Monday, June 30, 2008

A social science attack on that wicked voter ID

In my days as an employed academic, I used to follow the social science literature quite closely. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that I knew the current findings better than almost all of my academic colleagues -- and I have the published critiques to show for that.

And keeping up with the scientific literature was particularly onerous for a conservative. One knew that the summary and conclusions of any given article would always be "spun" as supporting a Leftist viewpoint. So one had to go to the "Results" section of the article and plough through a lot of statistics in order to find out what really happened in the research concerned. That did of course take a lot of time but was often very instructive. I have seen results that could not have been more destructive of a Leftist theory presented as if they supported the Leftist theory. I offer a small appendix below in which I give an example of that.

After about 20 years of that, however, I gave up. There was so little wheat among the chaff that I just ceased to take the whole body of social science literature seriously. What was reported was usually very poorly done (Leftists corrupt anything they touch) and anything that was openly supportive of a conservative view would almost never get published anyway. So one was reading bigotry rather than science.

So it is only now that an article published last January has come to my attention. And even now I cannot justify a long look at it but I thought that I might make a few comments. The article claims that asking for ID from voters is a BAD THING. I reproduce a summary of it below and I will then go on to point to some of its weaknesses.
A new Brown University study reports that U.S. states that require voters to present identification before casting ballots have lower levels of political participation. The research also indicates that voter I.D. policies discourage legal immigrants from becoming citizens, particularly for blacks and Hispanics, reducing odds of naturalization by more than 15 percent.

Since 2000, and stimulated by new security concerns after 9/11, there has been an upsurge in state requirements for voter identification. By 2004, a total of 19 states required some form of documentation of a voter's identity, sometimes in the form of photo I.D. Proponents of such requirements believe identification is a necessary tool to prevent voting fraud, such as voting by noncitizens or people who are otherwise ineligible to register. Others argue that whatever its intention, I.D. policies have the effect of suppressing electoral participation, particularly among minorities.

The report, co-authored by S4 Director John Logan and graduate student Jennifer Darrah, concludes that voter I.D. is one of many factors that negatively influence civic participation in the United States. The report states, "At a time when many public officials express regret that immigrants seem to lag in their participation in mainstream society, even small suppressive effects on naturalization - the formal step to becoming an American citizen - work in the wrong direction and should be taken into account as people evaluate the benefits and costs of more stringent identification requirements."

The new study extends previous research on I.D. requirements by analyzing not only voter turnout, but also voter registration and - "the key prior step for immigrants" - the decision to become a citizen, across racial and ethnic groups. Key findings include:

* in states with a voter I.D. policy in 2000, the odds of naturalization for foreign-born residents of the United States were reduced by more than 5 percent, with the strongest impact on Hispanics;

* in election years from 1996-2004, the odds of being a registered voter among citizens aged 18 and older were higher for whites by about 15 percent in states with voter I.D. requirements. But this effect was more than counterbalanced by a reduction in white voter turnout. In 2004 alone the net effect was to reduce white turnout in these states by about 400,000 votes;

* in this same period, voter I.D. policies reduced Asians' registration and diminished voter turnout by blacks and Hispanics, by about 14 percent and 20 percent respectively. The net reduction in minority voting in these states in 2004 was more than 400,000 votes;

* the suppressive effect of voter I.D. disproportionately affected not only minorities, but also persons with less than a high school education and less than $15,000 income, tenants, and recent movers. While persons with these characteristics are substantially less likely to participate in civic affairs regardless of their state of residence, they experience an additional significant reduction in participation relative to others in voter I.D. states.

"It is incredibly clear how voter I.D. requirements disproportionately affect and suppress minorities," said Logan, professor of sociology. "This data shows that if voter I.D. policies had not been in place in 2004, voter turnout would have increased by more than 1.6 million. That is a strong argument in itself for change."


Those "incredibly clear" results are not so clear if one looks at them with the skeptical eye that is proper in science, however. For a start, how did they equate States with and without voter ID laws? As a broad generalization, I would expect that it would be the more conservative States that have such laws. So are observed differences between the States caused by the greater conservatism of those States or are they caused just by the voter ID laws? It could be either one of those -- and any attribution of the interstate differences to the voter ID laws is nothing more than speculation.

There are of course statistical means (analysis of covariance etc.) for holding one influence steady while examining the effect of the other influence but that requires a good measure of both influences. And how does one quantify the degree to which a State is conservative? Does one use percentage voting for the GOP in the previous Presidential election? Maybe. But as many conservatives will tell you with some vehemence right at this moment, even a GOP Presidential candidate may not be very conservative so a vote for him could be a long way from an expression of conservatism. So statistical control founders on such objections.

In essence, then, the research above is essentially epidemiological -- and therefore heir to the big limitation of all such research, the limitation that correlation is not proof of causation.

