Social Science, Group Research and Bigotry: The Most Slippery Slope

Typical...

Decades ago, Arthur Jensen became a target of critics and a pariah in his field by publishing a controversial study that indicated that differences in racial performance on intelligence tests probably had a genetic component. He was, and is, called a racist, though Jensen has continued to produce respected research. Since the publication of the 1969 Harvard Educational Review article that made him infamous, Jensen has won the prestigious Kistler Prize in 2003 for original contributions to the understanding of the connection between the human genome and human society.

The problem with Jensen’s research results, whatever the legitimacy of the data and his methods, was this: What do you do with it? Like other studies that show women, as a group, with less aptitude for the sciences, or those that show superior traits in other races and ethnic groups, this information just serves as a catalyst for bigotry. Whatever the trends within a large group may be, they tells us nothing about any individual in that group. Yet the existence of a study creates a natural tendency to apply the claimed group characteristics to every group member. Most people think like that, always have and always will. This is similar to the problem with stereotypes. Many, perhaps most, stereotypes have some truth in them. I was raised in a Greek family, and Greeks are reputed to be clannish, cheap, bigoted, and gifted in the kitchen. Well, that would describe a large proportion of my relatives, too, but not all of them. My Aunt Bea is fanatically liberal. My Mom couldn’t cook a lick.  All right, they all were cheap, but the point is that it would be foolish and unfair to assume what any of them would be like without knowing them.

Knowledge is an absolute good, but perversely, some knowledge also guarantees abuse, and thus results in more bad than good. Jensen’s study, as far as I can see, has no good use in a democracy where every individual has the right to be assessed according to his or her conduct and character. Nor do any studies that “prove” character or ability differences in broadly defined groups.

This is all a prelude to my conclusion that the now widely publicized National Academy of Science study that has this conclusion-“Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior”—is just throwing gasoline on a fire, and has no useful or benign purpose at all. The heading is a veritable call to bigotry and bias: it says to most laymen that if someone has money, they are scum. It is irresponsible and overstated. “Predicts” suggests “predicts accurately,” which in turn means that all members of the “higher social classes”—I can’t find out how the researchers defined that, but it doesn’t matter; people will assume it means what they want it to mean. The Democrats can be counted on to say it “proves” Mitt Romney can’t be trusted, for example—are unethical. Well, that’s impossible, and untrue. Whatever the statement means to researchers, to everyone else it’s a confirmation of bias.

On to the guillotine!  Kill ‘em all.

I’ve read as much of the study as is currently available without laying out serious cash. I find the sample sizes small in many cases, but over-all the results aren’t surprising. As I discovered when I had to deal with Amway members, people who care about money more than anything else tend to end up with more money than the rest of us. So, as a group, it isn’t surprising to learn that many people who regard financial wealth as a primary value will subjugate other values to the quest for money, including ethical ones. But I also went to school with many individuals who were undeniably in the “higher social classes”—higher than mine, anyway—and they were some of the most kind, honest, fair and trustworthy people I have ever had the pleasure to know.

It’s a conundrum. We crave knowledge, and we certainly can’t repress it, but studies like this just validate bigotry with no compensating benefits. I think the responsible and fair response is to take note of them, and forget them.

92 Comments

Filed under Character, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

92 responses to “Social Science, Group Research and Bigotry: The Most Slippery Slope

  1. Michael

    Just to play devil’s advocate here, there could be a legitimate use for such studies even if the results are caused by societal and economic factors. If you look at the quantitative numbers (not the qualitative headline), you should get an idea of the variation of such abilities from group to group.
    Currently, every group is considered to be the exactly the same and lawsuits are continually being filed claiming discrimination based on differences in outcome. These results should serve as some basis as to how much difference you should expect and how much should be required to show a definite race, sex, etc based discrimination in hiring, promotions, etc.

    • Julian Hung

      For example, Jensen’s study, if true, certainly has implications for affirmative action policies and the like.

      • No it doesn’t, Julian. How?

        • Julian Hung

          Basically, as described in a later post, it would mean that affirmative action and disparate impact policies should probably be abandoned, as proportional racial representation will never be achieved unless we either make things manifestly unfair for the “dominant” race or completely degrade standards.

          Whether this is true or not is a different issue, but you get the point.

          • Julian Hung

            As some of you might still remember, I’d be skeptical of affirmative action either way, but I’ll clarify this anyways for any newcomers.

    • tgt

      Along with this, these types of studies can lead to changes in society.

      If wealth is correlated with less ethics, we can spend more ethical capital with outreach to the rich. I really don’t see a difference between this and research that shows that those of african descent are more likely to have sickle cell anemia.

