Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Another attempt to "psychologize" conservatives -- one which overlooks the obvious

Does the Study of Science Lead to Leftward Leanings?  Not  quite. Key excerpts from the latest article below.  It is difficult to know whare to start in such a rubbishy article but I should note initially that the use of student attitudes to draw great inferences about people in general is an act of faith. In the very first piece of research I ever did (in the mid-60s) I used students and found a correlation of .808 between two variables  -- which is very high.  Being a very skeptical person even then, however, I repeated the research using a sample of Army conscripts, a much more representative group.  The correlation dropped to negligibility. Plainly, you CANNOT draw reliable conclusions from student samples

But does the research below tell us anything about instututions of higher education?  Perhaps it does, though what it shows is obvious and no surprise.  It shows that universities and colleges  are hotbeds of Leftism.  So even some students who do not start out as Leftists eventually become brainwashed into it.  The authors found that in the third and fourth year of study, the students had become more Leftist than they were in the first and second year.

So how come the authors found the effect among science students only?  Probably because the social science and humanities students were already asymptotically Leftist from the outset.  They started out Leftist in their studies so had little room to move further Left.  The authors don't give their results in tabular form so I was not able to check that. It is however a common finding that social science and humanities students are the most Leftist

But even the interpretation of the results as showing us something about academe may be too incautious.  The measuring instruments used by the authors were woeful.  The ad hoc scale they used in Study I had a reliability (alpha) of only .58, which is simply too low to conclude that it is measuring any consistent trait.  It implies that the items had virtually nothing in common.  An alpha of .75 is the normal threshold for a usable research instrument.

And the rest of the research relied on an even  more execrable instument -- the SDO scale, which assumes what it has to prove.  The SDO scale must be one of the most uninsightfully put-together instruments in the psychology literature.  See here for details on that.

So the only really safe conclusion is that the research proves nothing at all


According to a research team led by Harvard University psychologist Christine Ma-Kellams, immersion in the world of science tends to shifts students’ attitudes toward the left side of the political spectrum.

In the Journal of Social and Political Psychology, Ma-Kellams and her colleagues describe four studies that support their thesis. In the first, 196 students from a New England university revealed their ideological positions by responding to 18 statements expressing political opinions.

“Across domains,” the researchers report, “those who are in scientific fields exhibited greater political liberalism compared to those in non-hard-scientific fields.”

Importantly, this was only found for students in their third or fourth year of college. This strongly suggests that, rather than political liberals being attracted to science, it was the hands-on study that made the difference.

The second study featured 100 undergraduates, who expressed their views on three hot-button political issues (same-sex marriage, affirmative action, and the Affordable Care Act). They also completed the Social Dominance Orientation Scale, in which they expressed their level of agreement or disagreement with such statements as “Sometimes other groups must be kept in their place,” and “In getting what you want, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups.”

Consistent with the first study, the researchers found that “for those with significant exposure to their discipline (i.e., upperclassmen), studying science is associated with more liberal political attitudes.” Furthermore, they found this was due to a lower level of support for the my-group-deserves-to-dominate positions outlined above.

Additional studies featuring Canadian students and a community sample from the Boston area came to the same conclusions.

“Relative to those studying non-sciences, students in the sciences exhibited greater political liberalism across a variety of domains (including foreign policy, health care, and the economy) and a variety of social issues (gay marriage, affirmative action), as well as in general self-reported liberalism,” Ma-Kellams and her colleagues write.

This, they conclude, is the result of “science’s emphasis on rationality, impartiality, fairness, progress, and the idea that we are to use these rational tools for the mutual benefit of all people in society.”

In one sense, these results are something of a surprise. Given the fact the social sciences involve people and politics more directly, one might think the study of these disciplines would be more likely to shape minds in a more liberal direction. But these students were no more liberal than those majoring in disciplines having nothing to do with science.


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

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