And there are in the results themselves indications that the guesses about causation are poor. How do we explain that voter ID allegedly increased white voter registration but reduced white voter turnout? The two effects seem contradictory. Surely registration should INCREASE turnout and surely ID requirements should REDUCE voter registration? Yet the opposite happened in both cases. One can of course come up with ad hoc explanations for both effects but once again we are forced into speculation rather than having clear evidence of anything.

And one should finally note that a reduction in voter turnout is precisely what the voter ID laws aimed at. If you prevent ineligible people from voting, that must (ceteris paribus) lead to a reduction in the numbers who vote. So if the research above proves anything, it proves that voter ID laws had the intended effect. The fact that the reduction seems to have been particularly marked among Hispanics (many of whom suffer from a sad lack of "documents") supports that interpretation.


An article on racism by Gough & Bradley (1993) is an example of how a respected author in the field concerned can reverse the plain implication of his research results. The article started out well. Gough & Bradley were unusual in that they used a properly constructed multi-item scale to measure rated racist behavior. They correlated it with a form of the California "F" scale (usually described as measuring authoritarianism but perhaps more informatively referred to as measuring a type of old-fashioned thinking). They found a correlation between the attitude and behavior measures of essentially zero (.08). A clearer disconfirmation of their theory would be hard to imagine.

So did they say: "We were wrong"? Far from it. They then decomposed their attiutude and behaviour indices into the individual items making up those indices and looked for correlations in the large matrix of correlations between the individual items. And there were some non-negligible correlations there. But there would be by chance alone! If you take 5% probability as your criterion for significance (which is conventional) and you have 100 correlations, 5% of them will (ceteris paribus) be identified as significant! What Gough and his friend did was then exactly what you are warned against doing in Statistics 101. And on the basis of that fraudulent procedure they claimed to have produced evidence in support of their theory

Reference: Gough, H. & Bradley, P. (1993) Personal attributes of people described by others as intolerant. In P.M. Sniderman, P.E. Tetlock & E.G. Carmines (Eds.) Prejudice, politics and the American dilemma (pp. 60-85) Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Monday, June 23, 2008

IQ and ideology: A little puzzle

This is a bit of an old chestnut: Are Leftists more intelligent than conservatives? Leftists often assert that Leftists are brighter. Conservatives tend to see it otherwise. As Wray Herbert points out, it would be surprising if one did not see one's own views as more intelligent. So who is right? Is there a real difference?

One reason why the Leftist accusation that conservatives are dumb gains some weight is the great preponderance of Leftists among professors. That overlooks, however, that the situation was not always thus. Up until the 1960s, the professoriate was in general politically moderate. There were of course exceptions. The elite universities have always tended Left. The best known examples of that are England's two great universities, Oxford and Cambridge. We have all I think heard of the Cambridge spies (Philby et al.), and the Bloomsberries were far Left too. Such leftism can perhaps most economically be described as a "spoilt brat" syndrome. Less well known is the prewar fascination of Harvard with Nazism -- which was a popular form of socialism in its day.

The general moderation of the pre-1960s professoriate was however its undoing. Precisely because of its moderation, it came under ferocious attack from the 1960s student radicals and it responded in a typically moderate way -- apologetically. Curricula were revised in response to the radical demands and more and more Leftists were hired and promoted. And when in the course of time the radical academics so appointed rose in seniority and power, they behaved in a typically unscrupulous way and used their power to squeeze out as many conservatives from academe as they could. So smart conservatives these days go on to get rich in business while the Leftist academics fume away in their ivory towers!

Perhaps most amusingly, however, it should be noted that the Dems and the GOP split the college-educated vote about equally in the 2004 Presidential election. In other words, about half of the people whom the Leftist professors themselves have certified as academically able in fact vote GOP!

But education is not IQ so do we have more direct evidence on the question? Has anybody correlated IQ scores and politics in the general population?

For a long time the only study I knew of which did so was one that I myself helped to write up in the 1970's: Martin's study. That study looked at clearly Leftist attitudes such as the following:

* Most people who are leaders in the world today got there by crooked or sneaky means.
* There isn't really very much your parents or older people can tell you that will help you get along in the world nowadays.
* The best school system is one that is democratic and treats all the pupils exactly alike.
* Complete freedom is the best way to bring up a child if you want it to be free and active.
* Most so-called "juvenile delinquency" is really just "youthful exuberance" and should not be punished.
* One of the best attitudes a young person can learn is that "nothing is sacred."

So who tended to agree with statements like that? The smarties or the dummies? It was the dummies!

Time marches on, however, and another study has recently emerged which looks at the same question. Deary et al. (2008) did quite a powerful study of a British population which came to exactly opposite conclusions. Wray Herbert sums up the study in layman's language.

