By JR on Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Social science findings about conservatism
I monitor the academic literature of climate science and medical science with some care. I have separate blogs for each topic. I no longer monitor the social science literature with great care, however. When bits of nonsense from the social science literature come to my attention, I comment on them here. And such comments are not infrequent here.
The latest article appears under the same heading that I have used above and is written by a historian named "Eric Zuesse". Since "Zuesse" means "Sweet one" in Yiddish, I will refer to him as "Sweetie". Sweetie's article is here. It is in an explictly Leftist outlet.
The article is rather long so I will content myself with making a few specific points and then go on to what is the central downfall of Sweetie's thinking.
He opens with the accusation that fundamentalist religion makes you bigoted. One could believe that of Muslims but is it true of Christians? The evidence Sweetie summarizes in support of his claim is however entirely correlational. And the first thing you learn in Statistics 101 is that "Correlation is not causation". To believe otherwise is to commit a logical fallacy. Yet Sweetie boldly asserts: "Religious belief, in other words, causes bigotry".
In case it is not clear to Leftists why that is stupid, the correlation could be caused by a third factor. Both religion and bigotry could be caused by (say) poverty. So religion and bigotry will be correlated but the causal factor is poverty. Religion itself will have caused nothing. It's a pity that I have to give lessons in basic logic but where Leftists are concerned you often have to do that. Fallacies are their speciality.
So that disposes of the first three paragraphs of Sweetie's opus. Or am I being hasty? Can I really write off all those correlations? I will give a second reason why I can. The correlations will usually be very weak. Let me give an example that I have commented on before. There is an article here which presents evidence that religious people are less "reflective'. I would have thought that religious people reflect all the time but there you go.
When you look up the research on which the claim is based, however you find that the correlation between reflection and religion is only .14 even before controls are applied. In other words, the two variables had only about 1.5% of their variance in common. There was a correlation there, all right, but it was so negligible to be of no significance or importance at all. And such low correlations are common in all the literature Sweetie surveys. Leftist researchers make mountains out of pimples. Putting it another way, if there were 100 reflective people you were surveying, you would find that 49 were religious and 51 were not religious. What sort of basis is that for predicting who will be reflective?
So is there any point in my going on from there? Not really but I will anyway.
Sweetie rather likes an article called "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition". I have deconstructed that article elsewhere so will not say much here. Suffice it to say that the article is rather a good example of academic fraud. It purports to be a meta-analysis (a survey of all the research on its subject) but omits to consider around half of the articles available on its subject. It leaves out all articles which have conclusions that did not suit the authors of the "meta-analysis". It is systematically dishonest, in other words. And that is another problem with Sweetie's article. He takes the research he summarizes at face value. If there is any fraud or incompetence in it he does not want to know.
I am honoured, however, that Sweetie does take note of some of my research reports. Other research that Sweetie likes is the opus by Robert Altemeyer and I have commented on that. I have particularly noted that Altemeyer has not the faintest idea of what conservatism is and that his scale of "Right-wing Authoritarianism" (RWA) does not correlate with conservatism of vote. It is a scale of "Rightism" on which Leftists and conservatives are equally likely to get a high score! Altemayer admitted that in one of his books and I have often retailed that fact, apparently to Altemeyer's embarrassment.
Sweetie records Altemeyer's attempt to backtrack on his admission. Altemeyer says he was only being genial in saying that. But there is more to it than that. Altemeyer was actually confronting the low correlation problem I have mentioned above. Even among students the correlation between the RWA scale and vote was tiny. Pretty strange for a scale that measured something that was allegedly right wing! Sweetie's heavy reliance on Altemeyer's work is therefore an edifice built on sand.
After Altemeyer's work, Sweetie goes on to wallow in the Social Dominance Orientation literature initiated by Pratto and Sidanius. Sweetie knows of my demolition of that work but ploughs on regardless -- even though I record a major climbdown by one of the original authors (Sidanius) in response to my critique. Sweetie has the eye of faith. He is a good example of the Leftist tendency to believe what they want to believe and damn the evidence.
But let me now go on to the basic, fatal, underlying flaw in Sweetie's thinking. He fails to acknowledge what Leftism is. He makes much of the common Leftist claim that conservatives are "authoritarian", but what could be more authoritarian than Leftism? The very essence of Leftism is a wish to change society. But "society" is people. So what the Leftist wants to do is prevent people from doing things that they ordinarily would and make them do things they ordinarily would not. And the Leftist proposes to do that by various forms of coercion. How authoritarian is that? It could hardly get more authoritarian. The Leftist claim that conservatives are the authoritarian ones is thus a huge case of Freudian denial and projection. LEFTISTS are the authoritarian ones but they themselves just cannot confront that. They cannot admit what they basically are. Sweetie is a poor thing. He has got about as much self-insight as a goldfish
There is much more I could say about Sweetie's meanderings but I think I have already said sufficient.