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    Humanities Scholars Overturn Biology, Discover Trait-Based Politics In Fear Response
    By Hank Campbell | December 10th 2013 04:58 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    There are examples of positive political campaigns - Ronald Reagan appealed to what America could be, for example - but even that message of hope had an undercurrent of fear, namely that if things did not change, America would stay morassed in 1970s stagflation.

    Fear is still used in political campaigns to steer public opinion, but a political scientist claims not everyone is equally predisposed to be influenced by that strategy. Who is most genetically predisposed to be swayed by fear?  Well, it is a humanities study done by someone with no science training, so take a guess.  Answer farther done if you can't connect the cultural dots.

    Anyway, the co-authors have managed to overturn biology and insist that some people have a greater genetic liability ("liability" is another clue to help you answer my question in the paragraph above) and therefore experience higher levels of social fear and will tend to be more supportive of things like anti-immigration and pro-segregation policies (anti-immigration and pro-segregation are two more clues) - yes, if you would like to have immigrants arrive in the country legally, you must be genetically flawed.



    Liberal-Conservative Index vs. Self-Report Phobic-Fear Loess Plot. Note: Figure contains the locally weighted robust scatter plot smoothing with confidence intervals, computed in SAS 9.2 (N = 22,412). Higher scores on Phobic-Fear indicate greater fear disposition; higher scores on Liberal-Conservative reflect attitudes that are more liberal. Credit and link: DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12016

    Sure, no actual scientist has found evidence for trait-based fear, but this is a humanities study, those are always engaged in an open war on science - all it takes is looking at some surveys and writing up some statistics and it feels science-y. In this case, they picked their survey targets using related people, consisting of twins, siblings, and parents and children - then they made sure to narrow the pool into a group that would give them what they wanted by  'assessing' them using social psychology tools. 

    Conclusion: Some people had common characteristics and therefore a genetic propensity for a higher level of baseline fear. What is this genetic propensity?  Hey, that is for biologists to figure out.  When the humanities try to be science-y, it's a lot like a mathematician who says he has mathematically invented time travel and it's up to those physicists to figure out the details.

    If only they did some surveys.  Oh wait, they did - about immigration and segregation, of all things, showing us that olitical scientists seem to be stuck in 1963. Then those respondents were placed on a liberal-conservative scale - by the scholars - based on self-reported political attitudes.

    No surprise that they found a 'strong correlation' between social fear and anti-immigration, pro-segregation attitudes.

    The non-scientists make sure to cover themselves by saying genetics only plays a 'part' in influencing political preference - yet they don't show evidence it plays any role at all, this is just the self-recurring meme invented by people who want to pretend their cultural intolerance is evidence-based.  Evidence that voting is genetic? Still none, so their desire to do more studies to show how genetic pathways influence fear is a logical fallacy. 


    Some of this is just playing to the crowd, really. The unknown empire of epigenetics has made it possible for everyone to speculate that their pet social hypotheses may be grounded in biology.  And even astute science readers are prone to acceptance ideas as science when it gets mainstream media attention - global warming acceptance goes up and down with weather events despite the fact that serious climate scientists have never said local weather events should be linked to global warming. They are right to caution against that - if we accept local weather in the American midwest, for example, then global warming did not exist until the summer of 2012.

    So biologists cautioning that there is no evidence that there is a genetic basis to voting or being a liberal or anything else won't do much good in the court of public opinion once Mother Jones and Psychology Today start pumping out feel-good fallacy articles claiming a science basis that the 50% of America that is politically in opposition to the social sciences - non-liberals - are baser creatures motivated by fear.  But we shouldn't hate them; instead, we should reserve a special sort of biological dhimmitude for them and discourage them from breeding or voting.

    Citation: Peter K. Hatemi, Rose McDermott, Lindon J. Eaves, Kenneth S. Kendler, Michael C. Neale, 'Fear as a Disposition and an Emotional State: A Genetic and Environmental Approach to Out-Group Political Preferences', American Journal of Political Science Vol 57 Issue 2  DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12016

    Comments

    Campbell gives a a dead-on description of the bulk of post-modern climate "science."

