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Right-wingers are simply dumber on average
February 6, 2012 5:39 PM   Subscribe

According to this substantial study recently published in Psychological Science, "lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology.". As the Daily Mail summarises, right-wingers are less intelligent than left wingers.

The Mail article and attached commentariat amuses the Guardian's Charlie Brooker, who laughs at the resulting "dumbogeddon". Meanwhile George Monbiot wonders who are the real idiots here (and in passing (footnote 4) provides more links to research in the same general vein).
posted by wilful (119 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
You. Don't. Say.
posted by spitbull at 5:51 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


A science summary from the Daily Mail? This changes everything!
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:52 PM on February 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


Great work reading the link EatTheWeak!

Now yes, I KNOW that the Daily Mail is fishwrap, but in this instance they really are just the messenger
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:54 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's because they're using lamestream liberal ivory tower elite European statistical analysis. If they used real American God-fearing heartland math, they would find the true conclusion: Nuh-uh, with a correlation of zero point no way.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:54 PM on February 6, 2012 [48 favorites]


I get a headache just thinking about trying to determine what could be wrong with this.

Like the man said, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.
posted by HuronBob at 5:54 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Enough of the scientific mumbo-jumbo, poindexter! Just tell me: are the Muslims responsible?
posted by Ritchie at 5:55 PM on February 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


The study, by the way, was conducted by Canadians, on a UK population. Though of course you'd know that if you read the link.
posted by wilful at 5:57 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


let me put it like this.... most of the kids I work with were black when they were young, most of them don't trust white people when they get older, therefore, if you're black as a child you don't trust white people as an adult....

.
.
.
.
nope... color has nothing to do with it....
posted by HuronBob at 6:01 PM on February 6, 2012


Here's another blogger's digest, with links to other commentary. And a similar study that seems to support the results. But it's also important to remember: “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.”
John Stuart Mill

posted by Brian B. at 6:02 PM on February 6, 2012 [18 favorites]


this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology

That's put a bit politely. I assume what they are trying to say is "pandering".
posted by DU at 6:03 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Researchers find people with flags on their cars are more racist.
posted by Jimbob at 6:04 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


The study involved both US and UK populations. And it did not conclude that conservatives are less intelligent, but rather that less intelligent people are more likely to be prejudiced towards minorities, and people with such attitudes are more likely to be conservative.
posted by unmake at 6:05 PM on February 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


Even that stupid scuba-diver thing? Who knew?
posted by box at 6:06 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My guess is that this has strong correlations with socio-economic class.
posted by Sara C. at 6:06 PM on February 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


First they came for the idiots, and I said nothing for...
posted by cmoj at 6:07 PM on February 6, 2012


Or vice-versa, rather. As the discover article says, "Coarsely, stupid people aren’t racist, stupid people are more likely to be socially conservative, and more socially conservative people are more likely to be racist."
posted by unmake at 6:08 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


If liberals are in general brighter than conservatives, why is it that when people get older they tend to move from being liberal to being conservative and seldom do we see a reverse pattern?
Clearly age then trumps IQ in these instances
posted by Postroad at 6:10 PM on February 6, 2012


They also used a small US sample for additional verification, and found that intergroup contact helped mediate prejudice; i.e. people who have contact with homosexuals they don't mean that way, get your mind out of the gutter have less prejudice against them.

My guess is that this has strong correlations with socio-economic class.

They also controlled for education and socioeconomic class, which was my first guess as a possible confounding variable affecting the results. To quote the paper: "Moreover, all predictive effects were independent of socioeconomic status and education." (discussing the UK samples, they assert something similar about the US ones.)

Altmeyer at U. Manitoba has interesting work on the authoritarian personality, that is an interesting parallel to this.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:10 PM on February 6, 2012


Well, clearly, people get dumber with age.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:11 PM on February 6, 2012


Actually, I'd like to go against the grain for a minute. I don't have any links although I know where they can be found. Lies My Teacher Taught Me has a pretty great section near the end on who supported the Vietnam War. Educated people do rather poorly in that. Both in supporting the war more at the time AND in believing later that they opposed it all along.

Because highly educated people are more likely to be well off and therefore more supportive of the establishment and status quo.
posted by DU at 6:11 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


If liberals are in general brighter than conservatives, why is it that when people get older they tend to move from being liberal to being conservative


Because

a) the line between the two shifts all the time and being on one said at time T doesn't predict where you'll be at T+N

b) older people are more likely to be invested in the status quo

c) poor people and minorities, who are more likely to hold anti-establishment views, are also more likely to die early, leaving the field skewed at higher age ranges.
posted by DU at 6:14 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


If liberals are in general brighter than conservatives, why is it that when people get older they tend to move from being liberal to being conservative and seldom do we see a reverse pattern?

Actually, each generation is smarter than the last, IQ scores get re-normalized to account for this. Also, politics don't stay the same either, liberals tend to embrace more each generation. The political issues of the 20s, 60s and 00s are pretty different.
posted by Garm at 6:15 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


HuronBob: "let me put it like this.... most of the kids I work with were black when they were young..."

What are they now?
posted by Splunge at 6:15 PM on February 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


So if I'm old and liberal, then that must mean that I'm extra, extra smart, right? That's just SCIENCE!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:16 PM on February 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


Slate just did a nice article on what the Daily Mail is (web vs print version), so I don't have to explain it again
posted by Bwithh at 6:18 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


*somebody please explain this to me like I'm ultra, ultra conservative
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:18 PM on February 6, 2012 [14 favorites]


My guess is that this has strong correlations with socio-economic class.

