The Corner

Here We Go Again…

The calipers are out and, lo and behold, conservatives are stupid according to the latest scientific research. Study here, skeptical commentary here.

I haven’t read the study yet, but my skepticism and disdain of these sorts of studies is well-established now.

Update: From a reader:

Jonah,

Regarding the Stankov study on conservatism and IQ, it is not entirely appropriate to summarize it as a study finding that “conservatives are stupid.” (If the author says as much, he is wrong and should be pilloried).

Significant group differences tend to emerge only when looking at large samples (which is why the size of the difference needed in order to satisfy the “significance” criterion gets progressively larger as n, the sample size, approaches 0). Thus, when we take a random conservative off the street, we can’t assume he’s stupider than a standard liberal merely because he’s a conservative. What it means is that, when we draw a random representative sample of conservatives and compare them to a similar random representative sample of the greater population (or the liberal population), the mean IQ of the conservative group will be lower than the mean IQ of the comparison group.

There are a few legit scientific responses to the article, but unfortunately, without access for it (and I’m not willing to pay for it) I can’t speculate what they might be. For one thing, when dealing with sample sizes in the quadruple digits, there is virtually no effect that won’t be significant. Thus it’s important to look at the measure of effect size, which may well be trivial; the fact that the author didn’t include the effect size in the abstract, at a minimum, suggests it probably isn’t very large. Second, legitimate studies will make an effort to control for other variables — socioeconomic status, for instance, with which liberalism plainly correlates positively, as does IQ. Again, without reading the entire article, I can’t say for sure; what I can say is that your responses more or less amount to what we in psychometrics call the “man-who phenomenon,” e.g., “I know a man who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and never got lung cancer.” When discussing trends, exceptions don’t void the rule.

Unfortunately this study is in line with the greater body of literature, and while a good deal of that literature was written by obvious leftist hacks, some of it wasn’t. Fred Kerlinger, who as far as I know had no political axes to grind in terms of his research, found a moderate negative correlation between conservatism and IQ (though the effect size was minimal and, interestingly, the correlation between liberalism and IQ was almost 0). Saying such research is questionable on the basis of anecdotes and disdain for the authors kind of reinforces the impression that we’re stupid and so should maybe be avoided.

Proper POLITICAL responses to liberals who use these studies to demonize us are moribund. We could, for starters, point out that these are the people who gork out at the merest mention of racial or gender differences in IQ, and who for the most part don’t even BELIEVE in the concept of IQ despite the construct’s well-established validity. We could point out that this study undermines the liberal narrative according to which they represent the common man while the right represents the entrenched elite. Or we could point out that IQ is a measure of precisely what the author says it is — cognitive ability — and not wisdom, common sense, moral authority, cleverness, quality of writing, or whatever. After you graduate college, IQ proves to be of remarkably little use.

Interests of disclosure: I’m 23, a student of experimental psychology and psychometrics, with a standardized IQ of 137 according to the test I took about two years ago. I’m about as conservative as they come.

Please leave the name out, my star is rising in academia and I’d prefer not to squander it till after I’m tenured. About 20 years from now.

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