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August 26, 2009

The Well Never Runs Dry: Newsweek "Science" Editor Once Again Claims That Mental Illness Explains Republican Opposition to a Democrat


Sharon Begley, a vision in black

I don't know if she's still their "science editor." She used to be.

Here's Dr. Hot Tamale opining on your mental stability:

"Rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief," he says, "people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe." And God knows, in the Internet age there is no dearth of sources to confirm even the most ludicrous claims (my favorite being that the moon landings were faked). "For the most part," says Hoffman, "people completely ignore contrary information" and are able to "develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information."

Note that there is certainly a germ of truth in that -- but that applies to everyone. Including hardcore liberal partisans such as Dr. Va-Va Vavoom here.

But she never gets around to mentioning that phenomenon when it comes to her fellow liberals. As I'll show later, she only starts discussing the irrational bits of the mind's software when she's explaining conservative beliefs and behavior.

...

For an explanation of this behavior, look no further than the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory holds that when people are presented with information that contradicts preexisting beliefs, they try to relieve the cognitive tension one way or another. They process and respond to information defensively, for instance: their belief challenged by fact, they ignore the latter. They also accept and seek out confirming information but ignore, discredit the source of, or argue against contrary information, studies have shown.

Which brings us back to health-care reform—in particular, the apoplexy at town-hall meetings and the effectiveness of the lies being spread about health-care reform proposals. First of all, let's remember that 59,934,814 voters cast their ballot for John McCain, so we can assume that tens of millions of Americans believe the wrong guy is in the White House. To justify that belief, they need to find evidence that he's leading the country astray. What better evidence of that than to seize on the misinformation about Obama's health-care reform ideas and believe that he wants to insure illegal aliens, for example, and give the Feds electronic access to doctors' bank accounts?

Obama's opponents also need to find evidence that their reading of him back in November was correct. They therefore seize on "confirmation" that he wants to, for instance, redistribute the wealth, as in his “spread the wealth around” remark to Joe the Plumber—finding such confirmation in the claims that health-care reform will do just that, redistributing health care from those who have it now to the 46 million currently uninsured. Similarly, they seize on anything that confirms the “socialist” label that got pinned on Obama during the campaign, or the pro-abortion label—anything to comfort themselves that they made the right choice last November.

There are legitimate, fact-based reasons to oppose health-care reform. But some of the loudest opposition is the result of confirmatory bias, cognitive dissonance, and other examples of mental processes that have gone off the rails.

So, there you go. Mental processes that have gone off the rails.

This is not exactly a new thesis for Newsweek's smoking-hot science editor.

Indeed, she makes these claims every several months. Prompted by a new study or new claim of evolutionary psychology or new buzzword from pop-psych, Dr. Droolworthy rushes to use the new learning to explain... why conservatives are crazy.

Sharon Begley, May 2007: Bush is mentally ill, suffering from delusions due to deep denial.

Sharon Begley, June 2007: Democrats lose elections because they target the rational side of the brain, while Republicans target the irrational side.

Sharon Begley, October 2007: Those who deny global warming are kooks and cranks like those nuts who deny the moon landing.

Clearly, Dr. Sizzle-Pants is fond of using "science" to belittle her political opponents. She diagnoses supposed maladies of conservative thinking, but never examines, for example, Trutherism, or the plainly-insane passion that many liberals have for Obama (some seeming to believe he is actually at least a minor deity sent by God Himself to save us).

Over and over again she returns to her idee fixe, that Republicans are simply irrational at best and mentally sick at worst.

She's either a hack, both political and in terms of repeating herself as hacks tend to do, or she's suffering from a mental illness herself.

Good Heavens You're Beautiful! Suggested by a commenter.



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posted by Ace at 07:14 PM

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