      More information allows us to use resources in appropriate ways.

  2. Bill

    Youre Greek? Well that explains a lot.

  3. gregory

    Ahh, how quickly we end up in the field of scientific research again…

    Jack, I find you to be a very articulate and intelligent person. However, your comments with regards to science reflect a lack of understanding. And I would expect the same from a scientist; that is, to not fully comprehend legal opinions.

    “What do you do with it?” – Honestly, that question doesn’t have to be answered right now. What’s more important is that patterns of behavior have been revealed.

    “catalyst for bigotry” – only in the hands of a bigot, not other scientists for which this was written.

    “trends within a large group” – that’s how statistics and probability work

    “has no good use in a democracy” – just because your opinion is shortsighted and you see no relevant use doesn’t mean someone else more specialized in this field could interpret this and make change for the greater good

    “Predicts” – in the scientific community it is an excellent word. it generally means that there is a 95% probability (or whatever P value is chosen) that things did not happen by chance.

    “take note of them, and forget them” – ignorance is bliss

    • Greg–that’s a tautology. Bigots will use ammunition that suits their purposes and biases. The question is, why give them the bullets? The question is, what else is it good for? I know you don’t have to answer the question, if at all. But not all research accomplishes anything valuable.

      What does 95% mean? Are you saying that there is a 95% chance that anyone with money will cheat you? If not, then the heading is unconscionable. Scientists can understanding whatever they choose, but they still have to communicate in everyone else’s language.

      Was Jensen’s study legitimate—I’m not asking whether it was air tight—was it a valid topic?

      As usual, I’d like to see some consensus regarding proper topics. If we want research showing that rich people all cheat, then by all means, lets’ not condemn research showing that some races are smarter than others. If you agree, then I’m with you.

      • By the way, I’m not ignorant of what I take note of.

        • tgt

          If you don’t understand what gregory was saying with the 95%, then you are ignorant of this topic.

          • The issue isn’t whether I understand what “95%” predictive means. I’ve studied probability and statistics. The words aren’t being relayed publicly in a statistical context, and the researchers and whoever wrote the release are accountable for that. No researcher in her right mind would say that a study proves that people from “higher classes” (I hate that, too) are 95% more likely to cheat. But the idiotic heading permits that interpretation, and yes, the researchers are accountable for seeding bigotry by being intentionally sloppy in their communication.

            Now let me be…I’ve got to read the whole study, which Gregory was kind enough to send me.

            • tgt

              The words are being relayed from the scientists in a scientific context. The journalists are supposed to be able to understand what that means… either that or find a new beat.

              You, yourself, had no idea what predicts means in a scientific context, but still thought that you were informed to talk about this topic. You thought the heading “has no useful or benign purpose at all”, when it is the appropriate way to explain something scientifically. You said it was “irresponsible and overstated,” but only because you don’t understand scientific language. To your mind, “… ‘Predicts’ suggests ‘predicts accurately’…”

              Do you know what was irresponsible and overstated? Your response to this abstract.

              From what I’ve seen, the researchers weren’t sloppy at all. I haven’t seen the study itself, but their communication is fine.

              • No it’s not. And my interpretation of the language used is what 95% of the public and press will take from it, as the stories all over the web prove. I understand language, and was talking language. If researchers can’t communicate to the public clearly, they should let someone else competent do it for them. I was exactly right about how that heading would be read, which means that is what it said…and quit saying I don’t know what “predict” means in a statistical context. See those headlines I quoted? “The rich find it easy to cheat – study says” means ALL rich…that what the “study says” to the press, and the communication of the study was at fault for letting them see it that way.

                • tgt

                  If an abstract and press release for a scientific paper are not a scientific context, then I don’t know what a scientific context is.

                  The follow on to that is immaterial, as it depends on the words being used colloquially.

                  If researchers can’t communicate to the public clearly, they should let someone else competent do it for them.

                  You mean, through science journalists?

                  I was exactly right about how that heading would be read, which means that is what it said

                  Oh come now. If that was valid logic, then you were completely wrong on your call on the sportscaster’s “chink in the armor” comment.

                  and quit saying I don’t know what “predict” means in a statistical context

                  Tell me where I misrepresented what you said. If I believe you have a case, then I will retract and apologize. You have a pretty high hurdle as “predicts,” in the scientific sense, does not imply “predicts accurately”, in the colloquial sense, where it applies to all members of the group .

                  • Huh? NOBODY misunderstood the chink in the armor comment! It was clear, traditional, and responsible.

                    • tgt

                      …except for all the people who misunderstood it and the backlash that led to the discipline.

                      That comment was to a wide audience, and most people should have understood.. The abstract from this study was to a specific audience, and EVERYONE should have understood.

