Orac once again takes down Vox Day. Day read a study and misinterpreted it, which isn’t too surprising — Day is not particularly bright. In this case, the study was looking for correlations with Personal Belief Exemptions (PBEs). That is, they were trying to figure out what kind of traits underlie anti-vaccination attitudes. What wasn’t surprising is that they found a lot of well-off white people who oppose vaccination.
That played right into Vox Day’s biases. He opposes vaccination, so smart people oppose vaccination; he’s white and well-off, which to him is synonymous with being intelligent and right, so it turns into a regular orgy of confirmation bias.
The news that anti-vaxxers are whiter, wealthier, and better-educated than those who place blind faith in vaccines won’t surprise anyone who has actually engaged a vaccine enthusiast on the subject. None of them know anything about history, few of them know anything about science, and all of them are prone to simply repeating the usual vaccine scare rhetoric
Unfortunately for his thesis that the smarter (and whiter!) you are, the more likely you are to oppose vaccination, the truly smart people are the ones who figured out how to prime the immune system to fight off disease…that is, the scientists who work on vaccines. But the particularly ironic part of this story is that the study didn’t even say what he claims it says: a close look at the data reveals that it actually found that education has a negative effect on Personal Belief Exemptions.
Basically, the study did not show that higher educational attainment predicts the likelihood of PBE percentage. Quite the opposite, in fact. The authors, in describing their model predicting change in PBEs over time, report:
Educational attainment did not independently predict 2013 PBEs. More educated populations had slower rates of change in PBE percentages from 2007 to 2013 (P ≤ .01). For example, in the school-level block group model, a 10% increase in the percentage of the population with a college degree was associated with a 0.025% decrease in the annual rate of growth from 2007 to 2013.
In other words, there was a negative correlation between the percentage of the population with a college degree and the rate of PBE growth from 2007 to 2013. Or, as the authors explain:
We found that areas of California with higher household income and proportion White population are associated with higher overall PBE percentages as well as greater increases in PBEs from 2007 to 2013. In contrast to some previous studies, we did not find an independent predictive effect of educational attainment level once we controlled for those characteristics. Although the marginal effects of income and race were modest in magnitude, the overall PBE percentage doubled from 2007 to 2013, and more than 17 000 PBEs were issued in California in 2013.
In other words, although there might be a correlation in the raw data between educational level of the population and percentage of PBEs, it’s not an independent predictor. Control for other socioeconomic factors, and it the correlation between education and PBEs goes away. To be honest, I was rather surprised by this result, not so much because I think antivaccinationists are more intelligent, but rather based on my personal experience of constantly hearing antivaccine activists proclaim how educated and intelligent they are I rather expected there to be a correlation. I also rather expected there to be a correlation because more educated people tend to be much better at motivated reasoning; namely constructing arguments and cherry picking data to protect their pre-existing beliefs. Of course, this is just one study, and the authors note that their results don’t agree with some previous studies. Even so, I can’t help but feel a bit of amusement at how quick Vox was to latch on to this study as confirming his self-image of being oh-so-much more intelligent than everyone else.
That’s a result that doesn’t surprise me at all. I suspect that the real root of these kinds of anti-vaccination beliefs is a word that Vox Day will snigger at: privilege. Being prosperous and secure tends to beguile one into being both overly confident in one’s personal beliefs, and being less likely to have those beliefs challenged by risk. Hollywood stars, for instance, living in coddling pillows of wealth and insulated from real dangers tend to swallow silly ideas without repercussions. But they’re not necessarily particularly intelligent.
Nothing will penetrate a cranium of pure dunningkruegerite, as Vox Day has, though. His reaction to Orac’s smackdown is hilarious.
— Vox Day (@voxday) December 30, 2015
You’re dishonest, Orac. More educated does not mean more intelligent. Look at us. You have more education. I’m smarter.
I’ve never seen Day write anything particularly smart, while Orac has a demonstrated track record.