New Blog URL For The Intersection

By Chris Mooney | September 27, 2011 7:53 am

Hey folks–sorry, but please change your bookmarks again. “The Intersection” is now at this link.

Please note that we are working on the comments function so that you do not have to use Facebook to log in. See you over there!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, Updates

The Intersection Has Officially Moved to Science Progress

By Chris Mooney | September 15, 2011 9:42 am

New blog URL is here.

I’ve written an introductory post, telling readers what to expect, here.

And I’ve done a first real post over there, entitled “Could Personality Differences Help Explain the Reality Gap on Climate Change?” I have never seen anyone take a crack at it from this angle before, so response should be interesting.

Those of you who have bookmarked will want to redirect to

Commenting over there is by Facebook, btw, so that will also be something to get used to.

See you!


Facts Don't Persuade Climate Skeptics–So What Does?

By Chris Mooney | September 14, 2011 10:54 am

The answer, according to a new study, is making them feel better about themselves. As I report:

…the contested issues under examination were whether the 2007 troop “Surge” decreased insurgent attacks in Iraq (it did), whether the U.S. economy added jobs during 2010 under President Obama (it did), and whether global average temperatures have risen since 1940 (they have). Those who opposed the Iraq war and supported troop withdrawals were disinclined to credit George W. Bush’s surge with having worked. Those who oppose President Obama are disinclined to credit him on the economy, or to generally believe in global warming—especially that it is human caused.

Nyhan and Reifler once again confronted partisans with information on these subjects that (presumably) contradicted their beliefs—but there was a twist. This time, the contradictory information was sometimes presented in the form of a convincing graph, showing a clear trend (in attacks, jobs, or temperatures). And second, sometimes the individuals went into the manipulation after having undergone a “self-affirmation” exercise, in which they were asked to describe a positive character attribute or value that they possessed, and a situation in which showing that attribute or trait made them feel good about themselves.

And in both cases, the manipulation worked—although by different means.

Presenting an unequivocal graph was powerful enough to change people’s views, even as presenting technical text (at least in the rising temperatures case) was not. Meanwhile, getting people to affirm their values and sense of self also decreased their resistance, presumably because they felt less threatened by challenging information after having had their egos reinforced and their identities bolstered.

Read on here. Huge implications for effective science communication.

How the HPV Vaccine Splits the Economic and Social Right

By Chris Mooney | September 13, 2011 9:16 am

I was fascinated by this exchange from the Tea Party debate last night, as reported on by CNN:

Bachmann and Perry squared off on the vaccination situation, with Bachmann saying, “We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there’s a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this.” She added that a former Perry aide was a lobbyist for the company and asked if the issue was about saving lives or money.

Perry responded that the company, Merck, made a $5,000 contribution and said to Bachmann: “If you’re saying I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”

“I’m offended by what happened to all those girls, ” Bachmann said of the required vaccination of girls as young as 12 against cervical cancer.

Traditionally, Republicans have managed to be both pro-business and also pro-religious right, despite rumbling contradictions between the two stances on key issues like the HPV vaccine–where a big drugmaker is making money helping to improve people’s health, but the moralistic Christian right is opposed.

But here the contrast is so strong that you find a right winger making a traditional left wing argument against another politician–e.g., you were bought and paid for by that Big Company. (Hmm, how consistent would Bachmann be in using that logic?)

I don’t think Republicans today are really the allies of corporate America any more, and I think exchanges like this–and the whole debt ceiling battle, and the shifting of energy companies to support cap-and-trade, and much else–prove it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Galileo and the Tea Party

By Chris Mooney | September 12, 2011 2:41 pm

I’ve done my latest DeSmogBlog piece on the Rick Perry Galileo flap. I say a lot, but I particularly liked this part of it:

The misuse and abuse of Galileo’s story, in other words, is a case study in how people reason about history—just as they do with science—in a biased, motivated way, seeking to cast themselves as the good guys, the victors, and their foes as the opposite.

And once you see things in this way, you realize there’s a very close analogy in our politics to the Perry-Galileo flap. Climate “skeptics” invoking Galileo is really quite a lot like right wingers calling themselves the “Tea Party.”

The great architects of the United States—Jefferson, Franklin, Madison—were men of reason and the Enlightenment, just as Galileo was a man of the Scientific Revolution. They were freethinkers and, in Jefferson’s and Franklin’s case, scientists and inventors. And they didn’t want religion shoved down anybody’s throat.

And yet we now find a movement in America that wants more religion in politics, and that rejects science on climate change and evolution alike, trying to claim the mantle of the country’s founding.

Rick Perry’s invocation of Galileo, then, is much more than merely ridiculous. It gives us quite the window on the right wing mind, and demonstrates just how much it has managed to turn reality upside-down.

Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength…and Galileo and Rick Perry ride off together into the Texas sunset.

Full piece here.

Global Warming, the Tea Party, and Unwavering Certainty

By Chris Mooney | September 9, 2011 9:16 am

With such an amazing guest post on Wednesday, I didn’t get to post my own DeSmogBlog piece (which is actually related to, but far less consequential than, Andrea Kuszewski’s). So I thought I would do it now.

