The New Phrenology

Thursday, May 03, 2012

With so much "scientific" "evidence" purporting to demonstrate once and for all that non-leftists are mental defectives, it should come as no surprise that there is a book out, Chris Moroney's The Republican Brain. Jonah Goldberg gives us a taste:

Author Chris Mooney compiles much of this research for his new book The Republican Brain, which purports to show that conservatives are, literally by nature, more closed-minded and resistant to change and facts. His evidence includes the fact that conservatives are less likely to buy into global warming, allegedly proving they are not only "anti-science" but innately anti-fact, as well. "Politicized wrongness today," he writes "is clustered among Republicans, conservatives and especially Tea Partiers."

That's an entirely understandable view for Mooney to hold. He's a soaked-to-the-bone liberal partisan. But he crosses the line into pseudoscientific hogwash by trying to explain every political disagreement as a symptom of bad brains. For instance, Mooney claims Republicans have trouble processing reality because Republicans think "ObamaCare" will raise the deficit. No really, stop laughing.
Goldberg comments that:
Over the past decade, a new fad has taken hold among academics and liberal journalists: call it the new science of conservative phrenology. No, it doesn't actually involve using calipers to determine intelligence based on the size and shape of people's heads. The measuring devices are better -- MRIs and gene sequencers -- but the conclusions are worse.
In the process, he reminded me of a nice "translation" of the phrase, "Numerous studies have confirmed ..." by statistician John Cook, who had heard it more than once it in a business audio book he'd listened to:
Several of my peers, who share my prejudices, were also able to do a multivariate regression and select a few variables out of hundreds to confirm the prevailing wisdom.
Judging assertions posited as science depends on critical thinking that isn't satisfied with the mere trappings of science -- mathematical, technological, or otherwise. There is no one-size-fits-all "baloney detection kit" out there, not that the occasional frustrated scientist hasn't tried creating one. The real solution to the pervasiveness of pseudoscientific claims isn't cooking up the right checklist, but encouraging cultural change towards a society that more generally respects reason and fosters independence, rather than second-handedness.

-- CAV

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