The PJ Tatler

L.A. Times Headline: 'Do Conservatives Die Sooner?' L.A. Times Article: This Study Is Nonsense

Moments ago, Los Angeles Times reporter Amina Khan or her editor dropped the following click bomb in its Science Now section, presumably to appeal to their left-leaning readership of left-leaning social science aficionados, who stand ready to stamp the mantle of science on anything that furthers progressive policy prescriptions and little else:

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Let’s deconstruct that accompanying photo, which, if it wasn’t staged, is just about the most perfect image ever discovered to match its article’s headline. A wooden cross, signifying that a Christian has died. A bizarrely shaped GOP logo, next to the wooden cross. And a faceless Republican — his shadow casting a pall on the logo — with terrible posture, indicating he has a case of the sads. Either this is the luckiest stock photographer in existence, or the L.A. Times actually sent out a photo crew with instructions to convey dead, sad Christian Republicans.

The article opens with:

If you’re dead serious about politics, consider this: A new paper finds that people with conservative ideologies were more likely to die in the study period than their liberal peers.

The findings, published by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, offer a new view into the complex relationship between political identity and health.

Some studies have found that conservatives appear to be healthier than liberals; others have found that Republicans are less likely to report being in poor health than Democrats. But such papers typically didn’t look at both political party affiliation and political ideology, said lead author Roman Pabayo, a social epidemiologist who did the research while at Harvard and is now at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“Previous studies have only looked at one or the other,” Pabayo said. “I wanted to see if there was a relationship between those two.”

Why would a social scientist find such fascination in the study of death rates by political ideology? Add this new chapter to the blossoming field of “Conservative Anthropology” — recall What’s the Matter with Kansas? — wherein leftist sociologists ignore appeals to reason, logic, morals, and Natural Law as the driving force behind conservatism, hypothesizing that it must instead be a physical disorder.

Subsequently, and of course, the article pivots from its morbid fantasy headline to discuss the opinions of Pabayo’s colleague, who believes the study is poo:

But the results elicited some criticism from Subu V. Subramanian, a social epidemiologist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study.

“I have some skepticism around the paper, and one of [the issues] is, can they really tease out this distinction between ideology and affiliation?” Subramanian said.

He also said it would have been useful to have a three-by-three table mapping out the overlap between affiliation and ideology. For example, how many Democrats were actually conservative, how many Republicans were moderates, how many Independents were liberal, etc.

“The results are somewhat inconsistent … and also the mortality effect seems very small,” he added.

Subramanian also argued that self-reported health had been shown in the research to be linked to death rates.

“I would not just dismiss self-rated health as a ‘subjective measure.’ It happens to be one of the strongest measures of your mortality,” he said.

In any case, there’s definitely no causal link here, the researchers said — being liberal or conservative doesn’t directly affect health.

Of course. Be very sure that Amina Khan knew that her own article — and the researchers themselves — would render the headline exploitative and misleading.

But political affiliation and ideology could be markers for other underlying factors that might actually influence health, and it will take much more detailed data to figure out what those factors may be.

For example, Pabayo said, it would be useful to track whether people switch their party affiliation or ideology over time, and whether that’s linked to other changes, as well. And it would be useful to ask people more specific questions about their political beliefs, because on specific policy issues, people may not be as “liberal” or “conservative” as they think.

In other words — we can’t find anything, no one can find anything, but don’t let that “conservatism as pathology” hypothesis die, not ever, it’s just too darn helpful to the cause.