January 31, 2006

Junk science in the Post...

From a WaPo article that purports to report on a "study" that shows Republicans are more racist than Democrats...(Thanks to Michelle)

...For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush....

It's impossible to properly critique the study, which has not yet been published. But I have my doubts about its validity. For one thing, "blacks" and "whites" are not equivalent groups. Most of us have a fairly clearly delimited mental picture that we think covers most "blacks." (Yes, yes, I know there are lots of exceptions.) Something like:

  • Inner-city-urban with high levels of crime and welfare
  • Southern rural honest-but-poor
  • A growing middle-class that can fit in with middle-class whites pretty well
  • 90% Democrat

But there is no equivalent simple mental picture to go with the word "white." If someone has positive feelings associated with the word "white," it's almost impossible to guess what sort of people they are thinking of. The group is just too vast and undefinable.

I wonder how the study might go if the "whites" presented in the test were limited to a sub-set who are also 90% Democrat. Say perhaps: "long-haired-urban-weirdos-with-piercing?" I bet they would discover that Republicans are not at all likely to "registered higher levels of bias." And if the white pierced-aliens were contrasted with blacks who work hard and pay their taxes, I bet you would find that Republicans test as "prejudiced against whites."

This sort of experiment can produce any result wanted. And since calling Republicans 'racists' is on page one of the tattered old 1970's lefty playbook, and most psychology experimenters are Democrats...

Posted by John Weidner at January 31, 2006 9:52 PM
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