Saturday, February 27, 2010

A nasty memory of bigoted Leftism among American academics

My career as a social science researcher was not a difficult one. As a conservative, I had to write at a much higher standard than if I had been a common or garden variety Leftist but I could do that so 200+ of my articles got published in the academic journals.

One episode from the '90s, however, I still remember with displeasure. In the early '90s the editor of Sociology & Social Research was David Heer -- a sociologist who was basically interested in the facts of the matter rather than pushing an ideological wheelbarrow. He was located then and still seems to be at USC.

And I did at one stage submit a paper to him for publication in S. & S.R. which he accepted for publication. He seems however to have been too mild for the frantic Leftists in USC sociology and got pushed out of the journal editorship shortly thereafter.

And his successor at the journal -- Marcus Felson -- did something almost unheard of in academe: He "unaccepted" my paper. It was apparently too conservative for him, though he gave some other quite specious reason for rejecting it. He seemed to be a young man in a hurry so I appealed the matter to his Department Head at the time: Paul Bohannan. Bohannan was unmoved. So I appealed to the university President. But he was unmoved too.

The paper eventually appeared in another journal so Heer was vindicated and Felson was shown up as the nasty piece of work that he is. Without blowing the dust off some very old files (which makes me sneeze) I cannot remember for certain which paper it was but I am pretty sure that it is this one. I submitted the paper to S. & S.R. because it dealt with a matter originally raised in that journal.

I did write a scornful letter to Bohannan when the paper finally appeared in print. Felson I regarded as beneath contempt.

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent"

The study excerpted below is amusing. It is coming out in a sociology journal but concentrates on psychology to the exclusion of sociology! Amazing what can happen when you have an axe to grind!

The article is mostly speculation and theorizing but it does have some actual findings about IQ on which to build its house of cards. But the writer totally overlooks the social context in which the findings were gathered. They are not IQ findings from adults but rather findings about adolescents. The fact that data about adults were not presented is of course the giveaway.

The study found that the more intelligent adolescents were more liberal. So what does that prove? As someone who has taught both psychology and sociology at university level, I have little doubt what it means: It means that more intelligent kids are better at picking up and absorbing the lessons drummed into them by our Left-dominated educational system. It means no more than that. The sociological context overlooked is, in other words, the fact that the individuals concerned were still at school. I think that can reasonably be called: "Overlooking the obvious".

For the findings among random samples of adults, see here. Much more pesky!

More intelligent people are significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.

The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values. The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years." ....

In the current study, Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel. So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa's hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as "very liberal" have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as "very conservative" have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.

Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans' tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see "the hands of God" at work behind otherwise natural phenomena. "Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid," says Kanazawa. This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers. "So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists."

Young adults who identify themselves as "not at all religious" have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as "very religious" have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.



I see that Time magazine has picked up on the study mentioned above. The "Time" article is surprisingly good and even points to evidence contradicting the headline claim. A small point, though: The author says that Leftists are more open to experience but the reference he gives for that shows nothing of the sort. The claim is however an old favourite of Leftist psychologists. My last look at the academic literature on the question is here. I conclude that, as psychologists usually define it, there is no political polarization on openness to experience. Leftists are however sensation-seekers. That might seem like a fine distinction but it is not if you look at how psychologists use the various terms concerned. The "openness to experience" claim is a way of saying that conservatives are rigid and narrow-minded whereas the sensation-seeking finding implies that Leftists like novelty for the sake of novelty.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Avandia beatup

I would normally cover this on my FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC blog but as it seems to be part of a political war against the drug companies designed to shore up support for Obamacare, I am covering it here. It is a huge crock, as I will point out at the foot of the article below. Politicians faulting the super-cautious FDA on drug safety really is a laugh

A Senate report that revives concerns about a GlaxoSmithKline PLC diabetes drug's link to heart attacks is putting pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to make changes to its drug-safety program. People familiar with the situation say agency leaders held calls over the weekend to discuss how to address complaints from Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who released a new report Saturday on the Glaxo drug, called Avandia.

The FDA is trying to assemble a timeline of what the FDA knew of risks associated with Avandia, these people say, and plans to call a meeting of an outside advisory committee in the next few months to look at recent information on the drug, which Glaxo reported as having global sales of œ771 million ($1.2 billion) in 2009.

According to a two-year investigation by the Senate Finance Committee, Glaxo knew about data linking Avandia to elevated risk of cardiovascular events for several years, but played down the information and tried to suppress doctors who raised concerns. Starting in 1999, Glaxo executives complained to superiors about researchers who questioned Avandia's safety, the report says.

