Red Science, Blue Science The conservative war on science is an old trope, but apparently liberals have opened up a second front
TIMES OF INTENSE IDEOLOGICAL POLARIZATION are always dreary for reasonable people. Consider the Marquis de Condorcet, a brilliant scientist, mathematician, and political philosopher who was forced into hiding during the French Revolution after running afoul of the radical followers of Robespierre. During his months as a fugitive, Condorcet penned a treatise—now considered a major text of the Enlightenment—that envisioned a society founded on the principles of free inquiry, critical thinking, and science. But the nobleman was caught, and his vision for France died with him in a revolutionary prison cell.
Condorcet’s story opens The Republican Brain, the science writer Chris Mooney’s lament about today’s polarized intellectual climate. Mooney mourns the death of Condorcet’s enlightened vision, and I suspect Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell would as well. Like Mooney’s, their new book, Science Left Behind, describes a 21st-century American society that is the exact opposite of what Condorcet wanted and predicted. Both books condemn the magical thinking and distorted passions that shape our modern intellectual enterprise and diminish our lives.
But this is where the agreement ends. Mooney lays the blame for our misinformed and misguided society squarely at the feet of political conservatives who deny science and its methods. Berezow and Campbell are troubled by distortions of science on the political left.
Mooney examines the phenomenon of right-wing denial of science through the lens of cognitive psychology, a frame that is both well attuned to the bestseller-list zeitgeist and destined to fluster his ideological opponents by putting them on the couch. Mooney takes us on a fascinating tour of the psychological dynamics underlying biased thought. He explains with admirable clarity such concepts as cognitive dissonance, personality theory, and an array of automatic, emotional biases that allow wrongheaded ideas to persist