Poe’s Law in action

Tom Edsall sends along this press release (not written by him, let me emphasize!):

Liberals drink more alcohol, study finds

Could your political party predict your propensity for partying? A sobering study published by the Journal of Wine Economics finds that alcohol consumption in American states rises as the population’s political persuasion becomes more liberal.

Findings from the study into the relationship between drink and politics across 50 states in the US over the past 50 years suggest a direct correlation between political beliefs and the demand for alcohol.

Economists from Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University reveal that, as states become more liberal politically over time, their consumption of beer and spirits rises – while their consumption of wine tends to fall.

The research reveals that more politically liberal states like Nevada tend to consume up to three times more alcohol per head than more politically conservative states like Arkansas and Utah.

The study by Pavel Yakovlev and Walter P. Guessford reviewed more than five decades of data between 1952 and 2010 and measured alcohol intake against “citizen ideology”, which was inferred from the voting patterns of congressional representatives.

“In this study, we show that liberal ideology has a statistically significant positive association with the consumption of alcohol in the United States even after controlling for economic, demographic, and geographic differences across states,” the authors say.

“Holding everything else constant, our findings suggest that when a state becomes more liberal politically, its population consumes more beer and spirits per capita, but possibly less wine per capita.”

The authors’ findings are relatively consistent with recent sociological studies in other parts of the world showing that people with more socialist views tend to engage in more unhealthy behaviour, such as excessive drinking. For example, they cite one 2002 study, which found that Russian pro-socialists were significantly more likely than anti-socialists to drink alcohol frequently. Another 2006 survey in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine found that adults with anti-communist views had healthier lifestyles than their pro-communist peers.

Explanations offered by the authors of this latest study include the suggestion that people of a more liberal persuasion tend to be more open to new experiences, including the consumption of alcohol or drugs – or that they might feel more confident in government healthcare and social welfare to pick up the pieces of their socially irresponsible behavior.

The authors suggest that further research is needed to explore the relationship between political beliefs and other unhealthy behaviors in future.

Read the full article here.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

About the Journal of Wine Economics

Published by the Cambridge University Press, the Journal of Wine Economics is the official publication of the American Association of Wine Economists(AAWE) – a non-profit, educational organisation dedicated to encouraging and communicating economic research and analyses and exchanging ideas in wine economics.

The “Journal of Wine Economics,” huh? I clicked through the link and I honestly can’t tell whether this is just a really bad research article or a parody. “Pavel Yakovlev” and “Walter P. Guessford” appear to be real people, but the paper has some over-the-top moments that suggests it’s all a joke. But what bothers me is that it’s not quite silly enough (unlike my zombies paper, for example).

My guess is that the paper is semi-serious: the authors were doing what seemed to them to be a fun analysis, the kind of scatterplot or regression that could go viral for a couple days on Twitter, and then they thought: Hey, maybe there’s something to this, let’s publish it. The Journal of Wine Economics went for it and there you go. Oxford University Press releases the tongue-in-cheek press release. Basically, everyone involved benefits from a sort of plausible deniability since it’s halfway between real research and a silly joke.

From Wikipedia:

Poe’s law, named after its author Nathan Poe, is an Internet adage reflecting the idea that without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism. . . .

Another precedent posted on Usenet dates to 2001. Following the well-known schema of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, Alan Morgan wrote:

Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.

P.S. Let me say that I have nothing against Pavel Yakovlev and Walter P. Guessford personally, and I wish them all the best in their future endeavors. I do think there is a problem with frivolous studies sucking up the attentional bandwidth that the public has for science, so I’d appreciate if these sorts of joke studies were labeled more clearly as such. Every time Cambridge University Press or some similarly prestigious organization publicizes this sort of thing, that seems to me to be one more little dilution of the brand of science. But it’s not really Yaovlev and Guessford’s fault; they just wrote a silly little paper and all of us usually take whatever attention comes to us.

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University. His books include Bayesian Data Analysis; Teaching Statistics: A Bag of Tricks; and Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do.
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