Bad Science, Bad News—I hope by the time this is published, it is but one more voice in a symphony of angry letters and editorials directed at the top story on the front page of Friday's Albuquerque Journal. The story, "Lean to the Left? It May Be Mommy's Fault," succeeds on no level. It's a bad headline on a bad piece of reporting about some bad science.
Rough luck, paper of record, but why couldn't you be bothered to question the assumptions of your sources? And how come none of your editors raised an eyebrow on this incredibly biased story, loosely sourced, before it hit the front page? Controversy is good and all, but this puppy's certifiably ugly.
An unlucky 123 UNM students got stuck filling out a survey about their childhoods. As an alumna myself, I can tell you this is the kind of thing you do to salvage a dipping grade in your Psych 105 class, not because you have some kind of burning interest in questionnaires. Really, I wonder how many folks are honest on these extra credit surveys, three of which could bump your grade a whole five points, if memory serves. The results reported by the article? People with unhappy childhoods are more likely to be liberals. Less tumultuous upbringings breed conservatives.
People with decent childhoods want to preserve the values that are working for them, i.e., conservatism, so sayeth Randy Thornhill, the conductor of the study. Wait, do you recognize that name? Randy Thornhill? The Journal didn't notice or didn't care to point out that he's the same UNM researcher who published the much maligned and heavily criticized book A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. "Anyone with a logical mind who understands a tautology will have no trouble seeing the holes, discrepancies, fanciful leaps and wild suppositions masquerading as fact in the Thornhill thesis," wrote Susan Brownmiller of Thornhill's book in Feminista! And she wasn't the only one who would have been laughing at this piece of science were it not so dangerous in its implications. At the very least, this was a conflict worth mentioning.
Also, I wonder what headline writer finally had the gaul to state explicitly what the Journal's been insinuating for years: That liberalism is a "fault." And why are bad childhoods necessarily attributable to your "mommy"? How come nobody asked Thornhill about his small sample set or bother to find anyone to question the researcher's claims? Instead, the story quotes Matt Farrauto, head of New Mexico's Democratic Party, who says something about his divorced parents, even though the study said nothing about Democrats, but rather about liberals, not always one and the same in this state (or anywhere else).
And I'm no scientist, but how do we know those questionnaires don't prove that conservatives are less likely to divulge details about their childhoods in surveys at school? Or that college-educated liberals (all subjects were UNM students) are whiny about their upbringings?
This “Thin Line” is just full of questions—ones I wish the Journal would have gotten around to asking before going to press.