    Bogus surveys, pseudo-statistical fiddling, predetermined conclusions-- science by press release.

    While 'social science' is indeed an oxymoron, one should not mistakenly take-away from this essay that genetics plays little or no role in personality traits including attitudes. While personality traits are polygenic and complexly interactive with nurture, the high heritability component of personality traits has been documented repeatedly in well-controlled studies. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

    Hank
    The Science 2.0 audience is not Mother Jones or USA Today, they understand the nature of traits. But outlandish epigenetics claims on one side and sociology claims on the other are going to get ridiculed - that doesn't make people anti-biology.
    You make a lot of unsubstantiated claims and rather than backing them up, all I see is snarkiness and mockery. You only explain how much you think social science sucks, but not really why. Rather ironic for someone berating a piece of supposedly pseudo-scientific research.

    Your only serious point of methodical criticism is an accusation of selection bias, but again, you don't provide a real explanation for what exactly you think is the problem. The authors actually point to the limitations of their statistical models and "caution not to overinterpret these results", but evidently that didn't stop you from sensing an encroachment from the unholy legions of social scientists upon the sacred turf of life sciences.

    Speaking of the authors: You claim that their article is "a humanities study done by someone with no science training". If you'd have taken five minutes to look them up, you would have noticed that both Kendler and Eaves have a substantial background in the life sciences and that among the five authors, only one is a pure-bred political scientist.

    Based on the last paragraph I get the feeling that you simply don't like the study's results and thus criticize its methods - and again, by scientific standards, that's not exactly fair play.

    Hank
    A study is not a study when the people behind it take survey results, place the respondents on a  subjective scale, and declare that biology. 
     but evidently that didn't stop you from sensing an encroachment from the unholy legions of social scientists upon the sacred turf of life sciences
    Ah, so you are a sociologist with science envy? Well, look, instead of running around the Internet defending just-so stories, why not fix social science by doing solid work and getting it published? We run them here when it happens - it is just rare enough these days that it is a surprise.
    I think you might consider reading the article . The claims in your essay are innacurate at best , and as far as I can see the authors make none of the claims you assigned. My read, is that they say almost the opposite- genetic influences exist, they play a minor role and are altered greatly by things like education. They spend quite a bit of time trying to make sure people dont do exactly what you did here, misrepresent the paper. Your comments seem overly hostile, like you read the title, then got angry and ranted. Most of the authors are scientists, opposite of what you claim, One, Dr. Kendler is a Md/Phd, who has focused a great deal of his research on phobias and treating them (google scholar) and opposite what you claim, phobic dispositions are real and categorized in the DSM. You might not like the measure but to say there's no such thing as a fear disposition is simply wrong. I think, this essay is poor form hank.

    Hank
    Perhaps you just like their claims. What they don't do is the hallmark of science - provide actual evidence that their claims are true.  When all you need is to converge on a result, things are easy - but the answer converged on can be 99.99% accurate and still 100% wrong because convergence is not the goal, the correct answer is. 

    As I noted, they say genetics only plays a small part - but then they went out of their way to highlight that small part. It seems like science envy to claim a voting preference is genetic. It has been debunked by just about every biologist out there too many time to count, so if I am guilty of anything, it is piling on.
    >blockquote>So biologists cautioning that there is no evidence that there is a genetic basis to voting or being a liberal or anything else
    No. Instead biologists have insisted that genes are selfish and that they cause organisms to be selfish. Yes, I do wonder where such stupid ideas originated from.

    Hank
    Who says that? I know 40 years ago someone said it, and people talked about it. But it was never any consensus, it was a discussion. You could pick any field, medical or scientific or social, and find someone, somewhere at some time who came up with something that turned out to be wrong. And yet you are writing on a computer that was developed using scientific principles.

    Basically, you need to read biology more recent than 1975.