The Corner

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Okay: I Was Wrong


An email:

Ramesh must have been having a bad day yesterday. The editorial page
article by Jost et. al. defending their research on political
conservatism is simply terrible. It is terrible not because of what it
says but rather how it distorts what they previously said in thier
research. They claim that they did this research as arm’s length
unbiased academic research and their findings have been distorted by an
irresponsible press. As much as I hate to defend the press, they
interpreted what Jost et. al. was saying in their reprehensible articles
correctly. (Indeed, the cause of the press’s interpretation was most
likely a Stanford university press release that described the research.
Having read the original articles, I do not believe that a journalist
would have the patience to read the things in the first place.) Anyway
several points need to be made.

1. The press did not create the pejorative terms to describe
conservative or conservative beliefs, the researchers did. The terms
dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity to describe conservatives appear
throughout both articles (They wrote two articles. The original article
and then one responding to a criticism of that article. Both articles
appear in the May issue of Psychology Bulletin) but most prominantly in
the abstract of the original article. In the abstract of the reply
article, the following terms to describe conservatives also appear,
“lack of openess to experience; uncertainty avoidence; personal needs
for order, structure and closure; fear of death; and system threat.”
They then repeat these claims in the first paragraph of the article
itself. Moreover, they repeat these claims throughout the article and
the follow-up Reply article. In short, despite the protests of the
authors, the pejorative description of conservatives is not due to any
misinterpretation of the article by the press but rather the content of
the article.

2. The most outrageous comparisons of conservatives like Ronald Reagan
and Rush Limbaugh to Hitler and Mussolini is based solely on their claim
that all preached a return to some idealized past. This is a claim that
remains unproven. I do not remember Reagan championing such a thing nor
have I heard Limbaugh champion such a notion. If one could link
political ideologies to Hitler and Mussolini by one possible similarity
then on the basis of their support for and creation of social security,
New Deal liberals could be placed in the same camp as these two.
Furthermore, German Greens could be linked to Hitler as they share
certain reverences for nature. In the Washington Post article, Jost et.
al. simply do not address why they rely so heavily on such a tenuous
link between Reagan and Hitler and Mussolini.

3. They selectively attribute motivations to conservatives (from their
Exceptions reply). “American conservatives may support a market-based
economy (which introduces uncertainty and risk) because it preserves the
status quo and results in inequality of outcomes even though it may
conflict with personal needs for stability and security.” In other
words, if a policy has an impact that conflicts with their hypothesis,
they will search among other possible impacts until they find one that
is consistent with their hypothesis. In short, it is impossible to test
their hypothesis. This is not science.

4. Finally there is no control group. Suppose that everything else
these guys find is true, it does not prove that these are “conservative
traits.” These may be human traits and by focusing only on research
examining conservative (and fascist) beliefs, they are attributing to
conservatives, personality traits that exist in people of all political
ideologies (and even among those who are completely apolitical). This
too means that Jost et. al.’s research is not science.

To understand how completely these guys are out of touch with reality
consider this statement in their Exceptions Reply, “(Reagan’s) chief
accomplishment, in effect, was to roll back both the New Deal era and
the 1960’s, which was also the goal of former Speaker of the House of
Represenatives Newt Gingrich and many other neo-conservatives often
regarded as advocates of change.” In addition to being factually wrong,
there is a logical error. Why would rolling back the New Deal and 1960’s
be a goal of Newt Gingrich and Neo-conservatives if that had already
accomplished by Reagan?

Another statement in the Exceptions Reply illustrates the contempt and
bias these researchers have for conservatives. “there seems to be no
shortage of ideological rigidity among right-wing emigres from Cuba
living in the United States, as demonstrated by the Elian Gonzales
case.” It is simply unclear to me (and unexplained by them) how the
Elian Gonzales case illustrates any such thing except the author’s
hostility to hispanics who do not follow the liberal party line.

I realize this email is long (and probably late given that Remesh’s
original post was from yesterday and about yesterday’s Washington Post
editorial page), but my main point is that we should not be decieved by
an academic’s self-serving description of his own research. Consulting
that research to determine what it says and its purpose is much better.
We do this with regard to many other kinds of research, we should also
do it with psuedo-psychological research into the psychology of
conservatives, especially research by Dogmatic Liberal ideologues who
think it is reasonable to liken conservatives to fascists and Nazis.