Can Getting Drunk Make You More Conservative?
    By Hank Campbell | March 26th 2012 02:51 PM | 53 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Wait, a study claims drinking alcohol makes you less likely to throw cultural caution to the wind and spend stupidly? Does. Not. Compute.

    Unless it's social psychology, but even then no one is believing it unless they are one of the people writing about how screwed up Republicans are, i.e., need some new framework for the confirmation bias of their audience. 

    Chris Mooney, writing in Rolling Stone, is in a tough spot.  He historically has wanted to talk about actual science, which should make it hard for him not to smirk at a social psychology 'study' conducted outside a bar, but he hates Republicans far more than he loves science, in a way it is difficult to describe to a more moderate, mainstream audience; maybe I can compare it to how Sarah Palin hates coyotes or whatever she shoots out of a helicopter, or how Keith Olbermann hates...okay, Republicans again. Anyway, he hates them a lot. And if he is going to sell books, he has to put 'Republican' in his titles.

    He hates Republicans so much so he refuses to ask any awkward questions of any crazy study, including one in which a group of social psychologists stand outside a bar and ask questions designed to gauge the political beliefs of patrons, after which they conduct a breathalyzer test. Then they map the left-right skew to how drunk people are. Total woo, right?  Without pseudoscience, there is no book on how Republicans have 'different brains' so we have to give him a break on embracing that stuff, because he isn't writing the book for a science audience, he is writing it for people who want to make fun of their political opposition. Yet he is no cynical opportunist. He believes the stuff he says, just like Ann Coulter does.
    For it suggests, in line with a large body of research that I survey in my new book The Republican Brain, that political ideology isn't really what we tend to think it is. It's not just about ideas and philosophies; it’s also about psychological traits and cognitive style – about how people think as much as what they think.
    If you read Science 2.0, you are chuckling at that 'body of research' claim - if this same level of research rigor were being issued about the left wing he would not be giving it a free pass but this is in Rolling Stone.  To them, it probably is research, because they assume anything with the term 'science' in it is actually science.  It's a tremendous disservice to the public to have that colloquial confusion and a large reason why the public increasingly distrusts science; liberal, welcoming scientists have not protected their brand and are letting economists and political scientists and social scientists and progressively ideological whatnots lay claim to having the same rigorous methodology.
    (And this isn’t just another case of liberals being smug; this is serious research.)
    Well, no, it isn't. Claiming conservatives are 'reactionary' while liberals are 'thoughtful' and 'nuanced' is only serious research if you are on the left, like almost all of social psychology.  But 'nuanced' is also a synonym for 'postmodernist' and 'moral relativist' yet those are not self-flattery so they never get used even though left wing people could trademark those concepts.

    Let's not dwell on that rampant self-deceit and the posturing of intelligentsia. Spending 200 words debunking the study was not necessary, every one of you in the audience mentally did a better job in 15 seconds than I did writing it all out - and I am not really even criticizing Chris' article. It's actually quite fun to read, if you are not on the right. He notes that 
    Many liberals will be tempted to cite the latest research to argue that they’re in some way superior, while conservatives may feel insulted by this new assault from academics
    which is his wink, wink way of saying 'that is exactly what I intended to accomplish' but if you are only right wing on economic stuff and left on other things, like me, you can just enjoy his thought process and his gift for prose even where he is wrong and you won't be insulted at all - because the foundation of this 'research' is made-up nonsense designed to reaffirm a cultural belief.  I liked reading and dissecting Harold Camping's Biblical numerology doomsday prediction the same way.  Sometimes I also watch those 'documentaries' on the Shroud of Turin too and that's a good analogy; 'Republicans have a different brain' is basically the Shroud of Turin for the secular left.

    I would note for him that the conservative public may feel under assault by 'academics' but the only ones who feel under assault by science academics have been confused by the intentional efforts of cultural pundits to try and conflate social goofiness with real science like biology or physics and whatnot.  In just asking general questions of people when I get an idea of their political slant (and so, just as legitimate a method as asking questions outside a bar, though not showing up in any 'journal') I find very few who distrust science.   They distrust the humanities - and social psychology belongs more there than it does in the same buildings as science which is why, if you visit more campuses, they are actually over with the humanities. They also distrust climate scientists, because there is a lot of politicking in that field, but I can't find anyone on the right who distrusts biologists or physicists even if I quote numbers about the political participation of those disciplines. 

