Journalists really need to be better trained in interpreting research & statistics.

I suppose I could also have added they need to be less biased while reporting research, but the title was getting really long.

I had a major facepalm moment while reading an article the other day.  It was covering some cognitive research about how people with differing political ideologies view the world differently.  A decent article by itself.  It showed that Conservatives generally have a more strongly negative reaction to negative information while Liberals have a more positive reaction to more positive information.  Essentially they hooked people up to eye tracking devices and showed them 4 pictures at once.  The pictures were a positive/happy/touching pic, a negative/scary/anger-inducing pic, and 2 neutral pics.  They measured how much time people of various ideologies (I can’t remember if they were self-identified or if they actually used a measure on this, I would think they used a measure of some sort) spent looking at the various pictures.  They found Conservatives looked at the negative images longer, while Liberals looked at the positive ones.

So, insert media.  Apparently to a journalist this means that Conservatives are fearful and angry people.  I’m no fan of Republicans.  I’m also no fan of Democrats.  But what I really hate is when research is willfully misinterpreted and/or when people write about things they don’t fully understand.  I read through the article and really could not figure out if this was some crazed reporter who had zero ability to read or write objectively–at which point they should be fired.  And we wonder why people are so ill-informed and dumb.

Just now, I was reading another article.  This one also covered a research study in Social Psych.  It reported that Conservatives are of lower intelligence than liberals and are less informed.  Another facepalm.  Unfortunately, I also read this article.  It actually was really really badly written and researched.  Their definition of Conservative showed a really really obvious lack of understanding for the values behind it; their variables were social conservativism and racism, really? That’s your research definition?  They matched IQ from age 10/11 with ideology at age 33.   They made the same willful misinterpretation of the previously mentioned article in the lit review.  The entire writing was obviously bias, to the point I don’t understand how it got published–oh wait, because the field and the organizing bodies are super bias too.  So anyway, a published, peer-reviewed research article found that people on the right wing are dumb and racist.

But then I went back to reading the actual online news article that covered this.  It reported this as “empirical fact” that conservatives are dumb and racist.   Can we please put together a brief info session on social science research and facts? Correlations?  Everything else?


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