Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Loaded Dice: Professor Altemeyer's response

Some time back, I had a post taking issue with research on "right wing authoritarianism" by Robert Altemeyer contained in a webbed book of his. Eventually someone called Professor Altemeyer's attention to the post and he responded in a comment. Since people are unlikely to notice an exchange in the comment section of an old post, I'm shifting the discussion to a new one.

My central complaint was that he had first defined RWA in a fashion that purported to be politically neutral, with "right wing" having to do with attitude to established authority not with whether one voted for Republicans or Democrats, and then biased his test in a way that would consistently make individuals on the political right look more authoritarian than they were and individuals on the left look less. I don't think his response adequately deals with that complaint, but perhaps if I explain why he can show me that I am mistaken.

To quote from my previous post, describing the 20 questions on whose answers Professor Altemeyer based his measure of how right wing authoritarian the responder was:

What is almost immediately obvious if you read the questions is that they aren't testing for RWA as the author defines it but for a combination of that and right/left political views. When the question is of the form "people who campaigned for unpopular causes X, Y and Z were good," X, Y and Z just happen to be causes more popular on the left than on the right. When the question is of the form "We should follow authority X," X just happens to be a source of authority, such as the church, more popular on the right than on the left. No questions about people who campaigned for unpopular right wing causes or about deferring to sources of authority popular on the left.

Professor Altemeyer responds:

"When one is measuring submission to established authority in a society, one has to mention those authorities, their views, etc. in the items."

That, of course, is true. But it doesn't answer my objection, which is about the particular authorities you selected. As I pointed out in the longer discussion in the Usenet thread, one could easily enough replace your questions with others in which the authority was one popular with the left and unpopular on the right, or the unpopular cause one popular on the right and not the left.

Suppose, for instance, that one of the questions asked whether a worker should be willing to cross a picket line and go to work if he disagreed with the decision to call a strike. Labor unions are established authorities, so someone who disagrees is demonstrating RWA as the book defines it. But I predict that that question would have shown people on the left more RWA and people on the right less than the corresponding question you used.

Similarly, if instead of asking how the responder felt about "those who challenged the law and the majority's view by protesting for women's abortion rights, for animal rights, or to abolish school prayer" you asked about those who challenged the law and the majority view by picketing abortion clinics--abortion is, after all, legal, and has been for decades--or about those who challenged the majority view by home schooling their children in order to give them a proper religious education, you would have gotten a rather different pattern of responses.

My complaint isn't that you are not measuring authoritarianism--I'm a libertarian, and I indeed came out with a fairly low score on the test. It is that you are measuring a combination of authoritarianism and right wing political beliefs. Given the bias built into your test, if a right winger and a left winger are equally authoritarian, the right winger will get a higher score. That is a fatal fault in a test which you use to justify the claim:

"In North America people who submit to the established authorities to extraordinary degrees often turn out to be political conservatives,"

You can't justify such a claim using a test which is in part testing for political conservatism.

Professor Altemeyer in his response points me at footnote 7, which deals with ambiguity and bias in the questions. So far as I can tell, it is irrelevant to my point. If his test produces a score which is, say, .6 a measure of authoritarianism and .4 a measure of political belief, the results could be internally consistent and still produce a biased result. That would be less true if my criticism applied to only a few questions, since answers on them would correlate poorly with answers on the rest of the test. But in fact, as I point out in the Usenet thread, a majority of the twenty questions are politically biased, measure political beliefs as well as authoritarianism. He has come up with an internally consistent set of questions, all right, but they are measuring the wrong thing. Indeed, given that he was discarding questions that didn't correlate well with the rest of the test, if he had put in one of mine (see below) where the political bias was reversed, he would have concluded that it was a bad question and discarded it.

Let me try to put a series of questions to Professor Altemeyer, to see if we can identify what we disagree about:

1. Is it true that, in defining "right wing authoritarianism," you claim that you are not using "right wing" in a political sense?

2. Is it true that, in your list of questions, the authorities you choose to test submission to are consistently authorities more popular with the right than the left and the anti-authoritarian causes you test approval of are consistently ones more popular with the left than the right–so consistently that there is not a single question that goes the other way?

3. Do you agree that such a set of questions will consistently show a higher level of RWA for people on the right than for people on the left, actual degree of authoritarianism held constant?

4. Do you agree that if all the above points are correct, your results cannot justify your conclusion that people on the right are more authoritarian than people on the left?

For your entertainment, here is a list of alternative questions that one would use to replace some of yours if one wished to reverse the political bias; it's from one of my usenet posts in the thread on this subject.

23: When a union calls a strike, workers should decide for themselves whether it is justified and cross picket lines to go to work if they think it is not.

24. Our country desperately needs a decisive leader who will overcome special interest politics and break the political power of big corporations in order to do what is good for the common people.

25. Fundamentalist Christians are just as healthy and moral as anybody else.

(Incidentally, the original of that, with "gays and lesbians," is another question where someone who actually thinks about it clearly will give just the opposite of the pattern the author assumes. Gays are not just as healthy as the rest of us--they have a much higher rate of AIDS. So "strongly agree" on that question means "say the politically correct thing even when I know perfectly well it is false." Which sounds like authoritarianism.)

26. It is always better to trust the consensus of the scientific community on issues such as global warming, rather than to listen to the ignorant sceptics in our society who are trying to create doubt in people's minds.

27. You have to admire those who challenged the law and the majority's view by pushing for the abolition of affirmative action, for laws allowing ordinary citizens to carry firearms for self defense, for school voucher programs to let parents get their kids out of the trap of failing public schools.