    At the end, he even finds a way to rationalize why liberals get drunk a lot more; they are so darn smart they just have to get away from their super smart brains on occasion. In other words, they drink because they need to be more like conservatives - dumber - and stop solving all of the world's problems. It can't be wrong, since Satoshi Kanazawa is the first author. If you don't recall, he is also the evolutionary psychologist who claimed we all evolved to find black women ugly - which had about as equal a level of scientific rigor and caused his employer to dictate that he can no longer publish anything until someone who knows that they are talking about reads it first.  He also contends atheists and liberals more intelligent so you can see why he gets cited in this case.

    So, yes, in answer to my original question, it is apparently entirely possible that getting drunk makes you more conservative - if by that we mean you are able to stop overthinking topics and working them through a framework of social justice issues and just have an honest reaction to the world around you.

    But I have never been a drinker, which is likely why I am in the middle.


    Can Drinking Make You Conservative? (and Other Questions About the Political Brain) by Chris Mooney, March 26, 2012

    Scott Eidelman, Christian S. Crandall, Jeffrey A. Goodman, John C. Blanchar, 'Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism', Pers Soc Psychol Bull March 16, 2012 doi: 10.1177/0146167212439213

    Kanazawa, Satoshi; Hellberg, Josephine E. E. U., 'Intelligence and substance use', Review of General Psychology, Vol 14(4), Dec 2010, 382-396. doi: 10.1037/a0021526


    Gerhard Adam
    Well, it is fun to tweak conservatives with the "scientific studies" angle.  After all, we have to put up with Ann Coulter's ["Demonic: How the liberal mob is endangering America"] or Sean Hannity's ["Deliver us from evil"].

    So if the conservative right don't have a problem in wrapping themselves in the verbage of religion and hysteria, then I don't have a problem in claiming there a scientific studies demonstrating that they are idiots.

    Of course, anyone that is remotely aware of the "real" problems that need to be dealt with, will easily recognize that discussion requires more than just sound bites.
    Mundus vult decipi
    So some guy didn't like the conclusion of a paper he didn't bother reading and so he offers a lot of snide remarks (but no evidence) based on a summary written by a journalist. Brilliant..

    At least he demonstrates an understanding of confirmation bias. (Thank you social psychology.)

    Lord help us in the age of the blogosphere.

    You think it is confirmation bias to wonder if getting hammered doesn't make people more conservative?  Is my contending being liberal does not make people alcoholics part of a vast left wing public relations effort? If so, please tell George Soros to click that box in the right sidebar where it says 'Advertise Here'.
    I think it is confirmation bias to assume that a set of studies that reaches a conclusion you don't agree with must be pseudoscience or lack methodological rigor.

    I also think smugness (still) doesn't substitute for argument and data.

    If those were studies, you might have a point. They were not.  Unless you think interviewing people outside a bar is a 'study', in which case I understand why you are so confused about what science is.
    Well, the current state of psychology would certainly call that science, haha. Next thing you know, psychologists will be going "into" the bar to do their studies; while having drinks and picking up partners and taking them back home to "study" them some more.

    William James is probably rolling in his grave.

    Maybe you can define what a study is, and then tell me why the four in the paper you didn't read don't count?

    Wow, as a science writer, I find this study shocking. Because what it really means is: All my colleagues in the media are conservatives - at night. A lot of them even at daylight!

    By the way, if anyone really wants to get at the heart of this study, please read:
    (Cognitive Load and Candidate Evaluation: Evidence from an Experimental Design). What it amounts to is this: When liberals get drunk, they loose the ability to detect the deficiencies in their own world views. Which makes them more liberal.

    any student who takes an intro course in research methods knows correlation doesn't equal causation, presumably what hank alludes to in his rant. a smaller number understand the reasons why: correlational studies are limited in their ability to establish cause and effect because of the possibility of reverse causality (you think A causes B but B causes A) and third variables (A and B are only related because of C).

    the bar study smirked at by hank accounts for reverse causality and some third variables - whether participants said they were liberal or conservative is accounted for statistically, as is level of education, and gender. the positive correlation b/n BAC and political attitudes was *not* because conservatives were more drunk (in fact, the correlation b/n BAC and whether participants said they were liberal/conservative went in the opposite direction), and not because gender or education was related to BAC and conservatism.

    even with these controls, the authors never claim this study offers clear proof that low effort thinking causes people to report more conservative attitudes. instead, they conduct three experiments in which cause and effect can be clearly established. time pressure, cognitive load, and processing instructions were manipulated across these studies, and participants (who were all over the political spectrum) were randomly assigned to condition. those forced or instructed to use low-effort thought reported attitudes and opinions that were more conservative in each case.

