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June 11, 2010

Another Argument against Liberal Bias

Every ideology has its factual holes. The press of ideas and values highlights certain facts and obscures others, and when the ideology grows in force in local settings, those obscured facts disappear entirely, or even turn into outright falsehoods in the eyes of the "ideologues."

George Mason economics professor Daniel Klein and Zogby International researcher Zelija Buturovic have analyzed the findings of a Zogby survey that reveals the dangers of excessive ideological conformity.

Zogby posed to nearly 4,835 American adults eight assertions about basic economics and asked them to agree or disagree. The prompts included "Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services," "Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago," and "Rent control leads to housing shortages."

The survey also broke the respondents down into six ideological groups, "Very conservative," "Libertarian," "Conservative," "Moderate," "Liberal," "Progressive/very liberal." It also asked respondents for their political party affiliation.

Here are the researchers' conclusions as recounted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Klein this week: "Americans in the first three categories do reasonably well. But the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics." For instance, "On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61%) was more than four times that of conservatives (13%) and almost three times that of libertarians (21%)."

Furthermore, "Those responding Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect."

This is to say that possession of certain economic facts varied by ideology. The right performed better, much better. This is not to say that the left would not perform better in other areas. I think it likely that it would. But the survey does support the notion of factual blind spots, and we may infer that in more or less closed bodies such as academic departments in which one ideology reigns, the blind spots can dilate, progressively turning into accepted wisdom. Add to that the complacency that follows and you have a formula for intellectual weakness.

Comments (3)

As I note on my blog, there are serious problems with Klein's manipulative questions. But here I'll just point out the fact that Klein is very deceptive about the fact that he used an internet "poll" of self-selected people, not a representative survey.

Bauerlein rgues about the Klein "poll," "the survey does support the notion of factual blind spots, and we may infer that in more or less closed bodies such as academic departments in which one ideology reigns, the blind spots can dilate, progressively turning into accepted wisdom."

No, it doesn't. The Klein "survey" has nothing to do with academics. Even if Klein was correct in identifying liberal economic views as stupid (and he's not), Bauerlein has no reasonable basis for concluding that all economists who vote for Democrats would answer the same way as bozos on the internet who volunteer to take polls. The only blind spot here belongs to Bauerlein, who uses his ignorant assumptions about Democrats to smear all professors.

It's really annoying when ideological disagreements become the basis for accusations of stupidity. Now, I like to call people stupid as much as the next person (probably more). But I never use that word simply because of an ideological disagreement where there is plenty of room for rational debate.

But Bauerlein is right to use the phrasee, "a formula for intellectual weakness." When a shoddy, dishonest "poll" is falsely used to smear all liberals as idiots, and the conservative movement promotes this superficial analysis as proof of the evils of liberal academics, it shows the intellectual weakness of the right-wing today.

Anonymous:

Hey Mr. Wilson, the debate is over. The science is indisputable: The stupider (and/or more gullible) one is, the more likely he is to vote Democrat. You want a "scientific survey"? Try the one the Zogby conducted after the 2008 election that showed that most Democrats did not even know which party controlled Congress! What -- Do you think it's an accident that Democrats oppose intelligence tests for voters? No, it's because they KNOW that most stupid people vote Democrat. It's the same reason they are currently pushing to give voting rights to felons: They KNOW most criminals are Democrats! Democrat leaders know that stupid and gullible Americans -- and soon, they hope, the criminal Americans (and non-Americans!) -- are their party's base. If we made voters pass a simple civics exam, it would be the end of the Democratic Party.

Mark Bauerlein:

John Wilson misrepresents the post. He says that "a shoddy, dishonest poll' is falsely used to smear all liberals as idiots," but I never said any such thing. In fact, I stated only the existence of ideological "blind spots," and even noted that liberals would score higher on various topics than would conservatives.

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