Snopes lied — Republicans are dumber (or not)
I owe my readership an apology. The study that I link to is on a paid site — I have access through my college. I was assuming it was freely available — which it likely is through your local university or public library. I make the assumption throughout this piece that anyone could download and read this study, when obviously you would have to go to a library to actually access it, which makes it harder. I try hard to use only publicly availible sites — I’m not trying to generate subscription income for anyone. I can tell you though, if the subject interests you, that the study that I link to is probobly available to you through your local library, or local college library. You will probobly need to talk to the reserach librarian to get access to it — but if you want to be informed about things that is a trip you should make anyway. Otherwise you have to count on assholes like me to filter it all for you.
I believe that the second most important issue facing the American polity (after the issue of disentangling the effect of money on governance) is the issue of learning how to argue from evidence instead of values. It is hard to say if it is just a matter of national character that we believe that the morally sympathetic side will always be the factually correct side of an argument, or if it is a universal human trait. Either way, it is a pernicious and destructive trait, because it is easy to spin sympathy, but it is impossible to spin fact.
I have been re-reading The Bell Curve recently — and within that book are a number of controversial statements which are made about soft-science questions (psychology and sociology) — and I’m sure that strong arguments could be made against the conclusions which are reached — just because of the amount of slip which is involved in any soft science. But what I am also convinced of is that almost no strong arguments have been made against the conclusions of the book.
In fact, of the arguments I have heard in classes and at poetry readings, none of them have even addressed the issues — they have addressed the morality of the perceived ideology of the kinds of people who would ask the kinds of questions raised by the book. And even those arguments have not been made particularly well.
If you dislike the conclusions of the book, doesn’t it make sense that you would want to make the strongest possible arguments against it?
On a separate but related issue — after the 2002 American presidential election — when the Red State/ Blue State divide was at it’s peak a chart was sent around that showed regional average IQ correlated to state color. It was convincing enough to get published in the Economist. The fact was that the “Average” IQ of the Red States was lower than the “Average” IQ of the Blue states. The humorous (and probably false) implication drawn being that Democrats were smarter than Republicans.
The implication was not appropriate — which didn’t change the fact (true or false) presented by the table. So on the one side, Democrats had a good and undeserved chuckle, and on the other side Republicans protested that the table was inaccurate. The Economist published a retraction. Snopes.com described the table as a fraud, and even stated that the studies it was drawn from couldn’t be located.
Well — the study cited in the Snopes article does exist — the numbers do not match the table — but they make the same factual argument about “average IQ” of the Red States vs. the Blue States. The parallel is so strong that it suggests that where-ever the original table came from – it was probably a real source. If it was a total fabrication, it was an uncanny accurate one.
The study is called “IQ and the Wealth of States” — and it’s methodology is rigorously described. Now you can disagree with the study, and you can argue about the statistics — but the question that stands out for me is “Why is Snopes.com misrepresenting the truth in this matter?” because up until now I have always counted on them for accuracy.
The PDF is currently available from the London School of Economics — you can Google the title and it’s the first link.
I don’t care too much if the numbers are true — but it does bother me (like in the case of The Bell Curve) that people seem to be so completely illiterate as to be unable to discuss why or why not they are true. Especially since it seems to matter so much to so many people. Is our “morality based reasoning” that tells us that elitism is morally wrong, so that elitist arguments must always be factually wrong — the best we can do? Or are there enough of us willing to say “I’m not sure what the truth is, but I am willing to consider the arguments and follow the evidence where-ever it leads” that some day we can have a social discourse that is dominated by reality and truth?
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