Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Who Did Dean's Research?

Nixon-era "master manipulator" John Dean dropped by Olbermann's Monday evening and Stewart's last night to talk up his recently-released dressing-down of the GOP's new school, Conservatives Without Conscience, to sympathetic audiences. In the book, he draws on a little-known but far-reaching line of psychological research to claim that modern conservatives, significantly moreso than centrists or liberals, are dangerously susceptible to authoritarian manipulation. This thesis, most effectively articulated and substantiated up to now by Glenn Greenwald (but echoed by scores of other liberal bloggers), now boasts the legitimizing imprimatur of rigorous social science.

But does it really? In both interviews Dean remained mum on the identity of the researchers running the project on which he bases his conclusions. He didn't tell Olbermann much, explaining only that the "ongoing" study spans over 50 years and draws on "hundreds of thousands" of subjects, and he told Stewart even less. But I wanted to pore over the academic raw material myself, so I took to Google to discover who's behind the study and whether they've made any of their results available online, fully expecting to find what I sought in short order. But an exhaustive (IMO) search turned up nothing, not even a single review, on both regular Google and Google Scholar. I surmised that a project of such magnitude would be pretty tough to hide, since it probably involves at least a couple generations of researchers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. The only items I found that even came close were several references to the Frankfurt School's pioneering but flawed study of political obedience, "The Authoritarian Personality" (which was published in 1950), and a meta-analysis of predicting factors for conservatism from 2003 that, while thorough and well-constructed, offers no original research.

So I guess I'll just have to buy the book (or wait for the online reviews) to find out who these mystery scholars are. Strange that I wouldn't be able to find any references on my own—I find it very difficult to believe that such a large research project wouldn't have caught the attention of anyone other than John Dean at some point over the past 50 years.