    it's worth noting that the authors do not claim that conservatives don't think but instead that light thinking encourages conservatism. it is fallacious to assume that these are the same thing, as hank seems to imply.


    lol. The comments here are a little astounding. Here's the deal: I usually don't like Hank's stuff. He's far too fiscally conservative for my liking. But conservatism isn't always a bad thing, if you use it by its other meaning. Hank is also scientifically conservative, like myself, and is one of those pesky people who demands that all scientific research follow the scientific method properly and produce empirical evidence one way or the other. The "studies" talked about - the ones claiming people became more responsible after having a few drinks - did neither. They were typical social-science hogwash. There's a reason why when majoring in a social-science in college, you're considered a liberal arts major.

    In other words, the many accusations of confirmation bias are unfounded. Not agreeing with the result of a study isn't what makes something pseudo-scientific. Pseudoscience is what makes something pseudo-scientific.

    nonsense. the researchers followed the hypothetico-deductive method in all studies. (only) the first study was correlational, which means causal inference must be tempered (and it was). curious that some journalists and bloggers only focus on the correlational study and ignore the 3 experiments.

    the researchers never claimed that people become more responsible when they drink; they claimed that people *perceive and judge others as more responsible* when it’s harder to think.

    No matter how it turns out scientifically, this study has tremendous comic potential. The German comedian Eckart von Hirschhausen has produced a hilarious parody on the research. It is in german but if you find someone who can translate it for you it will knock you over:
    Unhappily, google translate will not do the job as it does not bring across one single pun. And there is even a youtube video of Eckart performing this showpiece on a tv show.

    Wow. Where do you start with a study like this?

    1) Standing outside of a bar with a notepad asking questions doesn't constitute a proper sampling method.

    2) Which bar? A motorcycle bar? What city? A conservative one? If this study was repeated in multiple cities in multiple bar settings, would they get the same results?

    3) What questions were asked? The study doesn't say. (I checked. It only provides a few example questions.)

    4) Why not do a controlled setting in a laboratory? Give people liquor and then see if it changes their political beliefs. That would be a solid experimental design.

    5) It should be noted that this is the same publisher (SAGE) which also publishes the pseudoscientific "Psychology of Women Quarterly" -- a journal known for publishing misandristic rants against men.

    The reason that serious journals (PNAS, Nature, Science) don't accept this sort of "research" is because it is exactly what Hank said it is: Confirmation bias. It's fodder for political pundits, but a joke to real scientists.

    Right, I didn't go much into the methodology because only someone who really, really wanted to believe the results was not laughing. I was writing about Chris' article because it is well written, the same way some of those articles about King Arthur being real are (i used the Shroud of Turin already so I need to mix it up) - and with as much scientific validity.
    1) Standing outside of a bar with a notepad asking questions doesn't constitute a proper sampling method.

    like most research conducted with people (and mice and zebra-finches and…) this was not a representative sample. nor were the samples in the 3 experiments. that’s a problem for generalizing, not basic hypothesis testing within each sample.

    2) Which bar? A motorcycle bar? What city? A conservative one? If this study was repeated in multiple cities in multiple bar settings, would they get the same results?

    see above.

    3) What questions were asked? The study doesn't say. (I checked. It only provides a few example questions.)

    sample items were included in the text, and cites to the location of the scales were included in the paper.

    4) Why not do a controlled setting in a laboratory? Give people liquor and then see if it changes their political beliefs. That would be a solid experimental design.

    the researchers wanted a way to test their predictions with “real people” (not college students) in the “real world” (not the lab). that’s an advantage to this correlational design. it also has disadvantages, which is why three “solid, experimental designs” were used in the other studies.

    5) It should be noted that this is the same publisher (SAGE) which also publishes the pseudoscientific "Psychology of Women Quarterly" -- a journal known for publishing misandristic rants against men.

    SAGE publishes 600+ journals, what is published in one of them isn't much of an argument.

    The reason that serious journals (PNAS, Nature, Science) don't accept this sort of "research" is because it is exactly what Hank said it is: Confirmation bias. It's fodder for political pundits, but a joke to real scientists.

    i love how you folks keep using social psychology (confirmation bias) to try to discredit social psychology (which, incidentally, is published in these journals).

