate conservatives, and you are trying to use science to show why we should be ignored and exterminated. You are nothing more than a kinder, gentler Mengele, and you should be treated with the same mixture of contempt and revulsion.

  24. going_todash says:

    North Dallas,

    The term “conservatives” in the study wasn’t manipulated. They used political self-identification of the participants correlated to fMRI results.

    Again, I think the science is good. But for an actual idea what the data might mean about behavioral or cognitive patterns between the two groups, you have to read the study and not what a journalist says are the results.

  25. going_todash says:

    whoops! sorry, I meant structural MRI, not functional MRI.

  26. Captain Obvious says:

    Gotta love the non-falsifiable logic. Having actually read the backfire “study,” and I use the term very loosely, it’s another solid example of tenuous bias-confirmation from poorly constructed experiments.

    But by disagreeing with the findings, which are obviously infallible, I only confirm his belief in the backfire effect. After all, that could be the only reason for disagreeing with such irrefutable evidence right?

    Go ahead and read the study. In one experiment the statement “Iraqi WMD’s might have been moved or destroyed before the invasion” is treated as a known “misperception” despite the fact that statement is categorically undisprovable. It then guages whether conservatives will disbelieve the statement after someone “proves” it incorrect by noting no WMD’s were found. Yes, this is the logical clarity of the experimentation in this “study”: If you don’t believe a non-falsifiable statement is falsified by a testimonial of a negative that has nothing to do with the original premise, then you’re “in denial” of the facts. Brilliant.

    In contrast, the experiment designed to test liberals is whether they believe there exists a total ban on stem cell research. To correct this, they are shown positive confirmation that the government funds older lines of research. This alone is sufficient, but liberals are further coached that it is only “new” research for which there is a ban on federal funding, there is no ban on private funding, and there is no ban on the research in general. Yes, these two experiments were obviously equal…

    The study goes on to prove the backfire effect has been observed in liberals, as proven by the quellcrist’s increased salience in the falsehood that “backfire effect” was observed in conservatives.

    This is a fun game!

  27. Joshua Holland says:

    I accurately quoted the scientists who did the research. If an aspiring neuroscientist has issues with more established researchers, that’s a scientific dispute I’m not going to wade into.

    Nobody suggests that “Science says that Republicans (or conservatives or religious people) are dumb.” That’s a straw-man. Here’s Chris Mooney’s piece, “5 Things the Science Doesn’t Say About the Conservative Brain.” Number 1 is, “No, Scientists Aren’t Calling Conservatives Dumb.” His conclusion: “… if you’re a conservative who’s concerned about the science of ideology …well, you might want to look at it more closely. In reality, there’s plenty of bad news here for liberals as well.”

    The other point — that what were once fringe conspiracy theories have moved into the conservative mainstream (UN gun-grabbing, “death panels,” etc. — isn’t addressed in the piece above.

  28. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    “The study goes on to prove the backfire effect has been observed in liberals”
    No it doesn’t.
    Jay Rosen:
    Hi Jonah. You said… “And it’s worth pointing out that this irrationality applies to both sides of the political spectrum.)”

    But you overlooked something in the Boston Globe article you were writing about. The article is mainly about the so-called “backfire” effect, wherein contrary information not only doesn’t inform but actually strengthens the existing (and incorrect) belief, thus backfiring. Seems irrational, right? Here’s what the article says about this irrationality applying across the board:

    Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.
    For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

    In other words, the backfire effect did not occur “across the board.” It was observed among conservatives and not among liberals, at least in this portion of the study. However, blocking out facts that were inconvenient did occur among liberals, as well. This shows that liberals are not immune to these irrational tendencies, but it does not show that the irrationality discussed in the Globe article is evenly distributed across the political spectrum. I think that’s an important qualifier.

    I also think that there’s a danger of PC thinking taking over here. In being careful not to encourage fantasies among liberals of being immune from these tendencies, which is an entirely valid thing to do, some writers, I have noticed, are too quick to suggest that a kind of symmetry reigns over political behavior. I don’t think we should be doing that.”

    as scientists, we are interested in asymmetry– that is, why are things different.

  29. going_todash says:

    Joshua Holland,

    Technically, some people *are* suggesting it. You are absolutely correct that neither you nor Chris Mooney are claiming Republicans/conservatives are dumb. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t suggesting or implying it. For a better understanding of the differences between a claim and a suggestion, I *suggest* you consult a dictionary.

    Again, you’re right. That should not be the brunt of the argument. And this article doesn’t claim that you misquoted them, it claims that you misrepresented and misinterpreted them. I can quote a line from Shakespeare and then give you a bogus interpretation of it.

    “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet.”

    Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

    Here we see that Juliet is saying that whether society calls them “Conservatives” or “Turnip-faces,” the truth is that they should all be euthanized before they infect our children with their poison.

    You see how the quote is correct but the interpretation as I presented it to you is full of crap?