So how come? A clue is to be found in the fact that the Deary et al. study reported that education was a major factor in the relationship. It was the fact that more intelligent people had more education that produced the relationship. It was education that made you Leftist, not IQ. Anybody who knows how Leftist the educational system is these days will not be surprised to hear that all that Leftist brainwashing had some effect.

But education was not the whole of the story. There was still some effect on attitudes due to IQ alone. But what the education results alert us to is the importance of the overall mental environment of the people surveyed. Deary's sample were all born in 1970. The Martin sample was interviewed in the early 1960s and covered a representative age range but would on average have been born in the mid-1930s. That is a very different group of people -- people who have grown up into very different mental environments. And just the difference in interview dates -- the early 1960s versus the early 2000s -- would account for a lot. A lot has changed over the last 40 years.

In particular, the great attitudinal upheaval of the late 1960s had not happened for Martin's sample and the very expression "political correctness" would have been incomprehensible to them. In short, the cultural attitudes of the modern day world are very different from the attitudes that prevailed before the upheavals of the '60s. I was there in the 60s. I remember the upheavals concerned very well. And the defeat of Soviet Communism ratcheted up the cultural changes even further. When it became clear that Leftists had lost the economic argument (over socialism versus capitalism), they turned their energies onto cultural questions -- promoting homosexuality, attacking marriage etc. The end result is that we now live in a world where the prevailing cultural attitudes are MUCH more Leftist than they once were.

So it is clear why the Martin and the Deary results differ. Smarter people are more aware of the values that are regarded as "correct" in the world about them. What smarter people said in the 60s was conservative because conservative values were the default assumption then. What smarter people said in the 2000s was Leftist because Leftist values have now become the default assumptions in conversations about such things -- and the default assumptions in the media most particularly.

So what the Deary results show when taken in conjunction with the Martin results is not that smart people are Leftists but rather that smart people are more sensitive to the thinking of people around them.


Is the short list of attitudes from Martin's study above really Leftist? Libertarians would also agree with some of the statements listed. Libertarians are however only a tiny fraction of the population and libertarianism was essentially unknown in Australia at the time. It still largely is, in fact. So a libertarian influence on the results can be excluded.

The statements listed are very similar to other statements that were characteristically Leftist at the time. The underlying theme of the items was intended by their author to be a rejection of authority and it should be noted that another Australian questionnaire which systematically surveyed attitudes to authority in 1969 found that attitude to authority correlated even more strongly with political party choice (r = .43) than it did attitude to innovation (.33). Supporters of Australia's major Leftist party were, in other words, even more likely to be anti-authority than they were likely to be in favour of change. In the same study attitudes to authority also correlated very highly (.73) with a collection of radical attitudes generally. Leftists reject all authority that they do not themselves control and that rejection is a central part of their thinking.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lakoff reinvents the wheel

Poor old George Lakoff. There is a review of his latest book here. He is a linguist by trade but nobody takes him seriously there so he has for some years now been trying his hand at political psychology -- which happens to be my particular area of academic expertise.

It is no surprise to find that he has nothing original to say but it is sort-of sad that he gets some basic stuff ass-backwards. He buys into the compulsive Leftist myth that conservatives are "authoritarian", blithely ignoring that, from the French revolution onward, it has been Leftists (in the person of Communists like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot and Socialists like Hitler and Mussolini) who have been by far the biggest authoritarians. For a quick summary of how and why Leftists sustain the myth that it is conservatives who are authoritarian, see here.

It always amuses me that even outright Marxists often identify authoritarianism with conservatism even though one of their founders, Friedrich Engels (co-author of Das Kapital) was perfectly commonsense about the matter:

"Revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon". -- from his controversy with the anarchists.

With such a wilfully blind start, Lakoff cannot possibly have much to offer. I was, however, amused by this Lakoff prescription that I found in the review above:

What should progressives say? That conservatism is "fundamentally antidemocratic."

Once again poor old George is reinventing the wheel. Precisely that assertion was an integral part of the old 1950 Adorno work that started the "authoritarian conservative" myth. I guess Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were democrats! There have been many Communist movements worldwide over the years but not one could reasonably be called democratic. So Communism is conservative? Black might as well be white. And in the Western democracies today, Leftists never stop their attempts to censor and suppress conservative speech. See my TONGUE-TIED blog for almost daily examples of that. Is that democratic? It is an attempt to hobble democracy as far as I can see.

To cap it off, the original Adorno questionnaire that was used to characterize conservatives as anti-democrratic (the F scale) was in fact a compilation of beliefs that were common in the "Progressive"-dominated America in the first half of the 20th century. See here on the nature of the F scale questions and see here for the rather surprising details of America's "Progressive" era. So if there were any ideas that were shown by Adorno to be anti-democratic, they were in fact "Progressive" ideas at the time!

