Thursday, 28 August 2003

The Berkeley B.S.: back from the dead!

Stephen Green points out that two of the authors of the dopey Berkeley piece (you know, the one that basically resurrected a discredited fifty-year-old theory by selectively mining the literature for bivariate correlations) have decided to take to the pages of the Washington Post in defense of their pathetic excuse for a journal article. Except their defense is basically impenetrable garbage that lacks even the minor benefit of the nicely-formatted tables with pretty stars that adorned their original piece. Try this paragraph on for size:

It’s wrong to conclude that our results provide only bad news for conservatives. True, we find some support for the traditional “rigidity-of-the-right” hypothesis, but it is also true that liberals could be characterized on the basis of our overall profile as relatively disorganized, indecisive and perhaps overly drawn to ambiguity—all of which may be liabilities in mass politics and other public and professional domains. Because we assume that all beliefs (ideological, scientific and otherwise) are partially (but never completely) determined by one’s needs, fears and desires, we see nothing pathological about this process. It is simply part of what it means to be human. Our “trade-off” model of human psychology assumes that any trait or motivation has potential advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation. A heightened sensitivity to threat and uncertainty is by no means maladaptive in all contexts. Even closed-mindedness may be useful, provided one tends to have a closed mind about appropriate values and accurate opinions; a reluctance to abandon one’s prior convictions in favor of new fads can be a good thing. The important task for social scientists is to identify the conditions under which each of these cognitive and motivational styles is beneficial, rather than touting one or the other as inherently and invariably superior.

If you actually understand this paragraph or can figure out what the hell these blithering idiots are talking about, feel free to explain it to me. Bonus points if you can actually relate this assertion to the actual contents of the article, which lacked such a noncommittal attitude toward conservatism.

And, in my humble opinion, the important task for these social scientists is to learn how to do proper research (or—better yet—original research!) instead of cherry-picking results from papers that agree with their research hypothesis and apparently discarding the rest. It might also help if they figured out that correlation is not causation, since they have presented absolutely no evidence that (for example) either “fear of death” or “lower cognitive complexity” is causally prior to “conservatism.” They uncritically accept that the articles they cite in favor of their arguments measured the things they purport to measure accurately. Nor do they explain how they concluded that Paul Krugman—a man not known for having either nuance or psychological training—was an authority on the relative cognitive abilities sophistication of conservatives and liberals.

But the note at the end is priceless:

Arie W. Kruglanski is distinguished university professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. John T. Jost is an associate professor in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. This article was written in collaboration with Jack Glaser and Frank J. Sulloway, both of the University of California at Berkeley.

I guess that answers the age-old question of how many professors it takes to fuck up a journal article or a WaPo op-ed.