Friday, June 10, 2016

Remember that 'conservatives are psychotic' study four years ago?

The paper originally stated that, "In line with our expectations, P [for "Psychoticism"] (positively related to tough-mindedness and authoritarianism) is associated with social conservatism and conservative military attitudes."
and so forth. 

Slight problem:
"Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response," the correction said. "Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck's psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative."
Anyone who believes this reversal was purely accidental, go stand in a corner.  And practice thinking.

The researchers tried to downplay the significance of this error by arguing it didn't matter what the conclusions were, they were only interested in the "magnitude of the relationship and the source of it."

More from Powerline:
The authors regret that there is an error in the published version of “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1), 34–51. The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed.
In line with the cynicism with which I view such nowadays, I tend to think this is more "Someone spotted our screwup and like it or not, we have to correct it, or someone will take away our library privileges or something."

If you continue with the explanation in the correction it would seem to suggest that someone simply transposed the data somewhere along the line during the coding steps. Or maybe the authors were hoping for a job with Dan Rather or Katie Couric if tenure didn’t come through? They are defending themselves by saying that the main point of the paper was to demonstrate the magnitude of correlations between personality traits and sociopolitical attitudes, and hence that the ideological direction of the correlation doesn’t matter. This doesn’t wash well with the great folks at the indispensible Retraction Watch, who interviewed one of the academics who spotted the mistake, Steven Ludeke of the University of Southern Denmark, who said:
The erroneous results represented some of the larger correlations between personality and politics ever reported; they were reported and interpreted, repeatedly, in the wrong direction; and then cited at rates that are (for this field) extremely high. And the relationship between personality and politics is, as we note in the paper, quite a “hot” topic, with a large number of new papers appearing every year. So although the errors do not matter for the result that the authors (rightly) see as their most important, I obviously think the errors themselves matter quite a lot, especially for what it says about the scientific process both pre- and post-review.
Put bluntly, "They got a result they liked, and a lot of other scientists liked it, so nobody really checked on it."  Which boils down to "Next time you hear the phrase 'settled science', tell them they're full of crap."

1 comment:

Windy Wilson said...

"They got a result they liked, and a lot of other scientists liked it, so nobody really checked on it."

Bellesiles II anyone?