Don’t start bumping your bigoted d***heads just yet.

At least of couple bloggers I read fairly regularly have cited Kanazawa et al. Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent. Social Psychology Quarterly, 2010, based on press releases.  The actual article is DOI: 10.1177/0190272510361602, but unless you have a subscription, the journal is charging an outrageous $32.00 fee to download the article. (I’ll get back to that.)  

PZMeyers, an evolutionary biologist and blogger at Pharyngula, has already sounded the warning on the predictable self-congratulatory praise for the findings expected from liberals and atheists.

Meyers says:

Stop patting yourselves on the back over this study

Good grief. This ridiculous study is making the rounds of the atheist community, with its claim that liberals and atheists are smarter than conservatives and religious people. Look at the numbers!

Young adults who identify themselves as “not at all religious” have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as “very religious” have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.

Seriously? Show me the error bars on those measurements. Show me the reliability of IQ as a measure of actual, you know, intelligence. Show me that a 6 point IQ difference matters at all in your interactions with other people, even if it were real. And then to claim that these differences are not only heritable, but evolutionarily significant…jebus, people, you can just glance at it and see that it is complete crap.

First, let me pick a not so small nit with Meyers: Did he even read the study?  I assume Meyers has institutional subscriptions to these types of journals through various databases.  He cites a Science Daily article, presumably the one now located here.  So, it’s really not clear to me that he even read the article.

If he did read the study, are there really no statistics including measures of variance?  That would be truly shocking and inappropriate and unacceptable, especially for such a contentious issue.  I no longer have an institutional subscription, and I am damn well not forking over $32.00 for this article to find out.  

This subscription rate is scandalous by itself.  Most research of this type is funded using public monies!  Tax dollars!  This is public data! The research, the reviewing process, and the editorial work are all done using public money. Editors may make some slush money, but nothing compared to their work effort.  For private publishing companies to profit off of public monies continues to be an outrage.  Moreover, to restrict access on such a contentious article of great public concern is completely scandalous, because public opinion is being roiled based on a fucking news release.  

Second nit for Myers: Attack the science, not the author.  You can read what Myers wrote about Kanazawa at his link.  It’s unnecessary and counterproductive.

That said, I agree with Myers general skepticism on such potentially incendiary “findings” that will be used as a cudgel against various groups.  Hell yes, I want to see the methods and data (including error bars) and interpretations in the form of “just so” evolutionary stories of ultimate causation.

I’ll add one more substantive complaint to Myers’ list.  The Science Daily article says:

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis.  Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who [subjectively] identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.


Guess what?  People may not be very good at all at identifying themselves!  I could belabor the point, but let this suffice:

If self-reports are all you got, well then, there ya go.  The self-reporting homunculus within the homunculus may not be perfectly omniscient and objective.

So, please do not throw Molotov cocktails at perceived “outgroups” on the first opportunity, especially based on popular articles.  The overtly political subject matter of the study should be sufficient cause for extreme wariness.

In short, people, beware the facepalm:




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  1. galore.

    • TMC on March 1, 2010 at 02:56

    I briefly glanced at diary over at GOS that mentioned this but payed it little mind other than that I thought Wow Pharyngula still exists.

    I’ll bet there are more than a few that are taking this “study” seriously.

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