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A chemical explanation for birtherism?

Why do birthers believe what they do? It turns out that one factor in whether someone mistakenly considers random patterns to be something significant has to do with dopamine levels in their brains — the more dopamine, the more  belief. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system. I was just reading about this today in Michael Shermer’s book, The Believing Brain.

Naturally, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps birthers could have high dopamine levels and that explains why they believe things (particularly random variation in old typed text) that others don’t. An immediate objection I came up with against this idea is the strong correlation between birtherism and conservative political alignment and this being a better predictor than brain chemistry. After all, do Republicans and Tea Party members have higher dopamine levels than Democrats?

DopamineWell, it turns out that while there is no correlation with political orientation, there is a correlation between genes for dopamine receptors and the level of partisanship according to the article, Partisanship, Voting, and the Dopamine D2 Receptor Gene by Christopher T. Dawes and James H. Fowler of the University of California. Those with the A2 allele of the D2 Receptor Gene have a better-functioning dopamine reward system than those with the A1 allele. Perhaps dopamine system efficiency explains why conspiracy theorists like the birthers, soliciting members, attending town meetings, filing lawsuits, organizing rallies and conferences, and creating extra-judicial organizations such as “citizen grand juries.” When was the last time you ever saw an Obot recruiting members, holding a rally, intervening in a town meeting or trying to organize a conference? It may help explain why in the general population normals outnumber birthers at least 10-1, but when it comes to birther web sites and commenters, the numbers seem reversed.

The small (8%) correlation between D2 genes and partisanship doesn’t explain variation the size of birther vs Obot activists. In any complex social phenomenon there are likely to be many factors. One branch of statistics, factor analysis, attempts to explain the factors that underlie variation. With the right data, perhaps an academic study could, after all, explain part of birtherism by genetics.

It’s just something to think about.

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35 Responses to A chemical explanation for birtherism?

  1. avatar
    Bovril July 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    Does that mean we can go dissect us some Birfoon brains to check…?

    Admittedly the small size of said brains will make it a micro surgery procedue, but what the hell….. 😎

  2. avatar
    Lucas D. Smith July 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    I don’t think that any of this true.

    And btw, EVERYONE living on the planet today believes in some sort of conspiracy theory.

    Furthermore, if you look back in history you’ll find that people were ridiculed for believing that the human heart pumped blood throughout the body.

    The Wright brothers were considered to be conmen and hoaxter….until their airplane flew.

    The list goes on and on and on. I’m on my cell phone and I can’t cite references. Sorry.

    One more is that Hillary Clinton recently (maybe last year) gave a public apology to some country whose inhabitants the USA carried out some sort of unethical medical studies on. I believe that we infected them with intent to then try to cure them. Only part about it is that we didnt tell them the first part. And no Im not talking about the Tuskegee ordeal.

    Ask Paul Pieniezny to go Google it if you want to do more.

    The point is that its the same stuff that Loren Collins will calls you conpiracy quack for believing in. Loren Collin is a guy that believes in contemporary science in a relgious way. Science is always updated. But people like Loren Collins have made science a faith.

    Makes me a little sick.

  3. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 22, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    The issue is not “believing in conspiracy theories”; the issue is “believing in error”. While everyone believes in error sometimes, some do it more often than others.

    What I discovered reading your comment is that there is something in the article that might be misunderstood. I said originally that there was a correlation between the dopamine system and partisanship — the reader shouldn’t confuse “partisanship” with “party.” In fact, the study that I cited found no correlation between political orientation and the genetic marker under study. To prevent confusion, I made that more explicit. (Michael Shermer would argue that everything about our minds is just chemistry.)

    The article I cited said later:

    will need to look elsewhere for genes that may be associated with political orientations.

    There have been other studies on the genetics of political orientation that I am looking into.

    The structure of my article is a narrative where speculation in one area leads to a discovery in a related area, not building an argument paragraph by paragraph.

    Lucas D. Smith: The Wright brothers were considered to be conmen and hoaxter….until their airplane flew

  4. avatar
    RetiredLawyer July 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    lucas,

    Taking your points in order:

    1. Most people in the world do not believe in non-substantiated conspiracy theories.

    2. Those people who believed the heart pumped blood throughout the body were correct, and were not ridiculed. They merely lived in a time where actual research was not done. Once Harvey came along and proved that the heard pumped blood everyone then was convinced. Once Obama released the long form birth certificate confirmed by Hawaii, only the nuts are not convinced.

