Ziegler interview gets its own post

I mentioned the interview of John Ziegler by Nate Silver (of BP and FiveThirtyEight.com fame) in my previous neuropsych post, but it really deserves more attention.

First, the interview itself : It is because of men like this that Bush got re-elected, and it is because of men like this that the GOP got crushed two short weeks ago. Living in San Diego, I now live among more Republicans than ever (even when I lived in rural Indiana) and many of them are very troubled by the way in which "their" party has been hijacked by crazies - either rabid partisans with a "for us or against us mentality" or far-right religious crazies. When the GOP is in the hands of rational conservatives then the country will be in a better place, but in the mean-time the Democrats are our only hope.

sorry for that tangent. Here's Nate's follow-up post, and also check out Carl Bialik's assessment of the Zogby poll - very informative, and what I would call an un-biased observer.


Neat or Messy = Elephant or Donkey?

It is difficult to raise this subject without seeming to take sides or assign value, but a new paper in Journal of Political Psychology has a pretty interesting take on the idea of hard-wired philosophical inclination. Studying the rooms of 76 college students and 94 professionals, the authors noted significant correlation between neatness/room decoration style and political leaning. The idea is that distinct cognitive inclinations of liberals towards ambiguity and intellectualism, and conservatives toward order, "drive the way one leads one's life and displays one's life in their living and work spaces," co-author Dana Carney, an assistant professor of management at Columbia University's Business School in New York City. These various room elements are "behavioral residue," says co-author Sam Gosling, associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and notes that these findings are just the latest of several recent attempts to unearth politics in personality, the brain and DNA. Brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and even genetic tests are turning up possible clues to our political origins and behaviors.

"It's pleasurable for liberals to think more. They gravitate toward art, to things that are not as concrete," says Carney. "Conservatives have a need for order, for there not to be ambiguity. There you see that expressed by being more orderly, having more cleaning supplies, needing to have everything lined up and organized so that one feels one's environment is predictable and therefore safe."

Clearly the line isn't as clear-cut as that, though, and it's not surprising that people get defensive about labeled with such a broad brush. More importantly, the Carney & Gosling study isn't the focus of this post; I present their results in light of a recent Nate Silver interview of John Ziegler, author of the Zogby poll/interview of Obama voters attempting to argue that Obama won only because the "liberal media" (don't get me started) wanted him to win.

Short version: Ziegler is a talk-show host and as such it's hard to tell what is an act and what is real. You have to assume that the interview is legit, though, and it's honestly pretty shocking how rude and uncooperative Ziegler is. However, it makes more sense when (a) you read a 2004 article on him and (b) you consider that he falls into the "neat room" crowd: the world is black and white, that absolutes do exist, and that ambiguity and uncertainty are weaknesses. When Nate asks him detailed or non-stimulating questions, Ziegler becomes rude and belligerent - he doesn't know how to handle this kind of low-ratings discussion.

The Atlantic article is very long, but good, and I recommend it highly. If nothing else it helped me make sense of the creature that is "talk radio". To wit, talk radio is not conservative because of some big Clear Channel/Fox News conspiracy (though that doesn't help) but because talk radio is all about profit, and what is profitable is "shock jocks" and emotional extremes. Rational discourse and moral gray areas don't inflame passions or draw big numbers, and thus don't produce sufficient advertising revenue ... we have NPR for that. That's not to say that a lot of "stimulating" talk radio isn't socially destructive and inflammatory, but at least it helped me understand where it's coming from.