Basically, the piece looks at new data showing that Tea Partiers are considerably worse than mainline Republicans in their rejection of global warming. What I find most disturbing about this is the level of certainty among Tea Party members that they’re right–e.g., the people who are most wrong are most sure of themselves.

Once again, reminds me of Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats thought this state of affairs signaled the Second Coming was at hand. Unfortunately, I think it’s part of human nature and will be with us as long as we’re on this rock.

Anyway, more specifically with regard to Tea Partiers’ certainty:

“Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are ‘very well informed’ about global warming than the other groups,” according to the Yale study. “Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they ‘do not need any more information’ about global warming to make up their mind.”

What do we make of this? Why would this be? Here’s my attempt to answer:

Well, the study also shows that Tea Partiers are more likely than other Republicans to be “born again” Christians and to doubt evolution, and highly individualistic and anti-egalitarian in their moral values.

In short, what we appear to be seeing in them is a kind of merger of right wing free market views on the one hand, and the unwavering certainty associated with certain forms of fundamentalist religion on the other.

They know they’re right, they know that liberals and scientists—and most of all, President Obama—are wrong, and there is no swaying them in that. (There is also some reason to think that Tea Party members are authoritarian in their outlook, wanting to impose various types of Christian views in government.)

When you merge this with previous data on white male conservatives and climate change, it becomes apparent that the person least likely to change his mind on this issue and accept the science is a 1) white 2) male 3) conservative 4) Tea Party American.

You can read the full DeSmogBlog item here.

Tons of News: My New Book; Research Help; Move to Science Progress

By Chris Mooney | September 8, 2011 3:15 pm

It is time for an announcement. Well, two actually. Or maybe three.

What can I say: I’m a liberal. I have an unfortunate and ill-advised tendency to data dump.

So…for the past year, I’ve been working on a book that I’ve remained mum about, though you have definitely seen me blogging and doing articles on related themes (and publishing guest posts on them)–because one can hardly help oneself. And those of you that enjoyed my first book, The Republican War on Science, will be pretty interested, I think, in the new one. Especially as the campaign heats up.

Now, the deadline is approaching, even as my travel threatens to pick up again–and I find that I could use some research assistance.

In particular, I’m looking for someone willing to help me collect a set of easily available data together into a “study” format where these data can be analyzed—nothing very painful or intensive, but still a little laborious. (But oh, what we shall find! Uh, I think.)

Preferably, this will be someone with statistics training or a social science background. But it doesn’t have to be. Just someone organized would do.

Aspiring helpful folks can email me or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.


Second, and also kind of important: The blog known as “The Intersection” has been through many changes and iterations over its nearly 10 year existence. And now it is time for another.

We’ve been showing sustained traffic highs here over the past several months, with the help of some great guest bloggers (Jon, Jamie, and occasional others). But Discover & I are nonetheless parting ways.

“The Intersection” is instead relocating to become the central blog of Science Progress, the science policy website of the Center for American Progress.

My intention is certainly to continue to have lots of guest bloggers over there, in addition to myself. So contact me if you want to get involved (links above).

The move will take effect, if all goes swimmingly, on September 12/13. Old posts will remain here, and a permanent redirect update post will be put up. There is no URL yet for the new blog, so stand by on that.

I will also continue my twice weekly climate science posts at DeSmogBlog. And hosting Point of Inquiry once every two weeks, on Monday.

Okay, that’s a lot….but I hope you will all continue to tune in for the new book and new blog!

A Church That Wants to Teach Science

By Chris Mooney | September 8, 2011 12:59 pm

This is a guest post by Tim Broderick, a Chicago resident with a keen interest in science and science education.

One of the most painful moments in the film “Jesus Camp” (and there are many) comes when a parent homeschooling her children talks about evolution. The kids are shown watching creationist videos mocking science, and are then led, in a lesson, to reject and question science for no other reason than for a religious fundamentalist view of the world.

Contrast that with the image of a church congregation whose members join together to honestly explore their faith through exploration of science.

Now, think about at least 90 congregations wanting to do that.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, located on the northwest side of Chicago, is one of those 90 congregations. It’s a church that’s diverse in its politics as well as in beliefs. Yet St. John’s also blessed same-sex unions before they became legal in Illinois, promotes environmental causes, works with a local homeless mission and hosted two Darwin Day celebrations in the past three years.

As one of the instigators of those Darwin Day events, I was approached earlier this year by Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer, the pastor of St. Johns, to help put together a grant proposal. The grant – Scientists in Congregations, sponsored by the Templeton Institute – sought to help congregations identify scientists among them interested in teaming with a religious leader to design a program to explore science and inform a dialogue about faith. The long-term aim of the the grant was to create a model program that other congregations could use as well.

We put together what we felt was a pretty interesting program – looking at the Dover evolution trial, global warming, cosmology and neuroscience.

And then an interesting thing happened last week.

We didn’t get the grant. It turns out we were one of about 90 churches interested in elevating the voices of scientists in our congregation. Looking back, I suspect we likely drew too much on the opportunities afforded us by the world-class museums located here in Chicago. It’s not something that a small church in Mississippi, for instance, could easily adopt.