    3. I don’t remember in any of the biographies of the Wright brothers I’ve read that they were ever ridiculed or called con men or hoaxers before they perfected and flew the airplane. In fact it would have been completely at odds with their general bordering on paranoia desire for secrecy which kept them from making any statement prior to the flight. It was, in fact, that secrecy that caused some scepticism when they announced the flight, given that no one from any scientific journal had seen it. Within a month, when they had flown with greater publicity, all claims ended. Unlike birthers who are still banging the same drum years later.

    4. IIRC Hillary Clinton’s apology was for experiments that happened around 50 or 60 years ago, and came to light about 20 years later. The apology was 40 years later.

    I don’t think that any of this true.

    And btw, EVERYONE living on the planet today believes in some sort of conspiracy theory.

    Furthermore, if you look back in history you’ll find that people were ridiculed for believing that the human heart pumped blood throughout the body.

    The Wright brothers were considered to be conmen and hoaxter….until their airplane flew.

    The list goes on and on and on. I’m on my cell phone and I can’t cite references.Sorry.

    One more is that Hillary Clinton recently (maybe last year) gave a public apology to some country whose inhabitants the USA carried out some sort of unethical medical studies on. I believe that we infected them with intent to then try to cure them.Only part about it is that we didnt tell them the first part. And no Im not talking about the Tuskegee ordeal.

    Ask Paul Pieniezny to go Google it if you want to do more.

    The point is that its the same stuff that Loren Collins will calls you conpiracy quack for believing in. Loren Collin is a guy that believes in contemporary science in a relgious way.Science is always updated.But people like Loren Collins have made science a faith.

    Makes me a little sick.

  5. avatar
    J. Potter July 22, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    “believing in science”? An interesting phrase.

    Scientific findings are being updated, sure, that’s the point. They are either reproducible, or not; if not, they are discarded … unless picked up by quacks.

    The scientific method is the constant. It doesn’t require belief, it requires practice.

    Lucas D. Smith:

    The point is that its the same stuff that Loren Collins will calls you conpiracy quack for believing in. Loren Collin is a guy that believes in contemporary science in a relgious way.Science is always updated.But people like Loren Collins have made science a faith.

    Makes me a little sick.

  6. avatar
    US Citizen July 22, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Lucas D. Smith:
    I don’t think that any of this true.

    That verifies it.
    If Lucas thinks there’s nothing to it, then it’s a sure bet for me.
    The initials LDS stands for so many unbelievable things anyway.

  7. avatar
    Lucas D. Smith July 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    US Citizen,

    Thanks! I do my best for the good of my fellow man!

  8. avatar
    Scientist July 22, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    Doc: I don’t see the birthers as “organizing rallies and conferences”. In fact, what strikes me about the birthers is that their “movement” has almost no existence outside the internet. Whenever they hold an actual real-world event, they are luck to get low double digits in terms of bodies. It’s a rare birther “rally” that isn’t outnumbered by the 2 reporters who bother to show up along with passersby who thought they were handing out free samples of candy bars.

    Lucas D. Smith: And btw, EVERYONE living on the planet today believes in some sort of conspiracy theory.

    I don’t. They are all b.s, every single one. Conspiracy theories assume extreme competence on the part of humans and I have never seen any empirical support for that idea.

  9. avatar
    Lucas D. Smith July 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

    US Citizen,

    I know what you mean about my initial LDS.

    Sometime I’m called Lucas Daniel Smith.

    And sometime women call me Long D. Strokes.

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    True. What I meant was that partisanship is demonstrated by the individual birthers who have attempted to organize rallies and conferences, contrasted to Obots who apparently never do that.

    Scientist: Doc: I don’t see the birthers as “organizing rallies and conferences”.

  11. avatar
    Lucas D. Smith July 22, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Scientist,

    What are you thoughts on the World Trade Center 9/11? What happened to the buildings?

    All answers to this question are a conspiracy theory. Even if you believe every detail that Bush admin fed you you are still believing in a conspiracy theory.

    Whatever you, or anyone else on the planet, have to say about it is a conspiracy theory.

    Your a scientist and Im just a trogodlyte so I’m sure you’ll have some of esoteric jargon to slam me with to make your case about what is and isn’t a conspiracy theory. Go ahead. Its sort of like me debating what the real contemporary definitions of third-world country and undeveloped country are. Those terms are not the same but, in today world and among the masses of contemporary users those two terms have become one in the same. And please don’t write back to me with definitions of those two terminologies. I’ve been debating their significance for years and don’t need your input. Definitions and sigificance of word change with time. I doubt that you could even understand much of anything at all if you were to go back in time several hundred years talk with an English speaking person. Even the words that still have the same meaning would probably be pronounced in such a differnt way that it would sound like a foreign language.