A secondary objection that I offered to the list of 20 questions was that on two of them, one mentioned in my initial post, another in the Usenet discussion, the answer of a thoughtful respondent would go the wrong way–the non-authoritarian would give what is supposed to be the authoritarian answer. In each case, the reason is that the "non-authoritarian" answer is wrong. We have no reason to believe that atheists are "every bit as" virtuous as church goers–they might be more virtuous, they might be less. We have very good reasons to believe that gays are not as healthy as non-gays, given the existence of AIDS.

Professor Altemeyer responds:

"
Is someone who strongly agrees with Item 6 showing authoritarian submission to a sub-group of skeptics? Possibly. But I doubt it. Atheists and agnostics have a pretty strong streak of individualism running through them--which is one of the reasons they are non-believers in a believing society."

The question isn't whether atheists are authoritarians. The question is whether some version of the idea "you aren't supposed to say that some groups of people are better than others" is common in our society. The answer is that it is, and it is the only reason I can see why someone who actually thought about those two questions would give what is supposed to be the "non-authoritarian" answers to them. Would you agree that someone who gives an answer he knows is wrong in conformity to that sort of social pressure is demonstrating what you call "right wing authoritarianism?"

Finally, let me thank Professor Altemeyer for his courteous response to my post. He didn't even complain that I should have told him I was criticizing him online–although if he had I would have responded that I have so far been unable to locate an email address for him, and snailmail and the telephone are so 20th century. My email address, in case he wants to shift part of the discussion to email, is ddfr@daviddfriedman.com. But I hope he will also respond here.

Labels:

21 Comments:

At 5:28 PM, July 10, 2007, Anonymous Bob Altemeyer said...

I thank Mr. Friedman for his critical thinking and the clear presentation of his ideas. And I too appreciate the calmness of the discussion, and his appeal to reason and evidence. He is a Libertarian, and I am a something of a libertarian too, and a political moderate. So we're talking about these ideas with a certain dispassionate outlook, I think.

I would observe, before I deal with his recent posting, that (so far as I can tell) we agree about the "atheist" item being an attitude measure, not an achievement test, and that atheists who agree with it are, so far as anyone has yet shown, not doing so because they are submitting to the authority of a non-believers' in-group.

I must also note, because it will come up later, that Mr. Friedman did not address my comments about whether a conservative such as Barry Goldwater would score highly on the RWA scale. This is relevant to Mr. Friedman's central point," because if the political right has become dominated by authoritarian sentiments of submission, aggression and conventionalism, it will seem that "right-wingers" are naturally going to score highly on the scale. But that may be because what passes for "conservative" today is, in fact, pretty authoritarian.

I believe it was not always so, and that (as others have noted) "conservative" thought in the United States used to recoil in horror at the thought of submitting to governmental authority, and in horror at the prospect of an all-powerful executive branch of the federal government, and in horror at the idea of a central government that would amass such enormous power as we have recently seen.

Now, on to Mr. Friedman's questions.

1) Do I really think, in defining RWA as I do, that I'm not using "right-wing" in a political sense? Yes, I think that I'm not. I've always defined it as submission to the established authorities, not to (say) right-wing authorities. My first statement about this, on page 152 of a book entitled "Right-Wing Authoritarianism," published in 1981, states:

"By 'established and legitimate authorities' I mean those people in our society who are usually considered to have a general legal or moral authority over the behavior of others. One's parents at least through childhood), religious officials, certain civic officers (police, judges, legislators, heads of government), and superiors in military services are all established authorities."

Mr. Friedman raises the question of whether a worker should be willing to cross a picket line, saying that labor unions are established authorities. I see unions as legal entities, and having a right to call strikes in various situations when approved by their memberships. I don't think of them as being established authorities however, as I have conceptualized the phrase. Unions do not, for example, have a legal right to keep their members from going to work, nor to keep nonmembers from doing so either. (They instead use social pressure, and other tactics instead.) I don't think they have a moral right to stop people from going to work either. So I don't see unions as being established authorities the way other institutions are. I doubt, especially today with declining union memberships, that many people do, and I am talking about those who are considered to have general legal or moral authority.

(Now one can say that I've missed the boat, that this is a stupid conceptualization, or that of course labor unions are established authorities, or that they can come up with a better approach. That's one of the great things about science. The door is wide open to all who wish to do it another way.)

I think evidence for the non-political nature of my conceptualization has appeared in two independent studies done in the waning days of the Soviet Union, which Mr. Friedman has not addressed, which showed that supporters of the Communist Party scored highly on the RWA scale. If the RWA scale measures right-wing political sentiment, then how come Communists score highly on it?

To put it in a nutshell, the psychological trait (not political philosophy) I have been investigating revolves around a heightened submission to whoever has established power. That can be to Republicans or Communists. It is not, at base, dependent on the political stripes of the powerful.

Now (if anyone cares) I have also tried to identify a corresponding left-wing authoritarian who submits to authorities who want to overthrow the established order. I think I knew some people like this at one time, Canadian Maoists, and I developed a Left-Wing Authoritarianism scale to try to capture anti-Establishment authoritarian sentiment. But it is very hard to find such folks in my North American samples.

Question 2. Are the authorities cited on the RWA scale consistently more popular with the right than with the left? That, as I indicated above, depends on whom one is calling "the right." I tried to answer this by referring to Note 7 of Chapter 1 of "The Authoritarians." Maybe I should quote from the note:

"While we're on the subject of what the items on the RWA scale measures, people sometimes say, 'Of course conservatives (or religious conservatives) score highly on it; it's full of conservative ideas.' I think this does a disservice to 'conservative ideas,' and to being 'religious.' Take Item 16: God's laws about abortion, pornography, and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished." Knowing what you do about the concept of right-wing authoritarianism, you can pretty easily see the authoritarian submission ('God's laws...must be strictly followed'), the authoritarian aggression ('must be strongly punished'), and the run-away conventionalism in the underlying sentiment that everyone should be made to act the way someone's interpretation of God's laws dictates. The item appears on the RWA scale because responses to it correlate strongly with responses to all the other items on the scale, which together tap these three defining elements of right-wing authoritarianism.

