Personality & Individual Differences Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 331-336, 1989.
All rights reserved. Copyright © 1989 Pergamon Press plc
THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF IDEOLOGY IS TOO OFTEN MORE IDEOLOGICAL THAN SCIENTIFIC
J. J. RAY
University of New South Wales, Kensington, N.S.W. 2033, Australia
(Received 7 March 1988)
Summary -- It has been pointed out that the now generally disowned practice of not publishing "negative results" led to great doubts about whether what was found in psychological research generally was accurately mirrored in the journal literature. It is submitted that ideological bias in psychologists doing research into authoritarianism and conservatism leads to similar problems. Eight recent studies of authoritarianism or conservatism are critically examined to support this contention. It is shown that all greatly distort the implications of their findings in order to render such findings more acceptable to those with Leftist sympathies. It is contended that this unscientific, craven and not in accord with what liberals generally would say they stand for.
As Weinstein (1969) has pointed out, what is published of psychological research can well not be representative of what is found in psychological research. Weinstein was particularly concerned with the now fortunately outdated bias against "negative results" that undoubtedly ruled psychologists in the 1950's and '60's. At that time it was widely felt that results were only interesting if they confirmed some theory. Findings of "no relationship" were too common to be worth publishing. As Weinstein and others pointed out, however, the upshot of this bias was that no theory could ever be disproved, at least in print. Hardly the stuff of science! As Rosenthal (1979) pointed out, by chance alone someone would always find results confirmatory of a given theory and it would be those results that would be published rather than the 20 other sets of results which disconfirmed the same theory. A more absurd approach to the advancement of knowledge would be hard to imagine.
Absurd or not, however, the approach is still surprisingly influential despite being officially disowned (Atkinson et al., 1982) so we should not be surprised to find other distortions in the social-scientific communication process. I wish therefore to mention and submit that distortions also arise when ideologically relevant matters are studied. As all the surveys show (e.g. McClintock et al.. 1965) psychologists may not always be very Left-wing but they are fairly consistently Left-wing by general community standards. Leftist political tenets (e.g. belief in environmental vs genetic determinism) form part of the culture of modern-day psychology. When psychologists study ideology, therefore, a tendency to draw conclusions that accord with Leftist beliefs is rather to be expected. The purpose of the present paper is to add some substance to that expectation.
The ruling account of ideology among psychologists would still seem to be that put forward by Adorno et al. (1950). It is at least a theory that still seems to receive a lot of uncritical mention (e.g. Kinloch, 1986; Maier and Lavrakas, 1984; Miller et al., 1985; Tom et al., 1984; Kelley, 1985; Kline and Cooper, 1984). Since Adorno was a prominent Marxist theoretician, it should come as no surprise to note that the Adorno et al. theory goes to absurd lengths to be kind to Leftists. It even claims that authoritarianism is characteristically Rightist -- ignoring all the evidence of authoritarianism among the world's many communist governments. This absurdity was pointed out almost immediately (Shils, 1954) but most psychologists seem to be like Brown (1965) in finding that much of the theory still rings true. In brief, the theory is that authoritarianism is merely a more extreme form of conservatism and that both are the outcome of adverse experiences with the father during childhood. These experiences left the child maladjusted, defensive and prone to a rigid, oversimplified cognitive style. Leftists, by contrast, had happy childhoods, are properly flexible and are well-adjusted. This summary is itself an oversimplification of a very large book but serves to show why Leftists could reasonably be expected to be very pleased by such a theory. It will be submitted here that such satisfaction with the theory is the best explanation of why research into it tends to be so amazingly misreported. To take some instances:
Browning (1983) presents findings on the relationship between ego development and authoritarianism. She took one index of ego development and correlated it with nine measures of "authoritarianism". The nine resultant Pearsonian correlations were: 0.08, 0.06, 0.04, -0.10, -0.11, 0.18, -0.25, -0.07 and -0.18. How would one describe such a set of findings? Surely, one could only say that, overall, authoritarianism had little or nothing to do with ego development. Particularly when one considers that the correlations oscillate in sign (half are positive and half negative) one might think that a clearer disproof of any relationship between the two constructs would be hard to imagine. Perhaps someone might want to cavil that the single correlation above 0.2 might mean something but when they find out that the scale providing this prediction measures traditional attitudes towards the male role they will surely see that the findings could well be due to other influences than authoritarianism. When in pursuing this line of thought they found out that none of the scales used has been validated as measures of authoritarianism, they would surely see that not the most optimistic view of the findings could make them evidence for an association between ego development and authoritarianism.