    Studies about this in university. My studies were geared more towards Spanish though.

    At any rate, what’s your conspiracy theory on 9/11?

  12. avatar
    Scientist July 22, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: True. What I meant was that partisanship is demonstrated by the individual birthers who have attempted to organize rallies and conferences, contrasted to Obots who apparently never do that.

    I’m trying to imagine what an Obot rally would look like and what actions they would call for:
    1. We call on the President to complete his term and run for re-election
    2. We call on Attorney General Holder not to indict the President.
    3. We call on the courts to throw out all the birther cases.

    We will not rest until these demands are satisfied.

  13. avatar
    J. Potter July 22, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    Lucas,

    You are using “conspiracy” and “conspiracy theory” interchangeably. Not understanding or choosing not to recognize the difference seems to be par for the course with conspiracy nuts.

    Lucas D. Smith:

    What are you thoughts on the World Trade Center 9/11?What happened to the buildings?

    All answers to this question are a conspiracy theory.Even if you believe every detail that Bush admin fed you you are still believing in a conspiracy theory.

    Whatever you, or anyone else on the planet, have to say about it is a conspiracy theory.

  14. avatar
    Lucas D. Smith July 22, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    J. Potter,

    Are you drinking Vodka tonight or what? I’ve been talking about conspiracy theories here all night.

    Go get your head checked.

    Btw, I don’t need some computer nerd like you telling me what a ‘conspiracy’ means. I’ve got friends that’ve been sitting in Lewisburg USP since 1998 for what punks like you sent’em away for 850 months for ‘conspiracy’.

  15. avatar
    G July 22, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Fascinating article & topic Dr. C! I also agree with your comment below. Thanks for posting this stuff.

    Dr. Conspiracy: The issue is not “believing in conspiracy theories”; the issue is “believing in error”. While everyone believes in error sometimes, some do it more often than others.What I discovered reading your comment is that there is something in the article that might be misunderstood. I said originally that there was a correlation between the dopamine system and partisanship — the reader shouldn’t confuse “partisanship” with “party.” In fact, the study that I cited found no correlation between political orientation and the genetic marker under study. To prevent confusion, I made that more explicit. (Michael Shermer would argue that everything about our minds is just chemistry.)The article I cited said later:There have been other studies on the genetics of political orientation that I am looking into.The structure of my article is a narrative where speculation in one area leads to a discovery in a related area, not building an argument paragraph by paragraph.

  16. avatar
    G July 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

    Well said, J. Potter. I 100% agree with you, Scientist, Dr. C & RetiredLawer on this point and the other points made about conspiracies and in response to Lucas’ comments.

    Lucas, I completely disagree with you on just about everything you’ve said on this particular thread. In all honesty Lucas, I find your commentary on this quite intriguing in that you just simply “perceive” conspiracy theories everywhere and that everyone has them. That could very well be a trait among those that are of the “conspiracy mindset” like you and you simply cannot perceive the world the way the rest of us do… just as we cannot fathom how you conspiracy theorists are both susceptible and beholden to the stuff you are.

    In terms of your 9/11 & Wright Brothers analogies…wow. That really illustrates the inability to distinguish that I just alluded to. That you cannot see a huge difference between the fringe “conspiracy theories behind 9/11 (i.e. the Truther clap trap) and the straight up reality of what is simply a well cooridinated successful terrorist plot says a lot about how your mind perceives events like these. There is no grand cover up or “secret puppet masters”, as there would be in a true “conspiracy theory”. We pretty much know the story and the chain of command to the mastermind behind it and what happened. Many people may have doubted manned flight was possible until the Wright Brothers achieved it, but as others have pointed out, once it was demonstrated, everyone accepted it. If those distinctions don’t make sense to you… well, then it is fairly pointless for me to continue trying to explain, but also valuable for me to realize that the ability to perceive such distinctions may be beyond the grasp of the conspiracy mindset in general…

    J. Potter: believing in science”? An interesting phrase.
    Scientific findings are being updated, sure, that’s the point. They are either reproducible, or not; if not, they are discarded … unless picked up by quacks.
    The scientific method is the constant. It doesn’t require belief, it requires practice.

