27 February 2013

Bad Science?

More research is necessary, but this has the smell of being worthless:

But new research, published yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests what mom and dad think isn’t the endgame when it comes to shaping a person’s political identity. Ideological differences between partisans may reflect distinct neural processes, and they can predict who’s right and who’s left of center with 82.9 percent accuracy, outperforming the “your parents pick your party” model. It also out-predicts another neural model based on differences in brain structure, which distinguishes liberals from conservatives with 71.6 percent accuracy.
The study matched publicly available party registration records with the names of 82 American participants whose risk-taking behavior during a gambling experiment was monitored by brain scans. The researchers found that liberals and conservatives don’t differ in the risks they do or don’t take, but their brain activity does vary while they’re making decisions.

First off, this is a very small sample size, and the rate of accuracy relative to sample size is not particularly comforting, nor is it necessarily indicative of scalable replicability.

Second, the claims of the study are tautological, in that left-right beliefs are assumed to have perfect correlation with party affiliation.  This may or may not be the case.  Anyway, this would make the data useless, as the conclusion is inherently tautological, especially if the definition of left and right is redefined to make the model more reliable.  This would make the “research” essentially masturbatory.

Finally, trying to make a practical distinction between a conservative and a liberal is pointless anyways since they are both statists, and both want to increase federal power.  Thus, at best this research will only be able to tell what sort of big government someone wants based on neural structure.  But if both liberals and conservatives want bigger government, than I can’t say that I see the point in distinguishing between the two.

I note that they didn’t identify any libertarians in this study.  I bet it’s because they didn’t get Aspies.