June 28, 2019 | Jerry Bergman

Liberal Journal and Media Disparage Conservatives, but Censor Falsification

Another Case of Censorship in Science

Study that disparaged conservatives was falsified, but journal would not retract it.

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Studies have consistently found that Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe humans were created as-is 10,000 years ago.[1] It is also true that conservatives are also much more likely to believe in creationism than liberals.[2] For this reason, the following example of censorship is of much interest. A study originally published 2008 in Science, by John Hibbing et al., titled “Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits” has now been replicated with opposite results. What happened next reveals a lot about censorship in science.

An attempt to replicate a claim, particularly a controversial claim, should be the normal procedure in science. Repeatability, indeed, is supposed to be a hallmark of the scientific method. In this case, though, the original study, called the Oxley study, was convincingly falsified. Assuming the second study holds, it means the 2008 study has been shown to be false. The replication paper was then submitted to the journal that published the original study, namely Science. The new paper was flat out rejected without bothering to have the paper peer reviewed!

The authors and others are concerned that the reason it was rejected was due to bias against conservatives and creationists. The original study showed conservatives [and creationists] in a very poor light, and liberals [and evolutionists] in a far better light. At the least, the new study should have been peer reviewed and, if valid concerns were determined to exist, the study could have been rejected for valid reasons. This did not happen.

Censorship a Major Problem

I am very familiar with the problem of censorship and along this line have authored a 500-page study carefully documenting the problem (see book cover below).[3] I also have experienced the problem, as have many others. When I was employed at Ohio Medical College doing cancer research using the rat model, one study our lab completed openly contradicted several other published studies, so we replicated the study and obtained the exact same results. At this point, I urged publication, but the lead researcher refused, reasoning that the risk of being wrong was too great. I have often wondered if the study was replicated after this event and showed that our results were correct.

Do Genes Make Fearful People Conservatives?

The original Science article concluded that political views have a biological foundation:  “Although political views have been thought to arise largely from individuals’ experiences, recent research suggests that they may have a biological basis.[4] The study indicated that political attitude variations correlate with various physiological traits. The sample, a group of only 46 adult participants were, for example, shown a series of images and galvanic skin response was used to measure the participants’ palm sweat level in response to the pictures. The values for each picture and subject were then recorded. The images included pictures of a large spider on a person’s face.

Participants with strong liberal “political beliefs were measurably lower in physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images.”[5] The liberals were “more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control.”[6]  In contrast, individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to these stimuli [the conservatives] were “more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War.”[7]

Etsy.com

The researchers concluded that the degree to which individuals respond physiologically to perceived threats indicates the level which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats, i.e. conservatives.[8]

When this study was replicated in 2019 by Arceneaux et al., the trends found in the original study were not supported.[9] Their paper was submitted and rejected. This is no small concern because the results of the original study was repeated in many leading journal and mass media venues.

Some Examples That Used the [falsified] Oxley Study Results

A broadcast on the NPR program titled the Hidden Brain made the following irresponsible claim, which is a fundamental argument (i.e., genetic determinism) that eugenicists made decades ago that caused enormous harm to society, especially in the United States, Sweden, and Nazi Germany:

John Hibbing is a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Over the years, he’s studied how our political views may also be influenced by our biology. “We would look at brain scan results and we could be incredibly accurate knowing whether they’re liberal or conservative”…. Hibbing says, environment and upbringing play a large role as well. But … on average, about 30 or 40 percent of our political attitudes come from genetics. [10]

Another report went even further. The short write up by the government-owned British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) put conservatives, which included most creationists, in a very negative light, and liberals, which included many evolutionists, in a very positive light:

Americans are as divided as ever between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. … Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are studying liberals’ and conservatives’ reactions to happy or pleasant photographs and scary or sad ones in an effort to learn more about the cognitive underpinnings of political preference. The findings? Conservatives tend to concentrate more on images considered to be negative, while liberals’ eyes tend to linger on positive images.[11]

This research fit right into anti-creationist Chris Mooney’s theory, which is reflected in the title of his book namely The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality.” This title makes it obvious that the creation-evolution issue is at center stage in this debate. By science and reality, Mooney is referring to evolution and global warming. Mooney added

