Americans have a lousy record with free political speech, so stop blaming college students

So in the not-surprising-news of the day, a STEM guy does social science*, not particularly well, and it gets picked up by the media because it supposedly shows what everybody knows. Look, I’m sure the guy is brilliant, but honestly, social science is actually difficult, and designing and administering a valid survey is hell-to-the-yeah difficult (it is both time-consuming and usually expensive), and from what little the author divulges, this is not a valid survey. He also used hypotheticals, which takes a lot of prior validation and is generally discouraged in survey research unless you are going to be doing the survey interactively so that you can obtain information on what the subject imagines when they think about the hypothetical. In other words, this is not a great study, by an engineer who has a lot of opinions and virtually no peer-reviewed publications in social science or policy journals. His actual area of expertise sounds really fascinating, but he is not trained in political opinion nor does he really seem to know how to do a valid survey gauging political views.

Yet, Catherine Rampell the Washington Post calls his study on college students and their views about free speech “chilling.” Come on, people. He did a web survey. Rolls eyes. This is reason #1,211,339 why Americans need civics education, in order to understand our own history with regard to how rights have morphed and changed over time, and how very difficult good political science really is. From the Alien and Sedition Act to Donald Trump on Friday frothing that black NFL and NBA players taking a knee during the national anthem should be fired, Americans are not good at handling political difference or dissent, and there’s plenty of evidence that we never have been. “Ungrateful” seems to be the new “uppity” if I’m reading Trump and his cult’s social media correctly.

Dear friend and mentor Andy Sabl retweeted James Gibson’s actually good article from The American Journal of Political Science entitled “Intolerance and Political Repression in the United States: A Half Century after McCarthyism.” (Unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall.

Here’s a summary chart that gives you the basic findings:
DKK3Q 5XUAAuu6I jpg large

They didn’t ask about feminists or Jews (there are limits on how much you can ask and still get decent answers) but I’m already out on the “atheist” criteria alone.

*One of our PhD students at Virginia Tech sat in my office and said that he thinks people who don’t “learn the science first” never really understand it, but it’s easy for scientists to pick up the economics. I suggested, in a way that I though was rather gentle, that perhaps he was rather over-estimating his knowledge of economics if it had really been that easy to acquire. His response was to stalk out of my office in a bit of a fury and deny me the privilege of being on his PhD committee. I lived. But no doubt he continued on in the world feeling most, most confident in his grasp of a field that is not really hard at the beginning levels but very much so when you get to the advanced stages, unlike some other fields (like languages) where the beginning learning curve can be quite steep.

I, too, have a wide-ranging set of interests, but I feel like I am fair when I say “eh, I haven’t studied this much, but hey this is what I think, what do you think?”