Yet how does Browning describe her results? Very positively. For instance: "The findings indicate that conscientious (higher stage) subjects are consistently less authoritarian than conformist subjects on a variety of specific attitudes" (p. 137). "The results of this study indicated that there was a moderate correlation between ego development and several aspects of authoritarianism" (p. 142). She contends that her findings "suggest both the continuing existence of some form of the authoritarian personality syndrome in present day society, the integrative power of that concept. and also the validity of the stage orientations of the ego development concept that pertain to authoritarianism" (p. 144).
What is going on? Why do her beliefs about her findings drift so far from the obvious? The problem seems to be due to a lack of perspective. She acknowledges that her scales are ad hoc but seems to think that an apology fixes that problem. When one considers that the F-scale itself is a very poor predictor of authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1981), however, it is obvious that it is more than an apology that is needed. She implicitly acknowledges that her correlations are low by presenting also a list of non-linear correlation coefficients. Her maximum correlation rises to 0.29 that way. But this is little more than an artifice. Very few correlations are perfectly linear and almost any correlation can be inflated by adding in the non-linear component. For non-linear correlations to be interpreted, however, graphs depicting the relationships need to be provided. For correlations as low as Brownings, the normal expectation would be that each correlation would be depicted by a series of zig-zags rather than a smooth U-curve. A series of zig-zags, however, is more a depiction of a random walk than of an interpretable relationship. She also looks at levels of authoritarianism at each level of ego development and finds, as the overall correlations would suggest, that the level of authoritarianism oscillates. She then seizes on one point where authoritarianism is high and makes that her focus of attention. If you look at any body of data hard enough. you are almost sure to find some segment of it that suits your preconceptions.
If all researchers acted as Browning does, then, it would seem unlikely that a relationship between authoritarianism and anything else could ever be disproved.
But Browning is not alone. Let us look further.
Sidanius (1985) is another writer who presents findings which he claims to be very supportive of the relevance and truth of the Adorno et al. (1950) theory. Yet when we read the details of what he actually found such a conclusion is little short of amazing. We find him reporting (p. 650): "The trend analyses showed no statistically significant relationships between political party preferences and the indices of cognitive functioning". We further read "Political-economic conservatism, or what can be called a pure socialism-capitalism dimension, showed no significant relationship to any of the indices of cognitive functioning" (p. 654). How then can Sidanius view his results as supportive of the Adorno et al. theory that conservatives should be cognitively rigid and oversimplifying? It appears that his overall measure of conservative attitudes does show some correlation with two out of six of his cognitive style measures. Even this, however, is explained by Sidanius himself as due to the fact that his overall conservatism measure contains some items expressing racism. When the effect of the racism items is removed, no cognitive style measure correlates with any measure of conservatism. One should note, moreover, that the correlations between cognitive complexity and racism are respectively 0.02, 0.07, 0.13, 0.04, 0.15 and 0.16. One might have thought that this was as good a picture of non-relationship as one was likely to get but, due to the fairly large sample size used (N = 195), the last two correlations can in fact be shown to be significant at the 0.05 level. Even here, however, it should be noted that the two significant correlations come from precisely those two cognitive style measures which Sidanius shows to be invalid by his own criterion (correlation with the Budner scale score). His only significant results are from invalid measures! In some strange way, results that should have been seen as a complete disaster for the Adorno et al. theory were in fact presented as good support for the theory.