Genes make proteins, not Republicans. …  [And in] a recent study … Hibbing and his colleagues tried to trace the route by which genes may ultimately shape political behavior. Hibbing, for one …  likens the issue to the debate over the origins of homosexuality. “The closest we’ve come to a widespread debate over this kind of issue is sexual orientation,” he says, “and it’s noteworthy those who are the most tolerant are the ones that do think it is partly biological.” Indeed, religious conservatives who think it is possible to “convert” gays and lesbians to heterosexuality, and claim homosexuality is a “choice” tend to ignore the science on this issue.[12]

The science, however, is incontrovertible. No clear evidence exists for a genetic cause of homosexuality; nor does evidence of a gene that causes heterosexuality. The ones ignoring that biological reality are the liberals—not the conservatives.

Last, TV host and astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, on his show Star Talk, interviewed Professor Hibbing. He recounted his research that, when shown a set of pictures to his subjects, he claimed his research found liberals mostly remembered the positive pictures and conservatives the negative pictures.[13] Thus, he claimed, Liberals focus on the positive, they claim, and Conservatives focus on the negative. Tyson did not dispute this questionable claim.

Is All This Research Science?

To function properly, science must be self-correcting. The 19th-century biologist Thomas Huxley famously stated the truism that one “ugly fact can kill a beautiful theory.” But, as one set of researchers learned recently, the leftist policies of the top scientific journals do not appear to agree with Huxley. They chose to suppress an ugly fact so as to allow their beautiful theory to survive another day.

Was the Replication Study Done Properly?

The authors of the replication study described the original 2008 study as both path-breaking and provocative.[14] They recognized that political scientists and psychologists have attempted to understand the psychological source of ideological differences even before Emile Durkheim’s important work done in the 1800s. The Science article presented some “clues as to why liberals and conservatives differ in their worldviews. Perhaps it has to do with how the brain is wired…. …  perhaps the reason is because conservatives’ brains are more attuned to threats than liberals’.[15]  In addition, they said that the 2008 finding helped to usher in a new set of psychophysiological works on the study of politics, which generated extensive coverage in the popular media.

In 2014, all four of the authors of the now rejected replication study were researching the physiological basis of political attitudes. Two were working in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Bakker and Schumacher were both at the University of Amsterdam), and two were at Temple University in Philadelphia (Arceneaux and Gothreau). They first raised the funds to construct labs equipped with state of the art equipment for measuring physiological reactions.

They then conducted two replications, one in the Netherlands and one in the U.S. to help deal with local perceptions in the images presented to measure “threat” responses. An example of a threat response is a picture of a gun pointing at the viewer. The preliminary studies were used to calibrate the equipment. Nonetheless, both teams independently failed to support the thesis that people’s physiological reactions to the images correlated with their political attitudes.

To explore the possibility that the images used distorted their results, they obtained the original images, to which a few more were added. In Philadelphia, the researchers recruited 202 participants, four times the original sample size of 46. Again, no correlation between physiological reactions to threatening images and political conservatism was found. Nonetheless the researchers still feel that value exists in exploring how physiological reactions and conscious experience shape political attitudes and behavior. Nonetheless, they have concluded that any such relationships are far more complicated than previously presumed. The authors then

drafted a paper that reported the failed replication studies along with a more nuanced discussion about the ways in which physiology might matter for politics and sent it to Science. We did not expect Science to immediately publish the paper, but because our findings cast doubt on an influential study published in its pages, we thought the editorial team would at least send it out for peer review. It did not. About a week later, we received a summary rejection with the explanation that the Science advisory board of academics and editorial team felt that since the publication of this article the field has moved on and that, while they concluded that we had offered a conclusive replication of the original study, it would be better suited for a less visible sub field journal.[16]

Arceneaux et al. wrote back to Science after the rejections asking the editors to consider at least sending their paper out for peer review, as is normal. If the reviewers found fatal flaws in the studies replicated, the paper would have been rejected for valid reasons. Arceneaux et al. argued that the original paper was often featured in popular science pieces in the lay media, where the research was translated into the incorrect claim that physiology alone allows people to accurately predict liberal and conservative bias.

