Last week, the country convulsed with outrage over Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin’s false suggestion that women who are raped have a special bodily defense mechanism against getting pregnant. Akin’s claim stood out due to its highly offensive nature, but it’s reminiscent of any number of other parallel cases in which conservative Christians have cited dubious “facts” to help rationalize their moral convictions. Take the twin assertions that having an abortion causes breast cancer or mental disorders, for instance. Or the denial of human evolution. Or false claims that same-sex parenting hurts kids. Or that you can choose whether to be gay, and undergo therapy to reverse that choice. The ludicrous assertion that women who are raped have a physiological defense mechanism against pregnancy is just part of a long litany of other falsehoods in the Christian right’s moral and emotional war against science.
In fact, even as Akin reaped a whirlwind of disdain and disgust, a new scientific paper has appeared with uncanny timing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, underscoring what is actually happening when people contort facts to justify their deep-seated beliefs or moral systems. Perhaps most strikingly, one punch line of the new research is that political conservatives, like Akin, appear to do this significantly more than political liberals.