An economist is retracting findings of a widely trumpeted study that claimed liberals are more ignorant of economics than conservatives and libertarians. This comes after he and a colleague conducted a second study based on speculation that the original study questions had been posed in a way that elicited confirmation bias that would inevitably make liberals look more economically stupid than conservatives and libertarians. The second study found that conservatives and libertarians responded just as stupidly when questions that properly challenged their views were posed. I wonder if the Wall Street Journal will report this. The tendency toward confirmation bias would predict that they will be less likely than other publications to cover the retraction, but one can hope.
Daniel Klein writes:
Back in June 2010, I published a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that the American left was unenlightened, by and large, as to economic matters. Responding to a set of survey questions that tested people’s real-world understanding of basic economic principles, self-identified progressives and liberals did much worse than conservatives and libertarians, I reported. To sharpen the ax, The Journal titled the piece “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”—the implication being that people on the left were not.[...]
But one year later, in May 2011, Buturovic and I published a new scholarly article reporting on a new survey. It turned out that I needed to retract the conclusions I’d trumpeted in The Wall Street Journal. The new results invalidated our original result: under the right circumstances, conservatives and libertarians were as likely as anyone on the left to give wrong answers to economic questions. The proper inference from our work is not that one group is more enlightened, or less. It’s that “myside bias”—the tendency to judge a statement according to how conveniently it fits with one’s settled position—is pervasive among all of America’s political groups. The bias is seen in the data, and in my actions.[...]
Buturovic began putting all 17 questions to a new group of respondents last December. I eagerly awaited the results, hoping that the conservatives and especially the libertarians (my side!) would exhibit less myside bias. Buturovic was more detached. She e-mailed me the results, and commented that conservatives and libertarians did not do well on the new questions. After a hard look, I realized that they had bombed on the questions that challenged their position. A full tabulation of all 17 questions showed that no group clearly out-stupids the others. They appear about equally stupid when faced with proper challenges to their position.
Finally, kudos to Klein and Buturovic for digging deeper and honestly sharing their new findings. I look forward to another Wall Street Journal headline: Are Journal Reporters Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?