Thursday, March 23, 2006

I Was A Whiny Kid

Professor Vic:

"The study seems like the usual crap that passes for in-depth pyschological research Berkely-style so far as I can tell from the article I read."

You know, this sort of swipe at a scholar whose result you don't like is just ignorant. You have no basis for your accusation other than you don't like the idea that you might have been a whiny kid.

In fact, the study's author, Jack Block, is highly regarded in the field. Begun in 1968 at UC Berkeley by Jack and Jeanne Block, the "Block Study" has generated some of the richest data in the field of developmental psychology.

If you're interested in how life unfolds--how we become who we are--you really have to follow people from early childhood into adulthood," says UCSC associate professor of psychology Per Gjerde. "This study is unparalleled and provides a rich research and training resource for our students." The project has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health every year for more than 25 years and has generated more than 100 research papers, some of which are classics in their fields. (Source: University of Southern California Review)

But apparently in Hatch's world all research is crap if you don't like the result.

Please Vic, next time keep it shorter and go with "Jane, you ignorant slut." Had I known Jack Black was involved, I might have concluded differently - I loved him in School of Rock. Chalk up my ignorant comment to bounded rationality - dismissing the whole research program on the basis of what I know about 1 of 100 research papers is just the price these psychologists have to pay when the one paper that gets any press is clearly an asinine study.

Don't you think the causal explanation of whiney kids becoming conservatives and confident, resilient, self-assured kids becoming liberals is just a little self-flattering? Without calling the limited correlation these guys observed into question, please explain to me the science that establishes that the whiney kid ends up being "conservative" because he seeks easy certainty in an ambiguous and frightening world. There is as much science in my partially facetious comparison of adult whininess as there is in their's, which is to say that there is none. There is just an opinion of causation, with no effort (or perhaps way) to test it. The difference between me and them is that I know I shouldn't be taken seriously.

I didn't read this paper in depth, but I did read in great depth a prior article co-written by one of this guy's colleagues at Berkely, so much so that I felt motivated to put together a book proposal intended to mock the entire line of research. That article had the same "we liberals are so comfortable in an ambiguous world" pat on the collective backs of everyone in the Berkely psychology department, so I am not completely ignorant of what lies beneath that line of reasoning.

The whiniest of my four children really improved on that score when we found out, at around the age of 3, that he was allergic to the planet. Amazing what a few allergy pills will do for a kid with allergies. I'd like to think that maybe those allergies are a blessing, because clearly whiney kids turn out to be conservatives (who are happier than liberals in adulthood, by the way), but I am not quite smart enough to get the 25 straight years of NIH grants necessary to believe such mallarky. Given that there are probably one thousand other independent factors that may affect whininess in kids, which are separate from one thousand other independent factors that may affect political preferences, I'll continue to doubt results drawn from a sample of 100 kids. (I don't remember much econometrics, but I am pretty sure I am on solid ground when I say there are too few degrees of freedom here - PatB, please go easy on me if this is a completely stupid thing to say).

You could argue that my ignorant response is proof of their claim - my sense of certainty is thrown off kilter by their "science," and so I just condemn the research because I don't like the results. If the author of this particular paper were a woman, you might say "she blinded me with science," but if Larry Summers taught me anything, it would be that "she" blinding me with science is not very likely. And if the example of Summers tells us anything, it is that a reaction like mine is more likely to make me tenured Harvard faculty in the department of Humanities than a conservative, given how they react to findings they don't like. And ten years ago if you stood in the center of most campuses and yelled "Bell Curve," in reference to more scholarly research not to the liking of your colleagues in academia, you could arguably be accused of inciting a riot.


Blogger pbryon said...

Put two studies together, along with some anecdotal evidence from Hatcher, and you can explain everything.

Whiny kids support Big Pharma and turn into conservatives.

Non-whiny kids go out and roll around in the dirt and mud and turn into liberals.

I'd still like to see a definition of "whiny."

6:24 AM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

So, my take on this is the academic study is completely fine if not groundbreaking. It finds an interesting correlation in the data and makes some attempt to explain it. That's pretty much what most empirical research is all through the social sciences. Whether you like the proposed causation doesn't eliminate the demonstrated correlation.

The newspaper article about the scholarly article was also pretty good. It took pains to explain not just the correlation but problems like selection bias. That's pretty good for a regular media source.

What Hatch is so upset about is the lurid headline designed to attact readers like flies to (well, I'm sure Hatch would love to fill this word in while describing the popular media). Of course, a headline like "How to spot a baby conservative" followed by a paragraph or two about the whiny, insecure kid, brings in all the people like me who love it when the media slams conservatives and all the people like Hatch who love to find examples like this so they can slam the so-called liberal media and academia. Mind you, the ploy worked perfectly.

I am certainly not convinced of the scholarly value of much of what happens in academia. However, asking the question of why an apparently intelligent person like Hatch, who outwardly appears somewhat goofy but otherwise normal, would become a raving conservative while an otherwise similar person like myself (although slighty smarter, more athletic, and better looking) would become a reasonable liberal is a perfectly valid line of questioning. Is it family, is it economics, or are there some innate psychological differences that are apparent even as small children.

So how do you answer that question? Collect data and pose potential answers.

6:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I suggest you add to your netflix queue:

49 Up
42 Up
35 Up
28 Up
21 Up
14 Up
7 Plus Seven

Directed by
Michael Apted

Professor Vic should quit picking on the Hatcher or he will tell his mommy and she will call your mommy, and then you will be in trouble.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

Here is another take on the issue, one that Hatch might appreciate:

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Find it hard to beleive that you would actually write the following on your ranting, right wing blog:

"There is just an opinion of causation, with no effort (or perhaps way) to test it. The difference between me and them is that I know I shouldn't be taken seriously."

I hope you were kidding........
We all know that you think you should be taken seriously.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...


12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Hatch!

When are you going to psot something new? I like to read your posts with a glass of Chartreuse. You haven't posted in so long that I am starting to loose my buzz. What the freak?

4:38 AM  

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