Tag: Social Science

How Trump Won

This is amazing. A couple of college professors did an experiment where they recreated the 2016 debates with actors replicating the exact words and gestures of the candidates. But there was one twist: Trump was played by a woman and Clinton by a man. They wanted to see how sexism played into our perception of the debates.

Yeah, it’s not how you’re thinking:

We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened”—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another—a musical theater composer, actually—said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate—you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.

This reflects something I heard from a lot of my friends and family who supported Trump. All the pundits (including me) concluded that Trump’s debate performances were disastrous. And certainly there were times when he flailed badly. His grasp of facts was non-existent. Had this been a high-school debate team match, he would have lost.

But this wasn’t a high-school debate. This was two highly unlikable candidates trying to win our trust. And for all of Trump’s bumbling, he was straight-forward and had a clear message. Clinton had reams of policy details but no real message other than, as Dave Barry noted, “I’m a woman and I will fight for families or something”.

Here is a clip.

I always disliked Clinton and found her debate performances to be poor. I couldn’t understand how the media proclaimed her to be such a great politician and the clear winner of each debate. Having a male actor play her enhances my perception, driving home why I dislike her performance. She was smug, entitled and disconnected from ordinary concerns. It jumps a little more strongly when the opponent isn’t an asshole as well.

But what surprises me is how much this changes my perception of Trump. With his personal baggage removed, his message becomes much clearer. I still disagree with it but I can understand why it appealed to people and why many could overlook his personal/political/financial shortcomings.

There are caveats here: it’s only one experiment and could be entirely a result of the actor and actress chosen for the roles. Perhaps, with different actors, we would perceive it differently. But even with those caveats, I think it’s an astonishing result. It shows just how thick the liberal bubble was and just how much their perception of Clinton was shaded by their hatred of Trump and their heartfelt desire to see a woman become President. It really illustrates a point one Trump supporter made to me right before the election: if you took away Clinton’s gender, what was left? An ethically-dubious philosophically-muddled long-time political insider who couldn’t understand why the country was so angry.

Science Sunday: A Big Social Science Oops


Social science can be so amusing. There is a bit of a contretemps over several recent articles that used datasets supposedly measuring the personality traits of liberals and conservatives which has resulted in several abashed corrections. The researchers used the data in an effort to show that personality traits are not the cause of political attitudes, but instead both are correlated with some other factor, most likely genetic. Interesting enough. This finding is not what is being corrected.

Instead, what is being corrected is the rather casual assumption in the studies by the researchers that a personality factor identified in the datasets they used is supposedly associated with conservative political views. That factor is called Psychoticism. They hasten to explain that Pyschoticism is not the same thing as psychotic. The original article, “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies,” in the American Journal of Political Science explains:

Having a high Psychoticism score is not a diagnosis of being clinically psychotic or psychopathic. Rather, P is positively correlated with tough-mindedness, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and authoritarianism (Adorno et al. 1950; Altemeyer 1996; Eysenck and Eysenck 1985, McCourt et al. 1999). In social situations, those who score high on P are more uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, and socially withdrawn, but lack feelings of inferiority and have an absence of anxiety. At the extremes, those scoring high on P are manipulative, tough-minded, and practical (Eysenck 1954). By contrast, people low on P are more likely to be more altruistic, well socialized, empathic, and conventional (Eysenck and Eysenck 1985; Howarth 1986). As such, we expect higher P scores to be related to more conservative political attitudes, particularly for militarism and social conservatism.

Well, guess what. It turned out that they’d coded their spreadsheet wrong. Higher “psychoticism” scores actually correlated with liberal beliefs, not conservative ones. So their study, cited by many liberals as proof that Conservatives Be crazy, showed the exact opposite of their conclusions.

Digression time:

The best thing about science is that it has a corrective mechanism: someone else can do the experiment and check the results and see if they’re borne out. This mechanism works well in the physical sciences, where mechanisms are fairly deterministic — no matter how many times you drop a steel ball, it will always follow the same law of gravity. It works reasonably well in the biological sciences. In biology, systems are more complex and a bit more unpredictable. On balance, heavy drinking will kill you. But there are people who drink like fish and live long lives because genes or other factors or just plain luck keep them going. You also have a problem of reproducing experiments — I can mix chemicals over and over again and weed out the bad results. But I only get to do a 40-year study of people’s eating habits once.

