Math = conservative, Verbal = liberal

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I have a post on my other weblog where I’m asking about why mathematical disciplines tend to more conservative in academia. I know there are many references in JSTOR but I’m strapped for time, so could people please dump references into the comment box? I am especially interested in the psychometric finding (I’ve seen it!) that shows high IQ individuals stronger in math than verbal skills tend to be more conservative while the inverse are more liberal. Thanks ahead.


  1. It seems like it might be more informative to ask about specific issues, since at least in the US, liberal and conservative are becoming brand-names. (Are you a patriotic drinker of Coke, or one of those treasonous Pepsi weenies?)

  2. Isn’t this just “Men are more conservative than women” in new clothes?

  3. Albatross: 
    You’ve got the generality right but the specifics backwards. Coke has been around much longer and thus has more claim to being more simply “American.” But the growth of Pepsi (to a position of moral equivalence?) really got going when their firm became hooked up with the law (and, presumably, advertising) associates of 
    Richard M. Nixon (who, famously or notoriously, managed to maneuver one of the big Russkis–Kruschev maybe–into a finger-jabbing photo-op in front of a large Pepsi poster. 
    Things change. Used to be, Bechtel was “in” with the Republicans and the Democrats plumped for Brown & Root (Halliburton parent). But I guess the latter liked Texans even better than they  
    liked Democrats, and so ended up in the Bush camp. Don’t know where Bechtel is now but I very much doubt that they’re out in the cold. 
    There’s quite a few that say these things all revolve around money. I don’t know–it sounds kinda cynical to me.

  4. An interesting related article from Robert Nozick:

  5. You need to define those terms. The common American usage of “liberal” has little to do with liberty, and many of the neocons care little for conserving tradition.

  6. Nozick?s piece is way too long and repetitive but he does in that thicket get to the heart of the matter, seems to me. 
    Nozick says in the above linked article: 
    ?Intellectuals now expect to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with the most prestige and power, those with the greatest rewards. Intellectuals feel entitled to this. But, by and large, a capitalist society does not honor its intellectuals.? 
    Yes, that?s it. Especially verbal intellectuals feel that way. They may be honored and rewarded but they feel insufficiently so COMPARED TO THE CRUDE CAPITALISTS ? CEO?s, etc. Of course they got to high capitalist rewards by commanding organizations (or often in the most successful cases by creating or inventing them) that satisfy the needs and wants of the bulk of society as opposed to winning in some simply hierarchical verbal beauty contest that verbal intellectuals favor. 
    Math and science intellectuals in contrast know to some extent they are nerds and don?t expect to be commanding men and society. And in fact they are often rather most appreciated for what they can do by the captains or anyway lieutenants of industry ? certainly as compared to the social scientists or humanities or ?studies? intellectuals and social critics.

  7. Horatio– 
    The American usage of “liberal” is pretty much unique in the world, and at variance with it’s historic meaning here as well. 
    Basically “liberal” was an FDR and supporters euphamism to refer to (or cover for) the leftism that most in America felt inclined to support (or anyway support some of) during the FDR great depression years.  
    Liberal became any amount of leftism which a patriotic Democratic voting American might reasonable support, while anything further over was during these years not much discussed but was foreign and communistic or radical.  
    In the rest of the world liberal means roughly what libertarian free market supporter means in this country. It’s usually called neo-liberal these days, since the early halicion days of free market liberalism were quite some time ago, when Britain tended to advocate same internationally, especially in the late 19th century.

  8. many CEOs have undergradate degrees in engineering. michael bloomberg & jeff bezos for example.

  9. Razib said: 
    “many CEOs have undergradate degrees in engineering. michael bloomberg & jeff bezos for example.” 
    Yeah and most of them could have done just as well academically with degrees in e.g. history if they wanted, from my observation. I.e. they are often multi talented, but realized that in today’s or even near yesterday’s world that the fastest track often involves technology expertise and foot into (and recognition of) the best doors, and then soon, inspiring and commanding men and organizations. 
    This was actually becomming apparent as a winning strategy at Stanford in the early 70′s when I graduated. Silicon Valley was being founded. Had I matriculated two or three years later it’s one I might have followed myself, rather than the social science to law to investment banking one I did (which worked out well as well).

