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Presenting One of the Most Humiliating Academic Mistakes Ever

You’re going to love this one. Thanks to Steven Hayward at Powerline, I ran across only the most satisfying story I’ve read in years. A few readers may remember a study published in 2012 that proclaimed conservatives were more inclined towards “psychoticism,” including authoritarianism. Liberals, by contrast, were more inclined towards “neuroticism” and “social desirability.” 

To be clear, I think the vast majority of studies that purport to describe the competing psychological profiles of conservatives and liberals are just so much junk. But when it comes to science, junk always gets a hearing if it pushes preferred narratives, so I distinctly remember the crowing from certain quarters about the now-proven deficiency of the conservative mind. 

Except, well, oops. Check out this stunning statement from an Erratum published in the January 2016 edition of the American Journal of Political Science:

The authors regret that there is an error in the published version of “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1), 34–51. The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck’s psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.

In plain language, they exactly reversed the results. According to the actual results of the study, Liberals are more authoritarian. Conservatives were inclined towards “social desirability.” 

The practical result is that the whole thing will now likely disappear down the memory hole. Everyone knows conservatives are the real authoritarians, so this wrong study has to be wrong. Or was the wrong study right? It’s hard to keep up when the “science” keeps shifting.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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