Friday, October 31, 2008

Bias for good looks

By way of trying to explain Sarah Palin's appeal, CNN, bolstered by a study from Joan Chiao of Northwestern University, gives us this headline:

Study: Voters prefer pretty female candidates
Well, duh. Only Chiao is startled by this.

Even though this is obviously true, the study and the story are bullshit. (Cranky this morning.) The first design choice of the study built in bias for appearance, since the only information provided to the test subjects was the pictures of candidates. Asked to attach adjectives about character and personality to faces, the subjects of course did.

Second, the subjects were all college students, and most had never voted. How did they get extrapolated into 'voters' in the headline?

The media needs an excuse to run the story they were ready to tell, even when
the truth is obvious, as in this case. The excuse doesn't have to be able to stand up to editorial scrutiny.

But Chiao's a babe, so I guess we can let it go.

Update (11/18): I'm really disappointed that no one else found my small joke at the end funny. So, I'll have to stick with serious for the moment.

The New York Times has a related story today about implicit association tests.

No pretty pictures for you today! But I can't resist noting that John Tierney's final paragraph is off-point bullshit written in true Time Magazine style:
After all the mutual invective in the I.A.T. debate, maybe it’s unrealistic to expect the two sides to collaborate. But these social scientists are supposed to be experts in overcoming bias and promoting social harmony. If they can’t figure out how to get along with their own colleagues, how seriously should we take their advice for everyone else?
Note the cavalier blurring between factual and normative. Yes, Tierney is a conservative. Any psychologist want to study that?

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