Monbiot and The Intellectual Inferiority of Those With Right Wing Views

This weeks piece of nonsense from George Monbiot in the Guardian is based around a scientific paper that “revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence”

IF the paper were true, I would respond with the famous quote by Thomas Sowell:

“Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it”

Socialism is rejected by the not so bright because their common sense tells them it’s nonsense and they don’t understand the silver tongued sophistry that leftist intellectuals use to justify it.

However, it’s even simpler than that, the research paper George relies on so uncritically is absolute nonsense!

It is wise to be sceptical of “scientific papers” in the field of psychology, particularly ones that reach counter-intuitive conclusions.

The standard of proof used in psychology is “statistically significant” which is usually taken to mean that there is a 95% probability that the data observed could not be explained by chance alone.

Sounds very impressive doesn’t it, until you consider the remaining 5% of the time the data is pure chance. That equates to one “scientific paper” in every twenty published reaching a conclusion which is actually nothing more than a chance variation in the data.

There is also the specific problem for psychology, which is that psychologists are not known for their love of higher mathematics and advanced statistics: A quick look at statistics books on Amazon reveals a number of titles, just for them, along the lines of:

Statistics without maths for Psychology

Statistics in Psychology: Explanations without Equations

The problem here is that if you don’t actually understand the maths behind the crank handle formulas and statistical software packages beloved of psychologists you can misapply them and create results which look impressive but are actually nonsense.

The final reason to be cautious, is that without a series of research papers, carried out by different researchers, all reaching the same conclusion, there is the possibility that the researchers simply made up the data to further a political view. This has already happened
a number of times in the field of psychology, including cases by some eminent academic figures.

This particular psychology paper has been reviewed by Dr William M. Briggs, Adjunct Professor of Statistical Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York who ranks it as:

“A contender for the worst use of statistics
in an original paper ever”

If you are interested in statistics you can read about all the flaws in the analysis here

George Monbiot adds sagely:

“There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood”

But of course that is an entirely different claim. I think we can all agree that prejudice and stupidity are linked, without the need for lots of research!

As a Libertarian I don’t have the conservative beliefs which the paper refers to, which are defined as: Social conservatism & right-wing authoritarianism, but we should always be ready to challenge the nonsense of the left, even when it is directed at others.

STOP PRESS, the following infographic, shows the extent of research fraud and statistical errors in psychology papers: (Thanks @VeryBritishDude  VeryBritishDude )

Bad Science
Created by: Clinical Psychology

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  • Excellent post. I reached a similar conclusion about the psychology paper in question – and about Moonbot’s latest column – here:–-and-thats-saying-something/

  • Rightklik

    The flaws in the study have been ignored and the results have been overgeneralized to justify prejudicial attitudes against conservatives.  Somehow the left has missed the irony.

  • Ian Woolley

    Along similar lines there was this research a few years ago suggesting there’s a genetic basis to your political persuasion:

    However, around the same time there was a study suggesting the shape of politicians’ faces influences how we vote, the idea being there’s some hard-wiring that makes us favour certain faces for some underlying evolutionary purpose. If we combine these two pieces of research can we conclude that there are, for instrance, left-wing shaped faces?

    Your last line is the most important for me: ‘As a libertarian…’ Of course you’re right that this doesn’t imply subscribing to the usual conservative beliefs. Which is where a lot of people get it wrong.

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  • It’s not just bad stats, it’s bad science in that what is being called intelligence, which implies IQ, is nothing of the sort. The study talks about innate intelligence which if you look up it’s definition in Wiki is mumbo-jumbo psuedo science.

    • Aris Virtu

      It’s a horrible study, and this comment reveals why I think. Its basis – who determines and how one measures intelligence – is the fundamental problem.

      The statistical argument against though is I think rather weak, comparative to variances of probability in empirical methods across a variety of fields – and particularly within psychology, the mathematical integrity of which presented here is a caricature. I don’t suggest we throw out psychology because of this – actually profoundly scientific – allowance. Actually part of the argument has an epistemological arrogance – i.e. it veers into positivism, mimicing the deepest flaw within the original study itself. The right doesn’t need any more associations with scientism.