Another amusing Lakoff prescription: "progressives should rely less on facts and more on images and drama". Talk about preaching to the converted! Since when did Leftists EVER rely on facts? Appeals to emotions have been their stock in trade since the year dot. If they relied on known facts they would certainly have given up very rapidly and very long ago any notion that socialism was a cure for poverty.

The reviewer (Saletan) goes on to point out more of the huge holes in Lakoff's thinking so I will not go on. I have however had a close look at Lakoff's threadbare old ideas previously. See here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A small reflection on the constant Leftist call for unity

It is a demand for everybody to agree with them of course -- and a threat to all dissent. Obama is the most notable practitioner at the moment. So we should not be surprised that the country which invented welfare legislation -- Germany -- still focuses heavily on unity in their national anthem:

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit (Unity and justice and freedom)
Fuer das deutsche Vaterland! (for the German fatherland)
Danach lasst uns alle streben (for that let us all strive)
Bruederlich mit Herz und Hand! (in brotherhood with heart and hand)
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit (Unity and justice and freedom)
Sind des Glueckes Unterpfand. (Are the guarantee of happiness)

And that's the anthem of MODERN Germany, not the Nazi regime! The Nazi version was even more expansive, of course -- with "brothers standing together" etc. When the above words were written in 1841, Germany had not been united into one nation so the song was aimed primarily at agitating for such a nation. Since Germany has been a single nation since 1872, however, the words are sung today for obviously quite different reasons: Leftist intolerance of dissent and desire for power at the top. Rather different from "The land of the free and the home of the brave". Obama's ideals are German, not American.

There is an extensive commentary on Leftist calls for unity here. It notes that there are some occasions on which unity is a reasonable expectation but -- surprise! -- it is in precisely such cases that Leftists deride unity. Unity is desired as a means to Leftist power, nothing else. If it doesn't serve that, who needs it?

Rather surprisingly, the article does not mention the great Nazi slogan: "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer" (One people, one State, one leader).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Anent prose style and translatability

For decades now, my exemplar of English prose style has been Winston Churchill: Simple words in simple sentences. And on a blog with an international audience that is just about the only wise style.

I am a lover of words however and I would very much like to use a wider vocabulary than I do. I often write stuff using whatever vocab come to mind: Scientific, literary or Australian, for instance. And I then go through and replace all the uncommon words with simple, well-known words. "Orthogonal" becomes "unrelated", for instance. And I invariably clear up my thinking in doing so.

So I was rather pleased to see somewhere on a blog recently the word "anent". It is an old-fashioned word meaning "about" or "concerning". I wondered how such a word got onto a blog. Are there some parts of America where it is still widely used? In my experience, it is not much found outside Middle English or Early New English. I Googled it and found that it is widely used in their database -- but in all cases that I looked up they were spam blogs. Reality is truly strange sometimes.

Speaking of language, I greatly regret that the Australian idioms I grew up speaking are now far from generally understood in Australia. Radio, TV and the movies have largely wiped them out. The expressions young Australians use tend to be sourced from the media.

Another factor in the loss is that distinctively Australian speech was always unprestigious in Australia. The aspiration among educated Australians was always to speak "The King's English" (RP as the phoneticans call it) and an educated Australian accent these days is in fact quite close to that aspiration -- far closer than most of the accents of England itself, in fact. So it was my growing up in a working class family in an Australian country town that gave me full exposure to real Australian speech -- and I love it. It is so vivid. Somewhere along the line I have acquired an educated Australian accent but I still feel most at ease speaking in my native idioms. Fortunately, the lady in my life comes from a similar background so I often get to do so.

One of the more amusing upshots of all that is that the group of people who speak Australian best these days are the Aborigines (blacks). They are at the bottom of just about every social ladder you can think of so they have never had any incentive to move from the old ways. That blacks are the best preservers of an English semi-dialect is one of the many real-life complexities that confound the simple generalizations beloved of the Left.

It is of course the untranslatability of one form of speech into another that vexes me. Even commonly-used Australian expressions like "Fair dinkum" have no one-for-one translation into international English. And even words from a language closely related to English -- such as German -- are similarly untranslatable. I have written elsewhere about the untranslatability of "Reich" and "Volk", for instance.

I was reminded of that in reading a comment from a German about how Germans are seen in America: In en USA werden die Deutschen in Lederhosen, als Biertrinker und Krautfresser charakterisiert. There is a word there that is not easily translatable either. The writer is saying that in the USA Germans are characterized as wearing Lederhosen and as beer-drinkers and cabbage-eaters. I doubt that it is as bad as that. I myself think of Germany as the land of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. The German-speaking lands are undisputably the home of Western classical music. The untranslatability in the sentence, however, centres around the word "fressen". In German there are two words for "eat": People "essen" and animals "fressen". So if a person is said to "fressen", he is said to eat like an animal. So how do we translate "Krautfresser"? Are Germans describable as "cabbage-gutsers", perhaps? Maybe "cabbage-hogs"? I really don't know.