      • gregory

        Bigots will be bigots. What else is it good for? How about city planning? if this research holds true maybe it can affect the flow of traffic. Maybe there’s a higher incidence of pedestrian/vehicle accidents in affluent areas. I don’t know. But your concept of “value” sounds a lot like the concept of “beauty.” it all depends in how you view things. In research, sometimes learning the you didn’t learn anything is valuable.

        95% – ugh. I’ll explain mathematics off-line if you really want to know. Otherwise it’s just a clutter your blog with lengthy explanations.

        valid topic — I find it quite thought-provoking.

        The study didn’t say “all” rich people cheat.

        • As I just said to tgt, I understand the 95%, but most people won’t, as most people haven’t studied probability and statistics. I am tired of scientists in this and other fields acting as if they are in a room full of peers when they are in the middle of a moronic media feeding frenzy with a barely literate public, and they need to be careful, not reckless.
          As I said, knowledge is valuable for its own sake. I never disputed that. But these kinds of “let’s prove that negative stereotypes are true” studies are slippery slopes, and I doubt their timing, motivation, and priority. And if you do one , you have an obligation to mitigate harm.

          • gregory

            then fault lies with the wsj and every other publication that decided this was newsworthy without taking the time to interpret the stats for the layman–not the researcher who published a scientific paper per the requirement established by his community. if it was dumbed down to third grade reading level it would never make it into a refereed journal

            • Gregory, this was exactly what was done to Jensen, and happens every time. If a negative factor is fully predictable, one who triggers it can hardly avoid accountablity…or the suspicion that allowing the research to be misrepresented in the public square was at least partially intentional. The WSj will argue that they linked to the abstract—do you know how few readers ever click on such links? I’m stunned with how few links I provide are ever used. Links are a cheap out—if the story isn’t made clear in the text, the link won’t fix it.

              • tgt

                If a negative factor is fully predictable, one who triggers it can hardly avoid accountablity

                So… you’re accusing them of being colorblind? I thought that was a good thing.

                or the suspicion that allowing the research to be misrepresented in the public square was at least partially intentional

                Oh know. You assume they were a bad actor. Rationalize away!

                The WSj will argue that they linked to the abstract—do you know how few readers ever click on such links? I’m stunned with how few links I provide are ever used. Links are a cheap out—if the story isn’t made clear in the text, the link won’t fix it.

                So you’re in agreement that the WSJ is to blame for their crappy reporting, but it’s still the researcher’s fault for not counteracting the crappy reporting before the fact.

              • gregory

                i find no fault on behalf of the researchers.

                don’t you get irritated and call people out for not reading the ethics blog rule book and adhering to your policies? how is this any different?

      • Julian Hung

        The thing is, Jensen was interested in figuring out whether racial disparities in education and jobs could ever be solved. His conclusion was basically that affirmative action and disparate impact policies were lost causes. If the research is airtight, then those are valid applications.

        To answer your last paragraph; if airtight research somehow comes out that says that, for example, Asians have a genetic predisposition to be less creative than Europeans, well, that’s life. I’m fine with it as long as people are still judged as individuals.

        • Julian Hung

          Also, if I remember my stats correctly, “95%” basically means that there is a 95% chance that the results of the study did not occur by simple chance alone, NOT that 95% of the rich are unethical.

          • You’re correct, and the researchers were obligated to make that clear so the media wouldn’t represent it as otherwise. I don’t really care what they MEANT. It’s what the study is taken to show by the public that matters.

            • tgt

              Um, what? That’s not exactly weird behavior. You might as well be saying that “Before discussing their work, all researchers have to put everyone though a basic stats class… or make sure they’re not idiots.” Why draw the line there? Should they have to preface any discussion with 3 years of sociology?

              Shouldn’t it be the journalists responsibility to be informed about what they’re writing about? It’s not on baseball players to make sure journalists understand what a batting average is.

            • gregory

              i don’t know how more clear they could have been. would you discredit a book on the shelf by the title alone without reading it’s content or arguments? all of the background, test design, stats and discussion are included.

              this study was not published in People magazine. it was found in a scholarly research journal–written by AND for scientists

              • They didn’t release the whole study to either the public or the press, just the abstract and a press release. And of course, I doubt any of the reporters read it all, and this was predictable.Is this fair: “Wealthy, motivated by greed, are more likely to cheat, study finds”? Or this: “The rich find it easy to cheat – study says”? Here’s another: Study: Rich People Are More Inclined To Lie, Cheat, Steal

                “Proving what we already knew about those Standard Oil-emulating, stripper tears-drinking, tax-dodging, climate science-denying bastards, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that rich people are more likely to lie, cheat, and break the law without compunction, for their personal gain. The study’s abstract notes “that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.””

