Monday, September 17, 2007

Say It Ain't So!

Dang. The cat's out of the bag. I'm stupider than a liberal. Dang. So it's people, reptiles, insects, bacteria, rocks, liberals, and me. Oh, hadn't you heard? Yep. It's been proved. Or is it proven? I'll have to ask a liberal. But no matter. lt's a fac, jac. Conservatives is dum.

Y'see, Nature Neuroscience and NYU put together a rapid response test, discriminating between M and W, and the lefties just did so much better than the rightwingers. What this proves, y'see, is that "a more conservative orientation is related to greater persistence in a habitual response pattern, despite signals that this response pattern should change." And not only that, but, what's more, "Liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty," y'see. I wish I could be more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty. That would be so cool.

Drawing his conclusions ostensibly from this study (heaven forfend that he might have started with a bias), NYU egghead David Amodia told the Daily Telegraph of London that "liberals tended to be more sensitive and responsive to information that might conflict with their habitual way of thinking." The LA Times concluded for its readers that "liberals are more adaptable than conservatives" and "better judges of the facts." The Guardian stated that "the brains of people calling themselves liberals are more able to handle conflicting and unexpected information." Agence France Presse informed its readership that conservatives "were less flexible, refusing to deviate from old habits 'despite signals that this ... should be changed.'" All of this, from a study that tested a recognition reflex for the letters M and W.

William Saletan breaks down the reasoning. Is this study really about habitual ways of thinking? It's about having a tenth of a second to recognize M from W. This is "habit" only by the most strained of definitions. Habit, one might expect, includes some aspect of global cognitive function, involving some automated but complex interaction with the environment. Driving a car. Making coffee. Something more complex than, say, flinching or twitching. Or is it judgmental of me to be so narrow?

Is this study really about responsiveness to information? Well, in this marvelous computer age of wonders, where we deal with bits and bytes of information, it is indeed technically true that this fractal, this jot and/or tittle, is information. Hm. So a real-world application of this reasoning must lead us to conclude that all those democrats back in Florida who accidentally voted for Buchanan instead of Gore -- uh, they were really conservatives? Really stupid conservatives, since they had as long as they wanted to push the button, rather than half a second. And they had no jarring ERROR message to throw them off. Well, no matter. There must be a meaningful difference that I'm too stupid to see.

Is this study really about complexity and ambiguity? If we take into account the millennia-long history of graphemes, semiotics, graphology, typography, orthography and so on, then the morphological idiosyncrasies of M and W do indeed plunge us into a fathomless sea of subtleties. But the simple inversion of a shape? Complex? Ambiguous? This most basic of either/or choices? Puh-lease. As Saletan saliently observes, "complexity and ambiguity weren't tested; they were excluded."

The heart of the study, and the flaw, is the conflation of reflex and intelligence. Things without brains have reflexes. The gay communists behind this propaganda hypothesize the existence of a part of the brain charged with conflict monitoring -- "a general mechanism for detecting when one's habitual response tendency is mismatched with responses required by the current situation." Conflict monitoring would be a recognition function, not a corrective function. The word "conflict" is equivocal here -- a subtlety that the brilliant lefty brainiacs didn't appreciate.

As Saletan observes, "Extra CM sensitivity does make you more likely to depart from your habit. But that doesn't prove it's more adaptive." In real life, irrelevant data will pollute decision-making, and those who are prepared to react to irrelevancies are less adaptive, polluting cognition with noise rather than signal. Sorta complex, eh? The fallacy is in assuming that a habitual response is maladaptive. In some cases it is, and in some cases it is not. Or is that too ambiguous?

It's a stupid study, because it overstates its conclusions. The idea that liberals are more questioning is manifestly incorrect. They question convention. Good for them. Conservatives question reform, and just as closely. Good for them too. I expect the amount of questioning that emanates from each faction depends on the relative proportion of convention to reform in a given circumstance.

Is the study fair? Is it even meaningful? "You've manufactured a tiny world of letters, half-seconds, and button-pushing," says Saletan to the pinkos, "so you can catch us in clear errors and keep out the part of life where our tendencies correct yours. And now you feel great about yourselves. Congratulations. You haven't told us much about our way of thinking. But you've told us a lot about yours."

Ah. Well that's a relief. For a moment my world was threatened. You cannot have failed to notice how high my opinion of myself is. I'm wonderful. So deep. So fascinating. I am not like other men. Nobody feels things the way I do. And I couldn't bear to think that someone who believes that a man can "marry" another man is smarter than I am. That would really be upsetting. I'd just hate to think that someone who believes it's okay to tear an unborn human body limb from limb in the womb is smarter than I am. But if that were the case, it could only go to show that intelligence functions independently of good judgment. Thankfully, no data currently exist to support such a conclusion. Now that this study can be discarded, I mean.


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