    Also, there's an alternative explanation. Instead of concluding that drunkenness leads to conservatism because of simplistic thinking, one could also conclude that drunkenness leads to honesty, and honesty leads to conservatism. There's no reason to exclude that possibility -- other than the fact that it happens to disagree with the authors' personal dislike of conservatives.

    in fact this interpretation is consistent with the authors’ claims. they claim that first, quick, and uncorrected responses favor political conservatism. motivation, including goals, values, and sure, deceit on the part of liberals who are faking it, may override these initial responses. the authors test step one (initial response), not step two (when or why it is overridden).


    Also, there's an alternative explanation. Instead of concluding that drunkenness leads to conservatism because of simplistic thinking, one could also conclude that drunkenness leads to honesty, and honesty leads to conservatism. There's no reason to exclude that possibility -- other than the fact that it happens to disagree with the authors' personal dislike of conservatives.

    I love the way Mr. Campbell spends the whole article poking fun at a book, in the process dismissing all of sociology--nay, all of science--as a crazy liberal plot. And all this without once addressing the actual methodology of the studies in question. Some concern for science. This is my first time reading Science 2.0, but if this is what passes for good science writing around here, I'm going back to ScienceDaily.

    I have to chuckle that you regard press releases as your hallmark of quality science writing.

    Anyway, of course science is liberal.  There are 6% Republicans in academia.  I like that it is liberal; America is a liberal democracy and scientists got a diploma from a liberal arts college at their university. Liberalism, at least when it comes to science, is crucial to the endeavor.  What transformative science can a person who is creatively 'conservative' do?

    You are confusing liberal with progressive, which is rather shocking - but maybe you believe conservatives and libertarians are all the same thing, and that fascist and Nazis and communists are all the same thing too.  I never once mentioned liberals.  But progressives who are hijacking science as part of their culture war?  Yeah, those are a cancer. Fortunately, those are a real minority in science.  In science journalism, though, they are everywhere.

    Oh, I didn't intend to hold ScienceDaily up as any kind of standard--but when I feel like scraping the bottom of the barrel, at least I know SD privides a decent set of minimum standards for pop-sci journalism. Yours is just a politically-motivated op ed pretending at pop-sci journalism.

    I do agree that science *should* be liberal...but anybody who's spent any time in the sciences will notice that most scientists are actually quite conservative. There was a time when science advocacy and progressive politics went hand-in-hand. Those were the good old days. At any rate, let's not pretend our opinions are anything more than opinions.

     There was a time when science advocacy and progressive politics went hand-in-hand. Those were the good old days. 
    I have to give you credit for originality.  The days when science and progressive politics went hand-in-hand were the days of eugenics and designing schools to separate out elites while shuffling other students into vocational training to learn to be laborers.  I don't see a lot of people endorsing that fond memory these days. Well done!
    Okay, some (but not all) of the old time scientific progressives were pretty nasty folks...but the conservatives of those days weren't exactly enlightened either. At least the progressives learned from their mistakes. The only people I see advocating eugenics these days are self-styled "Libertarians".

    As usual, an excellent blog entry. But then again, I am drinking a vodka sour.

    Since you brought it up, Hank, I am curious if there are any good books, articles or documentaries explaining how the Shroud of Turin was made?

    I just like watching them on occasion because, even after debunking, proponents find new ways to believe it might be 2K years old.  Dating was done on the outer part, for example, and maybe that was done a thousand years later but we don't know because no one can analyze the parts around the face, etc.

    I don't do much research on it for the same reason I don't go to a sausage factory - that would just spoil it.  So I don't know of any scholarly research.

    I visited Rome and went to San Pietro in Vicoli basilica because supposedly the chains that had held St. Peter fused together when they were placed in contact with each other. Are those chains 1900+ years old? Are they even 1600 years old? No idea, but I wouldn't have visited Rome without seeing them.  In Scotland, ya gotta go see some King Arthur stuff too. It's just fun and I read Norma Loire Goodrich's book on trying to make the case for a real Arthur for that reason.
    Actually, I think visiting a sausage factory would be cool. As for the shroud, my main problem is that the image resembles an obvious copy of iconic images developed centuries after Jesus' death, not the dimensions of a real person. Jesus would be unfathomably creepy in real life if that were an accurate image. I am not so much interested in the credulity of believers as in how the image was made. What technology was available at the time the cloth was dated to to make such an image? Not enough, I guess, though, to make a library research project out of it.

    Conservatives are vilified because we do not see the solution to every problem, real and contrived, coming from the brute force of government. We actually believe people are willing and able to take care of themselves and that family, friends, private charity, and finally, government can help with those that cannot. Unfortunately, almost every problem we have today was caused or exacerbated by government "solutions".

