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I briefly snarked about Leslie et al (2015) last week, but I should probably snark at it more rigorously and at greater length.
The obvious counterargument is that people’s perceptions may be accurate, so your perception measure might be a proxy for a real thing.
In other words, we find no evidence for a continuing effect of people’s perceptions of innate ability after we adjust for what those perceptions say about actual innate ability, in much the same way we would expect to see no evidence for a continuing effect of people’s perceptions of smoking on lung cancer after we adjust for what those perceptions say about actual smoking. Correlation is not causation, but a potential causal mechanism can be sketched out.
I’m going to use terms like “ability” and “innate ability” and “genius” and “brilliance” because those are the terms Leslie et al use, but I should clarify.
You conclude “Perception of being a smoker causes lung cancer”, and make up a theory about how negative stereotypes of smokers cause stress which depresses the immune system.
The media reports that as “Smoking Doesn’t Cause Cancer, Stereotypes Do”.