Not only did they control for the subjects' own socio-economic status, they controlled for their parents' SES. I'll have to properly read this thing before I pretend to have any opinions, though.

Dammit, but stats & data analysis are addictive. Sadly, no path analysis in my current course.
posted by smirkette at 6:19 PM on February 6, 2012


"What are they now?"

amazingly, most of them are still black....but they are still pretty young...who knows...
posted by HuronBob at 6:20 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Daily Mail also reports that Republicans have better sex than Democrats.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:23 PM on February 6, 2012


Love how IQ becomes a useful measurement of "intelligence" (whatever that means) when its a cudgel to bash lower-class right-wingers.
posted by downing street memo at 6:25 PM on February 6, 2012 [20 favorites]


The Daily Mail also reports that Republicans have better sex than Democrats.


Because Democrats are having sex with their spouses?
posted by clearly at 6:26 PM on February 6, 2012 [25 favorites]


Something that bothers me about the usual response to this sort of thing (mocking the validity of studies by assuming that the scientists simply forgot about things like controlling for confounding factors) is that it's all based on defensiveness, and ultimately fear.

Like, liberals are so afraid of being seen as elitists, even if it happens to be true. Putting aside the premise that it is somehow bad to have higher standards, or to be smarter, or more accomplished, it's like we don't realize that conservatives are going to call us elitists no matter how modest we are, or how much we disown reality to be more populist. And when that's done, they'll pick something else (literally anything else) to use as a wedge.

There's no way to win playing by their rules.
posted by danny the boy at 6:28 PM on February 6, 2012 [29 favorites]


I know this is irrelevant, but that photo of Romney getting glitter-bombed in the second link is freaking me out, because he looks like he has a third, smaller arm coming out of his chest. Is Romney a vortigaunt?
posted by Peevish at 6:28 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please, please, please people:

Read the link before you comment. There's a lot more to say about this than "doh".
posted by alms at 6:33 PM on February 6, 2012


Like, liberals are so afraid of being seen as elitists, even if it happens to be true.

It's more like the concept of "G" and IQ itself is junk science. Seriously folks, we recognize this when conservatives use it to call black people inferior. It's not okay when the target is people we dislike.
posted by downing street memo at 6:34 PM on February 6, 2012 [14 favorites]


Love how IQ becomes a useful measurement of "intelligence" (whatever that means) when its a cudgel to bash lower-class right-wingers.

Actually, it doesn't look like they used the Stanford-Binet IQ test. They list a number of different measures which I am not familiar with. It looks like some instruments were developed by other researchers, and some were created by NCDS (one of the two original agencies that gathered these data). I suspect they're using g as the variable representing cognitive intelligence as it's well-established.
posted by smirkette at 6:35 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's worth considering that (general) conservatism and rejection of outgroups for those of lower intelligence very well could be adaptively advantagous.

Consider the fact that, for children, a general propensity to disbelieve one's parents would mean that far more kids are likely to things that are dangerous or deadly, without being able to grasp un-obvious risks.

For people of lower intelligence, it may work in a somewhat similar way. Clarity of right versus wrong, clarity of those accepted versus those shunned -- those are generally protective, and for people who may not have the mental toolkit to discern complex risk at the edges of their experience, it is safer to reject the unknown than to investigate it.

I wouldn't go so far as to correlate IQ with the tools needed to successfully navigate the ambiguous areas of life, but I would say that someone with a higher capacity for openness to novel experience must also be equipped to handle the risks when those new experiences go haywire.

In other words, even "smart" people are stupid, in some ways -- and when they come across anecdotal information that X is a risk, they irrationally do things like avoid flying, hate "other" races (or just out-of-towners), excoriate those of different political stripes, and refuse to vaccinate their children.
posted by chimaera at 6:35 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This study may well be flawed, but it would be tons of fun to trot out in an argument over the Bell Curve nonsense. If I ever got into such an argument. Which isn't very likely.
posted by gamera at 6:36 PM on February 6, 2012


It's more like the concept of "G" and IQ itself is junk science. Seriously folks, we recognize this when conservatives use it to call black people inferior. It's not okay when the target is people we dislike.

Eh, gonna disagree there. IQ is not a useful measure of intelligence in an individual, especially IQ tests from 40-odd years ago. But while a smart person may easily get a low score on an IQ test, it's rare for a dumb person to score highly, so with enough data (and 15,000 sounds like enough) you should get enough, on average, to make statements like these.
posted by Peevish at 6:38 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also think it worth noting that the data are pretty old. Even considering their longitudinal nature, the last observation (at participant age 33) was 1991 for the NCDS & 1990 (at participant age 30) for the BCS.
posted by smirkette at 6:41 PM on February 6, 2012


It really isn't any more difficult than looking around. All of you know individuals who, on any standard test, would score low..but are kind, loving and accepting people

And I'm sure you know intelligent, brilliant people who are riddled with learned racist beliefs. I contend it has nothing to do with intelligence, nothing.
posted by HuronBob at 6:46 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This study is specifically about prejudice. But it apparently builds on a whole literature of peer-reviewed studies linking conservative to lower cognitive abilities. I had no idea. I guess it's been surprised by the liberal MSM.

