Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Correlation is Causation?

Why are professors liberal?

Neil Gross & Ethan Fosse
Theory and Society, March 2012, Pages 127-168

Abstract: The political liberalism of professors - an important occupational group and anomaly according to traditional theories of class politics - has long puzzled sociologists. This article sheds new light on the subject by employing a two-step analytic procedure. In the first step, we assess the explanatory power of the main hypotheses proposed over the last half century
to account for professors' liberal views. To do so, we examine hypothesized predictors of the political gap between professors and other Americans using General Social Survey data pooled from 1974-2008. Results indicate that professors are more liberal than other Americans because a higher proportion possess advanced educational credentials, exhibit a disparity between their levels of education and income, identify as Jewish, non-religious, or non-theologically conservative Protestant, and express greater tolerance for controversial ideas. In the second step of our article, we develop a new theory of professors' politics on the basis of these findings (though not directly testable with our data) that we think holds more explanatory promise than existing approaches and that sets an agenda for future research.


Do you know what has long puzzled me? How someone can get a paper published simply by running a bunch of regressions of ideology on demographic characteristics, and then saying things like "Jewish causes liberal beliefs." This "two stage" thing described above...if the Onion published empirical papers, this might be a candidate.

7 comments:

Fundman said...

LMAO - you should offer to edit that journal!

Anonymous said...

Using correlation to determine causation we can also conclude that voting Democrat causes cancer, although there are other acceptable arguments that elected Democrats are cancers...

Anonymous said...

Social scientists other than economists, as a rule, (as well as many in the medical and natural sciences) do not understand causality in an observational data setting, nor how to analyze such data quantitatively meaningfully.

Hasdrubal said...

So this group, whose primary distinguishing characteristic is a high level of education, is found to be more liberal than average because they have a higher level of education? Sounds kind of tautological. (And I wonder where they found the conservative, average-educated professors.)

Seth said...

And I always thought it was because most of their paychecks are paid by third parties.

Anonymous said...

Actually, ALL evidence of causation comes in the form of 'correlation'. "Mill's methods" are still at the heart of modern statistical forms of causal-analysis, and each of them is essentially a measure of correlation.

And if the only evidence we can have is all correlation, then what value is there in the folk wisdom that correlation is somehow "not causation"? Perhaps it should be rephrased thusly, "only certain sorts of correlation imply causation". Yeah, i'm good with that.

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