  30. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    Joshua Holland.
    I have read The Republican Brain, and I think its interesting that so many conservatives that HAVE NOT READ the book think it says “conservatives are dumber than liberals”. In no place does Mooney say that.
    And yet when challenged to find that statement, or when corrected, conservatives continue to insist it is in the book.
    Backfire effect?

  31. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    It is true that Mooney feels conservatism is poisonous to our current political discourse.
    But he doesn’t advocate euthanized conservatives. Indeed, roughly half of all children born have initial conservative tendency.
    I think environmental factors like demographic evolution are going to reshape conservative tendency over time.
    Otherwise conservatives will go extinct on their own.

  32. going_todash says:


    Again, the difference between quotes/claims and how you know your words will be interpreted.

    The authors of these studies are much more careful with their wording that you and Holland are. They want to communicate what the data actually says about liberals and conservatives, not whatever they happen to believe the results should mean. One can spin the results of the study however they want and believe they’re doing justice by quoting it correctly. And that’s exactly what you and Holland seem to be doing. Spinning. Lots and lots of spinning.

  33. Captain Obvious says:

    ““The study goes on to prove the backfire effect has been observed in liberals”
    No it doesn’t.”

    There it is again! Proof that the backfire effect is demonstrated in liberals just reinforced your salience that it hadn’t been, thus demonstrating the backfire effect in a liberal yet again!

    This game is SO much fun!

  34. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    i apolo, politicalmath.
    what was your question again?
    i got caught up in a blizzard of comments to reply to.

  35. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    dash, those are peer reviewed scientific papers.
    the statistical analysis is sound, the research methodology is sound.
    it is your perception of the authors INTENTS that is flawed.
    are you a mind reader?
    if you don’t like the results, do your own research.

  36. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    and dash…why can’t conservatives acknowledge that there is a difference?
    it doesn’t mean that conservatives are inferior, just that they are different.

    and heres some shakespeare for you.

    and enterprises of great pitch and moment
    shall in this regard their currents turn awry
    and lose the name of action.

    if you disagree with the results of a scientific investigation, do your own research.
    prove the hypothesis false.
    but sadly….96% of scientists are NOT conservative.
    why do you suppose that is?
    could there be FUNCTIONAL AND MORPHOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES in conservative and liberal brains?

  37. FEAR? says:

    So who is it that fears guns, carbon dioxide, landfills, nuclear power, petroleum, fracking, Rick Santorum, vaccines, pesticides, herbicides, capitalism, 80-year-old catholic pro-life marchers, one of science’s (and the ART’S!) greatest benefactors – David H Koch, Fox News, churches, drones, and police? The most common reductive reasoning is that conservatives would “take us back x number of years with their take on this policy” and it’s usually something like voting ID laws (because NOT allowing Bart Simpson to vote four thousand times is racist!) or requiring parental notification before a 16 year old has her 3rd partial birth abortion. Here’s my take: REAL LIBERALS would take us back to a place that never existed. Get rid of petroleum and fossil fuels, get rid of the REAL green revolution that allowed billions of people to not starve to death. Eliminate the raising of livestock since they contribute more to global warming than cars – so only hunting live animals on open ranges (which there are plenty to go around). Guns aren’t allowed though, not for hunting, nor war – we need more humane means of fighting wars – no guns, no heavy machinery. No horses (animal cruelty!).

    Liberals would take us back to 100,000 BC (oh, excuse me, BCE) and emphasize a diet of goji and acai berries with plenty of anal sex. Think I’m kidding? I’ve read liberal literature that either suggests or openly pines that the move from hunting and gathering into agricultural societies was the WORST THING TO HAPPEN TO HUMANITY.

    What about religion? Or I should say, Christianity. Every liberal that ever existed rails on and on about all the DEATH, DESTRUCTION, INQUISITION, and PERSECUTION by Christians, against non-Christians. Pleasantly ignoring not only all the immeasurable amount of GOOD and CHARITY done by Christians FOR both Christians and Non-Christians, but completely ignores all the wars and bloodshed wrought by other religions, and yes, secular states (WWII anyone!?)

    Liberals, armed with all their science, came to the conclusion that a 9 month old fetus, screeching in pain as scissors are plunged into it’s brain (which is then sucked out) is not a human being since it’s pinky toe is still touching it’s mother’s birth canal, not with knowledge of 46 chromosomes, or ultrasounds. No, the people of science live with the conclusion that that baby is the mother’s body – since it isn’t viable on it’s own – the same people that think 26- year-olds need to be on their mother’s (daddy’s been replaced by the govt) free health insurance plan – because a 26 year old STILL isn’t viable on it’s own.

