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What happens when academics become biased in their clinical work?
On the cover:
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III; August 19, 1946) is an American politician who was the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Clinton was previously Governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992, and the Arkansas Attorney General from 1977 to 1979. A member of the Democratic Party, ideologically Clinton was a New Democrat, and many of his policies reflected a centrist "Third Way" political philosophy.
Smart presidents and propaganda-riddled studies
Given the monumental embarrassment born from unprecedented personal attacks between this great nation's current presidential candidates, the title tantalizes with the possibility of relief brought on by a brilliant Barack Obama IQ report. No such luck. It isn't until one actually reads this obscure document, (specifically pages 511-526 of the August 2006 publication, Political Psychology , Vol. 27, No. 4) that it's 2006 release date is realized. Thus, Barack Obama was relatively unheard of, not a part of the dataset, and the contemporary relevance of a study like this becomes... irrelevant.
So what's in it for you?
Free of expected recompense, you'll complete this editorial more informed, protected, entertained, and likely agitated. But alas, the repugnant head of inappropriate bias which has reared itself atop today's mangled 'journalists' will be identified - as too their employers. Rest assured, no server hacking will be necessary.
(Full disclosure; This author holds Dean Keith Simonton, and the media who distort information, equally liable for the vulgar irresponsibilities outlined below.)
The Bush's have it
The method of the "study" appears solid on the surface, and Dean Keith Simonton's credentials are seemingly impeccable. This is not the issue. That said, the simplest peeling of this onion's skin immediately reveals glaring flaws in the most basic of logic. Straight out of one of the most liberal regions in the United States, it's quite clear Simonton's study is crafted to exalt the intellectual prowess of Democrats as well as the bumbling jester-hood of Republicans. All this, despite the meticulous methods and extensive author credentials.
Let's let that one go, and assume the author thesis subtext is; "Democratic presidents are smarter than Republican presidents." We can work with this.
Based on word count alone, it's abundantly apparent Mr. Simonton is specifically comparing Bill Clinton to George W. Bush. This is why the article is made-to-order for the media negatively aligning Hillary Clinton's campaign to Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump's campaign to George W. Bush.
The bias: Immediately inappropriate
As soon as the study's exorbitant platitudes, endless definitions, and mind-numbing methods are defined, Simonton launches his bias assault with, "Ever since George W. Bush was elected to the presidency, questions have emerged about his general intelligence." He later follows with, "Yet these outcomes cannot simply be attributed to his being a conservative Republican..." This one-two punch suggests the reader should simply accept that Bush in unintelligent and the reason is not only his political party membership, but something more sinister.
The attempted first-round knockout comes with a follow-up flurry, associating Bush with perceived evils of the world; "...Bush's integrative complexity is also comparable to (a) extreme abolitionists and pro-slavery advocates in antebellum United States (b) hard-line communists in the Soviet leadership (c) the extremist Islamic Fundamentalists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership-with the notable exception of Osama bin Laden, who is lower still."
[Publisher's note: It can be argued that the job of the Oval Office is the most vigorously vetted position in the country's history. Similar statements can be made about Downing Street, The Kremlin, and so on. There are different degrees of intelligence, but it is indisputable that all prominent world leaders are very intelligent, period. If you truly believe that it's possible for an unintelligent person to become leader of the free world, then it's pointless for you to continue reading... anything.]
Ten for me, one for you
Like the rehearsed criminal skillfully creating his alibi, writers like Dean Keith Simonton periodically pepper their output with a few thinly-veiled counterpoints to help defend any challenge of bias.
For example, after irresponsibly editorializing within the confines of a "study," Simonton continues; "...some of these attacks [on George W. Bush] were nothing more than internet hoaxes, and others were founded solely on his frequent verbal slips..."
Three-way love child
But this doesn't stop the biased media from it's new form of 'unbiased journalism.' Simonton forges ahead, repeatedly pointing out how unintelligent George W. Bush seems to be, then sprinkles a few more alibi crumbs to cover his path; "Given that most presidents of the United States died long before the advent of intelligence tests, it is imperative to specify the basis for the scores used in these investigations. Assessment began by extracting personality descriptions from several biographical sources for 39 presidents from Washington through Reagan. All identifying information was then removed to produce anonymous biographical profiles."
Socrates, Einstein, and Hemingway's three-way intellectual love child couldn't create relevant biographies on US presidents with identifying information removed. Their entire relevance is based on the identity, the period, and the environment during which they were in office. It is slight-of-hand fiction to create a study of presidential intelligence quotients based on scrubbed biographies.
