Political bias in the Academy

I know Eli has mentioned the Heterodox Academy, as has Judith, but I thought I would add my two-cents worth. The goal of the Heterodox Academy seems to be to

increase viewpoint diversity in the academy, with a special focus on the social sciences.

largely motivated by

progressives outnumber conservatives by ratios that often exceed ten to one.

Okay, so I’m a fan of diversity. I think it’s generally a good thing. However, I do think there is a vast difference between a lack of political diversity, and a lack of diversity in general. A political view is not, as far as I’m aware, a protected characteristic. Discriminating on the basis of a political view is not, in my opinion, in any way comparable to discriminating on the basis of – for example – gender, race, or sexual orientation. That, however, does not mean that one shouldn’t encourage certain types of people to consider a particular career path, if one wished to do so.

From what I’ve read, the basic issue that the Heterodox Academy is highlighting is that there are many more progressives (by which, I assume, they mean non-conservatives) in the Social Sciences, than conservatives, and that this introduces a bias in their research. Okay, but what does this really mean? Is there some kind of discrimination that means that conservatives find it more difficult to follow an academic career than progressives? From what I’ve seen, that seems unlikely. I’ve been involved in recruitment at almost all levels in academia. We don’t interview undergraduates, and certainly don’t ask about their political views on their application forms. We do interview postgraduate students, but I’ve no idea how we would discover their political views, given that we certainly don’t ask. Even beyond that, it’s hard to see how this could play a role. I guess there could be some who spend their PhDs on social media illustrating that they’re raving nutjobs, but that’s not necessarily restricted to conservatives only, and is probably rare.

Okay, so if an actual bias against conservatives is unlikely, maybe it’s that they don’t feel comfortable in academia. Possibly, but what can we do about that? I certainly agree that anything misogynistic, racist or homophobic should be regarded as unacceptable in the workplace (and anywhere else, really) but I can’t see how we can discourage the expression of political views, especially in academia. Even if it is the case that conservatives feel uncomfortable in academia, what can we really do about that? Suppress freedom of speech? That would seem rather ironic.

In fairness, though, the basic idea seems to be that they’ve identified a lack of diversity in some areas of the social sciences and think that it would benefit from more diversity. In general, I think this is a reasonable view and if they want to encourage others to consider careers in these areas, that’s all fine and good. The biggest issue with the general idea presented by the Heterodox Academy is probably highlighted in this article which points out that if there is indeed a bias in some areas of the Social Sciences, the solution is probably not to simply add people with a different set of biases. We don’t approach a reasonable representation of the “truth” (whatever that might mean) by averaging over all possible biases. Ideally we do so by trying to reduce the influence of biases. As the article says

[l]et’s improve the validity of our science by trying to reduce error, not by introducing new kinds of it.

It may not be possible to remove all biases, but aiming to minimises biases seems, by far, preferable to introducing new ones with the goal of somehow minimising the average bias. The goal of research is not to return a result that is a reasonable representation of what people want to hear; the goal should be to return a result that is a reasonable representation of reality, even if it isn’t what people want to hear.

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92 Responses to Political bias in the Academy

  1. Adam R. says:

    In undergrad admissions, significant underrepresentation by minorities is taken as prima facie evidence of discrimination or White privilege. This seems reasonable, to me.

    Asking a devil’s advocate question, then (I regard myself as progressive, politically), why cannot underrepresentation by conservative academics in the social sciences be seen as evidence of some sort of discriminatory filter there?

  2. why cannot underrepresentation by conservative academics in the social sciences be seen as evidence of some sort of discriminatory filter there?

    How do you identify a conservative if they don’t specify this on their application form?

  3. NevenA says:

    Why are there so few conservatives in the social sciences? Is it perhaps because people who tend towards conservative views, are also more pragmatic and prefer a career that pays better than academia? What is the ratio liberal vs conservative in the economic sciences?

    Either way, all this reeks to me like a very subtle form of ‘teach the controversy’ and ‘there are no facts, only opinions’. And the only reason it gets traction, is because liberals tend to be ultra-PC and never mind taking out the whip for some auto-flagellation. If it were the other way round, nobody would even consider discussing it.

    Not that I know anything about it. I’m not an academic and I despise left-right thinking, as it only leads to violence (which is the goal, I guess).