"On the other hand the item, 'Abortion, pornography and divorce are sins'--which you may agree reflects a conservative and religious point of view--would not make the cut for inclusion on the RWA scale because it does not ring the bells that identify a high RWA loudly enough. You could in fact sensibly agree with this statement and still reject Item 16, could you not? Item 16 isn't just about being conservative and religious. It goes way beyond that."

Question 3: Will "right-wingers" with a certain level of authoritarianism score higher on the RWA scale than "left-wingers" with the same level of authoritarianism? Depends on whom you call a "right-winger," as I said above. The scale mainly measures the covariance of authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism. If someone's packet of "right-wingers," say the 30% of the American population that still thinks George Bush is doing a good job, also tends to be submissive, aggressive, and conventional, you bet they'll score highly. If however one means the many ex-Republicans who now consider themselves (at least temporarily) Independents because they are horrified at what has happened to the Republican Party, I think not. I think a nonauthoritarian conservative would not get a high score at all--a point I tried to make with the example of Barry Goldwater.

Question 4: How can I say people on the right are more authoritarian than people on the left? Well, I'm not sure I ever said that, meaning that. Abstract authoritarianism, without a context, is pretty hard to measure. The research we are discussing here concerns submission to established authority, and Republicans score higher on the RWA scale than Democrats do. That relationship, moderate among people in general, does get bigger as one focuses on people who are interested in, and involved in, politics. (In the multi-party Canadian political system, the relationship becomes huge--one of the biggest ever found in the social sciences.) Is that because of the suggested bias in the wording of the items--one that artificially raises RWA scores among conservatives? Well, see my answers to Questions 1-3.

But also, one could read the rest of the book beyond Chapter 1, which is available on-line at www.theauthoritarians.com . There's an awful lot of evidence from lots of studies, with a lot of strong findings, that indicate the RWA scale is valid, that it does measure submission to established authorities, aggression in their names, and high degrees of conventionalism. Look at the kinds of bills that high RWA legislators would like to pass, for example(Chapter 6). If you look at what high scores on the RWA scale correlate with, and you are a conservative, you'll probably want to argue that the RWA scale doesn't measure conservatism at all.

Well, this has been an interesting day, and not quite spent doing what I thought I'd be doing. I'll be glad to hear more on the subject, however. As I admit in the Introduction to "The Authoritarians," you can't shut me up once I get started on this topic.

 
At 6:58 PM, July 10, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

So far as Bob's initial point about the Republican party and the conservative movement, he's probably correct. I had a post on this blog sometime back suggesting that the Democrats ought to try to pull libertarians out of the Republican party, since the Republican party wasn't offering libertarians much nowadays.

But that's irrelevant to this dispute. My complaint wasn't that his conclusion was false. It was that the evidence he offered for the conclusion did not support it--that he had loaded the dice.

With regard to labor unions ... .

What Bob says about labor unions applies to the Church as well in modern society. It too is a legal organization which uses moral authority not legal force to control people. Yet he considers the Church an established authority, and uses it as such in his questions.

And, of course, if he doesn't like my example of labor unions, he is free to find some other authority that is more popular with the left than the right or some anti-establishment causes more popular with the right than the left. What he is not free to do is to only use authorities more popular with the right and causes more popular with the left and then conclude that support for those authorities and opposition to those causes measures only authoritarianism and not also political position.

Bob goes on to point out that supporters of the Communist party in the USSR scored high on RWA. I presume, however, that such studies used a different set of questions--ones designed for that environment. Not having seen those question I don't know what political biases, if any, they contained.

"To put it in a nutshell, the psychological trait ... revolves around a heightened submission to whoever has established power."

And my complaint is that your actual test, for reasons I have explained and you have not, I think, rebutted, measures a mix of that characteristic and conservative political views.

Bob's response to my second question refers back to footnote 7. As I already said, I think that's irrelevant. I will happily agree that an authoritarian is more likely to support forcing people not to have abortions than a libertarian. But, holding authoritarianism constant, someone who thinks abortions sinful is more likely to support that position than someone who doesn't. So answers to such a question measure both authoritarianism and views about abortion.

And, as I pointed out, that problem exists for a majority of the questions, always in the same direction. That provides a sufficient explanation of why Republicans test as more RWA than Democrats, whether or not they are actually more authoritarian.

I asked "Are the authorities cited on the RWA scale consistently more popular with the right than with the left?" Bob has not answered that question.

Bob's answer to question 3 again doesn't respond to what I asked. I will happily agree that a libertarian ex-Republican will score low on the RWA scale. But the question is whether, between two people who are equally inclined to be submissive to authority but who differ in their political views, the one with more right wing views will score as more authoritarian.

To take one obvious example, an authoritarian who has nothing against abortion and only scorn for religion is less likely to support laws against abortion than an authoritarian who is a traditional Catholic. But that isn't because he is less authoritarian. Since many questions are biased in this way, on average the test makes people on the right look more authoritarian than they are, people on the left less. If Bob's reply contains even the shadow of a rebuttal to that point I cannot find it.

Bob writes:

"Question 4: How can I say people on the right are more authoritarian than people on the left? "

That was not quite the question I asked. My question was how you could know it was true on the basis of a test which was biased in the way I explained.

