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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Liberals, Conservative, Psychoticism ... and a Retraction

Retraction Watch reports:
Researchers have fixed a number of papers after mistakenly reporting that people who hold conservative political beliefs are more likely to exhibit traits associated with psychoticism, such as authoritarianism and tough-mindedness.
As one of the notices specifies, now it appears that liberal political beliefs are linked with psychoticism. That paper also swapped ideologies when reporting on people higher in neuroticism and social desirability (falsely claiming that you have socially desirable qualities); the original paper said those traits are linked with liberal beliefs, but they are more common among people with conservative values.
We’re not clear how much the corrections should inform our thinking about politics and personality traits, however, because it’s not clear from the paper how strongly those two are linked. The authors claim that the strength of the links are not important, as they do not affect the main conclusions of the papers — although some personality traits appear to correlate with political beliefs, one doesn’t cause the other, nor vice versa.
In total, three papers have been corrected by authors, and a correction has been submitted on one more.
We’ll start with an erratum that explains the backstory of the error in detail. It appears on “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies,” published by the American Journal of Political Science:
The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. 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.
The Weekly Standard observes:
Why did it take so long for such an extraordinary screw-up to be discovered? Why is it that hundreds of other social scientists cited the original research without questioning it?

Could it be that the original results fit so neatly with the prejudices of the academic left that they couldn't imagine they were wrong? One thing is for sure: Had Verhulst, Eaves, and Hatemi found, from the get-go, that liberalism was associated with undesirable traits, their research wouldn't just have been challenged, it would have been put through the wringer. You call that methodology? Let's see your data! Let's recrunch those numbers!