    I find it comical so many leftist "intellectuals" cannot argue themselves out of a wet paper sack without somehow attacking the motives and intelligence of their political opponents/superiors.

    See, how did that feel you silly Obama voters?

    Mr. Campbell: Would you at least be willing to state that (1) your blog doesn't address the article in question, but rather another blog? As such, you writing really isn't in a position to address the scientific article in question? Also, (2) would you be willing to admit you've slipped into ad hominem argument, rather than speaking to the issues at hand? And (3) you've avoided talking about more of the evidence in that paper because it completely undermines the position you'd like to take?

    This is like asking if I would be willing to admit I am an alien from Mars or if I would be willing to admit I stopped beating my wife?  They proceed from a silly, nonsensical assumption. 

    Obviously I have no issue with anyone promoting their book and, as I said, the study and the book are not works of science nor is Rolling Stone a science audience so what it does, it does well.  I am cool with that, I love Rolling Stone and I hope Chris has a bestseller.  Where is the ad hominem, unless you are a social psychologist who feels surveying drunk people is legitimate and my skewering it hurts your feelings? 

    If I have avoided 'evidence' in the papers it is because there is no evidence. Attributing some greater paranoid agenda into that is even sillier.

    If social psychologists don't like being criticized for woo, stop creating woo and bring credibility back to your field instead of complaining on the Internet.  I know some young researchers are doing just that - they are the ones who tripped up charlatans like Diederik Stapel - and that gives me a lot of hope for the future.
    I'm sorry, I cannot respect your answer. It's as if you don't quite know what science is. As a small assist, I'll give you a definition. It's a systematic study of natural processes using methods that are subject to scrutiny by peers (and others qualified to understand the methods and processes).

    And for goodness' sake, if you want to know what intoxication does to cognitive processes (certainly this is a legitimate scientific topic?), then surely yes, you wish to ask drunk people to give you the results of their thought processes. Declaiming it isn't science, with the volume turned up, is about as effective as Monty Python's Argument Clinic. But not as smart.

    I agree that people get drunk and act differently, sure, but to you science needs no theoretical underpinning, it is just surveying people and making a correlation and if you get others in the same business to agree... SCIENCE!  So, yes, by the colloquial definition you have chosen (postmodernists would be proud) then anything is science. All I have to do is 'study' and get 'peers' to look into it and astrology is science and those guys on Ghost Labs are doing real science too.
    Christ, Hank. Does someone pay you every time you say postmodernist? That appears to be your only reply to positions you disagree with.

    I will start by saying that I actually (surprisingly!) agree with you. A major handicap of Social Psychology is its insistance on "mini-theories" that are not actually theories at all. I think Pinker said it best (as he so often does): "[Social Psychology] has been self-handicapped with a relentless insistence on theoretical shallowness: on endless demonstrations that People are Really Bad at X, which are then "explained" by an ever-lengthening list of Biases, Fallacies, Illusions, Neglects, Blindnesses, and Fundamental Errors, each of which restates the finding that people are really bad at X. Wilson, for example, defines "self-affirmation theory" as "the idea that when we feel a threat to our self-esteem that's difficult to deal with, sometimes the best thing we can do is to affirm ourselves in some completely different domain." Most scientists would not call this a "theory." It's a redescription of a phenomenon, which needs a theory to explain it."

    Nonetheless, your reaction to this article and to Chris (who is now, by the way, my favorite person here. Bravo sir or madam) is laughably shallow. You have not only hastily generalized by dismissing the whole paper because of one study, you've taken the ridiculous leap of generalizing this study to ALL of social psychology. With no evidence! Surely you're a brilliant satirist, because no one who claims to be as much an arbiter of true science as you do would jump to such conclusions. Not to mention you don't have an actual reply to Chris's wonderful questions (I'm not a big fan of the third, but I'll let it slide). I trust you realize why "It's not an ad hominem because they are stupid" is silly.

    And let's entertain your claim that Social Psychology is pseudoscience. What is it exactly that distinguishes social psychology from science? They derive hypotheses from theories (granted, we agree these are generally crap, but science tends to cull crap out), they derive testable predictions from these hypotheses, they design controlled experiments to test these predictions using well-validated methods, they analyze the results using appropriate statistical techniques, and they then report the findings to other scientists who scrutinize the work at each of these steps. I'd call this process the Social Psychological Method if I wasn't pretty sure it already had a name... Deconstruction? No no.. that's not it. Literary criticism? I don't think so... Natal Charting? Gosh, that's not it either. Oh well, even if I can't, I'm sure you'll remember, Hank. After all, as I'm sure you'll inform me, I'm just a postmodernist relativist astrologer with no evidence.

