Fat man for president?

Over at Ezra’s, Dylan Matthews has an interesting post on some PS research which finds that voters punish a hypothetical female candidate for being obese, but not a male candidate.  The gendered impact of body size, does not surprise me. What does is that apparently male candidates who were obese were rated more positively than normal weight candidates.  Given that there’s lots of studies that show that more attractive candidates are preferred; and given that we know humans generally consider non-obese people more attractive than obese people, this simply does not make a lot of sense.  Of course, historically in many cultures, being fat was seen as a virtue since it is a clear sign that one has excess resources.  That however, does not seem to apply at all to current American culture where being overweight is quite significantly correlated with lower SES.  So, I’m at a loss to explain this result (to the point where I’d like to see it replicated).  Feel free to offer an explanation.

Race, poverty, and education

I just came across a really disturbing article about race and the education gap.  Of course there’s a huge correlation between race and poverty in this country– and that explains away a lot of the racial gaps we see.  It’s comforting to think that if we can just do more about poverty we can also solve our racial gaps.  Alas, it is not so simple:

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

Okay,  problem, of course.  But we can just explain that away by poverty and associated poor schools–right?  Alas, not so:

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

So, what exactly is the problem then?  As the article points out, this makes for some difficult public conversations about race that our country does not like to have:

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

Whatever is going on here, we as a society need to do our best to figure it out and address it.  There’s the obvious issues of equality, but even more so, it is just a huge waste of the potential of so many of our citizens when their racial/ethnic group seems to have such a bearing on their ultimate achievement.

Ideology gene

I was talking with a friend last night about how I would so hate for one of my kids to be like Alex P. Keaton.   David’s already a good liberal, but I know these things change.  Of course, I may have already made my greatest contribution through genetic inheritance.  I think one of the coolest PS studies in recent years examined the political attitudes of identical and fraternal twins to tease out the contribution of genetics versus environment (here’s a summary).   Short version: political attitudes seem to be roughly 50% genetic.

That being said, it’s not all that surprising that scientists have now been able to actually identify a gene that contributes to political attitudes.  How exactly?  Basically, by making a person more open to new and different experiences.   From a surprisingly good Fox News story:

A new study has concluded that ideology is not just a social thing; it’s built into the DNA, borne along by a gene called DRD4. Tagged “the liberal gene,” DRD4 is the first specific bit of human DNA that predisposes people to certain political views, the study’s authors claim.

And the key to it all: Liberals are more open, said lead researcherJames H. Fowler, a professor of both medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego.

“The way openness is measured, it’s really about receptivity to different lifestyles, for example, or different norms or customs,” he told FoxNews.com. “We hypothesize that individuals with a genetic predisposition toward seeking out new experiences [a measure of openness] will tend to be more liberal” — but only if they had a number of friends when growing up, Fowler cautioned.

Funny thing is, personally, I’m not particularly receptive to different norms, customs, etc.  Though I did have plenty of friends :-).   Actually, I’ve always felt that were I raised in a different environment it would have been quite easy for me to be a conservative, as my natural dispositions seem to run in that direction.  Most likely, I owe my mom for straightening me out.

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