Failure in Journalistic Education: Dehumanization, Hate, and Poor Science Reporting

March 29, 2017

This is a rewrite of a pseudo-scientific review offered by Blaszczak-Boxe at LiveScience. This rewrite copies the original article — a partisan criticism of Trump voters — and, with surprisingly few changes of phrasing, shows how easily such verbiage can be pointed in completely the opposite direction.

In other words, the researchers would have come closer to real science if they had examined the behavior of their own favored political groups, not merely of unfavored ones; and Blaszczak-Boxe would have been a better science writer if she had thought critically about that research, instead of vapidly endorsing it.

Ironically, in their partisan denigration of political opponents, the researchers and the so-called journalist display exactly the demeaning bigotry that their work faults. The implicit message is that “we” (i.e., academic types) are not subject to the unreasoning passions so deplorably evident in Trump voters.

Blaszczak-Boxe’s original article, with my few (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) changes, is as follows:

* * * * *

Two groups of people — white males and fundamentalist Christians — have been the subject of much attention lately, and now researchers say they have figured out one psychological process that explains why some people in the United States vilify these groups.

The process, called dehumanization, occurs when people view others as less evolved and civilized than they view themselves, according to the study, which was published in January in the journal Personality Psychology and Other Bulletin.

But dehumanization may ultimately lead members of the targeted groups to have greater support for violent action, the researchers found in the study, which was conducted in the U.S. during the 2016 primary elections.

The new results show that the extent to which people in the U.S. dehumanize white males and Christian fundamentalists “is very strongly correlated with support for then-candidate Hillary Clinton,” study co-author Bubba al-Majid, a neuroscientist at the University of Alabama, told Live Science. In other words, the more a person “dehumanized” white males and Christian fundamentalists, the more likely they were to support Clinton. [Understanding the 10 Most Destructive Human Behaviors]

Joe-Bob Kalinovsky, a professor of psychology at the University of Moscow who was not involved in the study, said the study’s methods and conclusions are sound. “It’s high-quality, scrupulous work,” he told Live Science. [5 Interesting Facts about Human Cooperation]

The study consisted of several experiments, two of which involved the popular “Ascent of Man” diagram, which illustrates the stages of human evolution, from the earliest human ancestor that looked a lot like an ape to the modern human. The people in the study were told to think of the diagram as a scale, with the ape-like human ancestor as 0 and the modern human as 100.

In one experiment, the researchers asked 342 nonwhite and female Americans where they would place white male Americans on the Ascent of Man scale. In another experiment, the researchers asked 455 non-fundamentalist Americans to place fundamentalist Christians on the same evolutionary scale.

The researchers found that some of the people placed both white males and fundamentalist Christians lower on the scale (meaning farther away from the modern man) compared with their placement of nonwhite and female Americans, or non-fundamentalist Americans, respectively.

The researchers also asked the participants which presidential candidate they supported. They found that the people who supported Clinton were more likely to dehumanize white males and fundamentalist Christians, compared with those who supported any of the other Democratic or Republican candidates.

In other parts of the study, the researchers looked at how the perception of being dehumanized might affect white males and fundamentalist Christians. The participants in this part of the study included 283 white males and 124 fundamentalist Christians.

White males who said they felt dehumanized by Clinton were also more likely to dehumanize Clinton and support anti-Clinton initiatives, such as calling for investigations of her political dealings, compared with those who did not feel dehumanized by Clinton, the researchers found. In addition, those individuals who felt dehumanized by Clinton were more likely to “want to see her personally suffer, and endorse hostile actions such as spitting in her face,” according to the study. [Politicians Who Got the Polls Wrong]

Furthermore, fundamentalist Christians who said they felt dehumanized by non-fundamentalist Americans were more likely to support violent rather than nonviolent approaches to civil rights for fundamentalist Christians in the U.S., the researchers found.

The results show that dehumanizing fundamentalist Christians and white males in the first place may help to establish, and fuel, a vicious cycle of dehumanization, the researchers said.

“If we use rhetoric and enact policies that make fundamentalist Christians feel dehumanized, this may lead them to support exactly the types of aggression that reinforce the perception that they are ‘less civilized’ than ‘us,'” al-Majid said in a statement. “In this way, dehumanization can become self-fulfilling in the minds of the dehumanizers and justify their aggression.”

The researchers noted that there were some limitations to the study, including the fact that the researchers were not able to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between certain factors in the study based on the data. For example, although the researchers found that some people’s tendency to dehumanize white males and fundamentalist Christians was strongly linked to those people’s support for Clinton, the findings do not prove that those people supported Clinton because of their tendency to dehumanize these groups. However, it is possible that people support Clinton not despite this rhetoric, “but in part because of it,” the researchers wrote.

* * * * *

Postscript: readers who have not had the experience of attempting to be nonpartisan, or of thinking critically about their own presumptions, may benefit from 1 2 other posts.

Another post offers another example of rephrasing of slanted pseudo-science journalism.

Note: this item was briefly posted in a different blog.

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