    Conservatives don’t fear science. They fear smug eggheads, celebrities, the liberal media, and politicians that politicize science. They fear bullshit govt agencies like the FDA telling them for 40 years to eat high carb, low fat, diets – and then they wonder why everyone had diabetes. They fear urban progressives and their obsessions with “Smart” urban planning which leads to more unintended consequences than Corn Ethanol subsidies. They fear irresponsible environmentalists that turn real scientific evidence into a fake religion which VERY often has devastating unintended consequences. They fear corrupt brainwashing of their children, whether it be from kindergarten teachers, Captain Planet, the entertainment industry, or now, the internet porn industry.

    They do not fear REAL science.

  38. going_todash says:

    I like the results. The science is sound.

    I’m not complaining about the authors of the study and their results, I’m complaining about Holland’s interpretation of the results. Read the wording in those peer-reviewed scientific papers. Read the wording in Holland’s article. It’s not difficult to recognize there is a difference between the two.

    Scientific articles might use the word “intransigent” while Holland might use the word “pig-headed.” Do they mean the same thing? The answer is sort of and not at all. Scientific articles might say someone has a “propensity toward” while Holland might say that same person has a “bigotry against.” Are they the same? sort of and not at all

    My position:
    1. Science=good. Yay for science! These studies look like good science! Yay these studies!!!

    2. Holland’s article=Rant of an ideologue. Boo ideologues! They take science and manipulate it until it no longer resembles the awesomeness it is. Boo ideologues!

  39. Geologist says:

    Quellcrist, maybe 96% of the people you think of as scientists “are NOT conservative”. In the realm of hard sciences, where actual data and results count, 99% ARE conservative (hey, you made up a number I can too).

    Hands, anyone that believes Mr. Q will convince himself he has won this debate despite the lack of data. Wow, that’s a lot of hands.

  40. FEAR? says:

    “could there be FUNCTIONAL AND MORPHOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES in conservative and liberal brains?”

    Are you suggesting that if there was, conservatives would deny that? Good. Now imagine that you changed only the adjectives to suggest there are functional differences between races or classes of people. I’m sure that one gets a big ol’ pub piece in the HuffPo.

  41. Captain Obvious says:

    Page 46. Figure 4.

    See that line that doesn’t stay below 0 towards the “liberal” end of the chart? Someone once said: “if you disagree with the results of a scientific investigation, do your own research.”
    Better start cracking those books!

    Backfire effect – when a liberal PROVIDES the evidence which contradicts his salient belief, and his only response is “No it doesn’t.”

    Somebody left the irony on.

    This game is awesome.

  42. Greg says:

    quellcrist, to your point about being kicked off of comment threads:

    I’ve had the same thing happen on and on the HuffPost when I in two separate instances merely attempted to make the case that, categorically speaking, a fetus is a human being.

    It’s not a solely “conservative” thing. Anyone who will not allow the other side to speak does it, and there are plenty of those types on “both sides”.

  43. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    2009 Pew study.
    oops, mybad, 94% are NOT conservatives.
    “Most scientists identify as Democrats (55%), while 32% identify as independents and just 6% say they are Republicans.”

    Nyhan himself.

  44. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    “a fetus is a human being.”…when? a diploid oocyte? a blastula? a nerula?
    ah yes, medieval ensoulment is yet another conservative trope.
    IPOF, the constitution states a fetus becomes a human citizen at BIRTH.
    you likely get deleted for climate change denialism also.

  45. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    this a point Mooney raises in his book. Conservatives are impervious to logic and reason, preferring to emote and/or cite authority.

  46. Greg says:

    A human diploid oocyte is a human being… can’t really see what’s so difficult about that concept.

    The Constitution states no such thing. It doesn’t use the term “human”; it merely uses the term “citizen”. That in no way disqualifies them from being “human”, nor would the government’s usage of the term “human” in such a context. The government can be wrong.

  47. Greg says:

    Further, when did I ever cite “ensoulment”? I merely make the claim that at the moment when a separate, individual human being is formed (i.e., at the fusion of its parents’ gametes), it is obviously a separate, individual human being and thus deserving of protection. What is illogical about that?

  48. Geologist says:

    News Flash…9 out of 10 liberal scientists agree that 9 out of 10 liberal scientists are liberals.

    Brought to you by Manipulative Statistics Inc. “Need to gin up a consensus, just call us.”

    Ain’t it keen how statistics can be manipulated.

  49. Captain Obvious says:

    “the constitution states a fetus becomes a human citizen at BIRTH.”

    LOL, the gift that keeps on giving… but remember folks, “Conservatives are impervious to logic and reason, preferring to emote and/or CITE AUTHORITY.”

    I’m glad we got this straightened out, now we can go nuke the rest of the planet to get rid of all those non-humans who didn’t become U.S. citizens at BIRTH.

  50. quellcrist cavalli-sforza says:

    “A human diploid oocyte is a human being”

    ensoulment. personhood at conception. LIFE at conception.
    toutes le meme chose.

    This whole thread is a field lab for conservative tendency. Personhood at fertilization, climate change denialism, doesn’t anyone want to venture into birtherism and ToE?