      Likewise the unsubstantiated suggestion that it might be ‘made up’….I’d take that Rand quote off the top of the page, because the content and broader nature of that comment has little to do with any Reason I can recognise.

      Comments about ‘the left’ being ‘the greatest killers of humanity’ only feeds assertions about people on the right being stupid. Right and left as part of simplified norms of the ‘political spectrum’…….just a prayer for order, and on a libertarian blog of all places. Bizarre.

      Those concerned with true liberty, regardless of political background, should be concerned about the dogma contained both in the study and this, somewhat diverted, response.

      Stay free

      • Thank you Aris, though we may have differing views, I appreciate your appeal. Few things are more frustrating or less conducive to constructive dialogue than seeing people argue with sock puppets and cardboard cutouts for the sake of their egos.  

        • Aris Virtu

          I’m glad someone else still believes in the traditional idea of constructive dialogue – to move towards truth, even as an impossible destination.

          I wish Toby Young did, with his opportunities and access. Instead he….. well it’s hard to think to think of an appropriate metaphor…..10 yards out with the ball at his feet, facing an open goal with the goalkeeper and defenders stranded, he manages to turn around and bang an 85 yard screamer past his own goalkeeper. The name calling I’m sure galvanises the incurably convinced, the open moderate concerned with reason perhaps less so.

          I have some respect for some of Monbiot’s work, but this was a disaster. And Young set himself up beautifully – rightly questioning the validity of the study, and particularly its ludicrous application. Then he gets drawn into a petty game where he manages to debase himself further than the Guardian journalist had. Perhaps it was too hard to resist – I just wish he had.

          Showing off to the baying mob is something we’re all capable of unfortunately.

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  • I am not going to take any lectures on intelligence  based on any pseudo-scientific  and politically motivated papers from those on the left who believe it is possible to borrow your way out of debt.

  • JRP

    Some clever person should be able to use Google correlate to reverse engineer some great statistical psychology nonsense.  It would be interesting to see what silliness they come up with!


    You can do it in financial markets too. 

  • Anonymous

    This is all about Free Speech. After all the gov’t (and their corporate cronies) censor the media and ban books like “America Deceived II”.
    Last link of “America Deceived II” before it is completely censored:

  • Quentin Vole

    A cunning piece of research into how much people enjoy having their prejudices confirmed. Imagine an identical piece with the words conservative and right-wing replaced by women/blacks/Jews/homosexuals … The same people filling up comments with “nyah, nyah, told you so” would be frothing with outrage, moaning about intelligence being merely a construct of the patriarchal hegemony and demanding the resignation of those responsible for the research.

    For me, it merely confirms my prejudice against social ‘scientists’. (No apologies for the condescending quote marks – if they were good enough for Ernest Rutherford, they’re good enough for me.)

    • GT

      Lord Rutherford had a lot to recommend him. For one, he was a Kiwi.

      World Champs, cuz’. Choice.

  • Wigancraig

    The left are the greatest killers of humanity in the 20th century, no one even comes close to topping Stalin or Mao. They can try and rewrite it all they want but people with real life experience and with bills to pay know deep down the reality of hard left policies and will never embrace hard leftism freely no matter how it’s dressed up.

    • Anonymous

      Or the other one – National SOCIALISM….

    • Anonymous

      Mmmmm, Pol Pot comes a close third, he’s credited with 4 million. Any other Socialistas you can think of ??

  • Stato

    “Sounds very impressive doesn’t it, until you consider the remaining 5% of the time the data is pure chance. That equates to one “scientific paper” in every twenty published reaching a conclusion which is actually nothing more than a chance variation in the data.”

    Err, no, it doesn’t. Perhaps you should have a read of one of those stats books…

      “A P value of <0.05 means that this result would have arisen by chance on less than one occasion in 20"

      • You are conflating two things. 

