Are Smarter People More Liberal?

Sculpture of man emerging from ape

Emergent Man

Ah, yes, another article proclaiming that smart people are liberal. Elizabeth Landau of CNN reports on a soon-to-be-published article by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa that claims higher IQ is associated liberal politics and religion, as well as “sexual exclusivity” (a.k.a. monogamy).

I haven’t seen the article (it’s not available yet), but there are a couple of problems with the simple equation “smart = liberal.” First, notice how “liberal” is defined:

The study takes the American view of liberal vs. conservative. It defines “liberal” in terms of concern for genetically nonrelated people and support for private resources that help those people. It does not look at other factors that play into American political beliefs, such as abortion, gun control and gay rights.

Strange definition. In America, conservatives favor the use of private resources to help people. As far as the “genetically nonrelated” issue, I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. Part of the problem here – as with most discussions of liberalism and conservatism – is that the terms can mean many different things.

Also, check out this paragraph from higher up in the article:

The reasoning is that sexual exclusivity in men, liberalism and atheism all go against what would be expected given humans’ evolutionary past. In other words, none of these traits would have benefited our early human ancestors, but higher intelligence may be associated with them.

How you ever met a man who strongly rejects “sexual exclusivity”? How is he doing with that, family-wise? How are his children doing? Are women anxious to bear his children? In every article I’ve read about evolutionary psychology, there comes a moment when the claims jump from evidence-based to assumption-based

Another scholar quoted in the piece might be onto something.

“The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward,” said George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study. “It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people — people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower — are likely to be the ones to do that.”

So, here’s a question: if the US is headed toward greater secularism and lower rates of religious faith[*], then will we one day see a future in which the intellectual elites embrace religion as a way of standing out from the crowd?

By the way, Kanazawa has a way himself of standing out from the crowd with his choices of research topics. He seems to be a pretty shrewd academic when it comes to getting publicity.

TIME’s John Cloud also reports on the study, but I have only skimmed his article. I receive TIME in the mail, and I have a pet peeve about seeing articles online before they’re available to subscribers of the printed copy.

[*]I’m not convinced that these trends are happening, I’m just saying if they are happening.

Update: Even the most famous atheist blogger on the planet, PZ Myers, thinks this study is ridiculous. Since Myers’ pinky finger knows more about biology than I will ever know in my entire lifetime (figuratively speaking), I’m inclined to trust him on this.