Monday, December 13, 2010

Reasoning and Choice - Sniderman, Bordy, and Tetlock (1991)

Sniderman, Paul M., Richard A. Brody, and Philip E. Tetlock. 1991. Reasoning and Choice. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Some books are repeatedly cited with many reasons. Some are highlighted because of their initiation of certain research topics. Some are highlighted because of novelty of their arguments. Some are focused because their findings are well summarized and organized, serving like a final report in discussed topic. Whatever the category they belong to, books with many citations deserve to read carefully, I believe.

This book, I think, seems the third category. Findings and critics (meaning the accurate or correct judgment of an external world phenomenon) are well summarized and how they sort them out in order to fit their arguments. Especially, the first chapter is well constructed what topics the authors want to deal with, and what suggestions for future research could transform the discipline into the better.

According to the authors, there are six themes with which they want to deal in their book: “the revolt against minimalism, the concept of consistency, the role of feelings as well as beliefs in political reasoning, the “heterogeneity” assumption, the role of education in democratic citizenship, and an account of .. dynamics of reasoning and choice” (pp.1-2). Of course, the six themes are well-interconnected with each other.

Arguments, I believe, do not wait for my summary. Here (because this writing is for myself, not for other readers) I want to note one dissatisfaction over their findings and conclusion.

While many paragraphs deal with two psychological mechanisms (i.e., differentiation and integration), I think their definitions are not so harmonious with their uses of terms. I believe that these seemingly unfitted use of terminology does not belong to the authors’ faults, but conventions of opinion surveys or quantitative measures. First, there are many places where we can observe ‘idea-elements’ following Phillip E. Converse (1964), but there are actually no ‘ideas’ in measurements. Ideas are imposed by researchers or survey designers with the form of preference of certain issues (e.g., affirmative action) or arguments (e.g., people with AIDS should be quarantined) or principles (liberalism-conservatism). However, ideas, in normal discourse, denote some thoughts or cognitions, rather than preferences. Also ideas usually imply that thoughts or cognitions are created or voluntary, rather than given.

Second, thus belief system seems like judgmental structure of preference, rather than a system of knowledge or others.

Third, thus the mentioned belief system has to be measured as the strength between preference A and preference B, rather than a system of key ideas or thoughts or cognitions.

Fourth, opinion polls only ask respondents to assign themselves on a given set of locations.

Thus differentiation is less likely to be measured quantitatively because the dimensions that are obtained are previously achieved by a researcher, not by the survey respondent. While integration is possible to be measured, it has to be mixed with random guessing when respondents’ a web of belief is not sufficient enough.

However, as I’ve already pointed out, this book is book and sophisticated enough. A worthwhile book for reading and also holding for later consultation (although some chapters are out-of-dated because of the lead author’s later publication, such as “Scar of race” or “Reaching beyond race”)

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