Bob suggests I read more of the book. The problem is that, from what I have read, I have already concluded that I cannot trust the author's judgment, that he does things that it seems obvious to me consistently bias his results without realizing it. Under those circumstances, reading the book and trying to figure out what parts I should believe would be a lot of work.

 
At 9:21 PM, July 10, 2007, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

One interesting test case for this would seem to be a person's stance on restrictions on acceptable speech and publication on university campuses. It seems to be fairly common for universities to adopt restrictive rules under which certain classes of statements are impermissible or even punishable, on the ground that they reveal hostility to women, ethnic minorities, sexual preference minorities, or other subgroups of the population. And those are actual rules that are enforced by actual authorities. It's true that no one is forced to be a student at a university, but then no one is forced to be a worshiper at a church, either.

Does support for those rules count as RWA? More crucially, does advocacy of their repeal, or of defying them, count as anti-authoritarian?

 
At 5:56 AM, July 11, 2007, Anonymous Arthur B. said...

David Friedman suggests to take authorities equally respected on the right and on the left to have remove the test bias. However, if it is true that today, right wingers are more authoritarian, then it is likely that most of the prominent "sources of authority" in society will appeal to right wing while leftist sources of authority will not be as prominent because of their lack of support. In this case, equally balancing between left and right authority sources would not be representative of the prominent social authority figures, it will over-emphasize left-authority figure and make the result disappear.

I think the issues boil down to

- What is and authoritarian ? As I understand it, Bob Altemeyer sees an authoritarian as someone who calls for submission to prominent authorities in society, while David Friedman seems to define an authoritarian as someone who calls for submission to any source of authority.

- How do we identify the "prominent sources of authority" in society without introducing one's own vision. David Friedman thinks labor union are, Bob Altemeyer that they are not, there's no unbiased standard procedure defined to identify theses sources.

 
At 8:16 AM, July 11, 2007, Anonymous Mark said...

Is it objectively obvious that gays are less healthy than straights? I would think that gay men are more likely to have AIDS then the general population, but gay women are less likely. Maybe it works out that gays overall are still more likely to have AIDS, but I hardly think that this is so obvious that anyone who says otherwise is simply bowing to political correctness. Also, from my experience, gay men are more concerned about physical fitness than straights. I know this is a bit off topic, but I hope you won't mind me raising the issue.

 
At 9:13 AM, July 11, 2007, Blogger Brandon Berg said...

Mark:
AIDS is extremely rare among heterosexuals. More cases of AIDS are attributable to male-to-male sexual contact than to all other causes combined. Given that gay men are only 1-2% of the population, this means that they're orders of magnitude more likely to have AIDs than heterosexuals.

 
At 9:58 AM, July 11, 2007, Anonymous TGGP said...

mark, 1-2% of women are lesbians, while 3-4% of men are gay, so the latter outweigh the former. Another thing I've read is that lesbians tend to be overweight while gay men tend to be fit. Since heart disease and other conditions related to fitness are major causes of death in the United States, perhaps Friedman should examine that factor more closely in discussing how comparatively healthy they are.

 
At 10:27 AM, July 11, 2007, Blogger Unnr said...

My objections to Dr. Friedman's questions :)

"23: When a union calls a strike, workers should decide for themselves whether it is justified and cross picket lines to go to work if they think it is not."

The answere to this question will be confounded by difference in force between collective and inidvidual effots.

My suggestion: Workers should decide not wether the strike is justified, but which option (to cross or not to cross) will do Less damage (or more aid) to their own personal goals (which hopefully have as part of them an interest in the corporate good, but won't always).

"24. Our country desperately needs a decisive leader who will overcome special interest politics and break the political power of big corporations in order to do what is good for the common people."

This is pitting apples against apples. Special interest groups, Big corporations, and decisive leaders are ALL unusually strong sources of power.

"25. Fundamentalist Christians are just as healthy and moral as anybody else."

I think a truly honest respondent on any side of the debate would say that the generalization is too broad.

(higher rate of AIDS. So "strongly agree" on that question means "say the politically correct thing even when I know perfectly well it is false." Which sounds like authoritarianism.)

(I second the previous poster, Mark, this is too complex a question for most people to answer competantly off the cuff)

"26. It is always better to trust the consensus of the scientific community on issues such as global warming, rather than to listen to the ignorant sceptics in our society who are trying to create doubt in people's minds."

Nothing is ALWAYS better. I think a person who is honestly anti-authoritarian, libertarian, or anarchist would distrust this rule like any other, and be uncomfortable to show either agreement with or oposition to the statement.

Also the question is phrased very predjudically.


"27. You have to admire those who challenged the law and the majority's view by pushing for the abolition of affirmative action, for laws allowing ordinary citizens to carry firearms for self defense, for school voucher programs to let parents get their kids out of the trap of failing public schools."

This one I rather like. Because admiration =/= agreement, the quetion seems to focus on how the respondant feels about someone else's approach to a set of circumstances, rather than the content of the response.

-Unnr

 
At 1:19 PM, July 11, 2007, Anonymous Mark said...

Brandon Berg said: "AIDS is extremely rare among heterosexuals. More cases of AIDS are attributable to male-to-male sexual contact than to all other causes combined."

Your source is a study of the United States. Altemeyer's question did not mention the United States. I would guess that AIDS in Africa is more common among heterosexuals, since homosexuality is taboo there. My point is not that gays or straights are healthier, only that it is not immediately obvious to the common person which group has better health. Thus both Altemeyer's question and Friedman's interpretation of it are wrong.

