Monday, November 08, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies, And Just Plain Being Mean 

Nothing bothers me more than people wielding statistics like a sword.

No, wait. It bothers me much more when people utterly misread and misrepresent statistics in their zeal to make us all feel dumb. Vindicating, but bothersome all the same.

Case in point: this utter bosh supposedly correlating IQ and political leanings by state is all over the net these days; it came up on our school bulletin board, too, where several sore-loser students were eager to make fun of the southern red-staters from high on their New England prep school perch.

I noted there, and will repeat here, a few problems I have with the mass acceptance, even glee, with which this ultimately false correlative data table has been disseminated. That is, even if it were true (also here):
  1. The IQ data is based on SAT/ACT scores. That itself is a problem -- it has long been accepted that ACT/SAT scores are not a measure of IQ, but merely of the ability to take those tests, and such "abilities" can be heavily skewed by such things as prep school SAT-training (more prep schools in New England than in the Red states), local economy (hungry kids don't test as well), and race (a correlation between race and this chart would be interesting, I bet).

  2. But the standardized test source of these numbers is also a problem because high school aptitide cannot be taken as a measure of voter intelligence because high school Juniors (the ones who take SATs) aren't a representative sample of the state voting public. Many young people move from one state to another in the years after taking those tests, for example; as we all know by now, many young people don't vote until later in life, long after they've moved on. And where do they go? More kids move to urban than to rural areas after school if they can, I bet -- see below.

  3. States don't vote like states. It is no secret, from looking at county-by-county voting maps that have emerged post-election, that "blue" values seem to be clustered around urban areas, while "red" values seem to be more rural. States that are more populous (relatively speaking) in rural areas tend to be, and vote, red, in other words. I'd suggest, here, that "book smarts" are more of an asset in urban areas than rural areas -- that's where the white collar indistry is, so that's where people go to work, live, and vote. And schooling in rural areas is entirely different from schooling in urban areas, again for all sorts of reasons which we could get into here, but we won't.

Of course, we'll be nice, and not mention at all the fact that the people spreading this around are supposed to be the smart ones, according to their own table. Kind of makes you wonder where the country is headed overall when the supposed "smart ones" could have been so dumb as to think the data meant what they said it meant -- even when they thought it was true.

(To be fair, it turns out there is a tiny, statistically insignificant correlation between IQ and voting. But the best and only conclusions we can reach from the corrected numbers is merely a reminder that income and IQ are correlative -- which, surprisingly, seems to imply that more of the affluent voted for Kerry than Bush. Odd, that, since it challenges the way liberals usually dismiss Bush -- and not too useful as a liberal democratic truth-sword, either.)

What bothers me most about this sort of table, though, is that folks who claim to be smart thought it was appropriate to do anything with the data at all.

The USA isn't an intell-ocracy, and it shouldn't be; IQ doesn't necessarily determine whether someone is more or less able to determine what candidate would be best for them.

People who have lower SAT scores have every right to vote for what they see as important, and every equal ability to decide accurately, for themselves, what is important.

Look, I know some of you are deeply hurt by this election. But the folks who use this table, and other tools of protest whining like it, need to understand that you're not helping your cause by suggesting that the vast majority of voters are a) dumber than you, and b) that you think this means they are inherently unable to elect an appropriate president. Talk about dividing the society. What happened to the liberal drive to heal, help, and make whole?

posted by boyhowdy | 9:04 PM |

Now, see, personally, as an actual liberal, my take on this (rather shaky) data is to go "Oh, gee, you mean rural people who are poorer are less educated and do more poorly on tests? Holy shit, what a revelation! Hey, maybe there's a correlation between being shit-poor and being literate too, you think? Maybe that's why people like, oh, say Dean, who I wish was president now, propose that federal funding ought to turn it's focus to poor areas, specifically in regards to education and health care, to, you know, actually help people instead of snicker at them.

On the flip side og that, it's also true that as a liberal, typical red-stater hyper-christian macho asshole values make me want to vomit. But I think that stupidity and ignorant hate come from poverty, and that's why I believe in fixing those problems.
Boyhowdy - Amen, brother.
Matt - Wow. I'm a loss for words. "stupidity and ignorant hate comes from poverty" you say? I think people like Abraham Lincoln might disagree. But then, what do I know. I'm just a smart, knowledgeable, rich girl. One who's just so offended she's about to be sick. Please excuse me.

