Thursday, March 23, 2006

Whiney=Conservative story

I’ve had a few e-mails from folks about why I’m not writing about the recent story on the study released from Berkeley that concludes that whiney (read that: can’t cope with anything without hysterical fear/crying/generally inferior behavior) children will grow up to be conservatives while kids who aren’t (read that: highly intelligent, deep-thinking, easily adaptive to new situations, generally superior) will grow up to be liberals. The answer is simple: it’s pure, unadulterated bullshit masquerading as an allegedly scientific study. And I don’t need to go very far into the study to find all the proof I need of it.

At first, I didn’t write about it because the story, which appeared in a newspaper, didn’t provide a link back to the source material. Searches for the study on-line proved fruitless. So, this was a giant assertion without any back-up. Why waste my breath? Anyone who reads that story and triumphantly points to it with a big “Ah-HAAAAA” expression on their faces without so much as looking for the source material have already made up their minds. The story is merely something physical for them to point to rather than having to rely on their own expounding to make their points. These people can’t be rationally argued with, so why bother?

Fortunately, there are bloggers who actually do care about the debate in question and will act rationally even in the face of a study asserting that which might be abhorent to them. Thus it is that Michelle Malkin goes to the trouble of not only addressing the argument but also posting the actual study so the source material can be seen. Go have a read for yourself, if you like.

Here’s the basic foundational problem with this study: it is statistically insignificant and it suffers from the lack of solid definitions of terms. It also commits the logical fallacy of assuming causation that does not conclusively explain a result.

The study takes data from 95 individuals from the Berkeley area. 95 people. That’s the sample being used to assess the behavior of a population of millions. Billions, actually, since the study isn’t purporting to explain behavior of only the population of the United States, but of humans in general. Selecting 95 people from a geographically very small area doesn’t even rise to the level of absurdity in terms of a reasonable statistical sample. It would take over 1500 such individuals selected from as wide a geographic area as possible (within the target area) to even rate as a blip on the statistical relevance screen. The fact that these 95 people are all from the Berkeley area would tend to create the expection of similar behaviors and value sets which may or (more likely) may not reflect the value sets held by the majority of the wider population. What’s considered “conservative” in Berkeley might not pass for even moderate in Kansas. That’s the definition problem I spoke of.

Then there’s the logical problem of assuming that whatever makes the kid whine in preschool is going to be the determining factor in his or her politics in college. What is it that makes the kid “whiney” to begin with? Who decided that one kid’s whines met the criteria where another’s did not? This measure is extremely subjective which makes it a poor benchmark. What if the thing that makes a kid whine is a set of parents being consistent in what they allow and disallow as opposed to simply caving in to whatever desire strikes the kid at the moment? If the former set of parents are considered conservative and the latter liberal, then we’ve just proven that the parents’ politics forms the basis for the child’s politics in life, a fact we’ve already known for centuries.

It’s been suggested that the reason child whiners grow up to be conservatives is that they’ve gotten their whining out of the way in preschool instead of making it a lifelong effort like liberals. What, in this study, contradicts this conclusion? Nothing, that’s what. I would imagine the Kos Kids wouldn’t be cheering the study were it to be used to advance that conclusion.

So, it’s all just so much gas vented into the atmosphere and just so much wasted paper. Having seen the study, I am left with exactly the same sense of the situation I had before it was available. It’s a waste of time.