 
At 1:21 PM, July 11, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Is it objectively obvious that gays are less healthy than straights? I would think that gay men are more likely to have AIDS then the general population, but gay women are less likely."

I agree. But the original referred to "gays and lesbians," so was using the former term to refer only to male homosexuals, which is how I used it in my comment on the original.

 
At 1:35 PM, July 11, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

On http://dyspepsiageneration.com/?p=645
Robert Altemeyer complains that he has been unable to post a response here. I'm not sure if there is something wrong with the Blogspot software or if Bob is doing something wrong--is anyone else having trouble posting comments? If so, email me:
ddfr@daviddfriedman.com

 
At 2:37 PM, July 11, 2007, Anonymous Bob Altemeyer said...

Yes, I posted a long message last night that has apparently disappeared into the ether. And then I tried three times this morning to post a different, short message that will soon follow.

But first I have to say, I doubt very many of the people who have responded to the "gays and lesbians" item over the years have thought of the things brought up here. (When I developed items for the RWA scale, I asked people to tell me why they had responded they way they had. [You do that so you can see if the item is too ambiguous.] People didn't say they had thought of AIDS; mainly they thought the question referred to psychological health, and with "morality" was essentially asking them for an opinion about how good or bad homosexuality was.) I'm not saying a physical health interpretation of the item is wrong. But if it were the rule, the item would have little or no predictive power regarding authoritarian behavior, and that item is one of the best.

Now, my short comment. (I'll have to re-write tonight the long message that disappeared into the ether, an exercise in "test-retest reliability.")

I can offer some data on the issue Arthur B. raised. I have twice done a "political correctness" experiment in which I ask parents of university students to indicate whether they'd censor some communications or restrict some deeds. Half of the twelve cases presented involved a message/act that I think "conservatives" would want to censor ("Should a book be assigned in a Grade 12 English course that presents homosexual relationships in a positive light?") and the other six cases involved an act that I thought "liberals" would likely object to. (e.g., "Should a professor who has argued in the past that black people are less intelligent than white people, be given a research grant to continue studies of the issue?"--which is based on the Philippe Rushton case which inspired an article on leftist censorship in MacLean's magazine in Canada.

I expected low RWAs to object to the deeds that offended them, and highs to object to the others. I wanted to see who would censor more in such a balanced set-up. But in both studies the high RWAs wanted to restrict ALL the communicators/acts more than the lows did--save one case involving a grade 10 sex education teacher who strongly believed all premarital sex was a sin. So overall, it was no contest, basically because low RWAs do not believe in censorship nearly as much as high RWAs do, even when they are quite opposed to the message.

You can find a report of the study, and a copy of the twelve issues used, in Chapter 3 at www.theauthoritarians.com .

If you thought such a study would help resolve the issue before us, there are the findings.

 
At 7:11 PM, July 11, 2007, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

I can offer some data on the issue Arthur B. raised. I have twice done a "political correctness" experiment in which I ask parents of university students to indicate whether they'd censor some communications or restrict some deeds.

I expected low RWAs to object to the deeds that offended them, and highs to object to the others. I wanted to see who would censor more in such a balanced set-up. But in both studies the high RWAs wanted to restrict ALL the communicators/acts more than the lows did. So overall, it was no contest, basically because low RWAs do not believe in censorship nearly as much as high RWAs do, even when they are quite opposed to the message.

If you thought such a study would help resolve the issue before us, there are the findings.


Actually, that was my (William H. Stoddard's) question, not Arthur B.'s. Thanks for supplying the data. I still think it would have been better to include both sorts of questions, but the evidence does tend to support the conclusion that it didn't make a big difference.

My underlying concern is this:

Is the term "right-wing authoritarian" a subcategory of the broader category of "authoritarian"? That is, are there authoritarians of other sorts? Or is the adjective just singling out certain traits found in all authoritarians, for particular notice, in the way that Kipling refers to "cold iron" not to mean some special, magically potent sort of iron, but to describe ordinary utility-grade iron more evocatively?

One example of what I think might be an authoritarian of another sort is someone who wants there to be a kind of controlling agency that does not currently exist, and who would be prepared to submit to it in an exaggerated way if it did exist. For example, one occasionally hears people say that there ought to be a licensing agency for parents; such an agency would exercise control over the right to reproduce in a way that does not now exist. Are people who want such an agency to exist, and are willing to submit to it, authoritarians? (For a historical example, in the late 19th century when the eugenics movement was just getting started, were people who advocated compulsory sterilization of the "unfit" authoritarians in their support for a practice that had not yet been instituted?)

There is also the example of people who advocate establishing a form of authority that does not exist, but that did exist in the past. For example, there are some people who want the Christian religion, or even some specific form of it, to be legally established in the United States, which is not currently the case. It doesn't seem right to call them RWA if that means "a heightened submission to whoever has established power," but on the other hand they are not necessarily similar to people who want to establish something that has never existed. If I were making up the terminology, I would call those particular people RWA, the people who want to set up something new and different LWA, and the people you call "RWA" I would call, oh, "middle-of-the-road authoritarians" or something?

Or do you consider both of these two deviant categories not to be authoritarians at all? That is, do you recognize authoritarianism only in those who submit to authorities that actually exist, or do you admit a category of authoritarians who would submit to a different category if it were brought into existence?

 
At 8:51 PM, July 11, 2007, Anonymous Bob Altemeyer said...

(This is a re-write of the message I tried to send last night. If the original ever emerges from the ether, someone can compare the two and see how scattered my thinking is.)

Wow! You certainly give fast turn-around in these discussions.

I sense frustration on your part with my response, and you may soon sense some frustration on my part too. So I’m going to try to answer your rejoinder, and then I’ll let you have the last word.