Quoting from the linked study:
A recent comprehensive meta-analysis confirmed a reliable negative relation between cognitive ability and right-wing ideologies (Van Hiel et al., 2010). For example, research has revealed that individuals who more strongly endorse social conservatism have greater cognitive rigidity (Rokeach, 1948), less cognitive flexibility (Sidanius, 1985), and lower integrative complexity (Jost et al., 2003). Socially conservative individuals also perform less well than liberals on standardized ability tests (Stankov, 2009). Right- wing authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1996), a strong correlate of social conservatism (Jost et al., 2003; Van Hiel et al., 2010), is also negatively associated with g (McCourt, Bouchard, Lykken, Tellegen, & Keyes, 1999).
Is this stuff controversial in the field, or is it just accepted as something that is known and well established?
posted by alms at 6:49 PM on February 6, 2012


If only someone could just define intelligence absolutely and objectively with absolutely no error or subjective nuance. We could even divide people into classes based on this. I'm sure there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:51 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I'm sure you know intelligent, brilliant people who are riddled with learned racist beliefs.

Actually no I don't. All I see is someone who's confusing personal experience and anecdote with large, generalised statistically significant research.
posted by wilful at 6:52 PM on February 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


> And I'm sure you know intelligent, brilliant people who are riddled with learned racist beliefs.

Thanks for the anecdote. We can all go home now knowing that if we know some guy that we think is smart but racist then study was false, your 1 guy anecdote disproves their 15,000. You sir win the internet.

But thats not even what the study said. The study said to paraphrase, 'racists are more likely to be lower intelligence than non-racists'. So yes there could be millions of racists mensa members. But still more racist idiots.
posted by darkfred at 6:52 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Slate just did a nice article on what the Daily Mail is (web vs print version), so I don't have to explain it again

Yeah, what people need to understand is that the Mail Online is not the print Daily Mail, but more like a less upper-middle-class version of the Huffington Post.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:53 PM on February 6, 2012


So, racists are stupid. And bigots are stupid too.

Oddly, I have no problem with this hypothesis.
posted by jrochest at 6:57 PM on February 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


If only someone could just define intelligence absolutely and objectively with absolutely no error or subjective nuance. We could even divide people into classes based on this. I'm sure there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Both of those texts (Gattaca, Brave New World) are fiction, not policy proposals.

Further, both of those texts are highly critical of the societies which they depict.

Plus, I can't see anything in the FPP that suggests that anyone should be judged, categorised, classed, or prevented from or forced to do anything on the basis of their intelligence.

So, your point was?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:58 PM on February 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


If only someone could just define intelligence absolutely and objectively with absolutely no error or subjective nuance. We could even divide people into classes based on this. I'm sure there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that.

That's not at all what this study's authors intend. They seek to gain a better understanding of prejudice, including its root causes.
Therefore, cognitive abilities, particularly in relation to ideology, need to become increasingly focal to and integrated into existing literatures. The joint exami- nation of mental abilities, emotions, and motivations would provide a rich framework for understanding how prejudice and social-cultural ideologies develop in individuals (p. 193).
posted by smirkette at 7:01 PM on February 6, 2012


And I'm sure you know intelligent, brilliant people who are riddled with learned racist beliefs.

I generally find that my definition of 'intelligent, brilliant people' does not include having racist or bigoted beliefs. Intelligent people, in my view, analyse their beliefs and are capable of changing them when they realise that their beliefs are stupid or illogical.

YMMV.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:02 PM on February 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I generally find that my definition of 'intelligent, brilliant people' does not include having racist or bigoted beliefs. Intelligent people, in my view, analyse their beliefs and are capable of changing them when they realise that their beliefs are stupid or illogical."

Yes, I understand... perhaps we need to define "intelligent"....
posted by HuronBob at 7:06 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


So conservatives stupid huh, but what to do about it?
posted by mattoxic at 7:13 PM on February 6, 2012


The irony is all the prejudices formed toward right wingers as a result of this article being published.
posted by Descent at 7:13 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This work is so important. I'm glad there are people who have decided to work on this.
posted by polymodus at 7:14 PM on February 6, 2012


Also, Brave New World is a bad example, because individuals weren't placed into the social hierarchy according to intelligence, they were genetically engineered to have an intelligence appropriate for the position they were bred for.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:14 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


True or not, this study seems designed to do nothing more than get self-identifying liberals and self-identifying conservatives needlessly aggravated with each other. Science fail.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:22 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, Brave New World is a bad example, because individuals weren't placed into the social hierarchy according to intelligence, they were genetically engineered to have an intelligence appropriate for the position they were bred for.

Not genetically engineered, since BNW was written in 1931 and genetic research was in its pre-infancy. Watson, Crick and Franklin only suggested the double helix model of DNA structure in 1953.

Rather, in BNW, fetuses destined for the lower castes were subjected to varying levels of chemical interference during gestation to limit brain development (and, hence, intelligence). But the effect is the same. I'm sure Huxley would have used genetic engineering, had it been conceived of at the time.

/literary pedant.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:23 PM on February 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm slightly concerned about a spectrum view where some will rightly assume that the kneejerk conservative people are of course dumb, and then suddenly believe that the more liberal one is, then the more intelligent one must appear to be. The reality is that extreme liberalism lacks any intelligent definition whatsoever, and if taken to mean ultra-politically-correct or some other idealism, then the more dogmatic and rigid these true believers will tend to be, and round we go, they ruin the party. Paradoxically, modesty is an intelligent response.
posted by Brian B. at 7:27 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tengentially, everytime I see the Mail or the Gaurdian mentioned on the Blue, this whole bit flashes through my mind, (what's left of it,anyway.)
posted by carping demon at 7:30 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guardian
posted by carping demon at 7:30 PM on February 6, 2012


Grauniad.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:39 PM on February 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think that, if anything else, it's important to bear in mind that this study does not mean that complete idiots can't be extremely liberal.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:42 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


If liberals are in general brighter than conservatives, why is it that when people get older they tend to move from being liberal to being conservative and seldom do we see a reverse pattern?