In the social sciences, though, all bets are off. Part of it is that you are dealing with complex systems. Economies are complex, humans are complex and we only get to live out history once. Part of it is an “observer effect”. People behave differently or even lie to researchers when they know they are part of an experiment. For example, Sweden claimed the number of men who had ever seen a prostitute dropped massively after they imposed their “Nordic Model” on sex work, which only makes sense if massive numbers of Swedish men were struck dead by the legislation. In reality, fewer men were willing to admit they had because of the social pressure.

But it’s also ideological. Physicists, chemists, engineers and biologists tend to have a mix of political views; social scientists tend to be almost exclusively liberal. Physical and biological research only occasionally has big political implications (e.g., global warming, GMOs, evolution). And even in these cases, the science is not political; the science is politicized by opportunistic politicians.

But in the social sciences, almost everything has some political implication. So results that confirm the ideological bias of the researchers sometimes isn’t questioned too carefully. Massive tomes on income inequality are praised despite serious methodological flaws. Papers supporting Keynesian economics are taken as gospel despite huge flaws. Garbage research claiming massive amount of sex trafficking is used to inform policy.

An example more germane? A lot of people have claimed that Donald Trump’s supporters are authoritarian. This sounds about right to me except … that analysis is based on sociological debris. Here are the questions used to determine if someone is authoritarian:

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

Everyone claims this is the “definitive” test of authoritarian tendencies. Is it? Those traits seem to track culture far more than they track politics. My grandparents’ generation would have shown up as very authoritarian even though they voted FDR in four times and huge numbers of them had fled Europe because of the rise of authoritarianism. But because this test shows that conservatives are more authoritarian and all the sociologists believe that conservatives are more authoritarian, everyone accepts it.

But which is more authoritarian? Believing in a government that governs least? Or believing in a government that controls our lives? The problem here is that liberals don’t think of themselves as authoritarian even thought they are. If you believe in government controlling healthcare, education, retirement and half of the country’s wealth, you’re authoritarian, no matter how sincerely you believe that gays should be able to get married or how liberal your parenting methods are.

(This problem of nomenclature comes up a lot. I can’t find the link, but McArdle has written about a study that showed that liberals valued “fairness” more than conservatives. Every liberal scholar and pundit cited it was proof of how unfair conservative ideas were. But conservatives objected, arguing that wealth redistribution was not “fairness”. They saw it as plunder. Conservatives think that allowing people to keep what they’ve earned is “fairness”. In the end, the researchers agreed that people might differ on the definition of “fairness” and changed their word choice.)

In any case, this is yet another demonstration of how bias clouds the social sciences. This was a very basic error, something that even a modicum of checking would have shown. but no one questioned it, no referee gainsaid it, no one reproduced the results because it confirmed what liberals wanted to believe.

More Gun Grabber Baloney

The anti-Second-Amendment crowd has been positively giddy over a new study that claims Connecticut’s gun registration law cut gun violence an amazing 40%.

I find this claim extremely suspect.

You can read some good critiques from Reason, Hot Air and especially John Lott. Lott is an object of hate from many gun grabbers because of his “more guns, less crime” theory. Some of the criticism is deserved: he can’t reproduce his original results because, he claims, his hard drive crashed. But what Lott is good at is poking holes in the claims of marginal studies of single states that make grand conclusions.

In this case, the authors’ result is that Connecticut saw a sharper reduction in gun violence than Rhode Island did over a very specific ten year frame. That’s it. So give up those NRA memberships guys, the debate is over.

Of course …

Of course, if you look at the data before that law was passed, Connecticut’s rate of gun violence was already falling. And if you look at the data after their ten year window, Connecticut’s rate comes back up. And if you compare them to literally any state other than Rhode Island, the supposed reduction in violence disappears. And if you look at other states that have passed similar gun control laws, you don’t see a reduction in gun murders.

To be clear: there’s no fraud here. Their claim is true. But it’s cherry-picked. You could do a hundred other studies looking at the effects of gun laws and not come to this conclusion. You could do this study with only slightly different parameters and not reach their conclusion.

And it’s not the first time for these guys. Recently, they claimed that violence in Missouri went up because of a repeal of a gun control law. That claim was also cherry-picked. And now comes information that the claim that mass shootings were going up was also bogus. For some time, Mother Jones had been ground zero for this nonsense, including a collection of mischaracterized, cherry-picked data that proved nothing.

But remember, folks. It’s conservatives who are the enemies of science. It’s we who ignore empirical data and substitute our feelings in. Not the Left, oh no. Especially not those who are funded by gun-grabber Michael Bloomberg.