Another psychologist who seems less than critical about his own data is Rump. Rigby and Rump (1982) showed that a series of cognitive style measures correlated with measures of conservatism and acceptance of authority. Ray (1984a) presented a critique of that work which questioned the validity of the measures used. Most of the cognitive style measures Rigby and Rump used appeared, to varying degrees, also to be measuring conservatism. Such items as "Politically, I am something of a radical" were used to measure cognitive complexity! No wonder such items predicted radicalism/conservatism! The dependent and independent variables were inextricably confounded. Rump (1985), however, took some note of these criticisms and presented three new studies in an attempt to meet them. The first study simply found that pro-authority people showed more religiosity and conservatism. As there has never been any dispute that pro-authority attitudes are a part of traditional conservatism (Ray, 1973) and that conservatism and religiosity tend to be associated (Ray, 1984b) this in fact in no way advances Rump's claim that conservatives are cognitively rigid. Rump's second study showed a correlation between attitude to authority and a scale of intolerance of ambiguity but from the figures Rump supplies one may calculate (using the formula: mean r = alpha divided by n - (n - 1)alpha, where r is the mean inter-item correlation and n is the number of items) that the average correlation between the items of his ambiguity tolerance measure was a quite non-significant 0.06! Such results tend if anything to show that ambiguity tolerance is completely multidimensional and may not exist as such at all. Hardly support for the Adorno et al. contention that rigidity/flexibility is highly generalizable! Rump's third study used three new tests of cognitive style of no known validity. They would appear from inspection to be measuring preference for order and Rump himself mentions this aspect of them in his conclusions. The only surprise is that Rump should think he has shown anything significant by the use of them. "Law and order" is a well-known conservative cry so to show that conservatives prefer order is rather like proving that grass is green. To support the Adorno et al. theory Rump would have had to show that order was preferred by conservatives to a pathological degree. This, of course, he failed to do. Surely no-one contends that all desire for order is pathological. Science itself is a search for order in the world. If therefore one is to conclude anything at all from Rump's work one might as well say that he has shown that conservatives are well fitted to be scientists! Such a conclusion would certainly be no less rigorous than the ones Rump has drawn.
Another piece of research that was less than insightful about the validity of the measures used was by Kelley (1985). Kelley showed that authoritarians (high scores on a version of the Adorno F-scale) showed especial sensitivity about sexual matters. They were more loath than low F-scale scorers to be shown pictures of masturbation. This finding would seem to sit well with the psychodynamic explanation of authoritarianism proffered by Adorno et al. but less complex explanations might also be considered. As has been shown elsewhere (Ray, 1984b), religion and its attendant moral strictures is a strong source of conservatism. Ronald Reagan's successful courting of the "moral majority" is also well known. Religion could then account both for conservatism and sexual restrictiveness among Kelley's subjects. Since the F-scale has always been held to be in part a measure of conservatism (Ray, 1973) a correlation between the F-scale and sexual restrictiveness was to be expected purely as an aspect of the effect of religion. What looks at first like good support for the Adorno et al. theory proves on closer examination to be no proof of anything in particular at all.
An uncritical approach to what they were measuring also seems to inform the work of Weigel and Howes (1985). Like Adorno et al., Weigel and Howes were able to show a very strong correlation (r = 0.74) between conservatism and racism. Yet there are a variety of studies that show little or no relationship in the general population between these two variables (e.g. Ray, 1984c, Ray and Furnham, 1984; Ray and Lovejoy, 1986). Whence the difference in the findings? The difference would appear to lie in how conservatism is measured. Weigel and Howes took as their measure of conservatism a scale which did not consist of a representative sampling of issues currently of concern to conservatives but rather which consisted of items that might have measured conservatism in the 1920s. They were, in a word, extremely old-fashioned and were such as might easily sound ridiculous to modern ears. Their content mainly concerned exaggerated expressions of national pride and the scale might be better described as a measure of jingoism than as a measure of conservatism. Weigel and Howes might have shown that racial pride went with dislike of blacks or they might have shown that only old-fashioned people now openly acknowledge dislike of blacks but they certainly showed nothing about conservatism as a modern-day political philosophy.
Moving on among recent papers relevant to the Adorno et al. work we come to a study by Tom et al. (1984). Their study is billed as a study of authoritarianism among teachers and, as usual, is written as if it supports the Adorno et al. theory. As with the study by Sidanius (1985), however, when we look at what was actually found we find a study that might better be viewed as undermining the Adorno et al. theory. What Tom et al. (1984) found was that high scorers on the Budner Intolerance of Ambiguity scale were no more likely than anyone else to use stereotypes in evaluating their students. But are not authoritarians supposed to be the great cognitive simplifiers? If even a scale which concentrates on the cognitive style aspect of authoritarianism (the Budner scale) does not show authoritarians as cognitive simplifiers (users of stereotypes) have we not got a clear disproof of the Adorno et al. theory? Such a conclusion does not appear to have suggested itself to Tom et al.