I think I've got it! "Cabbage-munchers" would be the right translation above.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


This is a very old debate and one in which I have long taken an interest but I think there are far more important things to talk about today. Nonetheless, the recent issue of two books that raise the question anew does seem to legitimate at least a brief comment from me.

The Leftist book concerned (by novelist Nicholson Baker) is reviewed here and the conservative book (by Pat Buchanan) is reviewed here. I will confine myself to mentioning what I think are the important points that the reviews pass over.

The Baker book seems to center strongly on the flaws in Churchill's actions -- in keeping with the usual Leftist ad hominem style of argument. There is of course no doubt that Churchill was a flawed human being and there are acts by Churchill that I deplore too (the fire bombings, the "repatriation" of the Cossacks etc). Baker however in essence claims that it was only the character faults of Churchill and FDR that caused them to make war on Hitler. He seems to think we would all have been fine if the British and American bombers had stayed home.

That is all deeply unserious, however. You have to look at the political and strategic realities behind the declarations of war if you are to evaluate them intelligently. Blaming everything on the conspiracies of bad men is very Leftist but it betrays no real effort at understanding at all. All it tells us is that the speaker/writer is steamed up about something and is too stupid or lazy to investigate how it really came about. Baker seems to think that a pacifist response to Hitler would have worked in some way. The generally passive response of the German Jews to their persecution should have told Baker how well that worked with Hitler.

So on to the Buchanan book. Sadly, the reviewer there also seems inclined to play the man and not the ball. He is very abusive about Buchanan and is less than fair in evaluating Buchanan's arguments. I think that Buchanan is wrong in his conclusions but he is not so far wrong as to be completely dismissed.

The critic completely dismisses Buchanan's argument that Hitler had no designs on Britain and in fact regarded them as racial comrades -- so Britain had nothing to fear and no reason to go to war. There is no doubt that Hitler himself argued exactly that way. I have myself heard a recording of one of his speeches to that effect. So dismissing the argument out of hand is pretty slapdash history.

I myself think that the jury will always be out on that one. It seems strange that I have to stress it but Hitler WAS a racist and there is no doubt that the Britrish and the Germans are essentially the same race. So the idea that Hitler might have given very favourable consideration to the racial identity of the British is hardly far-fetched. The remarkably benign German occupation of Denmark is even a test-case of sorts.

But, as a good conservative, Churchill was cautious and there was no doubt in his mind that Hitler was an example of that most-disapproved type of person in a British value-system of the time: A man who "goes too far". Churchill saw that Hitler recognized no constraints on his actions and that Hitler's rhetoric was full of anger and hate. And Churchill could not entrust the world to such a man. So Churchill swung British foreign policy into its traditional "balance of power" role and ensured that NOBODY would ever come to dominate the whole of Europe. With what we now know about Hitler, I think we can be glad that Britain found a man who at the last moment activated that traditional British policy.

Note that it was actually Chamberlain who declared war on Germany. But it is Churchill who made it stick.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Irrelevance of the Status of Oughts

Philosophy can be a hard slog but moral philosophy is nonetheless something of a must for those of us who wish to combat the constant nihilistic chant "There is no such thing as right and wrong" that comes from the Left. So I think that the short post below by Scott Scheule should have a wider audience. I add some further comments of my own at the foot of it
Much is made of whether morality is objective or subjective. While it's an interesting ontological question, when it comes down to the question of which moral system is right or preferable, the question is entirely irrelevant.

To wit, some seem to think that if they can prove morality subjective, then utilitarianism wins over rights theories. This is bullshit. If morality is subjective, then even the basic axioms of utilitarianism are subjective. There is no objective command: Thou shalt increase utility. Rather, there is only the preference of the individual for a world with more utility, which is just as subjective as the preference of an individual for a world with strong property rights, or no capital punishment, etc. By the same token, if morality is objective, then one can equally well believe that it is objectively right to increase utility or that it is objectively right to respect deontological rights.

Some also seem to think that believing morality subjective leads to moral relativism. This is just as wrong. To be sure, my subjective moral preference may be for a world where right or wrong is decided by community standards. But my subjective preference may just as well be otherwise. And by the same token, moral relativism could easily be true, if morality is objective. It would be a fact of the matter that whatever the community standards are, they fix right and wrong. Or not.

There is a tendency for some to pass off a particular morality as objective, while others are just baseless opinions. Economists love this. It gives one side a rhetorical punch--they can claim to be the one who doesn't believe in spooky disembodied moral commands. Rather they believe in cold hard scientific fact--that is, of course, they believe in their personal moral preferences. This leads to the same conversation again and again, where the other side has to point out that the ontological status of morality cuts both ways. But there's no winner in this game of More Materialist Than Thou.