Glaxo rejected those conclusions. It said in a statement that the increased risk of heart attacks hasn't been proven and noted that the FDA "has ruled that Avandia remain available." The company says it never tried to suppress doctors' views but sought to correct what it considered misinformation.

Internal FDA reviews included in the Senate report show that in 2008, longtime FDA scientists David Graham and Kate Gelperin urged the FDA to get Avandia off the market. They analyzed data on side effects in dozens of Avandia studies, but their recommendations were rejected by FDA chiefs. The senators want to know why.

Avandia is still on the market, but it has a strong warning label about cardiac risks. Its sales dropped after a widely publicized study in May 2007 by the Cleveland Clinic's Steven Nissen that linked Avandia to a 43% greater risk for heart attack.


Below is a meta-analysis of the data upon which the FDA based its decision. The meta-analysis appeared in the prestigious "Journal of the American Medical Association"

Long-term Risk of Cardiovascular Events With Rosiglitazone: A Meta-analysis

By Sonal Singh et al.

Context: Recent reports of serious adverse events with rosiglitazone use have raised questions about whether the evidence of harm justifies its use for treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Objective: To systematically review the long-term cardiovascular risks of rosiglitazone, including myocardial infarction, heart failure, and cardiovascular mortality.

Data Sources: We searched MEDLINE, the GlaxoSmithKline clinical trials register, the US Food and Drug Administration Web site, and product information sheets for randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses published in English through May 2007.

Study Selection: Studies were selected for inclusion if they were randomized controlled trials of rosiglitazone for prevention or treatment of type 2 diabetes, had at least 12 months of follow-up, and monitored cardiovascular adverse events and provided numerical data on all adverse events. Four studies were included after detailed screening of 140 trials for cardiovascular events.

Data Extraction: Relative risks (RRs) of myocardial infarction, heart failure, and cardiovascular mortality were estimated using a fixed-effects meta-analysis of 4 randomized controlled trials (n = 14 291, including 6421 receiving rosiglitazone and 7870 receiving control therapy, with a duration of follow-up of 1-4 years).

Results: Rosiglitazone significantly increased the risk of myocardial infarction (n = 94/6421 vs 83/7870; RR, 1.42; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.06-1.91; P = .02) and heart failure (n = 102/6421 vs 62/7870; RR, 2.09; 95% CI, 1.52-2.88; P < .001) without a significant increase in risk of cardiovascular mortality (n = 59/6421 vs 72/7870; RR, 0.90; 95% CI, 0.63-1.26; P = .53). There was no evidence of substantial heterogeneity among the trials for these end points (I2 = 0% for myocardial infarction, 18% for heart failure, and 0% for cardiovascular mortality).

Conclusion: Among patients with impaired glucose tolerance or type 2 diabetes, rosiglitazone use for at least 12 months is associated with a significantly increased risk of myocardial infarction and heart failure, without a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.

JAMA Vol. 298 No. 10, 1189-1195, September 12, 2007

In other words, a survey of the strongest data available showed that taking Avandia increased your risk of having a heart attack from 1.05% to 1.46%, an increase in risk of less than one half of one percent -- which is vanishingly trivial compared to the risks we take in most things we do. Given the large sample size, however, the result is statistically significant, if not significant in any other sense. If we were to reject such small risks as that we would have NO drugs on the market because all drugs have some adverse side-effects.

But here's the real kicker. Read the last clause in the abstract above. What it means in plain English is this: Although Avandia takers had a minutely greater risk of having heart attacks, the "extra" heart attacks DID NOT KILL THEM. Avandia takers were no more likely to die from a heart attack than anybody else! And THAT is the drug that is so evil that the Senate Democrats are making a huge fuss about it! It's just the usual search for evil in the world about them that IS Leftism. See the article immediately following this one.


Grassley is a Republican but he was an easy target to get sucked into this affair as he has in the past made something of a career of exposing researchers who had failed to declare payments received from drug companies. His interest is clearly in the possibility of corruption rather than in the science.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mixed race can be a good thing

I gather that all references to mixed race are these days regarded as taboo. So when Obama referred to himself as a "mutt", you could almost hear the gasps. But blacks themselves take it very seriously. Among blacks, a lighter-skinned black tends to be more prestigious and more complacent about his skin color. So a brown black cruises, if that makes any sense.