  17. avatar
    John Reilly July 23, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    Thanks to Dr. C for not moderating the latest from Mr. Smith.

    The only appropriate response to Mr. Smith is:

    “You are a convicted felon.”

  18. avatar
    Lupin July 23, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    John Reilly: The only appropriate response to Mr. Smith is:

    “You are a convicted felon.”

    “…and a bigot.”

    I also think he’s a sociopath.

  19. avatar
    Suranis July 23, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    This is the second time today I’ve used this quote on a birther that pulled the “they laughed at X but he was right!” card (though the other guy used Gallileo)

    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. – Carl Sagan

    Its basically the illustration of a logical fallacy. “They laughed at X, and he was a misunderstood genius. The laugh at me, so therefore I am a misunderstood genius”

    Of course, in reality the chances are chances are that you are just Bozo the clown.

    Personally I think you should just call Lucas D Mitty “Bozo the Felon” from now on and leave it at that.

  20. avatar
    US Citizen July 23, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    I think Lucas misinterpreted my statement.

    To clarify…

    Whatever Lucas thinks, I believe the exact opposite is closer to the truth.

    Unless of course he was to say he was that inbred hillbilly playing banjo in Deliverance.
    THAT I’d believe without question.

  21. avatar
    J. Potter July 23, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    LOL … sounds like your friend discovered one of the most tangible differences between “conspiracy” and “conspiracy theory” … an actual conspiracy, depending on its means and ends, can land your butt in prison, or worse, presumably against your will. Conspiracy theories merely imprison you mind, and the imprisonment is voluntary.

    The best thing about CTs? The voluntary confinement can end at any time. Just drop the nonsense and let yourself out.

    Water does resemble vodka. Thinking about hitting the hard stuff in a minute …. got me some of Welch’s finest 2011 cabernet in the fridge. Tasty.

    Fishing for “crappie” indeed. I’d suggest flushing it, rather than fishing it out. Or was that a symbolic comment about your blog-writing process?

    Lucas D. Smith:
    J. Potter,

    Are you drinking Vodka tonight or what? I’ve been talking about conspiracy theories here all night.

    Go get your head checked.

    Btw, I don’t need some computer nerd like you telling me what a conspiracy’ means.I’ve got friends that’ve been sitting in Lewisburg USP since 1998 for what punks like you sent’em away for 850 months for conspiracy’.

  22. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 23, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    I have deleted the homoerotic comments from him and others.

    John Reilly: Thanks to Dr. C for not moderating the latest from Mr. Smith.

  23. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 23, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Crappie is a species of freshwater sunfish.

    J. Potter: Fishing for “crappie” indeed.

  24. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 23, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    Crickets, the sound of crickets.

    John Reilly: The only appropriate response to Mr. Smith is:

  25. avatar
    G July 23, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    Glad to hear it. This is no place for that juvenile gutter trash talk.

    Dr. Conspiracy: I have deleted the homoerotic comments from him and others.

  26. avatar
    AnotherBird July 23, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Lucas D. Smith:

    And btw, EVERYONE living on the planet today believes in some sort of conspiracy theory.

    I think you meant “believed.” After the facts where presented many people just realize how silly it was and move on. Others just forget about over time as there was nothing to the idea. However, their are some people who just don’t let go.

  27. avatar
    Bob July 23, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    The difference between the Fake Birth Certificate Conspiracy and 911 or Tuskegee is that one single sheet of paper in an archives dispels it. On top of that, the government was never hiding anything — ever.

    If anything, the Fake Birth Certificate Conspiracy is a conspiracy to manufacture a conspiracy!

  28. avatar
    J. Potter July 23, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    I know, I know, it was a pun, plenty of crappie around here! If only he had gone with brown trout.

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    Crappie is a species of freshwater sunfish.

  29. avatar
    Daniel July 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    So…. let me get this straight….

    Lucas’ only defense for being fool enough to be a birther, as that everyone else is a fool?

    Really?

  30. avatar
    US Citizen July 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    Daniel:
    So…. let me get this straight….

    Lucas’ only defense for being fool enough to be a birther, as that everyone else is a fool?

    Really?

    Misery loves company.
    I guess not believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny makes us fools too. Just consider the number of children that exceed us few here that believe in such things.
    We must be wrong again.
    When WILL the elves get standing so we can put an end to this madness?