                There are literally hundreds more, and worse. How does that further reason and understanding, dialogue and fairness?

                • tgt

                  So, since journalists are stupid and made stuff up, it’s the people who didn’t make stuff up that are at fault. You’re reasoning is idiotic. You’re arguing for a heckler’s veto.

                • gregory

                  How does that further reason and understanding, dialogue and fairness?

                  It doesn’t. The onus of the unethical act is all of those LAZY journalists who didn’t take the time to research (bad word choice) an article before writing about it.

                  • I agree with that, but my previous statement stands. The lazy journalists are a known factor, and part of the equation.

                    • This thread has absolutely exploded, and I’m very late to the party, but I’ve got to contribute something.

                      Since this whole topic started with a slippery slope argument, let’s apply that reasoning to what you’re advocating. I mean, holy hell, Jack, if your view is based on lazy or irresponsible journalists being a “known factor” that has to be accounted for when releasing information, you’re essentially saying that nobody should publicize anything, ever.

                      You may think that the given study is a particularly obvious candidate for being misconstrued and used to ill effect, but if that’s reason enough to suppress information, don’t we have to apply the same logic to perfectly innocuous information that could be manipulated into something damaging? If someone conducted a study that concluded that female lawyers from the Northeast are unlikely to lie about qualifications, and the press picked up that story as “N.E. Fem lawyers honest about backgrounds, study says,” and someone read that article, sought out Susan Friery for medical advice, and subsequently died, is the researcher responsible for that death simply because he should have known that terrible, terrible journalists exist?

                      If not, exactly what level of likelihood of misuse is required before someone is expected to guard against exposing the media to a piece of information that he has? How do you avoid tumbling down your slippery slope to the conclusion that sharing information is bad?

                    • You’re on a different slope than I am.

                      My slope is indulgent social science research, done for publicity and sensationalism purposes, that sets out to validate stereotypes and bias. Let’s prove that rich people are heartless, that Jews and Scots are stingy, that Sicilians are prone to Violence, that the Polish and African-Americans are dumb, that Puerto Ricans are lazy, that Asians are terrible drivers and that breast size in inversely related to IQ. There is no good use for such data, because we don’t deal with “groups,” and “classes” in this country, or shouldn’t—we interact with individuals, whom we judge on their own merits and character, not the tendencies of their “group”. I shouldn’t care if a study shows that people named Carney tend to be boring, all I should care about is whether this guy named Carney in front of me seems like a nice guy to be around.

                      We know that the media will distort such studies and that the average bigot will use it to be even more certain in his bigotry. Little or nothing of value—use, purpose, utility, enlightenment—comes of such studies, and the sensationalism and distortion is all but certain—we have more than enough experience to know this.

                      You’re argument is reductio ad absurdum. Lots of information, most of it, is worth enduring the distortions and the miscommunications by the media. It’s easy to fix, often the distortion doesn’t occur, or is minor. And most information has to get out and be known. This stuff? It’s mischief-making. I’m not saying the studies themselves are wrong, but researchers still have an obligation to be responsible in how they are circulated and presented.

                    • You’re on a different slope than I am.

                      My slope is indulgent social science research, done for publicity and sensationalism purposes, that sets out to validate stereotypes and bias. Let’s prove that rich people are heartless, that Jews and Scots are stingy, that Sicilians are prone to Violence, that the Polish and African-Americans are dumb, that Puerto Ricans are lazy, that Asians are terrible drivers and that breast size in inversely related to IQ. There is no good use for such data, because we don’t deal with “groups,” and “classes” in this country, or shouldn’t—we interact with individuals, whom we judge on their own merits and character, not the tendencies of their “group”. I shouldn’t care if a study shows that people named Carney tend to be boring, all I should care about is whether this guy named Carney in front of me seems like a nice guy to be around.

                      We know that the media will distort such studies and that the average bigot will use it to be even more certain in his bigotry. Little or nothing of value—use, purpose, utility, enlightenment—comes of such studies, and the sensationalism and distortion is all but certain—we have more than enough experience to know this.

                      You’re argument is reductio ad absurdum. Lots of information, most of it, is worth enduring the distortions and the miscommunications by the media. It’s easy to fix, often the distortion doesn’t occur, or is minor. And most information has to get out and be known. This stuff? It’s mischief-making. I’m not saying the studies themselves are wrong, but researchers still have an obligation to be responsible in how they are circulated and presented.

                    • tgt

                      ,You’re on a different slope than I am.

                      My slope is indulgent social science research, done for publicity and sensationalism purposes, that sets out to validate stereotypes and bias.

