A Question About That Democratic Versus Republican Brains Paper

So this paper, “Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans” has been making the rounds. I’ve been skeptical of the ‘political brain’ literature before–which, by the way, led me to defend conservatives. Just saying. My suspicion is that in five or ten years, quite few biologists and their publicists are going to look pretty foolish.

Here’s what bothers me about the paper: I have no idea what the relative magnitude of effects are. Translated into English, it’s not clear at all how large this effect is relative to other variables such as age, the scanner used, or gender (not to mention the performance on the test to mention risk). It’s a pretty straightforward and quick analysis, and the reviewers should have demanded this be presented before acceptance for publication. My hunch is, and it’s just a hunch, that when one performs this analysis, the ‘political effect’, while significant, is rather small.

Which is still interesting, but not nearly as sexy for public consumption.

Cited Article: Schreiber D, Fonzo G, Simmons AN, Dawes CT, Flagan T, et al. 2013 Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans. PLoS ONE 8(2): e52970. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052970

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2 Responses to A Question About That Democratic Versus Republican Brains Paper

  1. I subscribe to Fred Clark’s theory that the observed conservative “stupidity” is just the natural consequence of accepting as dogma a political ideology that requires active disbelief in objective reality. It’s not that conservatism attracts people who are stupid (whether through biology or lack of education) as that believing in conservatism makes you engage in behaviour that we recognise as stupid.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Yeah, I’ve always thought the “Republican brain” or “Democratic brain” idea was a silly one.

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