The Iron Shrink tears apart the methodology used in the now-famous (or ‘infamous’ as I prefer) 2003 ‘study’: Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition.
One wonders if the Iron Shrink’s critique will leave any scars on the egos of the authors (John T. Jost, Jack Glaser, Arie Kruglanski, and Frank Sulloway ). Well, actually... one only wishes it would: then perhaps they would think longer and deeper before they spew their pseudoscience on the rest of us in the future. But I wouldn’t bet on it (.pdf). (yes, I do get to reference that link a lot these days don’t I?)
Dr Helen actually brought this paper up as a topic a couple of years ago. (see here and here ). In her first post, she provided a telling excerpt from the paper:
Analyzing political conservatism as motivated social cognition integrates theories of personality (authoritarianism, dogmatism–intolerance of ambiguity), epistemic and existential needs (for closure,regulatory focus, terror management), and ideological rationalization (social dominance, system justification). A meta-analysis (88 samples, 12 countries, 22,818 cases) confirms that several psychologicalvariables predict political conservatism: death anxiety (weighted mean r .50); system instability (.47); dogmatism–intolerance of ambiguity (.34); openness to experience (–.32); uncertainty tolerance (–.27); needs for order, structure, and closure (.26); integrative complexity (–.20); fear of threat and loss (.18); and self-esteem (–.09). The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty and threat.
Her first post was actually what moved her blog into my ‘favorites’ category. Posting anonymously, I wrote in the comments that the authors could have just as easily written their opening as follows (changes in italics – additional comments in brackets):
Analyzing political conservatism as motivated social cognition integrates theories of personality (a desire for structure and order, principled thought–intolerance of amorality and ambivalence), epistemic and existential needs (for solutions, harmony focus, uncertainty management), and ideological justification (social success, system rationalization). A meta-analysis [how was data normalized across studies?] (88 samples [real number of interest], 12 countries [distribution?, and if there were only 88 samples, how useful is this number?] , 22,818 cases [Trojan Number!] ) confirms that several psychological variables predict political conservatism: Awareness of one’s own mortality (weighted mean r .50); living in a non-stratified, casteless society (.47); Responsible Lifestyle –intolerance of the irresponsible (.34); easily manipulated (–.32); willingness to leave questions unanswered (–.27); needs for order, structure, and closure [Gee-in the original text this almost comes off as a bad thing] (.26); inability to discern sophistry from sophistication (–.20); innate desire to preserve and advance one's status(.18); and desire for unearned recognition (–.09). The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of meritocracy and is motivated by needs that vary as required to manage uncertainty and threat.
The Iron Shrink answers a lot of the questions I had two years ago about the ‘study’ methods. The use of ‘meta-studies’ always causes me to be on the lookout for ‘data dredging’—and although the Iron Shrink doesn’t use the term in his expose, it appears that among other things, my suspicions were proved correct.