                      And you’re sure that’s what they were trying to do? Could they not have been trying to find that there were no differences?

                      There is no good use for such data, because we don’t deal with “groups,” and “classes” in this country, or shouldn’t—we interact with individuals, whom we judge on their own merits and character, not the tendencies of their “group”.

                      Your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premises. As I’ve pointed out at several junctures, knowing what is can allow us to tailor how we work with different groups of people. If you give the same ethics seminar stuggling shinglers that you give to bigLaw, you are not being as effective as you could be.

                      I shouldn’t care if a study shows that people named Carney tend to be boring, all I should care about is whether this guy named Carney in front of me seems like a nice guy to be around.

                      Which is nice, but doesn’t mean there is no reason to care why people named Carney tend to be boring.

                      We know that the media will distort such studies and that the average bigot will use it to be even more certain in his bigotry. Little or nothing of value—use, purpose, utility, enlightenment—comes of such studies, and the sensationalism and distortion is all but certain—we have more than enough experience to know this.

                      You keep claiming little use, but then ignoring all the possible uses. Your statements deny the evidence.

                      You’re argument is reductio ad absurdum.

                      Slippery Slope arguments ARE reductio ad absurdum. The only difference is your judgment call.

                      Lots of information, most of it, is worth enduring the distortions and the miscommunications by the media. It’s easy to fix, often the distortion doesn’t occur, or is minor. And most information has to get out and be known. This stuff? It’s mischief-making. I’m not saying the studies themselves are wrong, but researchers still have an obligation to be responsible in how they are circulated and presented.

                      They have an obligation to be fair and write accurately for their audience. As we keep going around on, the journalists have an obligation to know what they’re talking about, and they’re the ones that are failing.

                      The argument that scientists should be better communicators is not a new one. If you have any workable suggestions, go for it, but the general complaint that it’s the researchers’ fault doesn’t go well.

                    • On one hand you say, “My slope is indulgent social science research, done for publicity and sensationalism purposes, that sets out to validate stereotypes and bias.” But you later add, “I’m not saying the studies themselves are wrong.” You don’t see a contradiction there?

                      Which is your view? Are the researchers deliberately creating bias-inducing data, or is it their fault simply in allowing unbiased work to be misinterpreted? If you’re claiming the former, then you’re unabashedly and repeatedly begging the question. You’re saying that the information can be used to justify bigotry, and then concluding from a single premise that mischief-making was the intention behind the research. That doesn’t follow.

                    • What contradiction? Researchers can do any studies they want, and if they design it well, and are honest in the results, then there is nothing unethical about any study itself, no matter how trivial. Misusing resources might be wrong. Motives are suspect in many cases. I think that the choice of topics show warped priorities.But the whole point to the slippery slope argument is that something that is not itself wrong predictably leads to something that is, in this case, distortion and bigotry, without due care and negligent publicity.

                      Tgt made the right connection: something that is not wrong in a vaccuum, like burning a Quran, can become unethical if it is done with willful negligence of likely consequences and failure to take reasonable steps to mitigate harm.

        • Me too. But they won’t be.

        • A study that in essence requires the abandonment of a core American ideal is of dubious value. Study says: “No hope.” I’m not sure, but we may not want to know that.

          • Julian Hung

            The ideal was never that all men are of equal capability (the Founders, particularly those of the Federalist camp, were notably skeptical of the capabilities of the average man compared with whom they viewed as the “elite”), but that they all possessed equal rights and liberties; basically, that they were equally “human”, so to speak.

            • Julian Hung

              I should also probably clarify that Jensen doesn’t think that nothing can’t be done to ameliorate the extent of such disparities, just that they will never be completely eliminated.

          • tgt

            Are you defending the Church? Are these guys Galileo?

  4. Tim

    Maybe the wealthy have greater opportunity to make more unethical choices.

  5. tgt

    What good is a study that impugns the character of a whole group?

    That’s the tag line you created, and a good example of the horrors of science journalism (or, in this case, science commentary).

    • Scientists are accountable for how their research is interpreted, when they set the stage like this . Don’t tell me this wasn’t timed to coincide with Occupy et al. They knew it was red meat, and the title played to that.The study findings intentionally reads in a way that is guaranteed to be used to impugn an entire group—bigotry, in other words—, and you can’t lay that on me. I am 100% accurate. “We scientists know what we mean”—what disingenuous garbage! Then keep the study to yourselves, and don’t send it out into the 24 hour news cycle when you know it will be distorted. This kind of study is hunting headlines, and we both know it.

      • tgt

        The research that was going on for years was timed to coincide with Occupy? Now you’re going Glenn Beck on us!

