Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Ideological Idiot

(Since I am a bit new at this whole blog thing, I am digging out an observation I wrote in February of 2007. Here it goes...)

Early this year, an article by Jay Dixit was published in Psychology Today, entitled, “The Ideological Animal.” For the article, several people were interviewed, among whom was one of my favorite writers/commentators on politics today (Cinnamon Stillwell). In the article, Dixit ostensibly explores the “psychology” behind one’s political stance: “We think our political stance is the product of reason, but we're easily manipulated and surprisingly malleable. Our essential political self is more a stew of childhood temperament, education, and fear of death. Call it the 9/11 effect.”


He obviously didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what Cinnamon had to say. He already seems to have had an axe to grind.

This article reminds my of a paper published in England early last year claiming a link between performing certain household chores (like doing laundry, cleaning the house, cooking) on a regular basis and a lower rate of breast cancer. In reality, there is an increased incidence of breast cancer among women who postpone childbearing until after the age of 30, or who bear one or two or no children at all. The CORRELATION is in fact tied to the periodic cessation of menses that happens during pregnancy, and how that effects hormone levels, which are at a different levels among younger (pre-30) women, than among older (post-30) women. Now, there is a general tendency among women who have more children at younger ages, to take on more "traditional" housewife roles and responsibilities—including laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc. But the people responsible for the paper only looked at a general seeming correlation between A (traditional housewife chores) and B (breast cancer rate). I hope that they didn't include any sort of conclusion based on the seeming correlation…

…Unlike the Psychology Today article, which did.

Conclusions and generalities in the Psychology Today article only show correlations rather than causation. The correlations that it does mention mean practically bubkes, because there is absolutely no investigation into what lies beyond the correlations. And it is disingenuous to base ANY conclusions (as the clown, er, I mean author, does) on these SEEMING correlations.

That is to say, do conservative people like country music BECAUSE they are conservative? Or is it that people who like country music tend to be conservative? If so, why is there this tendency? Are people with cluttered homes that way BECAUSE they are liberal, or is that messy people TEND to be liberal? What would cause this correlation? (BTW, I am a messy person who is not fond of country music. And I am conservative.)

Something else of which the Psychology Today article reminds me is an article I read once about statistics… The writer used the example of the thesis "Children with big feet are smarter" in which a conclusion is drawn based on a false assumption after observing that some children with bigger feet are “smarter” than other children whose feet are smaller, without considering the AGES of the children: the feet of nine year old children are larger than the feet of four year old children, and nine year old children would perform better on tests than four year old would perform on the same test.

Or as Benjamin Disraeli would say, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

1 comment:

GM Roper said...


I'm looking forward to reading here on a regular basis. I'll add you to the blogroll and the 9/11 blogroll also. Great start!

Welcome to the blogosphere, what took you so long?