Implicit association test
Todd Zywicki should really learn a bit more about psychology before he dismisses the Implicit Association Test as "stupid academic research."
A lot of stupid academic research goes on every day. Today's Washington Post magazine features one of the dumbest I have come across in some time--Project Implicit. ... Is it really plausible that my impression of Bill and Hillary is driven more by whether I have a messy desk than my personal perception that Bill Clinton is a liar and Hillary Clinton is a megalomaniac and opportunist? ... From what I can tell, this is about as scientific and insightful as a horoscope or palm reading.Certainly, the IAT has its problems (Mixing Memory has a post here), but these are problems of methodology, not in the general idea that unconscious processes influence our behavior, and that a large amount of information processing that goes on in the brain is not accessible to consciousness. And Todd Zywicki appears to be mocking the latter idea, not critiquing the IAT itself. (And when he addresses the IAT at all, he does so by ridiculing it, not explaining its flaws.) Incidentally, it seems to me that his distinction between unconscious bias and conscious reason is about on par with nature v. nurture in terms of unhelpful false dichotomies.
In fact, it's not as ridiculous as Todd Zywicki makes it sound that unconscious biases could influence our behavior, including our public policy preferences. He has a certain amount of privilege about his internal mental states, but not an unlimited privilege. There are a things going on inside his mind that he doesn't know about but that can be detected by psychological tests. The IAT may not be the best means to do so, but you can't claim that it is altogether "the dumbest [study] I have come across in some time."
Update, 24 Jan - The limits of common sense: Todd Zywicki has responded to my and Mixing Memory's posts, saying that he does believe in unconscious mental processes after all. That's good. But he doesn't concede the point that common sense and intuitive knowledge of how the mind works can be fundamentally incorrect. He insists that we should use our "critical thinking and common sense to determine whether research makes sense." Critical thinking, yes. But common sense, not necessarily. A great deal of science is diametrically opposed to common sense - even fundamental concepts like inertia (common sense disagrees with the idea that something will keep moving in the absence of net force, but prefers the incorrect idea that force is required to keep something moving); quantum mechanics (come on! how can something be both a wave and a particle??); special relativity (time slows down when you move really fast? huh?); general relativity (gravity is the same as acceleration?); evolution (humans descended from bacteria?); Milgram's obedience experiment in social psychology (nah, I would never give a lethal electric shock to a fellow human being). Even free-market economics violates common sense: how can following self-interest actually promote the welfare of others? In fact, reliance on common sense is profoundly anti-scientific and contradicts critical thinking.
This isn't a minor point - it forms a lot of the basis for Todd's original post ("does it really seem plausible...") and explains why he doesn't feel he needs to know anything about cognitive psychology to reject the IAT. (He notes now that he was concerned with the methodological flaws of the IAT, but strangely never mentioned them in his original post that rejected the IAT out of hand.) Point of comparison: suppose I were a naive leftist who argued that it "just doesn't seem plausible" that self-interest could promote economic welfare or that markets are a form of self-generating order, so therefore a recent economics paper that once again shows that socialism doesn't really work is "stupid academic research" and "the dumbest I have come across in some time."
Finally, his analysis of using common sense to dismiss Marxist history, Social Darwinism, and astrology is flawed. You can't dismiss those theories/ideologies out of hand: you have to have some conflicting knowledge that proves it false (non-Marxist history, a correct understanding of natural selection, and high-school level physics, respectively). You don't have to be an expert, but you do have to be somewhat informed.
Update, again: I have a new post responding to Todd's latest.