  10. High verbal IQ people actually do have lots of power: Law / Politics, PR, Advertising, Journalism (the elite-oriented media anyway). Each side of the Math-Verbal divide has its rich, professionally geared members and its non-rich, intellectually geared ones as well.

  11. David Brooks (I think) had a column in the NYT before the 2004 election noting that professions which required math skills contributed disproportionately to Bush, while those that required verbal skills contributed disproportionately to Kerry.

  12. Math, engineering, etc. is more practical, as is conservatism: how to keep the machine of society moving. Axiomatic, linear thinking. Very much like political conservatism. You might not agree with a con, but at least you know what they think.  
    The realm of words is more the realm of possibility as the realm of BS. I.e., the realm of trying to manipulate social relationships. Much less axiomatic. Everything is relational and subject to deconstruction. More like political liberalism. Left wing politics tends to leave one scratching one’s head or feeling vaguely manipulated.  
    Cerebral bifurcation sucks.

  13. Is it correct to describe this as a math-verbal divide, isn’t it more a verbal-visualization divide, atleast when it comes to psychometery? I thought portions of verbal fluency, holding long sentences in your mind, was important for areas of math like logic and that the trade-off was between verbal ability and visualization, mental object rotation. It would be interesting to see if people working in more logic oriented sub-fields were skewed a bit to the left, though I doubt it.  
    Also, considering this might not be entirely or even primarily a social phenomenon (though I lean towards that explanation in this case), do twin studies have any input on this? I think there is a fairly significant genetic correlation for political disposition (atleast for the higher level categories of conservative and liberal), that could be contrasted with verbal-visualization divide if that data is available.

  14. Yeah, psychometrically the proper divide is verbal-visual. That’s why both Ashkenazi Jews and NE Asians are good at math, despite having polar opposite cognitive profiles (markedly better verbal and visual, respectively). You can use either skill as scaffolding to do very counterintuitive things like math, whereas if you look at a field that’s straightforwardly verbal or visual — comedy writing vs architecture, say — then the Ashkenazim & Asians part company.

  15. Here is < a href=”“>a link to several studies on the political demography of academia.

  16. Check this out: 
    In both samples, music preferences tended to clump into one of four categories, which Rentfrow and Gosling dubbed “reflective and complex,” “intense and rebellious,” “upbeat and conventional” and “energetic and rhythmic.” Each category included several kinds of music. “Reflective and complex,” for example, covered classical, jazz, blues and folk, while “upbeat and conventional” covered country, religious, soundtrack and pop.  
    Those categories turn out to be significantly correlated with a variety of personal traits, including “Big Five” personality measures.  
    People who listen to “reflective and complex” music, for example, score highly on openness to new experiences, verbal ability, self-perceived intelligence and political liberalism, while people who listen to “upbeat and conventional” music score highly on extraversion, self-perceived physical attractiveness, athleticism and political conservatism

  17. Mahalanobis has a post on Econ PhDs and IQ.  
    In the May 2006 American Economic Review (Papers and Proceedings from AEA annual conference) there’s an article about attrition in Economics PhD programs (see outline here). What caught my eye was they had the average GRE scores for the top 48 phd programs, and the average GRE Quantitative score was a 775, and average verbal of 568. Considering most of the students were not US citizens, much of the verbal score was probably biased downward due to lack of familiarity with English. Nontheless, I found a GRE to IQ translator here, and this suggests–conservatively because they equally weight the Quantitative and Verbal scores–an average IQ of around 139, or the 99.4 percentile.  
    There wasn’t a big difference between the top 15 schools that dominate research and the rest (4 IQ points or so), though there wasn’t much data on schools ranked lowed than 48th place. Kind of scary, when you think about all the dumb stuff that goes on in these places. But I think it explains why economics research about the underclass is so lousy: they have no clue how a person with an 85 IQ thinks or behaves, and are too egalitarian to assume they think differently.