Book review by Dr. John Hollins, Chair, Board of Directors, CACOR. The opinions stated are those of John Hollins and not those of CACOR.
Chris Mooney is an American author, a Democrat, who writes “The Intersection” blog for Science Progress.
In this book, Mooney explores the psychological dimensions of the denial of global warming and other findings of the natural and social sciences. He disputes the explanation that deniers are uninformed or that they are motivated by vested interests or bought off by corporate money.
Mooney argues that the reasons for denial start with the psychological phenomenon of motivated reasoning: the distinct preference for evidence that supports established belief, rather than evidence that challenges it. But that’s just the beginning of his analysis of why Republicans constantly dispute what scholarship and expertise identify as facts and won’t accept expert consensus on a range of topics, not just global warming, but also topics such as economics, American history, and foreign policy.
Mooney’s answer continues with measurable personality traits that correlate with political preferences. People who require certainty tend to become conservatives; those who like novelty, liberals. He finds that openness to new experiences — curiosity — and fastidiousness are better indicators of political preference than income
If Mooney is right, even partially, efforts limited to education and information are destined to fail. Those who wish to change the debate on global warming and bridge the chasm between deniers and scientific understanding need to alter their approach.
Those trained in the natural and social sciences tend to think that facts ought to win the day, and that works with people who share values that respect academic and scientific norms. But for people who do not share these values, facts and reason are more likely to be a hindrance to success.
So what are liberals to do? First, recognize that motivated reasoning is not restricted to conservatives — liberals need to be on their guard as well. Then, Mooney writes: You need to be way more conservative, not
in the substance of ideas but psychologically: it makes no sense to compromise with a party that won’t compromise.
Mooney’s message to environmental groups in the USA is to avoid fighting amongst themselves over petty differences. He states that liberals have a tendency to be politically ineffectual, because they’re too busy highlighting differences rather than similarities. But he suggests that they possess a key advantage, namely that they
heed reality and are willing to change.
Mooney’s recipe is to identify some key facts and integrate them into stories that move people. Dumping data is counterproductive, but a narrative can change heart and mind.
Review by John Hollins
2017 March 17