  31. avatar
    J. Potter July 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    In atonement for the bad crappie pun, I will concede that LDS was onto something (sort of). In the interest of scientific correctness, and in spite of the fact it’s me against the whole of pop culture, I intend to refer to CTs as “conspiracy hypotheses” from now on. It’s a mouthful, and awkward, but referring to them as “theories” is to grant them an unearned measure of credibility.

    So yes, LDS, I will agree with you that the “official” explanation of the events of 9/11 as recounted in the 9/11 Commission report, etc., is probably best termed a “conspiracy theory”, as it details a conspiracy, but (to my knowledge) not all of the connections are known.

    Alternate explanations are merely conspiracy hypotheses, tenuous conjectures based on assumptions and extrapolations, often presented in the form of questions …. because no research has been done that further defines them. And most likely won’t be, in the light of so much contrary data, and the number of logical fallacies to overcome.

  32. avatar
    Lucas D. Smith July 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    G: Well said, J. Potter. I 100% agree with you, Scientist, Dr. C & RetiredLawer on this point and the other points made about conspiracies and in response to Lucas’ comments.Lucas, I completely disagree with you on just about everything you’ve said on this particular thread. In all honesty Lucas, I find your commentary on this quite intriguing in that you just simply “perceive” conspiracy theories everywhere and that everyone has them. That could very well be a trait among those that are of the “conspiracy mindset” like you and you simply cannot perceive the world the way the rest of us do… just as we cannot fathom how you conspiracy theorists are both susceptible and beholden to the stuff you are.In terms of your 9/11 & Wright Brothers analogies…wow. That really illustrates the inability to distinguish that I just alluded to. That you cannot see a huge difference between the fringe “conspiracy theories behind 9/11 (i.e. the Truther clap trap) and the straight up reality of what is simply a well cooridinated successful terrorist plot says a lot about how your mind perceives events like these. There is no grand cover up or “secret puppet masters”, as there would be in a true “conspiracy theory”. We pretty much know the story and the chain of command to the mastermind behind it and what happened. Many people may have doubted manned flight was possible until the Wright Brothers achieved it, but as others have pointed out, once it was demonstrated, everyone accepted it. If those distinctions don’t make sense to you… well, then it is fairly pointless for me to continue trying to explain, but also valuable for me to realize that the ability to perceive such distinctions may be beyond the grasp of the conspiracy mindset in general…

    G,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Always a pleasure to read.

    I will write a little more of reply later this evening. I’ve got some crappie (and also two good-sized striper fish, which are hybirds) that I caught today that some friends and I are soon to fry.

  33. avatar
    Lucas D. Smith July 23, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    J. Potter: In atonement for the bad crappie pun, I will concede that LDS was onto something (sort of). In the interest of scientific correctness, and in spite of the fact it’s me against the whole of pop culture, I intend to refer to CTs as “conspiracy hypotheses” from now on. It’s a mouthful, and awkward, but referring to them as “theories” is to grant them an unearned measure of credibility.So yes, LDS, I will agree with you that the “official” explanation of the events of 9/11 as recounted in the 9/11 Commission report, etc., is probably best termed a “conspiracy theory”, as it details a conspiracy, but (to my knowledge) not all of the connections are known.Alternate explanations are merely conspiracy hypotheses, tenuous conjectures based on assumptions and extrapolations, often presented in the form of questions …. because no research has been done that further defines them. And most likely won’t be, in the light of so much contrary data, and the number of logical fallacies to overcome.

    Thanks being man to man on this.

    Don’t worry about the ‘crappie’ stuff. I’m not exactly sure if you were joking or if you really weren’t familiar with the term ‘crappie’. I understand that some people around the country don’t use that term for them.

    Btw, crappie is a very tasty fish. My favorite. However, it is possible that as I continue to grow in sophistication that I might come across some other fish that tastes even better and is considered more of delicacy.

    The advice that I give for fishing crappies is that you need to be careful when you hook them because if you pull too hard you’ll lose the fish and the fish will lose part of it’s mouth. They have a very thin mouth.

  34. avatar
    J. Potter July 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    As proof that I am “crappie-knowledgeable” I offer that here it is pronounced “croppie”, and I always wondered if somewhere else they were actually referred to as “crappie”. Either way, yet another weird fish name. I see the web indicates they have more sensible names elsewhere, including “papermouths”. LDS gives good advice. On fishing.

  35. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 24, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Aroun’ cher dey sez crappie.

    J. Potter: As proof that I am “crappie-knowledgeable” I offer that here it is pronounced “croppie”,