  4. Andy Skuce says:

    I’m not sure that there is a clear way to reduce bias except by peer review and transparency. Political ideology may not be a source of bias in the physical sciences, but it’s hard to imagine it not being at least a potential source of bias in social and political sciences. We now, rightly, insist that researchers declare their source of funding and other competing interests, but I’m not aware of any obligation to declare one’s political views at the end of a paper and I’m sure that any such requirement would be seen as so discriminatory and intrusive that it would outweigh any benefit from increased transparency.

    The only realistic answer seems to be more peer review that challenges core assumptions and more competing points of view in critical publications. So, I have some sympathy for the Heterodoxers. Although how, in practice, you get more conservatives into social science faculties isn’t clear to me. I’m sure that Theology would be similarly invigorated if more Dawkins-style atheists enrolled, as would Business Schools with the addition of an influx of Jeremy Corbin disciples, but such students probably have better ideas about how and where to spend their energy.

  5. Magma says:

    “progressives outnumber conservatives by ratios that often exceed ten to one”

    There’s a core issue here that goes beyond the left-right politics of the day or the unhelpful “dumb conservatives vs. flaky progressives” stereotype that goes back at least a century or two.

    A key to successful research in many fields and particularly in science is the requirement to apply doubt, skepticism (the real kind), questioning and imagination to generate novel hypotheses to explain observations. Like it or not, these traits are antithetical to many types of conservatism.

    As far as AGW goes, it may explain why so many contrarians are on the far side of 60 (people get set in their ways) and seem to be over-represented by those with engineering backgrounds as compared to scientific ones.

  6. Perhaps it’s just that studying social sciences shows you that the conservative theses are not borne out by reality.

  7. I was somewhat reluctant to make the argument that conservatives simply have a tendency to choose a different career, because you then have to justify why that’s acceptable for conservatives, but not for – for example – women. I think it might be possible to make that argument, but it’s not necessarily straightforward.

    Andy,
    I agree that it would be better to try and eliminate bias through stronger peer-review and transparency than simply adding more bias. I also don’t know how one might get more conservatives into the social sciences and if you do aim to do so, why don’t you then apply the same to more progressives in economics and more atheists in religious studies.

    nick,
    Possibly 🙂 One thing that is certainly the case is that one can’t guarantee that someone who starts university as a conservative, would necessarily be one if they eventually do get a permanent academic position.

  8. There seems to be some fields of study that attract more left-wing people (natural sciences, psychology and social sciences) and others that attract more right-wing people (economics, management, engineering, juridical sciences, medicine(?)). If we do this, then we should do it everywhere, not just in the social sciences. That would otherwise also be discrimination.

    For sciences dealing with people, I can imagine that a diversity of political views makes sense and helps scientific progress. It can be hard to put yourself in the viewpoint of very different ways of thinking. It would have similar advantages as have group with both genders and different skills (interdisciplinary works).

    For the natural sciences I do not see advantages for the science, it does not deal with people. If there was discrimination that would be a reason to correct it. If someone can demonstrate discrimination I would be in favour of compensating to make the situation fairer. As ATTP indicates, no one asks for anyone’s political preferences. Thus I would be surprised if there was discrimination.

    I would expect the bias to be there already in the students who are interested. Most likely the imbalance in the natural sciences is simply matter of preferences (you do not become rich by studying a natural science; the average income is about the same as for students studying management, but the outliers to the CEO top are missing). Basic science is a common good for all of humanity, which progressives seem to value more.

    It is hard to determine who the best candidate for certain job is. If within that uncertainty you can make the group more diverse in any of the above mentioned respects, I think that would be a good idea.

  9. Morbeau says:

    Just like in blogworld, a lot of conservatives don’t win arguments with logic and evidence (I’m not saying they can’t) so their solution is to pack the halls with their supporters. This goes hand in hand with the increasing commercialization of universities ,and increasing power of business schools within those organizations. It’s a workable long-term strategy.

  10. I was somewhat reluctant to make the argument that conservatives simply have a tendency to choose a different career, because you then have to justify why that’s acceptable for conservatives, but not for – for example – women.

    Isn’t that is acceptable? We should do our best to fight discrimination, but if there is then still a difference in what certain groups prefer, that’s life. To mention a PC example (to illustrate the idea without getting into a side debate): There are much more men in mental institutions and prisons. I would be surprised if that difference in tendencies would go away.

  11. Isn’t that is acceptable?

    It could be acceptable. I was more meaning that we shouldn’t dismiss it as simply different people making different choices.

  12. Eli Rabett says:

    They want a set aside. Jose is searching for a faculty position.

