Thursday, 13 November 2014

Confirmation bias - or shall we just call it sociology?


The research was done some while ago and has been variously reported across the more left-inclined ("liberal") media. It typically has a headline something like this:

Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice

Essentially the premise of the research is that only stupid people are 'conservative'. This is all wrapped up in the self-important language of the sociology academic but in the end it all boils down to statements like this:

Nonetheless, there is reason to believe that strict right-wing ideology might appeal to those who have trouble grasping the complexity of the world.

The problem here lies in the headline above, the presumption that prejudiced views are ipso facto right-wing. Thus the researchers definition of 'social conservatism' runs something like this:

Social conservatives were defined as people who agreed with a laundry list of statements such as "Family life suffers if mum is working full-time," and "Schools should teach children to obey authority."

These outlooks are then connected to a series of statements about racial prejudice and unsurprisingly the results show that the researchers' definition of 'social conservatism' links with those prejudicial statements. In the report, another psychologist makes a parallel observation:

...a study of left-wing liberals with stereotypically naïve views like "every kid is a genius in his or her own way," might find that people who hold these attitudes are also less bright. In other words, it might not be a particular ideology that is linked to stupidity, but extremist views in general.

Or rather people who say 'absolutely' to Tweet-length sweeping statements are less likely to be the brightest in the box. My concern is that the archetypal liberal perception of conservatism is, in fact, a stereotyped list of prejudices - for liberals (and I'm using this term in its American usage here) things that they dislike or disagree with are automatically 'right-wing'. As a result the researchers here have simply confirmed their own prejudice - right-wingers are nasty prejudiced folk and probably stupid.

Since 99% of sociologists and social psychologists are left of centre in their views, much of the research base in these subject is informed by the assumptions underlying that left wing position. I've wondered before why there are very few right-wing sociologists with responses varying from 'you can't be a right wing sociologist' to 'you're just dismissing the subject because you don't agree with what it finds'.

What this research sets out to show - and it will be used again and again by the left - isn't that conservatives are stupid but that because prejudice is emotionally-founded the less intelligent are more likely to use it to base their political opinions. And if you define all the prejudiced positions as 'right wing' then you confirm that those folk are prejudiced. All the researchers have done is confirm their bias, they haven't added to the body of knowledge about why some people are prejudiced.

Sadly, this left wing confirmation bias corrupts almost all of modern sociology making it almost wholly useless as a guide to understanding society.


1 comment:

Trofim said...

Yes, I remember this being cited on various forums and blogs, including on a Russian forum!

I couldn't help but notice that in asserting this thesis lefties are
being inconsistent with their belief that it is wrong to be judgemental. After all, in a world where it is wrong to judge the ugly as being less attractive than the beautiful, where it is wrong to judge a human being as
superior to another on the basis of some accidental endowment, then it must be wrong to assert that people who are intelligent are superior to those devoid of intelligence? I've tried to explain this contradiction to lefties, but they're generally to thick, or is it unwilling, to grasp it.