February 20, 2014

Political Orientation and Moral Conviction

Comments on: "Political Orientation and Moral Conviction: A Conservative Advantage or an Equal Opportunity Motivator of Political Engagement?"  by Linda J. Skitka G. Scott Morgan Daniel C. Wisneski, University of Illinois at Chicago (Preprint here (PDF))

There is a paper coming out in a book edited by Joe Forgas that tends to throw Haidt's findings into a cocked hat.  Haidt found  that conservatives were more morally complex than are liberals.  Since liberals often proclaim:  "There is no such thing as right and wrong", that is not exactly a surprising finding. Liberals do nonetheless use moral language:  "Racism is wrong" etc., but I showed long ago (Ray, 1974) that they do so only as a matter of convenience.  For them it is just a device to influence others. Any such beliefs are not deeply held.

I'm critical of a few points in the introduction to the paper  -- e.g. the homage to the risible Lakoff, who confuses the diachronic  with the synchronic, but I think the big problems in the paper are methodological.  The use of meta-analyses is in principle admirable but in practice can deteriorate severely where the author has a barrow to push.  One of the better known studies in this field did to my particular knowledge omit from consideration around 100 relevant studies  -- in order to come to fairly conventional conclusions.

Another problem is  the  shotgun approach to sampling.  Lumping general population samples in the with student samples is most incautious.  The two groups often give very different results.  One one occasion I repeated a study I had dome among students using a sample of army conscripts.  A correlation of .808 among students dropped to something negligible with the more representative sample.  I never wrote that study up but I probably should have.  It was in the era when "positive" results were essential so it would probably not have been published anyway.

And I am pretty confident that something similar would have happened in the Skitka work.  The students would have given complex responses and the ordinary folk would have given much simpler responses.  So combining the two would have given you medium complexity across the board and erased Right/Left differences.  In short, I don't think Skitka & co, have made their case.

Mother Jones has however welcomed the study.  The Left like to think they are moral, despite their propensity for mass murder.

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