        The title “Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior” is a perfectly appropriate title. If they’d found that it was more likely that someone with gene X activated had more armpit hair, they would have titled the paper “Activation of gene x predicts increased armpit hair.” What they didn’t do was modify the title for your personal political correctness.

        Next you read intention into the abstract. Please rewrite that abstract to give the same information, but that doesn’t “impugn an entire group”. The data is the data and the results are the results. What do you want, superfluous caveats that not all rich people are bad?

        You follow that up with more intention reading and silly attacks. Keep the study to yourselves? That’s exactly the kind of multicultural censorship that you’re against! Press releases are standard fair (though I haven’t found the one for this study), and science journalism (as I’ve mentioned a number of times) is absolutely horrible. Should people stop publishing papers because the topic the researchers are interested in is going to be distorted by the media?

        Do you not care to find out why people behave the way they do? With that knowledge, we can figure out how to help people make more ethical decisions.

        • TGT, I didn’t say that I don’t care—I don’t find the research either alarming or remarkable, or especially enlightening. But I’ve seen this too much—someone sets out to prove that groups have negative characteristics nicely times with socially hot issues. Jews are smarter than Europeans, conservatives are rigid and stupid, blacks are prone to crime, rich people are greedy and unfeeling. I question the objectivity of the researchers and their motives; and yes, I really question the timing…any researcher could have seen this coming three years ago.

          I spend most days of my life trying to help people make more ethical decisions, and I don’t see how class enters into it at all. We are assigning character traits to classes of people—if that isn’t bigotry, what so you call it?

          • tgt

            You don’t see how knowing that greed and wealth correlate with unethical actions can assist you in your work? You can’t use that information to reframe the debate when you’re talking to wealthier groups of people (like lawyers)?

            We are assigning character traits to classes of people—if that isn’t bigotry, what so you call it?

            No, you, a bad science commentator, is doing that.

            • The study does that. You cannot read it any other way.

              • tgt

                The study doesn’t assign attributes to a class of people, it finds significant behavioral differences in different classes of people. The study makes no statement that all rich people are worse than all bad people, or that rich people are bad in general. You, misinterpretting the study, are the one being bigotted.

                • Keep saying that, tgt. It is in direct conflict with how the study is already being used and interpreted, which is exactly as I said it would be, and exactly why I said the study was an automatic slippery slope. Ask 100 people what “Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior” means, and 95 of them will say it means “rich people are bad in general”, and more unethical than everyone else. Which fuels bigotry. Like I said. You can hold your breath until you turn blue, but that’s still true.

                  • gregory

                    ask 100 scientists who subscribe to this publication what it means.

                  • tgt

                    It’s unethical because ignorant people do bad things with it. That’s all your argument is.

                    • tgt

                      Well, I guess you’re at least consistent. That was the same argument you made against Koran burning.

                    • 1. I didn’t say it was unethical
                      2. I said the wording was negligent.
                      3. I said that the study does more harm than good.
                      4. Nobody apparently has the guts to deal with Jensen’s work. I lost class time because of THAT uproar. The only difference I see is that his study was politically incorrect, and this one targets a popular can to kick. But if one study is worth doing, so is the other.

                    • tgt

                      Okay, You said it’s neglient, irresponsible, throwing gasoline on a fire, and a veritable call to bigotry and bias, because ignorant people do bad things.

                      Nobody apparently has the guts to deal with Jensen’s work. I lost class time because of THAT uproar. The only difference I see is that his study was politically incorrect, and this one targets a popular can to kick. But if one study is worth doing, so is the other.

                      This I agree with. I think the treatment of Jensen was shameful, and your treatment of these researchers, while not nearly to that level, isn’t particularly good either.

  6. Good point..and one worth considering. I think the decision to go ahead or not with such endeavors is contextual. For the most part I say that the fault lies in those bigots that extrapolate hateful messages from research. My old room mate and I were social studies teachers at the same school. Sometimes we would discuss race and racism. His take was that race didn’t exist. One can make an argument that it is largely a social construction, etc. but the impetus for his stand was his disdain for the harm racism has done. This is understandable, but I say the real issue is that people will take race and twist it to fit an agenda that is harmful to others. Consider that British teachers were no longer to use the term “blackboard” in class, for fear of offending someone. This is like covering up the symptoms of a disease but not really curing it. Denying that differences exist between groups doesn’t eliminate the hatred in some people’s hearts. if one were to eliminate the overt signs of difference ie race, sex, I still think there would be people out there that could find another way to cut and divide us, with hate or misunderstanding in their hearts.