Harvard vs Yale
The study goes on the reference 'independent judges' from 2006, checklists from 1965, and dimensions including "intelligent, wise, inventive, artistic, curious, sophisticated, complicated, and insightful (but not dull or commonplace)"
As one might expect, a token alibi soon follows when Simonton continues; "Bush is definitely intelligent. The IQ estimates range between 111.1 and 138.5, with an average around 125. That places him in the upper range of college graduates."
Yet the author lightly brushes over Bush's Harvard MBA, and immediately follows with "Clinton's intellectual attainments as a Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School graduate, his demonstrated capacity for mastering impressive amounts of complex and detailed information, his verbal eloquence and fluency, and his logical adroitness and sophistication-at times, as during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, verging on sophistry-places Clinton head and shoulders above his successor in terms of intellectual power."
Clinton scores with sophistry?
Ah, sophistry. According to this interpretation, Clinton's IQ enjoyed a significant boost as a result of his creative, side-stepping double-talk during admitted and repeated lies on the Lewinsky scandal. To fully appreciate the scientifically cloaked bias of this study, the Webster definition of "sophistry" may help; "Sophistry is the use of reasoning or arguments that sound correct but are actually false; a reason or argument that sounds correct but is actually false." It's as if Simonton is implying that Clinton was smarter and more fit to be President because he dodged the Lewinsky prosecution.
We're all equal, but we're more equal
Incidentally, Rubenzer and Faschingbauer (who scored George W. Bush) said they had to score him differently than the other presidents. As they expressed it, "We depart here from our usual method; rather than having biographers rate the president, the authors read biographies and then rated him. This was done for one simple reason: None of the few biographers available returned our questionnaires."
While this study lists an enormous amount of scientific methodology, the gist of the study is purely the subjective opinion of presidential personalities whom the 'judges' have never met. In some cases, the subjects have been dead for decades. A subjective, sliding baseline like this simply can't provide reliable results.
We're sorry Simonton, four pages of references do not help prove your thesis. It's fatally flawed.
Epilogue: Be a good fool
The most trite-but-true cliche couldn't apply more; Knowledge is power. Whether you lean to the left, sway to the right, or swing anywhere between, you need protection. You're under attack from a powerless, cowardly, and faceless enemy - other than ISIS; That enemy is today's media and apparently some of it's academic allies. Open your common sense receptors. Do your own homework. Take the time to look into things from multiple sources. Common sense and freedom of choice is a weapon far greater than the media's arsenal of one-two punches.
If you're lazy, then you deserve what's in store for you.
Read more than your own party's propaganda. (Yes, I said it, propaganda.) Read both sides of these ridiculous accusations and insults. Better yet, search out unbiased sources. It's not easy, but do you want easy, or accurate? (Free: My grandpa's great philosophical nugget, spoken with an unspecific European accent: "There's cheap, fast, and good. You only get two.") Once you find unbiased sources that match your needs, dig deeper. Dig much deeper. Life is worth a few clicks and a little research on your part.
I found my unbiased sources. Now what?
Begin by asking yourself easy questions, without emotion; Is how Hillary Clinton treats Secret Service agents really relevant to her ability to lead the free world? Is Donald Trump's 10-year-old locker-room talk really relevant? Of course these things matter when choosing a schoolteacher or priest, but for God sakes, use the modicum of time you're investing to ask valuable questions... then answer them yourself;
+ Can we afford another 4 years of our current direction?
+ Is "The lesser of two evils" the right approach?
+ Can a complete and total outsider handle the top spot in the White House?
+ Are you better off now than before Hillary, Bill, or Barack?
+ Are you OK with being lied to?
+ Do you really, really trust your candidate?
+ Are you insured?
+ Do you feel safe?
+ [Insert your own questions here]
You answered these questions as soon as you read them, didn't you? Now do some unbiased homework and prove your answers to yourself.
Now, go vote!
Dean Keith Simonton
University of California at Davis
Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Aug., 2006), pp. 511-526
Published by: International Society of Political Psychology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3792393 Accessed: 04/03/2010 02:53
UPDATE: A response from Dean Keith Simonton
Sun, Oct 30, 2016 at 12:25 AM
Hi, Aaron ~
This study has turned out to have gotten the most media attention of any of my 500+ publications. Yet it is almost invariably misrepresented. For example, the primary purpose of the investigation was not to estimate presidential IQs but rather to use a small set of IQ estimates plus the survey estimates of openness to experience to provide updated estimates of an Intellectual Brilliance measure that has been repeatedly found (since 1986) to be the cognitive-personality factor that most strongly predicts overall presidential performance. In fact, the article replicates the earlier work showing that Intellectual Brilliance surpasses both openness and the four IQ estimates as predictors, making the latter rather unimportant from the standpoint of the article's main purpose.