I think because people just tend to get more crotchety when they get older. Now. "crotchety" is a word I've only ever heard used by my dad, when describing my late dog in his final years, but based on context, I take it as meaning, "in pain, scared, viciously afraid and angry at everything, touched off by seemingly anything at all.

Which I think could describe a lot of American Conservatism.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:12 PM on February 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think because people just tend to get more crotchety when they get older.

We would have also accepted: rigid, ossified, fossilized, etc.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:19 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


If liberals are in general brighter than conservatives, why is it that when people get older they tend to move from being liberal to being conservative and seldom do we see a reverse pattern?

You hear this all the time, but I'm not sure the premise holds. I personally am a good example of someone getting much liberal as they have gotten older, and I know many people for whom the same is true. There's a lot more data in my worldview now than there was 20 years ago.

And it looks like I am not alone.
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


And I'm sure you know intelligent, brilliant people who are riddled with learned racist beliefs.

I gave it an honest try, but no, I really don't. Anyone I've known who might have qualified for this category was born in the nineteen-teens and died twenty years ago.

Holding racist beliefs, whether they're learned or -- wait, where else would they come from? just invented on the spot? -- is in itself evidence of an absence of observational and reasoning ability that isn't consistent with a meaningful definition of 'intelligence'.
posted by Miko at 8:26 PM on February 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I gave it an honest try, but no, I really don't.

I try not to know people with racist beliefs. Of course, as part of an ethnic minority, they also don't want to know me, so this is a pretty easy thing to do.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:30 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Low intelligence is certainly an important factor, but I note that several of the studies mention exposure to other groups of people. I think this is also a huge contributor to the breakdown of racist thought, as in my experience racism is largely bred of insularity. If I had the power I would ensure that everyone between the ages of 10 and 20 had, at some point, the opportunity to spend some meaningful time doing something positive and safe in milieu that is not their own with people who are unlike them. Whether it's a camp, school, outdoor program, mission trip, the military, or whatever, it's one of the single most powerful ways to create the cognitive dissonance that reveals the weakness of racist beliefs. I've been in awe of its power as I've witnessed it work over and over.
posted by Miko at 8:39 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is Romney a vortigaunt?

Based on a Google image search of Romney glitter bomb, I think that extra limb is his wife waving to the crowd while walking on his right.

/derail
posted by postel's law at 8:45 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


alms: "Please, please, please people:

Read the link before you comment. There's a lot more to say about this than "doh".
"

I believe "duh" is also acceptable.
posted by Splunge at 8:50 PM on February 6, 2012


This study is so true, while the "Bell Curve" is racist bullshit.

SCIENCE: IT EITHER CONFIRMS MY BELIEFS OR I HAVE NO USE FOR IT.
posted by falameufilho at 8:58 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This study is so true, while the "Bell Curve" is racist bullshit.

A CHALLENGER APPEARS
posted by gamera at 9:03 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This study may well be flawed, but it would be tons of fun to trot out in an argument over the Bell Curve nonsense.

This study is so true, while the "Bell Curve" is racist bullshit.


An actual question: What is this 'Bell Curve' controversy?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:12 PM on February 6, 2012


"The Bell Curve"
posted by pompomtom at 9:14 PM on February 6, 2012


We would have also accepted: rigid, ossified, fossilized, etc.

I believe we now call it Mametization.
posted by mykescipark at 9:15 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


His thoughts: there's a good section about it on wikipedia. On my phone now, can't find the link.
posted by falameufilho at 9:15 PM on February 6, 2012


People who think like me are very intelligent. Those who don't are idiots.
I can't believe this type of "science" is being taken seriously here.
posted by rocket88 at 9:18 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The Bell Curve"

Oh, wow. I'd never heard of this before. Fascinating. And chilling. Thanks, y'all.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:23 PM on February 6, 2012


Lulz aside, the story with g and IQ is hairy and fraught enough that I'm not really willing to take this at face value. It's worth noting, though, that this is a different beast from The Bell Curve, since it's not talking about heritability or genetics at all -- in other words, this study is not concerned with the causes of differences in g, but rather with associating g with some other thing (in this case, prejudice, and adherence to conservative ideology).

I will also say that in this type of study, it is very, very hard to understand causality adequately. This is not a slam on sociology specifically, but in any case where you only have observational data, extracting the "right" model is a delicate operation; even approaches that sound reasonable can in fact produce completely misleading results.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:39 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks pompomtom and falameufilho. Sorry for the mini-derail. I was just struck by the superficial similarity between the two. "AHAHAH Scienteriffic proof of my prejudices!!!"
posted by gamera at 9:42 PM on February 6, 2012


I'm sure Huxley would have used genetic engineering, had it been conceived of at the time.

Biologists knew about genes in 1931. They just didn't yet have a model of how DNA was structured and replicated. There was also considerable doubt about whether or not genes were encoded in DNA.
posted by Human Flesh at 10:11 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my experience liberals and conservatives are both equally stupid just at different times. The level of stupidity rises or falls depending on the occupant of the White House. Stupidity rises dramatically when a person sharing ones own world view is elected to this high office. We are currently seeing a situation never before witnessed in American politics. The Bush presidency created such a big spike in stupid that it's effects are still being felt among conservatives 3 years after "W" left office. This, along with the rise in stupid among liberals, coinciding with the election of Barack Obama, has led to an American populace that has reached never before seen levels of stupid.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:11 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Way to go with reading comprehension AElfwine! The study is of UK views on racism and homosexuality. Unbelievably (I know) George Bush and Barack Obama hold no official office in the United Kingdom.
posted by wilful at 10:15 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Way to go with reading comprehension AElfwine! The study is of UK views on racism and homosexuality. Unbelievably (I know) George Bush and Barack Obama hold no official office in the United Kingdom.