    But you, Hank Campbell, you MUST have evidence, right? Evidence that the majority of social psychologists (or hell, I'll even grant you a sizable proportion) do not follow this method? Evidence that social psychology has the same rigor as astrology? Evidence that social psychology fails to meet any defensible criterion of science? Or would substantiating claims be too "postmodernist" for you?

    Postmodernism is so rampant a physicist wrote a paper of absolute nonsense and got it published in a peer-reviewed, top-tier philosophy journal but his only theme was that science was relativistic crap - and that's all they needed to see.  None of his other sentences even made sense, they were just buzzwords and jargon. I get that you would like to have more creativity in terms but if we are talking about cheese I am going to say cheese and when we are talking about postmodernist 'my definition of science is' rubbish we have to say postmodernism.  Anything else is doing a disservice.

    So, to the gist of your argument, tell me a fundamental theory in social psychology, because that is the crux of the scientific method.  Claiming social psychology is exempt - they get a social psychology method - but still get the pretense of being science, is silly.  I don't know of any underlying theory in the field.

    I'm not against social psychology.  As I have said numerous times, I have more confidence in its future than ever, because a whole lot of young researchers got into the field expecting science and found it was just surveys of college students and started calling people out.  I was at a psychology conference on Saturday and a world-renowned older researcher said, 'Ours is a study of undergraduates', and it got a laugh because it was so obvious and even long-time people know it.  It it had been a slight mischaracterization people would have been offended.

    Young researchers are calling out the charlatans and that is a good thing. I don't think this study was malicious, I just think there is a reason Chris wrote his book (and a science article in a music magazine) using psychology - he wanted to make his case about Republicans and didn't want science getting in the way.  
    The Sokal affair, to which I believe you are referring to, was 16 years ago. Postmodernism is not nearly as strong in scientific circles now as it was then, in part because of the Sokal affair. I'm as big a fan of the Sokal affair as any other scientist, but to understand why it is important we have to clearly understand the facts. The journal was also not peer-reviewed; this was part of the problem with postmodernism. The journal also was not a philosophy journal. I believe you are mistaking philosophy for postmodernism which is a grave, grave mistake. There are some postmodernist philosophers certainly, but they are not representative of philosophy as a whole. Philosophy has a lot to offer science and it would be incredibly foolish to dismiss all of it because of the claims of a few.

    Relatedly, to ask for a criterion when someone is making a strong claim is not postmodernism, it's rational discussion. To articulate clearly and defend your position is the stuff of science. Were I to say "Swiss cheese is not a cheese" you would be perfectly right to ask me what my criterion of "cheese" is. If I replied that it was self-evident that swiss cheese isn't a cheese or that it is inappropriate to ask me what my criterion of cheese is, you'd be right to dismiss my argument. Now, to be clear, I'm not asking for a definition of science. As anyone who has ever been asked to define a "game" could tell you, that would be unreasonable. All I'm asking for is the criterion you are using to sort things as science/non-science and your justification for that criterion.

    If your criterion is having a fundamental theory, then you might be right in saying social psychology is not a science. I think we both agree that social psychology is theoretically weak. However, your criterion includes things like ghost hunting and astrology, because these people certainly do have fundamental theories, they're just incredibly wrong theories. I don't think we'd want to call those sciences, and so I think your criterion is a poor one. My criterion would be adherence to the scientific method (it seems you didn't get my joke above; at no point did I claim that social psychology gets its own method...). This excludes things like ghost hunting and astrology, because they rarely derive testable predictions, when they do they rarely experiment, when they do they commonly fudge the statistics, and when they don't fudge the statistics, they ignore them or rationalize them instead of scrutinizing them. For that reason, my criterion seems more defensible than yours (although of course still not perfect; this is of one of the biggest issues in philosophy of science after all) and it includes social psychology.

    The 'study of undergraduates' is an old cliche. People have been aware of this problem for a long time and there has been a very gradual shift toward increased usage of more natural populations. Undergraduates are still heavily used because a) if often doesn't matter (e.g. perceptual psychology) and b) it's often the only accessible means to conduct research. The latter concern entirely involves trading off generalizability for practicality, but all social psychologists are aware of this and thus value the same experiments more when conducted on natural populations. Additionally, natural populations are not necessarily the gold standard, since these tend to trade off experimental control for generalizability. Psychology is a very hard science to conduct for a variety of reasons and before you step into it you have to come to terms with the fact that no matter what happens, it's going to be messy. Trying to eliminate the mess on your own is futile. Your focus should be to do the best you can despite the mess so that future generations have less mess to worry about. This is the developmental trajectory of all sciences, and let us not forget that psychology is a very young science. It's very likely that this is why the authors of this paper did four studies: no one sample is going to be great, but if you can demonstrate your effects on different samples, from different populations, with different methods, you can be reasonably certain that something is genuinely happening.