Whites, on the other hand, are less sensitive to such differences. For political correctness purposes, all noticeably pigmented people are "black" and, as such, a privileged class who may not be criticized. Why the least competent segment of society is treated as a a privileged class is a question that I had better not address here.

But I want to say that being of mixed race is in fact a matter of some significance. I myself am of mixed race: Mostly English but with plenty of Irish and a bit of Scots. And that stands me in good stead. The English in me means that when I am in England I am quite reserved and hence qualify as "a nice quiet chap" -- which is a term of praise in England.

But when I am in Scotland the Celt comes out in me and the emotional, sentimental attitudes of the Scots are ones that I am entirely comfortable with. And even when I am back home in Australia, I do sometimes play sentimental Scottish music (is there any other kind?), which I greatly enjoy.

And I also have blood kin who are even more mixed than I am. My vivacious cousin twice removed -- Michelle -- is half Han Chinese and half Anglo and I am mightily impressed by her good qualities. She is still as yet in High School but she will go far. Her blue-eyed father is a very knowledgeable academic and a former Assembly of God minister so that helps.

So mixed race can be a good thing. American blacks are right. White racists will hate me for saying that but you can't win 'em all.

The Celtic sentimentalist in me, however, gives me a liking for the blue eyes that characterize all my close blood kin. But the fact that my tall blue-eyed son has a firm relationship with a lady who is half Han Chinese and half English will most probably mean that I will not have blue-eyed grandchildren. My son did however meet his lady when she was studying rocket science (I kid you not) so she is pretty smart. He is a mathematician and the Chinese are pre-eminent in mathematics so I am very pleased by the intellectual potential of any grandchildren that I might have. As an academic myself, I hold intellectual achievement in high regard. Iris pigmentation is a trivial matter if other things are good.

Mind you, genetics can sometimes spring surprises. Someone I see often and admire greatly is an Italian man with the usual Italian black hair and dark eyes. Yet he has recently fathered a gorgeous daughter who has blue eyes and RED hair -- two colorations that are recessive genetically. But he does have a blue-eyed, red-haired Anglo wife so that helps.

To forestall cynical comments, I might mention that Vincenzo does have a blue-eyed sister and that his mother is a Northerner. And there is a lot of Germanic blood among Northern Italians. Germans have been invading Italy for over 2,000 years -- since the days of the Roman republic, in fact. No wonder that Italians find Germans very alarming to this day.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How did religion evolve?

The article below is very limited. The authors rightly say that basic concepts of right and wrong have often previously been shown to be largely hardwired (inborn). They also rightly see that religion reinforces and refines moral and ethical ideas but does not cause them. So the authors only achieve a negative: They exclude morality and a need for co-operation as a reason for religious beliefs. The only positive conclusion they have to offer is the very vague statement that religion is a "byproduct of pre-existing cognitive functions". That tells us precisely nothing, it seems to me. So let me answer the question. I don't think it is hard at all. I would say that religious beliefs are a product of a very basic and distinctive human trait: A hunger to understand -- in particular, a hunger to understand the world about us. And supernatural beliefs answer questions that otherwise lack answers. Is that clearer than a "byproduct of pre-existing cognitive functions"?

Religion evolved as a byproduct of pre-existing mental capacities, and not because it fulfilled a specific function of its own -- though it can facilitate co-operation in society, a study concludes. The new study, published Feb. 8 in the research journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, takes a somewhat different track, exploring the link between morality and religion.

Some scholars claim that religion evolved as an adaptation to solve the problem of co-operation among genetically unrelated individuals, while others propose that religion emerged as a byproduct of pre-existing cognitive capacities," said study co-author Ilkka Pyysiainen of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies in Finland.

Pyysiainen and a co-author, evolutionary psychologist Marc Hauser of Harvard University, reviewed the two competing theories using the principles of what they call experimental moral psychology. "Religion is linked to morality in different ways," said Hauser. "For some, there is no morality without religion, while others see religion as merely one way of expressing one's moral intuitions."

But past studies, the authors said, show that people of differing religion or no religion show similar moral judgments when asked to comment on unfamiliar moral dilemmas. That suggests intuitive judgments of right and wrong work independently of explicit religious commitments, the researchers argued. "This supports the theory that religion did not originally emerge as a biological adaptation for co-operation, but evolved as a separate byproduct of pre-existing cognitive functions that evolved from non-religious functions," said Pyysiainen.