You say that labor unions are “established authorities” as much as the Church is in modern times. Hmm. Since you are criticizing the RWA scale items I wrote, I think that means my concept of “established authorities” is germane. I don’t think labor unions qualify according to that conceptualization. Polls show that a solid majority of Americans, and even most Canadians, say they belong to a church. (America is about the most religious nation in the West, in fact.) I think a much smaller number belong to unions. Secondly, religions have had the role of determining the morality of just about everything for a very long time. So, in terms of my definition, they are “usually considered to have a general legal or moral authority over the behavior of others.” Unions have no such general authority. Just being legal and trying to influence people does not make one an established authority. Lobbyists and advertising agencies are not established authorities as I have defined the phrase.

Now anyone can say that my conceptualization is mutton-headed. As I said before, someone who wants to take a different approach should do so. But if someone wants an item about labor unions put on the RWA scale to test for political bias, they’re no longer dealing with what I’ve called right-wing authoritarianism.

David wants items on the RWA scale that will talk about established authorities who are more popular with the left than the right. As one of the post-ers observes, that may be inherently difficult to pull off. It’s easy to come up with statements such as, “Democrats are better than Republicans.” But I don’t think political parties are established authorities. Nevertheless others can try to write these items, and test them. (It’ll become clear shortly why I’ll take a pass.)

The Soviet Union studies used the 30-item RWA scale that I was working with at the time. Both teams of researchers independently dropped a couple of the items because they just didn’t seem to apply to the Russian situation. And in some items “religion” and “religious beliefs” were changed to “Communism” and “Marxist theory,” etc. But basically, the scale was the same one answered by North Americans at the time. Nudist camps here, and nudist camps there. So the question remains, if the RWA scale is measuring right-wing political beliefs as well as authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism, how come Communists scored so highly on it?

David says I have not rebutted the argument that the RWA scale measures a mix of conservative political views and right-wing authoritarianism. Well, I think the Soviet data do rebut it to a considerable extent. Beyond that, I quietly offer again the observations made in Note 7 of Chapter 1 of my book–which David still finds irrelevant. The gist of the argument is: it’s difficult to answer the question, yes or no, because of the change that has taken place in “conservatism” in the United States. It’s pretty easy, I think, to show that “conservatives” now stress submission to established authority, aggression in the name of that authority, and high-muzzle-velocity conventionalism. In short, “conservatism” has become much more right-wing authoritarian. If you look at an RWA scale item and say, “Yeah, a conservative would be more inclined to agree with that than a liberal,” maybe that would have been true in 1964, but maybe not. In short, today’s “conservatives” might agree with the item on the RWA scale simply because conservatism today in the United States is fairly throbbing with right-wing authoritarianism. Is it fair to criticize the RWA scale for being able to detect this?

I really can’t put it any straighter and simpler than I did in Note 7. If that doesn’t make the point, give me an “F.”

Of course, one can settle the issue directly by seeing if Republicans ARE more right-wing authoritarian than Democrats–not in terms of their scores on the RWA scale, but in terms of their behavior and other attitudes. The answer is, in study after study, yes they are. So if, for example, you look at the eight survey studies I did of over twelve hundred American legislators (reported in Chapter 11 of “The Authoritarian Specter,” published in 1996 by Harvard University Press) (the findings are also summarized in Chapter 6 of my on-line book), you’ll see that Republican lawmakers showed more liking for submission to authority, more aggression in the name of authority, and more conventionalism in such things as willingness to violate the Bill of Rights, racial and ethnic prejudice, wanting to use capital punishment for a wide variety of crimes, and wanting to impose Christian religious instruction upon children attending public schools. I have not emphasized it in my writings, but you almost always find those members of a general sample who support the conservative parties in Canada and the United States also tend to commit and endorse authoritarian behaviors more. Mick McWilliams found similar things when he did a nationwide poll for the Libertarian Party last year.

So rather than suggesting Republicans look more authoritarian than Democrats on the RWA scale because the measure is biased, a rather huge amount of evidence says the scale is valid precisely because it finds differences between groups that we independently know do differ in authoritarianism.

David asks if the authorities cited on the RWA scale are more popular with the right than with the left? That’s an empirical question, and I suspect the answer in terms of today’s “right” will be yes. (Whoever does that study should also try to find the established authorities that the liberals like more than conservatives do.)

David then asks, if you have two people equally inclined to submit to authority, say an authoritarian who has nothing against abortion and only scorn for religion, and another authoritarian who is very religious and strongly opposed to abortion, will not the latter score higher on the RWA scale? As a hypothetical case, I’d say yes. But there is a problem with the hypothesis that needs to be fixed before my answer can mean anything. What does one mean when one says the two are “equally inclined to submit to authority”? Submission to authority shifts around a lot when one changes the authorities a lot. You can’t measure it in the abstract, as in, “How much do you submit to authority?” If the two persons are equally inclined to submit to the same authorities, then I’d say there’d only be a small difference in their RWA scale scores, due to their response to the item featuring abortion.

I’m not trying to duck the issue, I’m just saying the question seems to be assuming something that may be impossible to establish.

I suggested David read the rest of my book to get an idea of what has been found, but he said he won’t because he doesn’t trust my judgment. (Ouch! I don’t think I said anything mean like that during our discussion, and when someone reacts that way, I always wonder what was going on in his head that produced the comment.) Well, even if one thinks my judgment stinks to high heaven, one can still look at what Mother Nature said when various experiments were run. If one thinks that is untrustworthy too because those were my experiments, then one can see what other researchers found (as my studies have enjoyed a very high rate of replication). Unless one believes all the researchers have been wrong all of the time.

