Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bright Minds, Dark Attitudes: Progressive Bigots vs Social Conservatives

Let's start off with an astute observation from Kevin Williamson:
If you want to see how dedicated a progressive is to dispassionate science, spend two minutes talking about the heritability of intelligence. You’ll be up to your neck in witchcraft and superstition and evasion in no time at all. (If you want to test a progressive’s faith in rigorous scholarship more broadly, ask him about gains from trade and comparative advantage, realities that are as solid as anything social science has to offer.)
Lately, however, appreciation for the science of intelligence has enjoyed a brisk revival in progressive circles. Dr. Gordon Hodson of Brock University is telling them something they want to hear:
...lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies ... we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology. A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice.
Naturally, faced with such a delicious affirmation of one of their most cherished stereotypes, progressives have been credulous. To protect and buttress their hateful attitudes, progressives have ignored the problems in Hodson's study while overgeneralizing its dubious results.

In so doing, the left has somehow missed the irony.

But Hodson's research is riddled with flaws. Dr. William M. Briggs, Adjunct Professor of Statistical Science at Cornell University, takes note:
[The study] is a textbook example of confused data, unrecognized bias, and ignorance of statistics...

What makes the study ludicrous, even ignoring the biases, manipulations, and qualifications just outlined, by the authors’ own admission the direct effect size for [intelligence] on “racism” is only -0.01 for men and 0.02 for women. Utterly trivial; close enough to no effect to be no effect...

In fact, several important points have been conspicuously ignored during left-wing jubilation over Hodson’s research:

1. Some ideas that are strongly associated with the progressive point of view are firmly rooted in ignorance. For example:
If you changed the question to attitudes toward global free trade there would be a correlation between lower I.Q. and the ‘more liberal’ (at last in American politics) position.
Why do I feel it’s safe to bet that Hodson and his fans will not hasten to investigate these links?
As Jonathan Haidt has articulated most recently, most academic political scientists and psychologists have strongly social liberal views, and so they consciously or unconsciously tend to caricature and misrepresent the views of half their study population…
2. "As LiveScience's Stephanie Pappas mentions, the questionnaire didn't test for secretly racist thoughts, and thus the more intelligent subjects may still have been prejudiced, but just better at lying about it." (social desirability bias, à la the Bradley effect).

Hodson et al. are utterly disappointing in their lazy attempt to address this concern.

3. The study looked at IQ at ages 10-11, and social attitudes 20 years later. "[T]rying to measure a person's 'cognitive ability' at such a tender age is fraught with difficulty. According to a recent paper in Nature, IQ fluctuates dramatically during adolescence, with some people's scores improving and others' deteriorating, and only becomes relatively static once the brain has stopped growing." A direct link between childhood IQ and adult attitudes would be expected to be tenuous, at best.

4. Conservative prejudice (real or imagined) does not justify prejudice against conservatives. This is especially true if we are to believe that conservative prejudice is truly due to intrinsic cognitive deficiencies.

One of the most pernicious ideas to emerge from this discussion is the notion that conservative ideology is a poison that turns feeble-minded folk into monsters.

If we get the the point where we’ve legitimized the idea that stupid people should be sheilded from our opponents’ political ideas, we’ll be well on our way to a panoply of problems that are at least as dangerous as Hodson’s “dark attitudes.”

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