Thursday, September 04, 2014

Psychologizing skeptics, another episode

At least since 1950, there has been a mini-industry among psychologists and other social scientists devoted to finding something mentally deranged in conservatives.  I spent 20 years from 1970 on and had over 200 academic journal articles published which pointed out in detail the flaws in such endeavours. I persuaded no-one, of course.  Leftists need their myths and neither logic nor evidence is enough to discredit those myths.  So after 1990 I hung up my spurs and left them to it.  I no longer read their journals so I don't even know what they are saying any more.  Every now and again, however, I come across a new paper in the genre in the course of my other reading.  When I do, the old temptation arises and I say a few words towards shooting it down.  This is another such occasion.  The paper concerned has been much celebrated by Warmists.  Its abstract follows:

Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States

By Aaron M. McCright &  Riley E. Dunlap


We examine whether conservative white males are more likely than are other adults in the U.S. general public to endorse climate change denial. We draw theoretical and analytical guidance from the identity-protective cognition thesis explaining the white male effect and from recent political psychology scholarship documenting the heightened system-justification tendencies of political conservatives. We utilize public opinion data from ten Gallup surveys from 2001 to 2010, focusing specifically on five indicators of climate change denial. We find that conservative white males are significantly more likely than are other Americans to endorse denialist views on all five items, and that these differences are even greater for those conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming very well. Furthermore, the results of our multivariate logistic regression models reveal that the conservative white male effect remains significant when controlling for the direct effects of political ideology, race, and gender as well as the effects of nine control variables. We thus conclude that the unique views of conservative white males contribute significantly to the high level of climate change denial in the United States.


The paper is a 2011 one so several skeptics have already pointed out some of the hilarities in it -- e.g. here, here and here. So I just want to address an hilarity not yet adequately addressed.

What is the “white male effect”?  That concept seems to be the African person in the woodpile in the paper so we need to look carefully at it.  Since white males have contributed the vast majority of humanity's scientific and technological advances, are we talking about people who are particularly likely to be ahead of the curve scientifically?  That interpretation would be highly defensible and logical.  So surely the skepticism of white males should be treated with awe and respect!  That white males tend to be climate skeptics surely validates climate skepticism!

But such an obvious interpretation of their findings appears not to have occurred to the authors concerned.  I wonder why?  They are referring to another (probably dubious) finding in the social science literature.  As this author summarizes:

"The “white male effect” (WME) refers to the observed tendency of white males to be less concerned with all manner of risk than are women and minorities.  The phenomenon was first observed (and the term coined) in a study by Flynn, Slovic & Mertz in 1994 and has been poked and prodded by risk-perception researchers ever since"

So the fact that white males are more willing to take risks is a bad thing?  It seems unlikely.  We would have no businesses without that.  We would have no scientists spending years of their time investigating a hunch that eventually turns out to be right.  We would have no firemen and no policemen.

Presuming there is something in the finding, I would suggest that the finding suggests self confidence among white males -- and self confidence is a good foundation for questioning the consensus.  And we know what the consensus is.  Warmists all tell us that it is the evils of global warming.  So climate skeptics are the independent thinkers and Warmists are the cowardly go-along to get-along types!  I can live with that.

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

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