In sum, the question of whether morality is subjective or objective, like the blogosphere, has theoretical but no practical import.

More here

I think it is hard to disagree with Scheule's point that all moral discourse is ultimately reducible to personal feelings, preferences, beliefs, opinions etc. Scheule correctly points out however that this is not all that important. What he does not go on to say, however, it what IS important.

My basic comment on the matter is that morality is largely genetically inherited. We behave in various moral ways because we have evolved to do so over many hundreds of thousands of years. But no genetic inheritance in human beings is a set of mental railroad tracks. It is more of a general tendency that can be modified or redirected to some degree -- by reason, circumstances etc. So while all human societies perceive some wrongness in killing others, for instance, exceptions are often made to that -- as in warfare.

So the Leftist rejection of morality is of a piece with their usual rejection of all things genetic -- except in the case of homosexuality, of course. The hollowness of their rejection is however very much in evidence all the time -- in the many moralistic utterances they make about "the poor", "the planet", "racism" etc. They are living testimony to the falseness of their own claims. They too are in the grip of moral feelings. They can't talk any other way.

One imagines that it would be a much happier world if Leftists faced reality and entered into an honest discussion about just how present-day circumstances might modify or channel the moral impulses that we all have. What they in fact do is refuse to have any discussion, just as they so often refuse to look at the full facts of a matter. Quite clearly, they do all they can to avoid the irrationality in their arguments being exposed. They are in deep fear that they would lose a rational argument. In short, morality is just one of the many realities that Leftists ignore -- to our almost certain detriment. It is only the fact that we DO live by rules that makes civilized life possible.

I have written at greater length on the inborn nature of morality here Readers may also be interested in Steven Pinker's comments on the matter.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Science has a good reputation in our society and it has that for a good reason: It gets results. Lots of opportunistic people look on that reputation with jealous eyes, however. They want that reputation for themselves and to prop up their own beliefs. So they go into a scientific career with that somewhere in mind. And those who wish to USE science for their own ends are, sadly, very much the majority. Seekers after objective truth are an eccentric minority among scientists.

That is of course a bold statement and a sweeping accusation but, in saying that, I am speaking as an insider. In my own field of psychology, it became evident to me very early on that most of what as accepted as good psychological research was glaringly defective. So I wrote critiques of the research that I saw as defective and submitted the critiques for publication in the academic journals. Journal editors greatly dislike publishing critiques. They see critiques as "negative" rather than interesting. The points I made were so clearly right, however, that about 50% of my critiques were accepted and eventually appeared in print. See here

I was however of the view that bad research is driven out not by critiques but rather by better research. So I did a LOT of new research of my own. And that was almost all published. And it was not hard to do better research than what was generally being done. My lackasdaisical colleagues who were not really interested in truth would, for instance, hand out a bunch of questionnaires to their students and use the answers they got from that to generalize about all mankind. And they were the good guys. Lots of other psychologists would play tricks on white rats and use the results of that to generalize about all mankind.

So all I had to do to obtain more useful data than that was to use the accepted assumptions and procedures but gather my data from a properly randomized sample of the population of a major metropolitican city, such as Sydney, London or Los Angeles. And I did a lot of that. See here. That was in fact the reason my research usually got published: Because my data was so obviously better than almost anything else in the field.

But the results I got from doing the research properly were almost always greatly at variance with what was the accepted wisdom in the field. So my results, being better based, should have had considerable influence on what was believed? Right? No way! My results were, as far as I can tell, totally ignored. My colleagues just went on believing what they wanted to believe as before. My endeavour to influence their thinking by the use of facts was pissing into the wind.

So after 20 years of doing that (1970-1990), I gave up. I concentrated on my business interests and bringing up kids instead. About 5 years ago, however, I started to take an interest in the global warming theory and what I found there was very much what I was familiar with. Facts and reason did not matter. Distortion, bias and ignoring the evidence was the order of the day. Speculation was treated as fact. Climate science was no better than psychological science. And my blog GREENIE WATCH presents findings to that effect on a daily basis.

More recently, I have also taken an interest in medical science. One would hope that something as important as medical science would be pursued with high-minded objectivity and concern for truth. To expect that is however to ignore the great prestige attached to medical research. That prestige attracts egotists and knowalls as flies are attracted to honey and the result, I am sad to say, is that medical science is even worse than psychological science. I used often to accuse my colleagues in psychology of making mountains out of molehills. In medical research they make mountains out of pimples. Most of it is utter crap and dietary science is the crappiest of the crap. Logic and proper caution about inferences regularly fly out the window. There is of course good research done but the good stuff is swamped by trash. Finding the truth amid it all is a Herculean task. And I document all that daily on my FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC blog.