Yeah, the study is not really that interesting or useful other then LOL conservatives. Either way my comment was meant as a joke. I do thank you for posting fpp, though, otherwise I wouldn't have found the book Homeboy Trouble linked to.

Seriously, though, my true opinion is that I have serious doubts about the intelligence of anyone who self identifies with an -ism. Intelligence isn't even the right word. I guess what I mean to say is that people who self identify with an -ism are limiting themselves intellectually.

The whole fpp is a Us vs. Them fail; especially the last bit. Of course the user base here is mainly liberal so this fpp will probably stand. Not enough flags and all that.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:40 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the notes at the end of the study:

We focused on social-cultural conservatism rather than economic conservatism, given that the former is more clearly related to prejudice (Jost et al., 2003; Van Hiel et al., 2010).

So I guess this means that only social conservatives are stupider than liberals.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:22 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did they remember to account for the mullet when adjusting the calipers? You can't do a good measurement of intelligence if you get the skull size all messed up.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:35 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


the thing is that smart people don't need to be racist because they are easily capable of finding other things to be insane and terrible about
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:36 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Miko: Holding racist beliefs, whether they're learned or -- wait, where else would they come from? just invented on the spot? -- is in itself evidence of an absence of observational and reasoning ability that isn't consistent with a meaningful definition of 'intelligence'.

Conditioning and intelligence are not at all the same thing, and it is conditioning that drives nearly all routine behavior. It takes a great deal of intelligence and, often, willpower to overcome conditioning. If you have been conditioned by your parents to think that you can sort people based on skin color, it takes a person of well above-average intelligence to realize that's not true.

In fact, I'd argue that it's nearly impossible to overcome the idea of sorting people based on skin color. Why? Because even among highly intelligent people who realize that this incorrect and a big problem, their most common policy response is MORE sorting of people based on skin color, just in reverse.

The conditioning is so strong that it's very hard to even see that it's the sorting that's the problem, not the order.
posted by Malor at 11:40 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the summaries, but I read most of the article itself, and as usual with political ideology works in the social sciences, it doesn't read like what most of the people here are talking about. They have some surveys, and in these surveys they see a modest negative correlation between g (which is not a great number, to be sure, but nothing is) and prejudice. They then ask what pathways could turn a person to this ideology by using a statistical test that I don't understand, but seems related to factor graphs, and find they can account for the data better with Right-wing ideology as a mediating factor between g and prejudice. Basically, lower-g people are more likely to pick up prejudiced beliefs via right-wing ideology. Note that this is explicitly not "conservatives are dumb" or "conservatives are prejudiced." Indeed, the authors make this note in their paper. You can even turn this around (and the authors also say something like this at the end) and say that this could be used to make conservatism look better. It's not that conservatism is prejudiced, it's that it's the lower intelligence conservatives get the wrong ideas and become prejudiced. I can't speak to the quality of the work (and even if perfect, individual papers are not the solution), but at least talk about what the work says.
posted by Schismatic at 2:32 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is this something I would have to believe in the validity of g to understand?
posted by OmieWise at 4:53 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Conditioning and intelligence are not at all the same thing, and it is conditioning that drives nearly all routine behavior. It takes a great deal of intelligence and, often, willpower to overcome conditioning. If you have been conditioned by your parents to think that you can sort people based on skin color, it takes a person of well above-average intelligence to realize that's not true.

This all sounds good because of the fancy words you know but is contrary to reality.
posted by Miko at 6:30 AM on February 7, 2012


Either way my comment was meant as a joke.

This is how I win arguments too.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:35 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Like, liberals are so afraid of being seen as elitists, even if it happens to be true. Putting aside the premise that it is somehow bad to have higher standards, or to be smarter, or more accomplished, it's like we don't realize that conservatives are going to call us elitists no matter how modest we are, or how much we disown reality to be more populist.

I always thought the defining characteristic of an elitist is that they support societal leadership and control from the elite classes. Whether they consider themselves a member of the elite classes is secondary. Liberals, (in current American paralance, anyway) almost cannot by elitist by definition, no matter how many degrees they have, or how many nights you can fine them sipping wine at an exclusive bistro after the opera, because they favor strong inclusion of minority, poor, and historically oppressed voices in the political process. Many conservatives, on the other hand, are hard-core elitists, even if they live paycheck to paycheck and there idea of a good time is a case of Bud, a Little Caesar's Hot-N-Ready $5 pizza and Nascar, because they favor the ongoing dominance of rich, white, Christian dudes in the political process.

The cleverest rhetorical move the Republican party ever made was defining all media as liberal so that when a journalist reports a Republican lie or ethical failing, it can be dismissed as a biased hatchet job. But I think the second cleverest rhetorical move was defining "elitist" as something like "well-educated" or "conversant with arts, literature and current science" so that anybody who knows what they are talking about can be dismissed as "elitist" because they are using books and studies to make their case, whereas good conservatives just know in their hearts what is right.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:45 AM on February 7, 2012 [17 favorites]


Also, I'm a non-elitist because I make lots of typos, like all God-fearing Texans.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:46 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


So I guess this means that only social conservatives are stupider than liberals.