It might be helpful if you read my research article a second time a bit more closely. For example, on pages 518-519 I make it quite explicit: "Although it is not obvious from mere inspection, the scores on all six measures appear to be free of any political bias. In particular, one cannot reject the null hypothesis that Democratic and Republican presidents have the same expected intelligence. This null result holds whether the sample includes all presidents since Jackson (when the Democratic Party began) or just all presidents since Lincoln (when the Republican Party began)." Given that I make it clear that no differences exist, how can you say "Let's … assume the author thesis subtext is; 'Democratic presidents are smarter than Republican presidents.'" Is such a subtext possible when I rather obviously affirm the very opposite? You really need to think more thoroughly about your accusation. There's no difference, period. That's what I plainly said. Subtext not even possible.
When it comes to the specific issue of George W. Bush, I think it important to remember that my comments were placed not in the Results section, which reports the actual analysis, but rather in the Discussion section, where authors usually speculate on the larger implications of the results. Moreover, my speculations regarding Bush have to be put in the context in which I wrote the article. As I mentioned at the beginning of the section, at the time there was much uninformed and often politically biased speculation about the incumbent’s IQ. Independent of whatever opinions I may have had about his presidency or his intellect, these speculations were clearly unjustified, even absurd (e.g., an IQ of 76!). Therefore, I made it clear that "Bush is definitely intelligent" and that "He is certainly smart enough to be president of the United States" (both on page 520). Although I also note that his intelligence is likely at the lower end of the presidential distribution (remembering that presidents as a group are more intelligent than the general population), I also suggest some of the problems in making this inference, including ones that you discuss in your essay, which is where I assume you came up with them. Acknowledging the very tentative nature of the estimate, and carefully considering alternative indicators that are positively correlated with intelligence, I then focus on the Intellectual Brilliance estimate to predict how his performance may ultimately rank with other US presidents, placing him at about the same level as Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, or "26th out of 42 chief executives" (page 523). But then I immediately qualify this conjecture by noting that many other factors contribute to a president's ultimate assessment, and that Bush may end up scoring higher with posterity. All of this Discussion is purely speculative, and is clearly identified as such, with repeated admissions that everything said was tentative and could very well be wrong. And, once more, all this was in the context of a period in which Bush was getting some very, very bad press. Given that baseline, my remarks could be seen as positive rather than negative. Indeed, as a telling illustration of how polarized our nation has become politically, I have received hate mail from individuals who strongly believed that I was an incognito Bush apologist who tried to defend his intelligence and leadership using pseudo-scientific methods! That's the exact opposite of what you have argued in your essay! When the world is so polarized, any attempt at a balanced appraisal becomes necessarily suspect by either side of the spectrum.
One final point: You must remember that the 2006 article was published in a scientific journal. It thus went through rigorous peer review. It also wasn't designed as a popular article. I was therefore expected to provide the full details of the methodological procedures and statistical analyses, including the complex iterative techniques. These may be off-putting to a layperson, but these details are absolutely essential for any scientific study. I also can't help it if journalists who try to water down the results for internet consumption - including the reporting of statistics that are nowhere to be found in the article! - tend to exaggerate and distort what I actually did in the investigation. As you just did in your own treatment.
~ Best, Dean
Dean Keith Simonton, PhD
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Department of Psychology
One Shields Avenue
University of California, Davis
Davis, CA 95616-8686
Home Page - http://simonton.faculty.ucdavis.edu
UPDATE: Response to Dean, from Aaron
Sun, Oct 30, 2016 at 2:10 AM
Your response is not only educating and entertaining, it is also well received and greatly appreciated.
I was not aware of the scope of coverage your study has 'enjoyed' and shudder to think that I have fallen into the group of those who have invariably misrepresented your work. In fairness, I too, qualified my editorial by repeatedly acknowledging your esteemed qualifications and the study's extensive methods. Furthermore, I'm afraid I fell into the category of those who absorbed only part of a larger text, then pontificated on the same.
For that, shame on me. My apologies.
That said, I still feel that your bias (or statements that could be interpreted as bias) does not belong in such a paper, anywhere. The subject is clearly too fragile to inject color in an academic work, even within the timeframe you wrote. While Hillary and Donald are hot topics today, similar mudslinging was afoot when you released the paper in 2006. Peer review or not, the paper was subject to critical review and took a 'hit' because of the scientific/opinion mix.
Nevertheless, I'm grateful for your response and am honored to agree to disagree with someone of your caliber.
Aaron Stipkovich, Publisher: With an education in information, technology, business and related disciplines, Aaron entered business on radio. Beginning as a disc jockey in Southern California, a nationally syndicated talk show host position soon followed. During the transition from regional to national, he launched a national print magazine in several countries, and was distributed by Time Inc. Having a handful of humble business media entities, a decade or so later he has divested himself from most of his companies... (more...)