Australian & New Zealand J. Psychiatry 1992, 26, 132.
AUTHORITARIANISM AMONG MEDICAL STUDENTS: COMMENT ON PESTELL & BALL
University of New South Wales
Some recent work in this journal by Pestell & Ball (1990) using the California F scale is incautious about what the scale measures, discusses statistically non-significant results as if they were meaningful, is crudely analysed and conflicts with findings elsewhere.
A recent paper by Pestell & Ball (1991) in this journal purported to compare medical students and law students in terms of "authoritarianism". It was concluded that males were more authoritarian than females and it was also implied that medical students were more authoritarian than law students. A trend for females to become more authoritarian over time while males became less authoritarian over time was also discussed.
A careful reading of the paper concerned, however, reveals that only the relationship between sex and authoritarianism was statistically significant and even this relationship emerged from an analysis that discarded or ignored most of the information available.
To elaborate a little: The authors used my revision (Ray, 1972) of the California F scale (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford, 1950) as their measure of "authoritarianism". In so doing, they appear to have been oblivious of the many questions hanging over what the scale measures (Altemeyer, 1981) and ignored my various submissions (e.g. Ray, 1983, 1988, 1990) to the effect that this scale measures primarily an old-fashioned orientation rather than "authoritarianism".
Even that aside, however, they then proceeded to analyse scores on this scale simply by dichotomizing them! This might have had some shred of justification (on the grounds of computational ease) in pre-computer days but, since computers are now ubiquitous, this can now be regarded only as a wanton disregard for the information available. Even a simple Pearsonian correlational analysis would have been more
informative -- to say nothing of any form of non-linear analysis.
It may therefore be useful to point out that correlational studies of the scale concerned have on at least some occasions (e.g. Ray, 1973 & 1990, p. 1007) suggested no differences at all between the sexes. In this context, therefore, to draw any conclusions at all from the Pestell & Ball results would be to lean on a weak reed indeed.
Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N.
(1950). The authoritarian personality New York: Harper.
Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism Winnipeg:
University of Manitoba Press.
Pestell, R. & Ball, R.B. (1991) Authoritarianism among medicine and
law students. Australian & New Zealand J. Psychiatry
Ray, J.J. (1972) A new balanced F scale -- And its relation to social class. Australian Psychologist 7, 155-166.
Ray, J.J. (1973) Dogmatism in relation to sub-types of conservatism: Some Australian data. European J. Social Psychology 3, 221-232.
Ray, J.J. (1983). Half of all authoritarians are Left-wing: A reply to Eysenck and Stone. Political Psychology, 4, 139-144.
Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.
Ray, J.J. (1990) The old-fashioned personality. Human Relations, 43, 997-1015.
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