It means that economic conservatives didn't need to sell the idea of economic conservatism at all, it just follows to a dumb person that rich people must be smarter, completely ignoring the liberal recipe for their own fortunes as an underclasses and accepting toadyism for prosperity. In other words, they needed indoctrination to become social conservatives, with doses of racism thrown in with the religious servitude, but the economic side because is just simple libertarianism (and doesn't hold up with most economists, who are mainly liberal). Oh, and this.
posted by Brian B. at 7:13 AM on February 7, 2012


"Many conservatives, on the other hand, are hard-core elitists"

You mean that many conservatives are hypocrites?

This is my shocked face.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:33 AM on February 7, 2012


So conservatives are dumber and more charitable, while liberals are smarter and more stingy. This is great -- everybody has something to feel superior about!
posted by BurntHombre at 8:01 AM on February 7, 2012


> Is this something I would have to believe in the validity of g to understand?

It is interesting to see who (not just on metafilter) is willing, in the context of this particular study, to consider that there may actually be such a thing as g. In contrast to a study designed to test for a correlation between g and, oh, race, in which case the study is meaningless from the outset because there's no such thing as g. (Or race, of course, or race.)
posted by jfuller at 8:36 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pater Aletheias: "I always thought the defining characteristic of an elitist is that they support societal leadership and control from the elite classes. Whether they consider themselves a member of the elite classes is secondary. Liberals, (in current American paralance, anyway) almost cannot by elitist by definition, no matter how many degrees they have, or how many nights you can fine them sipping wine at an exclusive bistro after the opera, because they favor strong inclusion of minority, poor, and historically oppressed voices in the political process."

That's a very narrow view of elitism (and a very rosy view of liberals, but this is Metafilter then it's OK).

Both conservatives and progressives can be elitists, and many of them are. Conservatives, historically, are elitists in the sense you described - they think people have pedigrees and that mostly determines what they can do in life. Progressives display a different kind of elitism, the paternal "I know what is right for you" kind. Though the counter-move by conservatives recently has had a nasty anti-intellectual tint to it, the real conservative argument against it is around the primacy of the individual.

Of course the liberal argument is always presented covered with a thick coat of the Best Intentions ("historically opressed voices" yada yada), but your assumption that it is always honest ("Liberals almost cannot be elitist by definition") shows the real meaning of elitism which is: "it's never elitism when people who think like me are calling the shots".
posted by falameufilho at 8:59 AM on February 7, 2012


The Hutu and the Tutzi, let me introduce you to them, they are swell and optimally tanned people indeed!

Unfortunately, back in 1994 they literally hacked themselves to death with machetes; actually, one of the parties (but that's quite irrelevant in the big picture) did most of the hacking, so much that it turned into a genocide, an huge political embarassment for the non participants or temporarily distracted, a bone chilling online documentary and lots and lost of literature on the subject. Oh, and hundred of thousands of deaths.

Their "mother/father-land" is Rwanda. Dominated for quite a while by German and Belgians , the then-powers-that-be noticed some differences between the two ethnic groups. Long neck, noble lineage, whatever, at the end it boils down to fear of having a little penis and not being male enough and the lack of beauty of females.

Of course it was a load steaming irrelevant bullshit, but in some hands even nonsense has a sense and a purpose; divide et impera said Cesar, Napoleon, and a bunch of well-red people after them.
posted by elpapacito at 9:02 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


So conservatives are dumber and more charitable, while liberals are smarter and more stingy. This is great -- everybody has something to feel superior about!

Studies of charity are even worse than studies of g. Studies of charity purport to be causal -- being liberal makes you less charitable or something like that. But the analyses are not well-suited to discover causation. Just to take one problem, they ignore a lurking Simpson's paradox.

From your second linked article, we learn that religious liberals give more than religious conservatives and secular liberals give more than secular conservatives. Conservatives overall give more than liberals overall because conservatives are more likely to be religious. My point here is not that religious giving is less-good than secular giving -- a complaint headed off in the linked articles. My point is that religiosity, rather than political ideology, is doing most of the causal work with respect to charitable giving. The apparent advantage that conservative ideology gives with respect to charity is an illusion due to the way religious people are distributed across the political spectrum.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:43 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


A lot of intelligent conservatives are going to be fighting this conclusion tooth and nail, under the mistaken belief that it says all conservatives are dumb. I'm not sure what the self-referential valence of that belief is, but you can figure it out, I'm sure.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:02 AM on February 7, 2012


Just to take one problem, they ignore a lurking Simpson's paradox.

Loves me some confounding, I does.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:03 AM on February 7, 2012


divide et impera said Caesar, Napoleon, and a bunch of well-red people after them.

elpapacito, if "red" is a typo, let me just say it's the best inadvertent typo I've ever seen.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:14 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always understood the arguments against specific IQ tests (cultural biases etc.) and against reading too much into any individual test score--but I've never really understood the argument that there's no such thing as "intelligence" or a general cognitive ability.

For those of you who don't believe in g, do you never regard any of the people you know as notably "intelligent" or as "more" or "less" intelligent than anyone else? If you were picking a team to compete in a general puzzle-solving competition (where the type of puzzle was absolutely randomly distributed, and included practical problem-solving as well as abstract reasoning) in order to win a highly desirable prize, say, would you pick your team at random? Do you think it impossible to predict anybody's performance in such a situation?

As for this particular study, the correlation seems to me to be interesting if one is interested in the spread and persistence of racist ideology. If it is true that people who perform poorly on cognitive tests are particularly vulnerable to conservative ideology and, especially, to racist variants thereof, that's something worth knowing and something that could help shape specific strategies for anti-racist organizations (it suggests, for example, that simply increasing the social connectedness of racists--or of those most vulnerable to racist ideology--would help mitigate their racism). Why would we not want to know this?

