The Conundrum of Measuring Authoritarianism: A Case Study in Political Bias

By Thomas H. Costello

In the book "Toward a Science of Clinical Psychology" pp 395–411

Costello is a younger researcher. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Emory University in 2022. So he is in a good position to trash the work of his elders. And does he trash it! There is much to trash. In my 20-year research career from 1970 to 1990, I trashed it often. Costello does cite one of my iconoclastic papers. In the final words of his chapter, he summarizes the research field concerned as "interesting noise". I concur.

I won't attempt to summarize the chapter. It is an extremely thorough coverage of the issues in political psychology research. Psychologists are overwhelminhgly Left-leaning and the characteristic Leftist predilection to be believe only what they want to beieve has emerged strongly when they have studied political psychology. Costello sets out ably the ideological biases in their work. He shows that to the extent that you remove the bias you are left with no firm conclusions at all.

He has a major focus on what is still a beloved piece of political psychology research: "The authoritarian Personality" by Adorno et al. Practically every claim in that book has been shown to be faulty but its conclusions -- that it is conservatives who are authoritarian, not Communists -- is just too delicious to abandon.

But I doubt that Costello will influence any political psychologists much. Leftism is usually deeply entrenched in the personality so facts and logic are not going to shake that much

Costello's work is a great contrast with the paper by Kranebitter & Gruber that I mentioned recently. Kranebitter & Gruber treat with respect precisely what Costello has shown to be rubbish. Leftists never learn

The Abstract to this book chapter rather undersells it. Perhaps it has to:


In this chapter, I review key conceptual and methodological sources of bias in psychological measurement, emphasizing those with particular relevance to political phenomena and providing relevant examples of measurement bias in political psychological research. I then review the case of authoritarianism, which until recently was predominantly assessed among political conservatives. This emphasis on right-wing authoritarianism and the paucity of research concerning left-wing authoritarianism have led to widespread conceptual obstacles to understanding the psychological underpinnings of authoritarianism, illustrating the degree to which measurement bias has key implications for theory development and testing. In closing, I provide several recommendations for reducing political bias in psychological measurement.

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