But what’s interesting isn’t that we didn’t get the grant, it’s that after our proposal was turned down, the people involved in putting it together expressed an interest in going ahead with our program anyway.

The first portion – centered around a reading drawn from the exerpts of the Dover evolution trial transcripts – is planned for our 2012 Darwin Day celebration.

As we go forward, we’ll see what we can pull from the other modules. Funding will be a challenge, but there are likely other opportunities for grants that we can explore. I’m particularly interested in doing something with global warming because there has been some skepticism expressed about the science. I think it would be an interesting discussion.

In the raging debate online about science-religion compatibility – a debate I’ve participated in – these kind of efforts gets lost. It’s important to remember that for many people, the question of whether science and religion is compatible isn’t very interesting.

Exploring how they’re compatible is, even if it means challenging one’s own beliefs.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

Your Brain on Politics: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Liberals and Conservatives

By Chris Mooney | September 7, 2011 10:10 am

This is an invited guest post by Andrea Kuszewski, a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum based in Florida, and a researcher and manager with VORTEX: Integrative Science Improving Societies, based in Bogotá, Colombia. She blogs at The Rogue Neuron and tweets as  @AndreaKuszewski.

Can neuroscience provide evidence for a liberal and conservative thinking style?

It may seem like a stretch to say that one could predict whether you lean left or right by looking at a brain scan—no questions asked, no opinions voiced—purely based on your neuroanatomy. However, this might not be too far from reality—at least insofar as predicting thinking style, which has been shown to be somewhat distinct based on party association.

Does brain structure determine your beliefs, or do your beliefs change your brain structure? What about those who switch parties at some point? How do they fit in to this model? We’ll be discussing all of this. It’s a complicated issue with lots of variables in play, so we’re going to take a pretty deep look into this topic from all angles, so we can draw the most accurate conclusions.

Please keep in mind from the beginning that this is not an endorsement of any one political party. This is science—we’ll just be discussing the data. Ready?

Let’s begin…

Recent converging studies are showing that liberals tend to have a larger and/or more active anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC—useful in detecting and judging conflict and error—and conservatives are more likely to have an enlarged amygdala, where the development and storage of emotional memories takes place.  More than one study has shown these same results, which is why I felt it was worth investigating. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology of Ideology

A Stimulating Question: Why Did Republicans Flip-Flop on Juicing the Economy?

By Chris Mooney | September 7, 2011 7:55 am

Ezra Klein has a cool piece, citing some psychology research to explain why the GOP was for economic stimulus under George W. Bush, but is now against it (when it is needed even more). As Klein writes:

Some say the explanation for all this is obvious: Republicans want the economy to fail because that is how they will defeat President Obama….

I don’t believe this sort of behavior is quite that cynical. Psychologists and political scientists talk often of a phenomenon known as motivated skepticism. The idea, basically, is that we believe the evidence and arguments we want to believe, and reject ideas and information that undercut our preferences.

My favorite study (pdf) in this space was by Yale’s Geoffrey Cohen. He had a control group of liberals and conservatives look at a generous welfare reform proposal and a harsh welfare reform proposal. As expected, liberals preferred the generous plan and conservatives favored the more stringent option. Then he had another group of liberals and conservatives look at the same plans, but this time, the plans were associated with parties.

Both liberals and conservatives followed their parties, even when their parties disagreed with their preferences. So when Democrats were said to favor the stringent welfare reform, for example, liberals went right along….

I tend to think there’s much more motivated skepticism in politics than outright cynicism, much less economic sabotage. But it’s a distinction without a difference, at least so far as policy outcomes go.

The study in question is of the influence of group affiliation on one’s policy preferences. And it clearly shows that both liberal and conservative partisans were biased (in the first study reported in the paper) to favor a policy their party supported, regardless of its content.

More specifically, dress up a relatively stringent welfare policy inside a packaging that suggests that 95 percent of Democrats support it and say it would help the poor, and liberal/Democrat partisans support it. Similarly, dress up a relatively generous welfare policy inside a packaging suggesting that 95 percent of Republicans support it and say it would do enough for the poor without undermining their work ethic, and conservative/Republican partisans support it.

That’s not at all surprising, given not only the strong partisan cues on offer, but also the fact that the policies were framed as being the epitome of liberal or conservative moral values (caring for the poor/ensuring personal responsibility for one’s actions), which are also very strong determinants of beliefs.

But there seems to me to be something missing in applying this analysis to a matter like the stimulus flip-flop.

First, is there a major recent case of Democrats flip flopping so hard, and so fast, on some major policy matter–facing two recession threats in under a five year span? (Bush signed a stimulus bill with Republican support in 2008.)

Second, in terms of group solidarity, are Democrats as supportive of President Obama as Republicans always were of President Bush? Does anyone get the sense right now that, as Obama flails and fails, his allies are sticking up for him and making sure they have his back?

The point is, I’m not at all sure that the two groups react the same way when it comes to party loyalty, or to resisting whatever the other party says.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Motivated Reasoning

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