What's a shame, though, is the amazingly stupid and simplistic take on this study by people who really ought to know better like George Monbiot. As others have pointed out, there's nothing at all in this study that suggests that 'conservatives are stupid' or that "liberals are smart.' Framing the study's results in that way seems like a guaranteed way to derail any useful discussion of its findings. See e.g. most of this thread.
posted by yoink at 10:15 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Holy shit I agree with yoink... :)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:25 AM on February 7, 2012


I thought Simpson's paradox had something to do with tv shows that are a shadow of their former selves but still better than most of the stuff on the air.
posted by box at 1:21 PM on February 7, 2012


Yes, it gets really tricky when you want to talk about this paper, which points out the importance of Simpson's paradox for causal reasoning, and is written by the philosopher Nancy Cartwright.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:23 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Progressives display a different kind of elitism, the paternal "I know what is right for you" kind. Though the counter-move by conservatives recently has had a nasty anti-intellectual tint to it, the real conservative argument against it is around the primacy of the individual.

Unless that individual wants to have a uterus and decide what to do with it.
posted by tractorfeed at 11:05 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


...(it suggests, for example, that simply increasing the social connectedness of racists--or of those most vulnerable to racist ideology--would help mitigate their racism). Why would we not want to know this?

Don't we already, though? Not just anecdotally, either, I could have sworn there were existing sociological studies that showed an inverse correlation between e.g. homophobia and the number of gay people you know. Maybe someone with a better command of the literature than I have can answer that.

Your example is also sort of a tautology: the tasks you're talking about sound like things that are on existing IQ tests, so yeah, you would want to select people who scored well on similar tests. But that doesn't necessarily imply a commitment to the idea that it's that useful to think of primarily a single factor of general intelligence, as opposed to, e.g., being good at more specific types of tasks, like focused attention, mental rotation, linguistic ability, etc. There may indeed be some mental feature that g is correlated with, but the most commonly used stats tend to, at best, inflate the importance of single underlying factors like g (and at worst introduce them where they don't actually exist).

As a side note, since you brought up the team scenario, there's also some interesting literature that suggests that the performance of a team has a lot more to do with efficient team dynamics than about the individual IQs within the team.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:35 AM on February 8, 2012


Your example is also sort of a tautology: the tasks you're talking about sound like things that are on existing IQ tests, so yeah, you would want to select people who scored well on similar tests. But that doesn't necessarily imply a commitment to the idea that it's that useful to think of primarily a single factor of general intelligence, as opposed to, e.g., being good at more specific types of tasks, like focused attention, mental rotation, linguistic ability, etc. There may indeed be some mental feature that g is correlated with, but the most commonly used stats tend to, at best, inflate the importance of single underlying factors like g (and at worst introduce them where they don't actually exist).

O.K., let me refine my hypothetical. You are told that you will win a million dollars if you can win a competition in which you select a team of five people going up against another such team. In this competition, each person in your team will be faced with a single, randomly selected task to perform which will depend largely upon a single "specific type of task" such as "focused attention, mental rotation, linguistic ability etc."

Oh, and let's add a second step to make it more interesting. Each team member will be given a battery of different IQ tests before the competition--tests of the kind that identify their particular individual strengths. Of the random problem-solving tasks assigned to them, none shall be of the kind at which they are individually strongest (i.e., the person who is best at linguistic tests will receive no primarily linguistic problem etc.).

Now, do you pick the team at random, or not? If not, what quality is it that you are looking for in your team members if not g?

I can immediately think of people who I would really, really want on my team. I can immediately think of people I would really, really want to be on the opposing team. I am utterly confident that you can do this too. Clearly there is some quality that I am using to distinguish between these people. What do you choose to call that quality and how do you meaningfully distinguish it from g?
posted by yoink at 11:30 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, in that case you would want people who scored well across the board, and definitely, you can find individuals who do. I don't doubt that you can measure something called g. My problem is with the interpretation: this scenario still doesn't say anything about, in general, whether there is really a single biological factor that supports the ability to do well on all these different tasks, and if there is, how much and how significantly it contributes to performance, success, etc.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:30 PM on February 8, 2012


this scenario still doesn't say anything about, in general, whether there is really a single biological factor that supports the ability to do well on all these different tasks

You're mixing up two different arguments. One is as to the existence of g; the argument about what determines it (i.e., single biological factor, multiple biological factors, a complex interaction of biological and social factors etc.) is entirely separate. I think anyone who plumped for a "single biological factor" (e.g., an "intelligence nodule" in the brain or some such) would be regarded as pretty low in g these days. Certainly very little informed in the complexities of developmental biology.
posted by yoink at 12:37 PM on February 8, 2012


I think anyone who plumped for a "single biological factor" (e.g., an "intelligence nodule" in the brain or some such) would be regarded as pretty low in g these days.

Heh.

I guess it depends on what you mean by "exists." When people say that g exists, I tend to assume they are making a stronger claim than "it is a quantity that you can measure." I like Cosma Shalizi's counterexample of "arete," a factor that captures variation in intelligence, sexual desirability, and physical fitness. You could almost certainly quantify a variable like that (a), and even come up with a-loaded tests (chessboxing?) to measure a, but that's not very strong support for the idea that a maps to some actual thing, process, or phenomenon.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:07 PM on February 8, 2012


I like Cosma Shalizi's counterexample of "arete," a factor that captures variation in intelligence, sexual desirability, and physical fitness. You could almost certainly quantify a variable like that (a), and even come up with a-loaded tests (chessboxing?) to measure a, but that's not very strong support for the idea that a maps to some actual thing, process, or phenomenon.

