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June 09, 2009


I'm fascinated by the finding that corrective information was more effective when non-white administrators were present. Your paper states that this result was "unanticipated," and offers as an explanation that "the presence of non-white experimental administrators created social desirability conditions that boosted the power of the corrective affirmation, which was otherwise ineffective." Perhaps "social desirability conditions" is a term of art these days; it means damned little to me.

How many white administrators and how many non-white administrators did you use? If the number of non-white administrators was low, wouldn't that suggest that personal characteristics may have accounted for the difference? Did you attempt to isolate the different results by individual administrator? Isn't it possible that one or two particular administrators may have been more authoritative or communicated greater sincerity than others, and that this caused the result? Did you consider analyzing the different results on the basis of other administrator characteristics--e.g., height, facial hair, age, religion? Wouldn't you imagine these might have been as much of a cause of differential results as the administrator's race?

Happily, it requires no additional experimentation to consider many of these possibilities. It's just a matter of crunching the data that already exists (plus adding data for certain personal characteristics of administrators that is easily obtained).

And if after considering all the other possible explanations, race remains the most influential determinant, on behalf of all lovers of the English language and clear thinking, could I suggest that you put a little meat on the bones of "social desirability conditions"?

Oh, and let's not forget about analyzing the results on the basis of the administrator's gender. I foolishly omitted that from the list of administrator characteristics that could cause differential results. Also, non-white covers a lot of ground. Are there significant differences based on the actual race of the administrator, i.e., black, Hispanic, Asian?

One final point. If the result had been in the direction you expected--that the white administrators' corrective affirmation had been more effective--would you have explained this result as stemming from social desirability conditions? Of course not. Then, it would have been seen as confirmation of racism.

In your study, you failed to use the most powerful argument: Finally proof Obama isn't Muslim!

I'm not up on the jargon... Please clarify "social desirability effect". Do you mean that the person actually was convinced by the administrator's argument (ie, ethnicity affected perceived authenticity of the argument) or does "social desirability" mean the person only pretended to be convinced in order mollify the administrator?

Here in the US, the perception of Islam often is associated with certain ethnic groups. Is the effect of ethnicity the same if the political misperception was less ethnically charged... ex, Obama is a socialist...

@ Rob,
There was no suggestion that the authors expected white administrators' corrective affirmation to be more effective than that of non-whites. My impression is that they were presenting a possible explanation for the disparity in the results observed. The only expectation expressed above wasn't an expectation, but a hypothesis "that the corrective affirmation would successfully reduce misperceptions", which they reported as unsupported by the data.

I used to support the Committee for Scientific Inquiry of the Paranormal. This group works to counter misperceptions about crop circles, spoon bending, divining, mind-reading, ghosts, and other clearly disprovable beliefs. After a while I stoppped supporting CSICOP because they seemed to get nowhere. Their results mirror Brendan's: people pretty much remain wedded to their beliefs.

Also, I appreciate Rob's comments. My wife does medical research. From time to time I've noticed that her statistical studies always seem to use racial classifications, even when race doesn't seem relevant to the issue she's studying. It seems to be expected that any presentation of data will include a breakdown by race. I wonder whether that's also the case in Brendan's field.

IMHO it makes less and less sense to look so hard at racial differences because of all the intermarriage. Furthermore, I think the focus on race is an impediment to Martin Luther King's goal of a society where race is irrelevant.

Isn't there a larger matter missing here? No one seems to be discussion the notion that the people who are pushing the "Obama is a Muslim" meme are in fact claiming that the very status of being a Muslim is a bad thing. Yes, having to answer "When did you stop beating your wife" is a bad thing that should be countered, but being a Muslim is not beating your wife. I think that's getting missed in this debate.

Interesting. As a Muslim, I was very pleased at Obama's speech in Cairo, and even I felt that if Obama was not a Muslim, he indeed understood and respected the religion as being one of truth. So I can understand how those who were looking for any sign of his "Muslimness" would get the wrong idea. As a Muslim, I know he is not a Muslim because no Muslim would publicly say they are Christian or believe in the divinity of Jesus as God or son of God. That is the only sin that God in the Quran has said He will not forgive, so no matter how tempting it may be for a Muslim to pretend to be a Christian to become president, he would never renounce the oneness of God for the sake of the power. For Muslims, it never makes sense to see Obama as a Muslim. We see him as an understanding Christian who is actually following the teachings of Christ who tried to sow peace and justice rather than division and hate like these so called "born-again" Christians tend to do. Just because Obama preaches love of all mankind, which is the teaching of Christ in the Bible, he gets labeled a Muslim...I guess that's a good thing for Muslims, as Muslims also believe in the same thing.

Also in the last comment...I agree with the statement that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being Muslim as there is nothing wrong with being Christian or Jewish or Hindu or any other religion. But I didn't like the whole association of wife beating...? Where did that come from? It goes exactly to the topic of this article, which is still associating two items, even though its a negation of the myth (ie. Obama is not a Muslim). Domestic abuse happens more often in the US as it does anywhere else. It has nothing to do with any religious teachings. Prophet Muhammad never said even "uff" to his wives and children, let alone hit any of them. He said the best of you among people are those who are best to their families, particularly your spouses. It is forbidden to slap anyone on the face or to leave a mark, or to oppress anyone. So I hope people also do their research on Islam before vilifying on the misconceptions that are out there, spread by the same groups that also try to associate Obama as being Muslim.

a Muslim: the mention of wife beating was not literal, but rather a reference to a common informal logical fallacy, also known as a "false question" (or "trick question").

The common example textbook example of this is asking someone "So when did you stop beating your wife?" Directly answering such a question implicitly concedes the accusation (i.e. that the person being question beats their wife). The point is that the question itself is an attempt to smuggle in an unjustified premise.

People on the left unfairly attacked John McCain for using exactly this sort of example, trying to accuse him of "joking" about beating his wife, when he was only trying to point out that he had been asked a false question.

In the case of this study, commenter josh seems to be saying that implicit in the accusations of Obama being a Muslim is the idea that being a Muslim is a bad thing, when it is not.

Brendan: "The misperception that Barack Obama is a Muslim will not go away. "

I think what you mean to say is:

The deliberate misrepresentation by right wingers for political purposes that Barack Obama is a Muslim will not go away.

Between right wing Rupert Murdoch's misinformation machine FOX and Republican Messiah Moon's Washington Times fictions they've really done a number Obama on behalf of their Republican allies.

The double irony is that I've now heard and read right wingers claim to be annoyed at Obama's regular invocation of his Christian religion.


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