    Survey methods certainly have their problems and basing a whole research program on surveys alone is a bad idea. However, survey methods are a valid research method. There are people whose entire research programs focus on developing methods to validate scales, understanding what types of scales produce the most valid results, and on using this knowledge to develop scales for use in research. Researchers who instead ask whatever questions seem appropriate to them are often met with criticism and skepticism of their results. Further, all methods have their problems and basing your entire program on any one methodology is bad idea. Multi-method approaches are always the best option because it both entails replication and allows you to weed out the idiosyncrasies of each of the individual methods. My understanding is that these researchers in fact used a multi-method approach. Granted, all the DVs are responses to questionnaires, but there appears to be one quasiexperimental survey and three experimental surveys, but you have focused only on the first. That all four studies supported their hypotheses is a pretty strong suggestion that they are tapping something, even if they aren't tapping what they think they are. Future research will bear this out.

    And lastly, I don't much care about the motivations of this Chris Mooney fellow. He's a non-scientist writing a book about politics for a popular audience. It's almost certain that he's spinning things his way at least a little and even though it's dishonest, he has a right to do so. But Chris Mooney's actions are not the fault of social psychologists. Social psychologists should take pains to prevent their research from being misused, but ultimately the blame rests on those that would misuse it. If anyone were to engage honestly with the literature in social psychology they would see that the truth is not yet as clear as I'm sure Chris Mooney paints it. It would be a great shame if no social psychologists called out the parts that Mooney has misrepresented, but this would in no way delegitimize the science they produce.
    for a less jaundiced view, that actually describes the ideas.

    Well, no, this is a well-spoken journalist outlining the ideas described by social psychologists.  There is no critical look at any of the assumptions, it is journalistic false balance just like when journalists put some global warming denier a paragraph away from James Hansen.  Nice read, but not an examination of science validity.
    This is Chris Mooney's schtick and he has been making it for some time.

    I think it's disgusting, and rather than showing what an open-minded guy Chris is, I think it marks him to me, as some guy that would be all for eugenics programs.

    I count myself as a progressive, I'd like to see other progressives disclaim these viewpoints of Chris.

    It says a lot about the AGU that this liberal arts major without a single science degree is on their board.

    "Louisiana. He has an English Major from Yale University in 1999 and has been selected to the Board of the American Geophysical Union since November 2010"

    It says a lot about the AGU that this liberal arts major without a single science degree is on their board.
    Really? I have never seen that.  Do you have a link to that?

    I agree he could be more constructive but his audience are not buying books for constructive, any more than Glenn Beck's audience is.
    I suppose doing the research prior to reaching a conclusion might induce a few conservatives to soften their scepticism but I understand that this would make it harder to get grants or funding from certain agencies.

    Hank: You're not even right about the Sokal affair (physics and postmodernism biz you cite, above). It was perpetrated by Alan Sokal (a perfectly nice man, btw), as an attack on postmodernism IN ENGLISH DEPARTMENTS and other humanities. The article was gibberish, yes, but you described it as "a peer-reviewed, top-tier philosophy journal." This is false on every count. The journal wasn't top-tier (Social Text; it was relatively obscure), it didn't practice peer review, it wasn't in philosophy. Check out for more info, if you like.

    Hank, it's important to get the facts right, whether you're a scientist, a science blogger, or a journalist of any stripe. The only two groups that get to ignore facts are bloviators and politicians. Where do you want to belong?