  7. Michael

    Again, I think quantitative numbers here are important. The methodology is also important. I know sociology uses a lower confidence level than the physical sciences and their data is more scattered. When you are talking about a real difference in certain groups, you are not going to have 95% CL different sets of data. Your data is going to look like

    Group A |——————————————–|
    Group B |————————————————|
    Group C |————————————|

    Your results may show that both Groups C and A have lower mean than group A, but you will note that the low end of the scale for A is lower than that for C and the high end of the scale for B is equal to that for A. This is an extremely simplified example, but you see what the gist is. You aren’t going to get 95% CL data that looks like

    Group A |———|

    Group B |————-|

    As for the study on rich people being more likely to break the law, I think this is not surprising in the the situations given. Successful people in business tend to be risk takers. Breaking the law is a calculated risk, especially in business where you aren’t going to go to jail if you melt down everyone’s retirement funds or you defraud a competitor. However, such infractions have been treated almost like they are accidents or unintended rather than malicious. Perhaps these need to be treated more as a criminal offense than a regulatory oversight suitable to a modest fine.

  8. Michael

    Ahhh, it messed up my spaces! Sorry, it won’t make sense now.

  9. Proam

    I think Tim’s speculation is fair, and the study’s conclusion is unspectacular. Money corrupts – duh. Wealth, and the states of (1) having acquired it or (2) having acquired control over it, afford more behavioral opportunities than relatively little wealth affords.

    The study’s conclusion also validates my intuition that many, if not most, persons with more acquired wealth relative to others are perhaps more competitive than others in a given environment where the richer and poorer both had equal “t zero” status and equal opportunities to acquire wealth. Competition corrupts – another duh.

    Being a baseball fan, I prefer Leo Durocher’s summation: “Nice guys finish last.”

    I had to re-check IMDb, having never paid enough attention to controversial studies and their authors to keep track of names. Sure enough: Arthur Jensen was the name of the chief executive of the big corporation in that favorite movie of mine, Network. I wonder if that was coincidence, or if the name for that character was chosen deliberately.

  10. Fred

    If this study is true, why isn’t the murder rate in Beverly Hills several times more than New Orleans? Isn’t murder the ultimate unethical act?

    (and don’t yell at me Jack, I couldn’t take it twice in one day)

    • tgt

      The difference is situations. This study put all the people in the same situations. Your comparison is completely different situations.

      • Fred

        I think we’re all in the same situation wrt to the ethics/morality of a decision to take a human life.
        If you’re trying to normalize for “situations”, don’t pick ones where the downside risk is less for one group and then be surprised they do it more.

        • tgt

          I think we’re all in the same situation wrt to the ethics/morality of a decision to take a human life.

          But we’re not all in the same individual situations. Are you perfectly willing to trade places with the guy living under an overpass, the one who has to walk past crack dealers on the way to the bus stop?

          Situations matter.

          If you’re trying to normalize for “situations”, don’t pick ones where the downside risk is less for one group and then be surprised they do it more.

          So, you’re saying that there should be scaling punishments based on wealth? Sold.

    • I’m sorry, Fred. I’ve had a rough day.

    • gregory

      this study was true–that was never questioned
      the tendency to commit murder was not measured/observed. you’re really stretching to a invalid conclusion

  11. Social research tries to answer questions with a view to informing and maybe changing society. You asked what Jensen’s research was for, and this is how that question is answered in the Wikipedia entry:-

    ‘Jensen’s research questioned remedial education for African-American children; he suggested their poor educational performance reflected an underlying genetic cause rather than lack of stimulation at home.[11] ‘

    Presumably the time and effort that was being devoted to remedial education with less than hoped for reward made this particular hypothesis worth investigating then. It has certainly provoked valuable debate which goes on to this day

    I have not been able to find out the exact question that the University of California researchers were answering, but I understand that they were building on a body of research attempting to understand whether or not there is any relationship between higher social class, wealth, greed and unethical behaviour in the wake of the collective trauma following the financial crisis.

    I think Nicholas P. Nicoletti’s comment on the research findings perhaps demonstrates why such things are worth researching.

    ‘However, I think it is important to note that the study demonstrates evidence that greed is linked with unethical behavior – not necessarily wealth. It may very well be that higher SES is correlated with greed, but we don’t know whether a default predisposition toward greed leads to greater wealth over one’s lifetime rather than increased wealth leading to greed. In fact, I think the former is more compelling that the latter. After all, we do live in a capitalist economy where greed tends to be rewarded.”

    Is wealth seeking behaviour unethical? Which wealth seeking behaviours are unethical? Ah, so much more research to be done.