But the corruption in science is not random. It has a direction. Scientists tend to be pretty pleased with thermselves. They see themselves as an elite who are entitled to tell others what to do. And their conclusions in their research -- particularly in medical research and climate research -- tend to be highly prescriptive. They are constantly saying what people SHOULD do with their lives, diet etc. Sadly for them, however, most people dislike being told what to do by others and ignore the many prescriptions hurled at them.

So scientists make common cause with those people in society who want to FORCE people to do their bidding. That very often means that they become Leftists. And the direction in which scientific beliefs tend is almost invariably Leftist in some way. Leftists don't care very much about evidence nor do most scientists. What they care about is changing the behaviour of other people -- and lies and deception in that cause are just fine.

As I say, I have detailed up-close knowledge of the unscientific nature of most science in three fields: Psychology, climate science and medicine. But I have every reason to believe that other scientific disciplines are just as bad. I am already too overstretched to go into it but what I see in astrophysics is amazingly wrongheaded at times too.

But for sheer and constant dishonesty, the prizewinner has to be feminist "science". I have yet to find anything at all good in it. I have had papers published that show feminist dogma to be the reverse of the truth (e.g. here) but one is so obviously arguing with hormonal disturbance rather than with reason in that field that I generally don't waste my time on it. I can however show what I mean by way of example. Read the article immediately below and decide what you think of it. Disregard the fact that its conclusions fly in the face of 100 years of results from good psychometric research and consider it on its own merits. I think you will find that it makes a reasonable case -- though one of its conclusions -- that shootemup computer games are good for your brain -- must be seen as upsetting a few applecarts!

Then read the complete demolition of it that immediately follows it. Sad, isn't it? There is more that I could add to what appears below but what's the point? I cannot resist noting however that the surname of the feminist ninny concerned means "wisdom" in Italian. In her dreams!

Gender math gap erasable, studies suggest

It's been a long, sometimes vicious controversy: are boys better at math than girls? Some say they are, because boys tend to outscore girls in math. Opponents blame that on sexist upbringing.

New studies may be shedding light on the issue. In a nutshell, some of the latest research points to three conclusions that offer something to satisfy both sidesbut overall paint a bright picture for those eager to see more women enter mathematics and sciences. The key findings: Girls are as good at math as boys given the proper environment.

Males may have an edge in spatial thinking abilities, which are useful in mathand this advantage may be very ancient, evolutionarily speaking.

Deeprooted though this difference may be, females can surmount it with just a little work. "The socalled gender gap in math skills seems to be at least partially correlated to environmental factors," said Paola Sapienza of The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois. "The gap doesn't exist in countries in which men and women have access to similar resources and opportunities," added Sapienza, summarizing the results of a new study published in the May 30 issue of the research journal Science.

In it, Sapienza and colleagues analyzed data from more than 276,000 children in 40 countries who took an internationally standardized test of math, reading, science and problemsolving. The data came from the 2003 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Programme for International Student Assessment.

The researchers found that globally, boys outperformed girls in math by 10.5 points on average on this test. But this advantage vanished in some of the most progressive and genderequal countries such as Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

Now that the apparent good news is out, does this mean anyone who dared suggest the existence of natural gender differences in math was being sexist?

Not necessarily, if one believes other studies suggesting sexism isn't the only reason for the math gap. Some research has attributed that gap to a deeper discrepancy in spatial reasoning abilities. One new study even suggests an evolutionary reason: better spatial reasoning in males might be related to larger range size in their ancestral environment.

This discrepancy may extend all the way down the evolutionary tree to invertebrates, according to the research, which focused on cuttlefish and appears in the May 27 online issue of the research journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Evidence of sex differences in spatial cognition have been reported in a wide range of vertebrate species," but never the simpler invetebrates, the authors wrote. The investigators found that male cuttlefish both range over a larger area, and have better orienting abilities than female cuttlefish. "The data conform to the predictions of the range size hypothesis," they wrote.

Nevertheless, differences in spatial cognition are easily surmountable, if one believes yet a third study, which might help explain why ultimately girls and boys can perform equally in math. Published in last October's issue of the journal Psychological Science, this study found that malefemale differences in some tasks requiring spatial skills are largely eliminated after both groups play a video game for 10 hours.

"On average, women are not quite as good at rapidly switching attention among different objects and this may be one reason why women do not do as well on spatial tasks," said the lead author, University of Toronto psychology doctoral student Jing Feng. But "both men and women can improve their spatial skills by playing a video game," he added, and "the women catch up to the men. Moreover, the improved performance of both sexes was maintained when we assessed them again after five months." The game used was a first-person shootemup game, "Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault."

The game "may cause the expression of previously inactive genes which control the development of neural [brain] connections that are necessary for spatial attention," said Ian Spence, director of the university's engineering psychology laboratory. "Clearly, something dramatic is happening in the brain" thanks to the playing.