        One is the results of a single statistical comparison of difference that returns p≤0.05. A statistical test of difference between groups is predicated on the assumption that the null hypothesis (there is no genuine difference between the groups aside from that which occurs due to random variation) is true. Because the p value is derived under the assumption the null hypothesis is true, it cannot therefore also be the probability it is true. As Stato says above, the theory and maths in textbooks would probably make this clear to you.

        The second situation is running multiple tests (or, multiple studies). In this case it *is* appropriate to say that we would expect around one in twenty of the studies (assuming each reported a difference at p=0.05) to report a statistically significant difference where there was no genuine difference.

        But there are two difference situations. In the main post you seem to argue under the first (which is incorrect) and then also the second (which, while correct, isn’t a particularly relevant criticism).

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps Monbiot should be made to watch this presentation by Psychologist Jonathan Haidt from TED on the morality of politics which suggests that whilst conservatives can be viewed as morally ‘balanced’ liberals tend to be three cards short of a moral fullhouse (of course Haidt doesn’t put it in quite that way but hey we can all spin)

    The statistics seem consistent but most of all the conclusions seem to be based in reality rather than propagandist wishful thinking (unusual for a relatively liberal source).

    Of course it does not explain the overt bigotry of many liberals like Monbiot in the UK.

  • How’s that Neo-Liberalism workin’ out for ya in the UK? Highest cost of living in Europe? How does that work out for ya?
    Conservatism is a mental defect!

    • Anonymous

      What a very intellectual statement.

      • Jacky Treehorn

        Thank you.

    • Jacky Treehorn

      I have long been of the mind that because the Left(over here at least) have shown on so many occasions, their inabilty to get the easiest thing right, they must be born with an idiot gene.

  • Anonymous

    Did you know that there is a 95% probality that George Monbiot  is ‘dumber than a treestump’, statistically speaking of course, that puts him slightly to the right of Attila the Nun.

  • My undergraduate qualification is in psychology, so am leaping to the defence of psychologists who are characterised here as dribbling, mathematically illiterate, statistical incompetents. (What follows obviously doesn’t mean the research paper George Monbiot relies upon is a well-conducted study or its conclusions correct, other critics have engaged with the substance of the research elsewhere.)

    While admonishing psychologists as ‘not known for their love of higher mathematics and advanced statistics’ you make several statements that demonstrate fundamental misunderstanding of statistical concepts.

    ‘Statistically significant’ at the 5% (p≤0.05) level absolutely does not mean, as you say, that 5% of the time the result is due to chance (this is probably the most common fundamental error made in the interpretation of the results of statistical tests). Any decent medical or social science statistical textbook (maybe even some of the ones you refer to quite snidely) will discuss the underlying theories of probability distribution and hypothesis testing and illustrate why this is not the case. 

    You can briefly read why at the wiki entry on p-values, a good textbook will tell you more and give you the theoretical and mathematical background: 

    You would indeed expect multiple studies to produce a certain rate of false positives by chance alone, however there isn’t any reason to suspect this to be the case in this one particular study compared to any other as, clearly, the effect is random. 

    This might seem irrelevant to whether Monbiot is correct or not, and in any case, other more sophisticated analyses have made better criticisms of the original research paper he relies on. But my unsolicited advice is that if you are keen on ‘attacking nonsense with the power of reason’ (as your twitter bio says) and unless you want to make Monbiot’s points for him, you be wise to do some background work before deploying an argument in terms you don’t really seem to have a good understanding of.

    • Anonymous

      So, after having written al that, what statistically significant point are you trying to make. Failing that, can somebody translate ??

       Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881): “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” , he’s been dead for 130 years but he still knows what’s what.


      • Point was: attacking research on the grounds of statistics, while at the same time not understanding statistics, is unpersuasive.

  • Reallib

    “Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all”

    Adam Smith

  • GT

    Anyone who identifies with, or invests a scintilla of psychological energy in, either ‘wing’ of politics is retarded. 

