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Jerry Coyne’s hilarious takedown of Chris Mooney’s new “yer politics is in yer genes” book

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The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality

Jerry Coyne’s hilarious takedown of Chris Mooney’s new yer politics is in yer genes book

No, but seriously, a few years back science writer Mooney delivered himself of The Republican War on Science , and now he has come out with The Republican Brain, which he puffs at Huffpo:

In my last piece here, I commented on the growing body of research suggesting that the difference between liberals and conservatives is not merely ideological in nature. Rather, it seems more deeply rooted in psychology and the brain — with ideology itself emerging as a kind of by-product of fundamentally different patterns of perceiving and responding to the world that spill over into many aspects of life, not just the political.

To back this up, I listed seven published studies showing a consistent set of physiological, brain, and “attentional” differences between liberals and conservatives. Later on my blog, I listed no less than eleven studies showing genetic differences as well.

Coyne, author of “Why Evolution Is True” (blog and book) refused to have lunch with the Reb to discuss the origin of life, for silly reasons, but we have decided to forgive him for now. His response to Mooney is here:

If there’s a difference in skin conductance or brain physiology between conservatives and liberals, or in the way that they react to pictures of Bill and Hillary Clinton (that was one test!), this could be a consequence rather than a cause of political attitudes. That is, the “biological” differences need not be involved in the causation of poltiical attitudes, but be an inevitable result of adopting a set of political attitudes, whether that adoption be due to the influence of environments or genes. Your brain lights up in new ways when you drink coffee, or see a new love, but those brain patterns are the the result of drinking coffee or being in love, not a cause of those phenomena.

[ … ]

Mooney concludes, then, that liberals are a bunch of soft-nosed tree-huggers and bunny lovers, while conservatives are alert and wary, easy to perceive threat. Where does the evolution come in? Because Mooney suggests that those differences, to the extent that they’re genetic, arose by natural selection. Not only that, but “liberal” genes are less adaptive than “conservative ones”!:

The big question lying behind all this, of course, is why some people would have stronger and quicker responses than others to that which is perceived as negative and threatening (and disgusting). Or alternatively, why some people — liberals — would be less threat aversive than others. For as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers note: “given the compelling evolutionary logic for organisms to be overly sensitive to aversive stimuli, it may be that those on the political left are more out of step with adaptive behaviors.”

“Compelling evolutionary logic,” of course, is not data: it’s just the perceived ability to make a convincing story. I could easily make a story about why it’s more adaptive for people to smile at bunnies than to frown at Bill Clinton: perhaps that is a byproduct of devotion to one’s children and family, which is also adaptive. The point, though, is that we have no idea a priori which sort of behavior is or was adaptive in the evolutionary sense of conferring reproductive advantage, and absolutely no data on the reproductive output of liberals versus conservatives.

Actually, we do have a fair amount of data on “the reproductive output of liberals versus conservatives” – if religious conservatives are the ones counted. See here, for example:

As Phillip Longman noted (in alarm), it is mainly religious people who raise children. Half of all American women of childbearing age say that religion is important to them, versus one in six of European women.

That in itself provides evidence that Americans will replace themselves and Europeans will not: “When children become a cost rather than an asset, prospective parents must identify with something beyond their own needs in order to sustain child-raising.” Especially in a modern welfare state where those who raise no children expect a comfortable retirement based on the labour of the children of others. Raising children then becomes an act of faith with no earthly reward. One undertaken by evangelicals and observant Catholics but not so much by mainline Protestants.

Coyne accuses Mooney of “loud self-aggrandizement .” Whodathunk?

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That in itself provides evidence that Americans will replace themselves and Europeans will not
Wow. That argument used to be made about the poor, and was used to support eugenics. With poverty it doesn't work, partly because of upward mobility, and also because the poor tend to have more children. Something similar could happen with religion, with children leaving their parents' religion. It also ignores childhood survival - I suspect this is higher in the US (but not by enough to make up the difference). Heinrich

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