    Fine, I replied from memory in a comment and referenced an event 15 years ago and got the details wrong so you will insist this social psychology nonsense is science and every criticism is invalid and that Rolling Stone article was awesome science journalism.  The fact remains, my aging memory aside, nothing in my criticism of the article is wrong and you have not demonstrated partisan spin in social psychology is actually science.
    I see you're conveniently ignoring my reply above...

    to me, more evidence that hank likes to spout off about things he doesn't really know about (and in the case of his original post, hasn't actually read).

    if this is science journalism, i'll wait for 2.1.

    oh, and "higher superstition" is one of my favorite science books. :)


    A new social psychology study says that atheists start to feel more religious when they think about dying. I am sure that one is 'science' to you also - unless, that is, it does not match your world view, like this study did.
    no idea. i haven't read the study. but it sounds like you did. was there a theory? did the authors make predictions that were falsifiable? did their method use appropriate controls? were the data analyzed appropriately? do the conclusions match the data, and speak back to the theory? could be science. but i'll read the research before spouting off on a blog.

    but i did read another post by you, this one discussing a descriptive study (your words, no scare quotes this time) suggesting that people discriminate against atheists. i noted that you were much more congenial to that research, and its conclusion.

    (by the way, research from social psychology suggests that they do - see Gervais (2011) and Gervais et al., (2011). but be forewarned. the former contains only 4 studies, the first correlational, in personality and social psychology bulletin (just like the study you mocked but didn't read).

    So your objection is I am not 'congenial' enough to some nonsense.  Well, at least you have a standard for what passes as science to you.
    and btw, the new social psych research your worried about probably stems from terror management theory. here's a link to the 200 or so published articles up until 2008:


    Hank, you clearly know nothing about science. Your arguments crumble under themselves.

    Well, light a candle rather than curse my darkness. What argument does not hold up? That surveying drunk people outside a bar is not well controlled? That social psychologists surveying undergraduates yet again is not going to give us meaningful insight into actual population behavior? That it is suspicious to claim liberals have more alcoholics because they are so super smart they can't take it any more?

    I haven't seen any arguments crumbling but I am only a moderate, and therefore less intelligent than anyone who happens to have voted straight-ticket Democrat in the last election - because that is all it takes to be part of the intellectual elite in an artificial pseudoscience bubble.  
    hank's never made an argument, just snide remarks about some research he heard about second hand. when pushed, he comes up with some cliches (college students) or non-sequiturs (post-modernism in physics). and if that doesn't work, he throws around words like "psudeoscience."

    hank's a journalist? you'd think he could do a better job of separating the research from the the take of the person reporting it.

    Again, it is not a cliché if it is the truth. If this exact same method and research were making a claim about people you happen to like, would you be defending how awesome it is?  No, you would not.  The methodology is shoddy, the conclusions were tripe. If I were a journalist, I would be jumping on the bandwagon and printing the silly claims to sell pageviews and newspapers.  You're acting like some cult leader out to kill anyone who deviates from your Kool-Aid recipe.
    Gerhard Adam
    OK, from what I read, the study sounds like rubbish.  I didn't see adequate controls, nor did I see anything that allowed for neutral assessment, instead everything seemed framed within the context of conservatism.

    Making such assessments is fraught with difficulties and I'm concerned when such simplistic conclusions are drawn from suspect studies like this.  Even the notion of "low-effort" thought is a bit of a loaded phrase, since there is no real evaluation of why someone needs to expend more effort on thoughts if they have already been "thought out". 

    Certainly if I have to evaluate a new or novel situation then perhaps more thought is necessary, but it's like saying that 2+2=4 is a conservative thought because it is low-effort.

    I could easily make similar arguments that high-effort thoughts result in many individuals that are prone to accepting conspiracy theories and are more apt to engage in pseudoscientific beliefs [woo] simply because they tend to over-think problems. 

    Primarily my objection is due to the fact that conservativism or liberalism is often elicited through the framing of the question.  In addition, it is often based on interpretation of a particular question. 

    In particular I was stunned at the obvious bias in suggesting that the more a situation was thought about the more liberal the outcome.
    "When instructed to use shallow processing,  political conservatism generated more agreement than when participants were instructed to think hard."
    Sorry, but that's just crap.  It doesn't just imply it, but it essentially argues that conservatives have no deep thought processes or rationale for their position.  Anyone being honest would have to acknowledge that that simply isn't true.  People on both sides of the political spectrum can be simplistic and parrot concepts they've heard elsewhere, but it is disingenuous to presume that there aren't legitimate positions to be had on both sides either.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thank you!
    When I read some of this utter crap, I can't believe there are people who actually buy into it, so much so it's not even worth the time to type up how idiotic I think it is.
    There's nothing I could possibly say that would change their minds, so why bother.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    I am becoming increasingly impressed with psychology [in general], because I had no idea that my brain was capable of this much disillusionment.  The depths to which it can range are truly staggering.  I think basically my disillusions are becoming disillusioned.

    [NOTE:  I'm not even sure if those are words any more, that's how disillusioned I've become]. :)
    Mundus vult decipi