And that’s it for me. I surrender the floor to David (and after all, it is his floor). If David will take a compliment from someone with such abysmal judgment, the central point he raised has been raised a couple of times before–by Austin Bramwell in The American Conservative Magazine last summer, for instance. (That’s why I put Note 7 in the book.) But no one so far has pressed the point as well as David did, in my opinion.

If anyone actually wants to continue this discussion with me, my email address is altemey@cc.umanitoba.ca

 
At 11:26 PM, July 11, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bob writes:

"The Soviet Union studies used the 30-item RWA scale that I was working with at the time. ... And in some items “religion” and “religious beliefs” were changed to “Communism” and “Marxist theory,” etc. .... So the question remains, if the RWA scale is measuring right-wing political beliefs as well as authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism, how come Communists scored so highly on it?"

I object that using the church biases the scale towards people on the political right. You explain that the church--an authority that the right likes--was replaced in the questions by the Communist Party--an authority that the left likes. You then ask why, if the test was biased towards the right, communist scored so high? The obvious answer is because the bias had been reversed--you just told us so. That's not rocket science.

Bob thinks it's inherently difficult to come up with established authorities more popular with the left--and that, I think, is the clue to his problem. He is confusing "conservative" in the current political sense with "conservative" in Bierce's sense of "enamored of present evils"--opposed to change. Given that confusion, he naturally assumes that established authorities are going to be things people on the right like, and naturally picks things people on the right like for the established authorities in his questions.

He seems to have forgotten that the New Deal happened seventy years ago. Most North Americans now alive have spent their entire adult life in a world where the New Deal orthodoxy was the accepted majority view. The moderate left is the establishment; the authorities it supports, including public schools and labor unions, are established authorities.

In 1964, it was LBJ who was the conservative in the literal sense of the term, the candidate who wanted to continue moderate change in the direction things had been changing for the previous three decades. It was Goldwater who was the radical. Currently, voucher supporters are the ones pushing for change, voucher opponents--primarily the teachers' unions--are the ones supporting the status quo. Isn't that obvious?

One final point. I'm not arguing that Bob's conclusion is wrong; I don't know enough to judge whether the right or the left is more authoritarian. I'm arguing that the correlation between RWA as he measures it and measures of political conservatism doesn't provide evidence for his conclusion, that whether or not his conclusion is right, his argument is wrong.

 
At 8:52 AM, July 12, 2007, Anonymous Bob Altemeyer said...

Hi. Nice to meet you, and I'm sorry I attributed your earlier question to someone else.

I saw your question on David's site last night and intended to answer it there this morning, in case someone else is interested. I'll try to post this there as well as send it to your email address.

I THINK authoritarianism in general, in North America at least, can be characterized by the coexistence of authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism. (If this turns out to be true, it's not because I deduced it with spectacular mental powers, but because I inferred it based on a lot of data other people gathered during the 1950s and 60s.)

And as you clearly know, I call people who submit to established authorities "right-wing authoritarians," and people who submit to authorities who want to overthrow the established ones "left-wing authoritarians." There may even be "middle of the road" authoritarians, but that will be for someone else to investigate.

So the answer to your first question is, yes, there is at least one other kind of authoritarian besides what I call the right-wing one.

You go on to ask about people who want to establish an authority to license parents, and who want to establish a particular version of Christianity as the official religion of the USA. My theoretical expectation is that high RWAs will be more likely to want the government to decide who can have kids, and who cannot. High RWAs are far from being libertarians, and they are highly judgmental when it comes to other people's child-rearing habits. They generally look to the authorities to step in and straighten out people who are doing things they disapprove of. (I know of no data on the subject, but someone could easily do this study.) As for the eugenics movement, it may have just been a coincidence, but I think in general these programs were favored by high RWA governments. In Canada, nearly 3,000 women were sterilized in Alberta between 1928 and 1972 because (in a classic case of missuing intelligence tests) they were deemed to have very low IQs. A few sterilizations also occurred in British Columbia under conservative governments. Is it true that most sterilizations in the USA happened in southern states?

We've tons of evidence on who wants to establish a fundamentalist Christianity as the official government religion, and it is (very) high RWAs. (See Chapter 4 of my on-line book.) This can look like wanting to overthrow the present system, but these people are generally of the persuasion that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation, and they are obeying the "real" established authority. Which is: what (they think) the founding fathers intended, not to mention Almighty God. (If you're wondering how they square that with the First Amendment, their leaders say the Supreme Court has misinterpreted it--a long stretch, but it works for the followers whose minds are simply packed with contradictory notions. See Chapter 3 of the book.) So they would not think that they are asking for something that never existed, but rather for the reinstatement of quite traditional beliefs.

Your question touches upon a deeper issue, and that is whom right-wing authoritarians will consider to be the "proper and legitimate established authorities" when there are several sets to choose from. I've always said it will mostly depend on the early socialization of the person, on whom the person was raised to submit to. So in the case of the ex-Communist governments in Europe, high RWAs under the Communist regimes, who tended to support the Communist Party, have generally not supported the more democratic governments that replaced the Communists. Some of them still vote for whatever Communist Party may still exist, some of them go off onto religious or nationalistic parties. But they do not support the present "established authorities," any more than the Religious Right supported the Clinton administration.

As I wrote in 1981, high RWAs will like some presidents and popes and judges more than others. But they will submit to authorities they dislike more than low RWAs will submit to authorities the lows don't like. So overall, highs are appreciably more submissive to authority. Experiments have confirmed this: e.g. what will highs do if they are on a school board and the government tells them they cannot discriminate against homosexual teachers, and what will lows do if the government tells them they cannot hire homosexual teachers? Most highs submit, and most lows say, "Shove it."