It's amazing what people will do to try and market their viewpoint. It's apparent that they can't win on their views so they're trying bandwagon techniques so that people will say, "Hey, I want to be one of the smart ones. I'll vote Democrat!"

Every one of your points is accurate and I'd add just one more thing. The numbers are just plain wrong. They're inaccurate. They're not even close! I posted on this myself and I have a link to a site with the real numbers.

Thanks for the comment and the discussion.
For someone at a loss for words, Anne, you make a damn fine point, and left me at a loss for words lasting several minites, in which time I realized that I had made a very dumbly imprecise argument. Allow me to clarify a bit:

First of all, in modern society, It seems to me that exposure to things like the arts, other religions, other people, a wide variety of books, and information generally leads people to be less rabidly dogmatic in their religious views (often entirely abandoning or changing them) , more tolerant of others, more embracing of differences and weirdness. (This is a generalization that is baseless except in my own experience, and even that holds a few contradictions.)

Now, if you're really poor and in a rural area, which, overall, tends to be a religiously and racially insulkated kind of area, and you're working all the time and have no leisure time to expose yourself to reading or art much, I think it's easier for people to
become xenophobic of people they misunderstand or percieve as a threat- Like "Those queers just want to rape our kids", or "Those damn (insert non-white race here) are always trying to suck up white man's jobs."

So really, what I think causes ignorance and hate in general is people being in insular groups that feed their own beliefs. This is true on any economic level. The old south, which you referenced with the Abe comment, was an insular society. Those liberal anarchist kids on St. Mark's place are an insular subculture. But what I'm saying is that racially and religiously, poor rural communities are much more succeptable to insulaity and xenophobia, and that the poverty itself is a big factor in that.

Does that make more sense, or am I still off base here, do you think?
And yet, Matt...

IQ is supposed to be a measure of pure intelligence, not applied intelligence (which is exactly my concern with the original results). So none of the points you make about book-larnin' or literacy development should apply.

I don't think you're off-base in your content, once you back off from the odd statements you made previously (and which Anne, rightly, called you on, I think). I do think it's a bit misapplied as a defense of this particular issue, though.
A: Yes, quite right she was, and
B:, see, I wasn't defending the reading of the issue, just offering my take on it. I addressed the difference between tests and intelligence in my first comment, when I remarked that it was no surprise at all that less educated people would do more poorly on a test. Which is what an IQ test is. I don't believe in an objective IQ test, and furthermore, as you point out, they didn't even use IQ tests to get these results. So again, to paraphrase myself, all this shows is that poorer, less educated people do worse on tests, to which I say no shit sherlock. I did not mean this at all as a defense for the topic at hand. I'm sorry for the confusion.
Yep. Matt, your clarification helps alot. Thanks. I knew anyone who read Boyhowdy couldn't be that insane. :>
"The USA isn't an intell-ocracy, and it shouldn't be; IQ doesn't necessarily determine whether someone is more or less able to determine what candidate would be best for them."

Wierd; I expressed nearly the same sentiment to a bunch of (sadly) impressionable sophomores in my dorm the other day. "Us vs. Jesusland" politics are spreading like wildfire!

It feels a little bit wierd for me to try to defend the South, West, and Southwest, especially considering how much I hated growing up there, but thanks for enunciating something I couldn't quite get out. We're never going to have real accountability for/accuracy of representation if we turn politics into something purely cultural; it isn't. Whether or not either of the major parties truly represent their supposed platforms (though I'm pretty sure we've talked about this before, so I'll get off my libertarian bandwagon ^_^), there *is* a difference of ideaology represented, not just socioeconomic status or "IQ". People who vote for Bush aren't necessarily more impressionable or easily swayed by rhetoric; the media went on and on about how Kerry's positions were too "cerebral," but he hardly differed from Bush much when it came to "war on terror" rhetoric or explored the complications of any of the important issues.

Plus (despite being a spoiled New England prep school kid), the idea that only the people who are wealthy enough to be groomed for a self-perpetuating system of academic "achievement" and education makes me a little bit sick. It was really difficult for me to suppress the urge to fire off a "*Who*, exactly, writes IQ tests?" snarky SWIS in General Student Discussions, but I've sort of given up on it being an effective medium for anything.

A disgruntled student leader, unsure entirely of how to "lead" a bunch of kids who think if you live below the Mason-Dixon line you're a lost cause but "like, really care about activism and politics and civil rights and stuff,"
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