Rebuffed Without a Reason

Arceneaux et al., also stressed that Science magazine, as the leader in science publishing, has a responsibility to set the record straight just as newspapers do when publishing inaccuracies. They were rebuffed without a reason, except a vague suggestion that the journal’s policy on handling research replications might change in the future. Not publishing articles that document a previously published study as erroneous gives the false impression about the quality of science. Or it could be that, as the website retraction-watch documents, false and/or misleading research is epidemic in peer-reviewed science journals.[17] And Science magazine is very aware of this epidemic, even writing several excellent articles on the problem.[18] Arceneaux et al., added that they believe

it is bad policy for journals like Science to publish big, bold ideas and then leave it to subfield journals to publish replications showing that those ideas aren’t so accurate after all. Subfield journals are less visible, meaning the message often fails to reach the broader public. They are also less authoritative, meaning the failed replication will have less of an impact on the field if it is not published by Science.[19]

The researchers involved in the replication study concluded that “open and transparent science can only happen when journals are willing to publish results that contradict previous findings.…  We should continue to have frank discussions about what we’ve learned over the course of the replication crisis and what we could be doing about it. … If only journals like Science were willing to lead the way.”[20]

References

Bergman describes the many tactics of censorship by the media, libraries, courts and schools.

[1] Frank Newport. 2008. “Republicans, Democrats Differ on Creationism.” Gallup  News. https://news.gallup.com/poll/108226/republicans-democrats-differ-creationism.aspx.

[2] Pew Research Center. 2015. Chapter 4: “Evolution and Perceptions of Scientific Consensus.” https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/07/01/chapter-4-evolution-and-perceptions-of-scientific-consensus/

[3] Jerry Bergman and Kevin Wirth. 2018. Censoring the Darwin Skeptics. How Belief in Evolution is Enforced by Eliminating Dissidents. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press.

[4] Oxley, Douglas R., et al. 2008. “Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits.” Science 321:5896: 1667–1670. September 19, p. 371.

[5] Oxley, Douglas R., et al. 2008, p. 371

[6] Oxley, Douglas R., et al. 2008, p. 371.

[7] Oxley, Douglas R., et al. 2008, p. 371.

[8] Oxley, Douglas R., et al. 2008, p. 371

[9] Oxley, et al. 2008, Science. Open Science Frameworkhttps://osf.io/7yt8u/

[10] CAMILA vargas-RESTREPO 2018. Nature, Nurture And Your Politic https://www.npr.org/2018/10/03/654127241/nature-nurture-and-your-politics?t=1560770467306&t=1561027892440. Emphases added.

[11] Matt Danzico. 2012. “Fear Factor: The Science Behind America’s Red/Blue Divide https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-16770593/fear-factor-the-science-behind-america-s-red-blue-divide.

[12]  Chris Mooney. 2012. “Politics May be Partly Genetic, Now What?” http://lightyears.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/07/politics-may-be-partly-genetic-now-what/

[13] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAc8MKTjC5E.

[14] Oxley, Douglas R., et al. 2008

[15] Oxley, Douglas R., et al. 2008.

[16] Kevin Arceneaux, Bert N. Bakker, Claire Gothreau, and Gus Schumacher. 2019. We Tried to Publish a Replication of a Science Paper in Science. The Journal Refused. Our research suggests that the theory that conservatives and liberals respond differently to threats isn’t actually true. JUNE 20. https://slate.com/technology/2019/06/science-replication-conservatives-liberals-reacting-to-threats.html.

[17] http://retractionwatch.com.

[18] What a massive database of retracted papers reveals about science publishing’s ‘death penalty.’ https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/10/what-massive-database-retracted-papers-reveals-about-science-publishing-s-death-penalty.

[19] Kevin Arceneaux, et al., 2019.

[20]  Kevin Arceneaux, et al., 2019.



Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at several colleges and universities including for over 40 years at Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored, are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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