Psychologists Patrick Forscher and Nour Kteily wanted to do research on the alt-right, so they recruited a whole bunch of them online and had them take a survey. (Check out the full methodology and working paper.) There are clear limitations to this research, but the idea was to get insight on their thinking.
The results weren’t surprising. The alt-right really hated feminists, Muslims, Hillary Clinton, Arabs, and journalists… and loved “white people,” men, Americans, Europeans, and Swedes.
What’s really strange, though, is how the researchers got to that point. It involved a blatant misrepresentation of how science works.
They asked the participants how evolved they considered a variety of groups and people to be… from a scale, I guess, of not human to fully human.
Let’s ignore the results for a second and talk about why this is a complete misunderstanding of evolution.
That “March of Progress” illustration is both famous and infamous. It’s what everyone thinks of when we talk about evolution… and it’s wrong. It suggests that our species is somehow the “pinnacle” of evolution. We’re not. It suggests that all creatures are just making their way to us. They’re not. Every single living thing is the end result of billions of years of evolution. No creature is heading in one particular direction.
There’s a question Creationists and other scientifically ignorant people ask when trying to poke a hole in evolution: “What good is half an eye?” As if saying a rudimentary eye wasn’t useful and wrongly implying that human eyesight is great. The question itself shows a lack of understanding.
So how should people who understand science have answered the psychologists’ questions? PZ Myers has it right:
If they’d asked me this question, I would have slammed every slider straight to 100%, and then aborted the whole survey and told the investigators that their methodology was poisonous. But that’s me.
Alt-right members who understand science should have moved every slider to the far right. Every group is “fully” evolved. Though I guess it’s fair to say critical thinking really isn’t a strong suit for hard-core racists.
I suppose the researchers got what they wanted in terms of putting a number to the alt-right’s views, but they used scientific illiteracy to get there. And it’s unclear if they even knew that since they said nothing about it in the paper.
I posted earlier this month about a study showing how people think atheists are more likely than religious people to be serial killers. That result was also found by exploiting a logical fallacy that many participants fell for, but the researchers were open about how they used irrational thinking to get results.
This is just bad science on top of all the other methodological flaws.