    • Julian Hung

      Slightly off-topic, but if you’re interested in some modern research that goes down in the same direction as Jensen, this review of one of psychologist Richard Lynn’s books is a decent place to start, particularly because the reviewer is able to bring up some useful criticisms despite being in agreement with the main thesis: http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2006/02/world-of-difference-richard-lynn-maps.php

      Disclaimer: My own views on this could be described as “agnostic”/tepidly supportive, and some of Lynn’s political views (particularly regarding eugenics) make me feel “icky”, to say the least.

  12. While I’m thinking of it, everybody…excellent discussion; Good work.

  13. Dwayne N. Zechman

    So, reading down through this, I think I can summarize Jack’s position thus:
    Scientists who are about to publish results, where said results have a strong likelihood of being taken out-of-context and used for advocacy (partisan/political or otherwise) where the results don’t actually apply, have a duty to take whatever extra steps they can to prevent that from happening.

    It’s sort-of a variation of the 2nd Niggardly Principle. And just publishing and letting the chips fall, or blaming the popular media, is Hamm’s Excuse.

    Did I get that right?

    –Dwayne

        • gregory

          or “Marshall’s Absurdity”

            • gregory

              let’s get back to the issues…

              - these researchers didn’t decide to publish. they submitted research to a publication. it was screened by the pub. for sound scientific principles and relevance to the journal. they did not post this to a blog somewhere trying to incite bigotry
              - research is written for a highly specialized audience. these publications aren’t even indexed by google. one must visit scholar.google.com to find it an its counterparts
              - jack, misconstrued the meaning of the word “predicts” in the article title. guess what? last year there were 2,490 other scientific articles that used that word in the title. i didn’t see an uproar to, “A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety.” i think most, if not all of these, were overlooked by jack, et. al., because this stuff isn’t relevant to the normal person
              - finally, scientists have an agreed upon method of communicating that works well for them. there is an abstract with each article that quickly summarizes its contents. IF one would like to learn more about the methodologies, findings, etc. then they choose to read the entire thing. this couldn’t be more transparent.

              • Tim LeVier

                Atrophy of Spared Gray Matter Tissue Predicts Poorer Motor Recovery and Rehabilitation Response in Chronic Stroke

                ’tis true what he says.

              • If you don’t want to acknowledge that scientists and researchers have an obligation to be responsible regarding how their research is framed, communicated and used, fine. That’s tunnel-vision and denial. When misuse is predictable and can be mitigated, there is responsibility. The whole product liability field of law is based on a similar principle, and it’s valid and fair.

                But stop saying that I misconstrued “predict’. I wrote:
                “The heading is a veritable call to bigotry and bias: it says to most laymen that if someone has money, they are scum. It is irresponsible and overstated. “Predicts” suggests “predicts accurately,” which in turn means that all members of the “higher social classes”….

                “Suggests” means what it suggests to vast majority of the people who read it, not to me. I understood the title, but also immediately thought it was inept and guaranteed to be misunderstood–which it has been. I said that the results were unsurprising…it I thought the study asserted that being rich PREDICTED that any individual would be unethical, I would have found it surprising. And ridiculous. This has not discouraged most of the media, however, from reaching an extreme conclusion for a cheap headline.

                Finally, you are naive if you really believe that studies like this aren’t inspired by current events and popular debates, Since that is their inspiration, it is disingenuous to argue that this is just inside baseball and the researchers have no obligation to communicate clearly to the audience they know they are consciously appealing to—the non-scientific media and laymen.

                • Jack, I’ll agree that studies are frequently inspired by current events and popular debates. Individual researchers do not exist in a total vacuum, insulated from non-academic influences. But it takes a serious logical leap to get from the notion that the outside world shapes their interests to the conclusion that it determines their intentions.

                  Researchers’ interests are molded to some extent by things that are happening outside of their institutions – fine, I’ll accept that premise.
                  The resulting research is of interest to non-scientific media and laymen – fine, I’ll accept that premise, too.
                  But the conclusion that those researchers are consciously appealing to non-scientific media and laymen is not valid. Any statement of the researchers’ motivations and their ambitions for their work is a bald assumption.

                  • Wait, was that a bald joke?

                    In this day and age, I think to assume anything else, from any professional group, is wishful thinking.

                    • Just so long as you admit that you’re making an assumption. Which is fine; it’s just that I’m prone to more optimistic assumptions, giving people the benefit of the doubt until I’m convinced that they had malicious intent.

                      Incidentally, I would never make a bald joke. If I wanted to call attention to that, I’d just send you a picture of my own spectacular head of hair.

            • gregory

              or this one, maybe a little more salient:

              “Rules, standards, and ethics: Relativism predicts cross-national differences in the codification of moral standards”
              DR Forsyth – International Business Review, 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s