Except that this doesn't seem to map well to my real-world experience of what I'm talking about when I'm talking about "intelligence." It doesn't seem that disparate a group of abilities. In fact, what it seems more like is just, say, "physical fitness"--or, perhaps a little more restrictedly, something like "being good at sports." Yes, we all know that person A who excels at weightlifting is unlikely to also excel at, say, fencing: but on the other hand we also know that if you were to devise a set of tests like the one I outlined above but have it based on mastery of tasks involving physical aptitudes we would, again, have a pretty clear idea of who would be a likely pick for the team and who wouldn't. We all know that there are people who are well-coordinated, have a strong sense of their body in space, have good eye-hand coordination etc. etc. and we all know of people who are hopeless at those things.

And, again, it seems obvious that the underlying causes of those disparities are hugely complex and multifactorial, but that certain genetic and innate qualities play a role along with a large number of other developmental factors.

The difference with your "arete" example is the interrelatedness of the traits involved. Not that there's no crossover (in fact intelligence tends to correlate with physical aptitude etc.) but that the correlations in one case are very strong and in the other are weak. Someone who is an excellent basketball player is likely to be a pretty good football player and likely to do pretty well at kayaking and likely to do pretty well at pull-ups and pretty well at badminton etc. etc. (relative to the average population). They are also likely to be somewhat smarter than average, too--but the correlation is much weaker there than in the other cases. Similarly, the person who is brilliant at, say, chess, is probably also pretty good at math and better than average at scrabble and better than average at tetris etc. etc. etc. (Of course there are savant counterexamples--but as a rule this is true).
posted by yoink at 1:54 PM on February 8, 2012


Well, but science has plenty of non-intuitive results, and our intuitions about what "intelligence" includes don't exist in a vacuum. We tend to think of intelligence as something like doing well on an IQ test or the SATs, so I don't think it's surprising that a model of the world where IQ is treated as a single thing (or maybe two things in the case of the SATs) makes intuitive sense. But I think it's possible this has more to do with how we've become used to thinking about the brain, and less with fundamental truths about how the brain actually works.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2012


But I think it's possible this has more to do with how we've become used to thinking about the brain, and less with fundamental truths about how the brain actually works.

Well then show me a "fundamental truth about how the brain actually works" that presents a catastrophic problem for anyone defending the concept of general intelligence. A study that showed, for example, that aptitude at one task we typically associate with being a test for "intelligence" is entirely uncorrelated with aptitude at some other such task--for the general population. It's not as if we lack for rigorous scientific studies in this area.

It is true that science has plenty of counterintuitive results--but that isn't the same thing as saying that our experience of the world is completely meaningless, or that we should always expect the counterintuitive result to be the true one. And in this case, there are plenty of studies showing that there is a very high correlation between different aspects of intelligence: which is exactly what we would intuitively expect.

To be honest I'm not even sure what it is you're trying to argue. You started off by saying that there was no such thing as g because intelligence is actually divided up into an array of different mental capacities (mapping things in space, calculation etc.). You then said that of course there was such a thing as general intelligence--but it just isn't related to a single biological factor. Now you seem to be back to saying that there is no such thing as g.
posted by yoink at 2:36 PM on February 8, 2012


Sorry if this isn't coming across clearly. There are actually a few separate points I'm trying to make.

First, I'm not trying to say that general intelligence can't be measured, or even that it's not measured accurately by an IQ test. Even if you assumed that there is no single underlying factor and that it's multiple intelligences all the way down, you could still easily calculate a single number that summarizes many different subscores, and use that to, e.g., pick people for your second task. Similarly, for a given person you could measure their maximum number of pull-ups and the amount of money they have in the bank and derive a composite score from that, and your measurements would be perfectly consistent and reproducible. This composite score could even be useful, for instance, if you were in a competition where people had to either do pull-ups or donate money. But the mere fact that you can measure that score doesn't say anything about whether the score corresponds to one thing or a combination of things. So likewise, being able to measure and rank-order people by IQ, even reproducibly, doesn't tell you whether/how much IQ is driven by a single factor.

Second, existing statistical methods also don't shed much light on this question. For example, when you have positively correlated tests, factor analysis always produces one dominant factor -- but it's still possible to get positively correlated tests in the absence of such a single common factor. For instance, if there are many small neural circuits, and each test draws on some subset of them, the tests will also tend to be correlated. It could also be a mixed case, with many small circuits that share some influence from a common factor, but substantially less than would be suggested by correlation analysis. (There's also a danger of circularity here, because if you only keep tests with high g-loading, that means you're throwing out the things that don't correlate with the existing tests.)

Third, while the idea of general intelligence as a separate thing may have intuitive appeal, I think it's a little dangerous to appeal to intuition because our knowledge of how exactly the brain does complicated tasks is still so immature. Further, I think we're all sort of trained to think of general intelligence this way because of the prevalence of standardized intelligence testing, which you get 1-2 numbers out of -- so it's hard to say whether our intuition isn't really just recapitulating this way of thinking.

To be clear, absolutely none of this is to argue that there is no such thing as general intelligence, or even to say that it has no underlying biological explanation. I just wanted to point out that it's not as trivial as it sounds to establish that a variable like g maps onto something in the "real world" (and assuming it does, to figure out how important it is relative to other factors).
posted by en forme de poire at 6:31 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, I would be remiss if I didn't say that the majority of the above has been said much better and in much greater detail by Cosma Shalizi, especially the second point. Cosma previously on MeFi
posted by en forme de poire at 6:50 PM on February 8, 2012


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