"One important application of this research could be in helping to attract more women to the mathematical sciences and engineering," he added. "Since spatial skills play an important role in these professions, bringing the spatial skills of young women up to the level of their male counterparts could help to change the gender balance in these fields that are so important to our economic health."


And now for the demolition:

Economist says girls actually better than boys at maths. Shows no sign of it herself however...

An economist in America has published research stating that girls have at least as much innate mathematical ability as boys. Paola Sapienza contends that the fact of girls almost always doing worse in maths exams results mainly from sexual discrimination. "The math gender gap can be eliminated, and it is indeed eliminated in some countries," says Sapienza. "Our research indicates that in more gender equal societies, girls will gain an absolute advantage relative to boys."

Sapienza and her co-authors reached their conclusion by looking at boy-vs-girl maths performance in different countries, and checking this against various measures which indicate how sexually equal each country is believed to be. The maths test figures used were from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), set up by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The PISA data included standardised test results from some 276,000 children in forty countries.

As for equality, various figures were used, most notably the Gender Gap Index from the World Economic Forum. This is worked out according to various measures, such as the support given to working mums, proportion of women who work, females in politcs etc. A value of zero GGI indicates "inequality" (males totally dominating; women do no work, earn no money, don't appear at all in politics etc). A GGI of 1 equals "equality" (women just the same as men in these areas).

Presumably there could exist a condition where the GGI approached infinity, in which the zero state was reversed and men were totally crushed. However, no country has even achieved a rating of 1 yet; in every nation on Earth, according to the GGI, women are disadvantaged to some degree.

Sapienza and her colleagues noted that in Iceland, girls actually beat boys by a small margin on the PISA maths tests. Iceland scores high on womens' lib, at GGI 0.78. By contrast, Turkey - where the men keep their women firmly under the thumb (GGI 0.59) - showed girls lagging. The top four countries for gender equality are all in northern Europe: Sweden, Norway and Finland are the only ones which beat Iceland. (You can see the latest rankings here (PDF)

"As a European, I'm not surprised that the top countries are the northern European," said Sapienza - who comes from Italy herself. QED, then. In the northern-Euro countries, where the human race is most nearly approaching gender equality - though not by any means there yet - girls are already outstripping boys at maths, as they often do in non-mathematical subjects. In the gender-equal society of the future, girls really could be expected to trounce the chaps on all suits. Men just aren't as intelligent as women.

Steady on, though. You can download the PISA 2006 figures here (xls spreadsheet, table 6.2c). As far as we can make out, Turkish girls aren't doing nearly as badly as Sapienza says (6 points down on the boys, not 23). Perhaps there's a typo somewhere. But there are other problems: the Icelander girls' 4-point lead is there, as noted, but it's a statistically insignificant result. That means it's within the variation you could expect from the sample with no bias present.

There is, however, one country where the girls thumped the boys at maths in a statistically significant fashion. But it's not in progressive northern Europe - it's Qatar, lying 109th in the gender-equality rankings with a GGI of 0.6 - almost as male-chauvinist as Turkey.

And what of so-progressive Finland, actually ahead of Iceland in gender equality? Boys ahead in maths by a statistically-significant 12 points. Ouch. Boys are significantly ahead in Norway, too, the second-most-gender-equal country in the world. In Germany - seventh best worldwide at gender equality - the girls are simply nowhere, a shocking 20 points down on the chaps. Indeed, very few girls anywhere lag as far behind their male contemporaries as those of progressive Germany. (Those of Austria and Colombia do, though. Both countries score higher than the USA on gender equality.)

Meanwhile, girls appear to be somewhere near equal maths performance with boys - that is, the difference between the sexes falls within expected variation - in various other places. Jordan and Kyrgyzstan rather leap to the eye, actually. Girls do fine at maths in both nations, yet these places are way down (104th and 70th) in the equality rankings.

"What are these northern European countries doing so that there is no gap?" asks Sapienza. But Norway, Germany, Denmark and Finland do show a statistically significant gap in her own chosen data set, for goodness' sake. Unlike Qatar, Jordan and Kyrgyzstan. Even for an economist, this shows a poor grasp of mathematics.

In the end boys may or may not be innately better than girls at maths, but one thing's for sure: associate professor Sapienza hasn't added anything to the debate, perhaps because she herself doesn't seem to understand maths at all.

Her twaddle can be read in the new issue of Science, or there are summaries here and with more detail here.


We've already had a fair bit of angry mail on this one. Sample quote: "To you, one word only: Moron" [many more words then followed, and indeed another email from the same person]. However, two further points: the research apparently draws on the PISA 2003 survey rather than the 2006 one, presumably explaining the discrepancy in the Turkish maths scores. Also, another reader flags up the fact that Sapienza's co-authors are all male, which makes this article "an excellent example of discrimination against women". (Sapienza is the lead author, though, and none of the others have their picture at the top of the press releases.)