Are Republicans genetically inferior to Democrats? That might sound like a preposterous question, but essentially that is the thesis of Chris Mooney's latest book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science -- and Reality.
In a recent article, Mooney summarizes his case. "[I]t often seems there are so many factually wrong claims on the political right that those who make them live in a different reality." He continues, "So here's an idea: Maybe they actually do. And maybe we can look to science itself...to help understand why it is that they view the world so differently."
Translation: Republicans are stupid and there has to be a biological explanation for it.
If Mooney's argument sounds familiar to you, it should. It's called "eugenics," and it was based on the belief that some humans are genetically inferior. Taken to an extreme, it encouraged people to selectively breed in order to improve the gene pool and eliminate those who the elites determined were unfit. It was rightfully dismissed decades ago, but this does not stop a modern-day science writer from resuscitating it and applying it to political adversaries.
He isn't the first to invoke dubious scientific reasoning to support a pet political belief. Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa got there first when he tried to make the case that liberals are more intelligent. Progressives applauded him for his keen scientific insight until he also tried to claim humans evolved to find African-American men attractive but African-American women ugly.
Thus, while it can produce useful insights, evolutionary psychology at times is highly suspect because it can also be easily influenced by researcher bias. Mooney's book is largely built upon data that is vulnerable to manipulation.
For instance, the field of neuroscience is in its infancy and is just now beginning to be understood. That doesn't prevent Mooney from using it to confidently paint a dubious narrative about "neuropolitics." Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne dismantled Mooney's claims, asserting that he has drawn "unwarranted conclusions" based upon flawed logic and an incomplete understanding of evolution.
Also, take a look again at the book's title (The Republican Brain) and pause to consider our cultural double standard that allows a book with that title to be published. How would people respond if the word "Republican" was replaced with "African-American"? Or if the book tried to explain why women denied reality? There would be outrage and accusations of racism or sexism. Yet, it is socially acceptable to make similar denigrating remarks about Republicans.
None of this is to say that there isn't a grain of truth to what Mooney asserts. Because our genes influence everything -- from brain size to gender differences -- it is probable that genetics plays some role in our thought processes and therefore political beliefs. But, the environment plays just as big, if not a bigger role.
Mooney doesn't frame it that way. The introduction to his book details how misguided he believes Republicans are and then offers "science" as an explanation. Sorry, Republicans. You believe dumb things because biology made you that way.
As climate policy analyst Roger Pielke, Jr. wryly commented, perhaps science will find a cure for this disease soon-to-be-named "Republicanism."
Mooney is not a scientist, and hence, he can conduct scientific malpractice with impunity. As a journalist who has mastered the dark art of framing, he distorts science in order to fit a preconceived narrative that he wants to tell.
You can do it too, sort of like a home science framing experiment. Here's how: Because liberals might have a larger anterior cingulate cortex -- a brain region linked to "uncertainty" -- perhaps this explains why Democrats historically run discombobulated campaigns.
Is that an absurd argument? Sure. But Mooney advances those kinds of arguments about Republicans because he's a loyal combatant for Team Blue. This is not science. This is what happens when partisans hijack science.
Mooney has become something of a national spokesperson for American scientists. The National Science Foundation, a recipient of your tax dollars, even had him teach a seminar to academics about how to communicate science to the public. Given his long record of political partisanship, one wonders if part of the lesson plan involved how to insult Republicans.
Is a person who engages in this sort of "outreach" a good spokesperson for all scientists? Mooney claims to be a public defender of science. In reality, science may need defending from people like him.