    I doubt that anybody would get a research grant to prove that, but you need only examine the ‘facts on the ground’ to see that it can be taken from lemma to axiom without further research.Politics – both ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing – is the means by which career parasites use the threat of violence to confiscate the output of the productive. The system is designed to push tax funds to politically connected cronies, and to enable the soi-disant ‘leaders’ to live in palaces at society’s expense – i.e., it’s the same as it  was under the Borgia Popes, but more cunning since they got morons to invest themselves in their own rape by creating false ‘sides’ (modeled on the Byzantine ‘demes’).The Right would not trust the government to run a welfare system, but bar up when the parasites launch a war or imprison a coon for smoking dope. The Left dislike war (a bit, but mostly only if it’s being waged by a ‘righty’)… but will calumniate anybody who tries to keep their children out of the grasp of State indoctrination centres.Seriously – this is like a story about which religion is the most retarded. (The answer: all of them are equally retarded).OK… so we have to get out the tape measure and measure my intellectual dick now. IQ 152 (measured before I was 15), took a First and topped my year (in Economics/Econometrics), Firsts at Masters… blah blah blah. Can do sums. Some Latin, semi-decent French (I refuse to get good at languages that don’t realise they’re already dead).And I fucking can’t abide George Monbiot – a typical pushy “Everyone who doesn’t think like me is a barbarian” salon-intellectual. He has less grasp of economics than an inner urban welfare Mum, and if he can’t get across a relatively simple discipline like Economics, then his grasp of ‘climate science’ (which is more complex, mostly to bamboozle morons) will be even more worser.

    Oh, and I’m an anarchist BECAUSE I understand economics (and particularly Public Choice theory), not in spite of it.

  • Must be embarrassing for this free market fundamentalist to appear so smug in this criticism which promptly gets torn to shreds by real statisticians. 

    I recommend he reads Andy Field’s Discovering Statistics Using SPSS in its entirety before he emits any more discredited ‘nonsense’. 

    Seeing as he’s not ‘conservative’ he’ll have a decent chance of grasping it.

  • Anonymous

    Any comments from Moonbat is equal to scum floating on a cesspool

  • JC

    Pop psychology & particularly the media is full of misunderstanding on the subject of statistics. My Statistics Prof explained it brilliantly by highlighting that there is a very strong correlation between the incidence of murder in New York City & ice cream sales in the city. Psychologists & media types believe correlation is evidence of a causal link.

    They don’t understand the concept of “validity” ….in effect, is the correlation evidence of a valid link?

    The answer to the NYC example is that most murders occur at night, during the summer when temperatures are high…ie. on hot summer nights there are more people out on the street and consequently more murders. Coincidentally, on hot summer nights people are looking for ways to cool down… eating ice cream!

  • You can also align the hysterics of Global Warming and that Hate Movement that is Feminism to the left movement. Their frustration about the failed efforts of communism and socialism can be continually witnessed as they hand wring and increase their angst level at it’s failure. They do not have any alternative view but will try to bring down the current system in place with the promise of putting in something else in there. That “else” has not been thought out yet..

  • I took more away from reading the comments of the posters than Mr Monboits actual article, it was instructive to read so many Guardian readers engaging in ad-hom attacks against any person or group that they perceive as being right of center in outlook.

    The hypocrisy of so many of these commentators who’s opinions seem to veer between irrational hatred of the Daily Mail and / or belief in some pseudo left wing gene is breathtaking.

    When you consider the historical disasters caused by people of a left-wing persuasion, it seems counter intuitive to make any claim that they are any more intelligent than those of the right.


  • Does the Libertarian belief in a free market and unregulated capitalism support the manipulation of scientific data to serve profits? 

  • S. Kane

    When is the UK mainstream press going to comment on Die Kalte Sonne (The Cold Sun) by Fritz Vahrenholt and Sebastien Luning, currently being serialised in Bild in Germany -or Guenter Keil’s expose of the failure of wind energy farms in Germany?  Too off message to handle?

    • Anonymous

      Don’t hold your breath,the bien pensants are la la la’ing with fingers firmly in ears.

  • Owler

    If the infographic is in any way accurate then of course the infographic has at least the same and probably a better chance qualifying for any or all of the three catagories of scientific misconduct. I say “probably better” because I doubt if the infographic was subject to any scientific method.