"However, although it appears as if co-operation is made possible by mental mechanisms that are not specific to religion, religion can play a role in facilitating and stabilizing cooperation between groups." This might help to explain the complex association between morality and religion, the scientists added. "It seems that in many cultures religious concepts and beliefs have become the standard way of conceptual moral intuitions. Although, as we discuss in our paper, this link is not a necessary one, many people have become so accustomed to using it, that criticism targeted at religion is experienced as a fundamental threat to our moral existence," said Hauser.

SOURCE (Journal abstract follows)
The origins of religion : evolved adaptation or by-product?

By Ilkka Pyysiainen and Marc Hauser

Considerable debate has surrounded the question of the origins and evolution of religion. One proposal views religion as an adaptation for co-operation, whereas an alternative proposal views religion as a by-product of evolved, non-religious, cognitive functions. We critically evaluate each approach, explore the link between religion and morality in particular, and argue that recent empirical work in moral psychology provides stronger support for the by-product approach. Specifically, despite differences in religious background, individuals show no difference in the pattern of their moral judgments for unfamiliar moral scenarios. These findings suggest that religion evolved from pre-existing cognitive functions, but that it may then have been subject to selection, creating an adaptively designed system for solving the problem of cooperation.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Islamic radicalism blamed on "conservatism"

The stupid definition of conservatism as "opposition to change" is still something of a reality-defying mantra among Leftists -- despite conservatives often being major agents of change -- from Benjamin Disraeli to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. And if George Bush's movement of American power into two countries of the Middle East is not a major policy change, I would like to know what would be. It is Obama who hasn't changed that, for all his talk of change.

The idea of conservatives being opponents of change is quite laughable, in fact. Every single conservative that I have ever met has got a HEAP of things he would like to see changed in the society about him. Conservatives are opponents of the brainless ideas of Leftism but that is far from being opponents of change -- much though Leftists might like to think otherwise.

But, in terms of the stupid Leftist definition, it does make some slight sense to describe Islamic fundamentalists as "conservative" -- though one could argue much more reasonably that Islamists are in fact reactionaries: Far from opposing change they want the major change of a sudden and violent return to 7th century ways.

However you look at it, however, the violent authoritarianism advocated by Islamists has NOTHING in common with the individual liberty orientation of American conservatives. So it is just Leftist propaganda to claim some basic similarity between American Christian conservatives and Islamists. But calling Christian conservatives "Taleban" is in fact a fairly common Leftist form of abuse -- dare I call it "hate speech"?

This is all brought to mind by the following academic journal article:

Arch.europ.sociol., L, 2 (2009), pp. 201-230.

Why are there so many Engineers among Islamic Radicals?

By Diego Gambetta & Steffen Hertog


This article demonstrates that among violent Islamists engineers with a degree, individuals with an engineering education are three to four times more frequent than we would expect given the share of engineers among university students in Islamic countries.We then test a number of hypotheses to account for this phenomenon. We argue that a combination of two factors - engineers' relative deprivation in the Islamic world and mindset - is the most plausible explanation.


It turns out that the "mindset" they identify is religious conservatism. In a summary of the article we read: "Statistical analysis of poll data on US faculty shows that the odds of being both religious and conservative are seven times greater for engineers relative to the odds of a social scientist. Engineering as a degree might also be more attractive to individuals seeking cognitive “closure” and clear cut answers – a disposition that has been empirically linked to conservative political attitudes."

So they explicitly conflate American conservatism with the mindset that drives Jihadists. They also incidentally accept the junk-science claim that conservatives have a rigid cognitive style.

I am not going to comment on any of that right now. I already have a large historically-based paper on what is central to Anglo-Saxon conservatism here and I have a large number of academic journal articles on the claim that conservatives are mentally rigid oversimplifiers here.

But what I have said so far is criticism and there is an old axiom that bad science is driven out only by better science. So I am going to propose what I think is a better explanation of the phenomenon in question. I think it is all "cognitive dissonance"

It seems to me that engineers get intimately involved in a world of great rationality and logic. You can't afford to let ideology dictate your design of a bridge, for instance, or the bridge might fall down. Christians are used to living in both worlds: The secular world about them and their private religious beliefs. But Muslims are not. The engineer's mental world is quite opposed to the intense religiosity and scant regard for rationality that permeates the Muslim world. So the Muslim engineer is put into a situation of great conflict. He is thrown into a mental world that runs counter to all his religious assumptions and ways of thought. And sometimes he relieves the pressure of that -- in psychologist's terms he "reduces his cognitive dissonance" -- by reasserting his Muslim identity in an explosive or extremist way. The violence of his reaction is a testimony to how great has been the dissonance and mental conflict he has been subjected to in an engineering environment