Friday, 29 October 2010

Friends can make you Liberal

I listened to a piece on the Today programme that said scientists had discovered a liberal gene. I spent about 20 minutes lazily hunting around on Google and read ten different stories in a variety of media across the globe that repeated the same general conclusion.

So, it must be true. Wrong.

It took another 15 minutes to find the actual paper – by finding the CV of the lead author and then picking up a reference to the paper from there. Read it yourself at:-

One has to ask, if it took me less than half an hour to find the actual paper and another 10 minutes to read it, how come so much of the world’s media got it wrong? The paper specifically says it has not found a liberal gene.

there is not a direct association between the 7R allele and ideology.” And “We do not claim that this evidence proves a causal relationship between DRD4 (that’s the gene) and political ideology.”

It’s hard to be much clearer than that. What they do show is that if you have the particular gene and you have a lot of friends, then you are more likely to be liberal. They also show that the gene does not make you more likely to have friends.

“The results of these tests indicate that 7R alleles have no significant effect on the number of friends, and no direct impact on ideology. Only the interaction is significant.”

The other thing that the reports don’t mention is “While our finding is statistically significant, the strength of the association is quite small.”

So, the gene does not make you liberal, nor does it make you have more friends. But if you do have the gene and you happen to have more friends then you are a little bit more likely to be liberal. In other words, it is the friends that may make you liberal.

Would a headline “Friends may make you liberal.” have bounced around the world’s media?

What is the message for died in the wool conservatives? Don’t have friends or you might become liberal?

The comparable message for Liberals would be. “Make friends with a conservative – it may really screw them up.”

There is one snag, the paper also make clear that all this gene/friend interaction has to take place in adolescence.

So the real message, to liberals, is:- Get your kids to play with conservative’s kids. Putting it another way - letting kids make friends is a subversive activity. That would have been a much more interesting headline.

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