A Sour Note for Science Bloggers

A Blog Around The Clock recently posted an entry titled, “You Gotta Be Nuts to Vote for Bush!” Normally I’m a huge fan of The Clock, but this post left me feeling a little sick to my stomach. It describes the vague outlines of a study conducted by Christopher Lohse, a master’s candidate in social work at the “highly prestigious” Southern Connecticut State University. Louse claims to have found a “direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.” How? He surveyed . . .

69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

All of this, mind you, was relayed in an article in The New Haven Advocate, because the specifics of Lohse’s project aren’t actually available to the public yet.

As Orac over at Respectful Insolence wisely said: “When I encounter a study that seems to confirm my biases, as a skeptic, I try very hard to be even more skeptical than usual, because I would hate to be caught trumpeting a weak or bogus study as evidence supporting a belief of mine.” One would assume that most bloggers share his qualms, which makes it all the more surprising that The Clock and several other left-leaning blogs, were so quick to latch on to Lohse’s “findings,” sans data.

Shame on them. As information gurgles to the surface about Lohse’s study, his results are beginning to seem more and more spurious. According to The New Haven Advocate article, Lohse didn’t even set out to measure political preferences in these patients. In fact, Jaak Rakfeldt, Louse’s thesis advisor, told the reporter that the project “was not intended to show what it did,” admitted that data “were mined after the fact,” and that he hadn’t even bothered to look at “Lohse’s conclusions regarding Bush.” (No wonder Southern Connecticut State University has such a stellar reputation.) Beyond these obvious red flags, as Deep Thought noted in the comments section of The Clock, “There is a rather large difference between ‘A small sample of psychotics split 60/40 for a particular candidate’ and ‘Conservatives are crazy and dangerous.'”

Considering how much ink has been spilled in scientific circles over the Bush Adminstration’s willingness to skew science to further its political agenda, I find it appalling that normally levelheaded bloggers got swept away in this quasi-scientific brand of conservative bashing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Little Green Footballs. But politics and science make strange bedfellows, and one must always proceed with extreme caution when mixing the two.


  1. #1 coturnix
    December 9, 2006

    Welcome to the Scienceblogs family (and yes, you just HAD to start out with a post that bashes me, but I guess I get what I deserve, out of my deepest need to one day match Amanda Marcotte’s talent in crafting eye-catching post titles that do not neccessarily match the content of the posts!).

  2. #2 Edmund
    December 14, 2006

    “There is a rather large difference between ‘A small sample of psychotics split 60/40 for a particular candidate’ and ‘Conservatives are crazy and dangerous.'”

    I think that’s the most important point. Saying that psychiatric patients are likely to support Bush is not at all the same as saying Bush supporters are likely to be mentally ill.

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