Another paper that skips lightly over some fairly obvious implications of what it reports is by Kline and Cooper (1984). These authors showed that authoritarians (high F-scorers) were especially sane, had good self-control, were forceful, conscientious and inclined to perfectionism. Rather a favourable picture, one might say. It is not, however, what Kline and Cooper thought that they had shown. They said that they found authoritarians to be conscientious, conventional, and controlled with high will-power. They also found that authoritarians were "anal" and low scorers on Eysenck's "P"-scale. A much less favourable picture. The interpretation that Kline and Cooper gave their data is in fact a fairly conventional one. I submit, however, that it overlooks much. While there may be some justification for using Freudian labels such as "anality" with clinical populations, I submit that it is quite inappropriate with normal populations. As it is out of print and Kline did not respond to a request for a copy of his "AD" scale (for measuring "anality") I cannot speak with any certainty about the content of the scale but, if it is anything like other measures of obsessiveness, I suspect that "perfectionism" might be a better term for what it was measuring in the Kline and Cooper study. As care and attention to detail can be very adaptive in activities such as science, I would submit that "perfectionism" is a term which gives a better balance of both positive and negative connotations. It would be reasonable to say that obsessive attention to detail is needed if one is to get a paper published in an A.P.A. journal but would anyone want to say that you have to be "anal" to get a paper published there? The remainder of the re-naming exercise (for the variables used by Kline and Cooper) anyone can do for themselves. Kline and Cooper rely heavily on the Cattell "16PF" and the naming of those scales even gave Cattell trouble. Why else did he have to invent or disinter so many words to name them ("surgency", "rhathymia" etc)? There may, however, be some difficulty in interpreting scores on the Eysenck "P" scale. At the beginning of this paragraph I took the straightforward view that a low score on psychoticism (which the P-scale allegedly measures) implied especially good sanity. The scale is, however, another factor-analytic product and is, as such, susceptible of various interpretations. Perhaps the best interpretation of what the scale measures is whether or not people are "nicer" to one-another. Whether we say that authoritarians are "saner" or "nicer", however, in neither case can the Kline and Cooper findings be seen as supportive of the Adorno et al. theory. On that theory authoritarians should, if anything, have got especially high scores on the "P"-scale. Again, however, Kline and Cooper (1984) claim that their work supports the Adorno et al. theory.
Let us conclude our tour of contemporary wishful thinking by referring to one more study of conservatism. Petersen and Wilkinson (1983) use NORC data to show that people with conservative views on racial equality and sex roles tend to be people prone to personal despair. Their measure of despair, however, was two arbitrarily chosen items from the Srole Anomia scale which could as well be said to measure cynicism or pessimism. It is, of course, well-known that conservatives have a cynical view of human nature (Ray, 1981-82). None of the three indices used by Petersen and Wilkinson, however, were in any way validated or examined for reliability. Their brevity would, however, suggest minimal reliability. It is therefore not at all certain that Petersen and Wilkinson succeeded in measuring anything at all. If they did their findings are most probably no more than a confirmation that conservatives tend to be wary about other people's good intentions. One could have found the same information in a dictionary. Petersen and Wilkinson certainly, however, have no claim to having shown that conservatives live unhappy lives. Caution has its place and it could well be argued that it is the incautious who have unhappy lives.
It will be noted that the above parade of examples is all from quite recent work. All the writers mentioned should have had available to them the many systematic critiques of the Adorno et al. work that have appeared over the years (e.g. Titus and Hollander, 1957; Christie and Jahoda, 1954; Rokeach, 1960; Brown, 1965; McKinney, 1973; Altemeyer, 1981). They should have known that there is much to question in the Adorno et al. theory. Despite this, they have written as if few or no criticisms of it had ever been made. Why did they act in such a blind manner? Why did they distort their findings to fit the theory? Why did they act as if the theory had to be right? I would suggest that, by and large, the authors were making a reasonable judgment about what would or would not be accepted for publication. I myself have always found that articles which "rock the boat" are very hard to get published. Articles which upset people's expectations receive scrutiny far fiercer than articles which reinforce those expectations. In the "publish or perish" rat race it pays not to upset anybody. So if a man is wrong you do not present him with proof of it. Orthodoxy must always be respected. You offend fewest people that way. If your colleagues are mostly Left-wing it pays to reinforce their self-image of being better than Right-wing people. It is not science; it is craven and it hardly represents an example of what most liberals would say they stand for but it does happen time and time again. If this paper helps to foster some awareness of what is going on, perhaps it will happen a little less often. Perhaps also we might get to hear a little more of what the so-far unpublished studies have shown. In the circumstances, however, it is not too hard to guess what they have shown.
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