I hope you feel I have given answers to the questions you asked. Sorry about how much I said.

 
At 11:46 AM, July 12, 2007, Anonymous Reticent Man said...

John hates Dave
Jack loves Dave
I ask John and Jack whether they support me punching Dave. John says yes, Jack says no.
I conclude John is a violent person and Jack is not.

duh.

 
At 12:29 PM, July 12, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

A few points in Bob's most recent post that I wanted to comment on.

I don't know if he is aware of it, but one of the chief opponents of the eugenics movement was the Catholic church.

The political divisions are more complicated. So far as I can tell, in the first round, late 19th and early 20th century, the political left generally supported eugenics; that included George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, John Maynard Keynes, Harold Laski and the Webbs. By the second round, left wing opinion had shifted to "it's all environment; genes don't matter," so the left was mostly against.

Which suggests that at the earlier point the left (and, of course, other people, including Winston Churchill) were authoritarians in Bob's sense. And one could argue that the reason Catholic countries didn't sterilize people wasn't that they weren't authoritarian but that the relevant authority was strongly against it.

"They generally look to the authorities to step in and straighten out people who are doing things they disapprove of."

From my standpoint as a libertarian who has spent a lot of time arguing with people on the left, that looks like a description of much of the left.

 
At 8:31 AM, August 09, 2007, Blogger Daniel M. Ryan said...

Perhaps a way to get through the bias issue is to add this supplementary two-part question for each authority mentioned: "What would you do if you saw people getting away with defying [authority X] and being unsuccessfully punished for it? What if those people weren't punished at all?"

I can't go into any possible answers, as my own intuition tends to see the "RWA" person as a bully. Thus, I assume that such a person would quickly ditch their identification with a weak authority. This assumption, of course, may be incorrect.

 
At 12:10 AM, August 27, 2007, Anonymous Aaron Lukas said...

First of all, I strongly recommend Bob's book (the free, online one). Having read it, I think I can contribute to this discussion, even if I'm a bit late to the scene.

Many of the concerns voiced by Friedman et al claim that the scale is actually checking for religious fundamentalism. These criticisms are mostly accurate -- the scale would probably have more difficulty detecting left-wing authoritarians.

However, Altemeyer's area of focus (in the book, at least) is conservative authoritarianism, and as the book demonstrates, the scale does appear to be good at picking those members out of the statistical crowd. Thus, for the purposes of the book, which describes his research into "authoritarians" (people with high RWA scores), this test appears rather useful.

In addition, as is pointed out early on in the book, most of the "right-wing" authoritarianism in the US is on the conservative side. Sure, you can find large numbers of fairly authoritarian lefties. I'm sure the libertarian commenters have had enraging exchanges with members of the Moore-watching, Kos-reading crowd. The partisan atmosphere of our times is increasing authoritarianism on both sides of the political spectrum.

However, from my few extended encounters with people who would probably have scored an 80+ the RWA scale, I've concluded that they are much more fearsome beasts.

In any case, I strongly recommend reading the book itself. I think the various studies Altemeyer has done carry some weight even if one is skeptical about the RWA scale.

The one gripe I had with the book (and this is directed towards Bob, in case he reads this comment) is that I would like to have seen more of the actual numbers in the notes. For some of the studies, I was interested in knowing more about the findings, but could only reference the informal verbal scale you set up.

 
At 7:39 AM, January 04, 2008, Blogger Ilja Schmelzer said...

Prof. Friedman writes: The problem is that, from what I have read, I have already concluded that I cannot trust the author's judgment, that he does things that it seems obvious to me consistently bias his results without realizing it.

Having read your article and the comments here I was on your side. But reading his book I have changed my mind. Altemeyers book is, IMHO (I'm laymen), good science.

The problem with your criticism is that there is an important difference between an opinion poll, on one hand, and a questionaire with the aim to identify a psychological trait on the other hand.

To create the second thing is a science in itself, with its own rules. The researcher is not free to put in questions as he likes. Of course, he is free to include new questions - but, then, he has to check if these new questions fit. The important question here is not if these questions are fair in any external way. The important questions are quite different:

1. test-retest-reliability: Do the same people, asked a second time, give the same answers?

2. high correlation with other questions in the questionaire.

3. some others, which I don't know being a laymen.

If some artificially designed question fails these tests, it has to be thrown away. If it succeeds, it has to be included. The content of the question does not count at all - if you try "do you like blue color", and obtain high correlations, you have to include it.

Think of it as an analogon of improving a measurement instrument. You change something in a clock. Is the new clock better than the old one? One answer is that you compare the accuracy of measuring something different time with new clocks as well as old clocks, and, if the error bars between the measurement with new clocks are smaller, we have an improvement.

It is not clear what we measure if we follow such a procedure. But having accurate measurement instruments is always an improvement for scientists. We can give it a name, say "time" in case of clocks, or "RWA" in case of this questionaire. It does not matter much if this notion corresponds to the original meaning of the phrase in everyday language. And, then, we can continue doing science using these new notions - say, establish connections with other, similar, scientific notions, like IQ and so on.

I'm unable to judge about the details, but the program itself is sound. And, given this program, it is not sound to judge the questions in the questionaire as you do it.

Let's formulate it in another way: If you use your "neutral" questions, you measure something different, say NA (neutral authoritarian). Now, with high probability, you measure something much less interesting, because you have much less test-retest-reliability, much less accuracy, much greater error bars, much less correlations with other interesting properties or personality traits. That's, of course, simply a laymens guess, based on the assumption that Altemeyer has spend a lot of time improving these properties for his RWA.

 

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