  13. Rob Nicholls says:

    For a minute I thought mainstream economics would be included among the social sciences, and so the thought that “progressives outnumber conservatives by ratios that often exceed ten to one” almost made me fall off my chair, although I guess it depends how you define words like ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’.

  14. There are lots of problems.

    It’s not as if most people declare their political affiliations and ideological identifications when applying for jobs. It’s more likely that people of particular belief systems are self-selecting themselves for particular careers, partly based on those very belief systems.

    Science itself as a worldview has a certain amount of progressive bias. The scientific method is intentionally designed to be a progressive methodology, as it promotes progress. There is no way to get around that. If there are some people who mistrust progress and hence science, it is understandable that they might avoid a career in science. But how is that to be blamed on scientific institutions that tend to advocate scientific progress?

    Some of it is also psychological. Science is dependent on the functioning of particular personality traits, such as FFM Openness. Anyone who is extremely low on such traits are not going to be effective scientists and aren’t going to even want to try. It is simply a fact that conservatives on average rate lower on traits like Openness. It’s similar to scientific careers being biased toward those of higher IQ, another thing that correlates to Openness. Should we create affirmative action requiring scientific institutions to hire equal numbers of low IQ scientists as high IQ?

    Then again, maybe scientifically training people has a tendency to not just attract liberals but turn people into liberals. It is in many ways an inherently liberal way of thinking about the world, as opposed for example to fundamentalism. IQ tests are biased toward giving higher scores to liberals and libertarians. Should conservatives have their IQs measured on a curve to make it more fair? Should we create a neutral IQ test that gives results showing that everyone is smart in their own way? Conservatives aren’t low IQ on average. They just have a special conservative kind of smarts.

    Anyway, labels are largely meaningless. Among early progressives, many were highly religious social conservatives. Even today, many minorities lean toward both progressivism and highly religious social conservatism. Minorities are also not equally represented. There are a bunch of issues that get conflated, especially considering that the labels people choose often don’t match the values and policies they support, as social science research has shown. Throw in various demographic factors and it really gets confusing.

    Plus, why are we limiting ourselves to just particular ideologies? Creationists and luddites are underrepresented in engineering departments. Anarchists and free love radicals are underrepresented in political science departments. Marxists and communists are underrepresented in business management departments. Theocrats and fascists are underrepresented in liberal arts departments. Atheists and Buddhists are underrepresented in Biblical studies departments.

    I guess we could randomly assign people to various careers, regardless of their personality, IQ, talent, gender, race, ideology, or any other possible label and category. Would that solve the problem?

  15. We need more people to tell the beautiful story of universal evolution:

    What Ridley does is what proponents of social evolution have always done: he fastens on some of the events of the past few decades, suitably bolstered by selective bits of history, and turns these fleeting episodes into unstoppable trends. The 19th-century prophet of early capitalism, Herbert Spencer – described by Ridley in a long footnote as “one of the most unfairly traduced figures of history” – did this when he nominated mid-Victorian laissez-faire as the final state of human development towards which every society was evolving. Eccentric as he was – he wrote his lengthy tomes while wearing ear muffs to block out noise – Spencer was a more interesting thinker than his disciples. He lived long enough (born in 1820, he died in 1903) to see the world moving towards various types of statism rather than the minimal government he expected and desired. Spencer’s last years were spent in baffled gloom. On the basis of this bumptious and tediously repetitive tract, it’s difficult to imagine Ridley displaying a similar capacity for realistic observation or self-criticism.

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/16/the-evolution-of-everything-matt-ridley-review

    Academia needs more Spencerians. It’s been too long. The world is waiting.

  16. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> “Discriminating on the basis of a political view is not, in my opinion, in any way comparable to discriminating on the basis of – for example – gender, race, or sexual orientation.”

    Well, I would tend to agree – but that doesn’t negate that a lack of political diversity could well manifest as bias in the overall body of social science research.

    ==> “Is their some kind of discrimination that means that conservatives find it more difficult to follow an academic career than progressives?”

    They would argue that yes, that is true in the social sciences, and that they have evidence to support that hypothesis. The one paper that I’ve seen that expands on that theory is one that I think Duarte was involved in, where he did a kind of experiment to see whether a paper would be more likely to get published depending on a change in a detail that wasn’t significant except in the sense of the politics of the conclusion. As I recall, I thought his study was flawed because they they didn’t really have a good control (they couldn’t offer the different versions of the paper to the same journals for publication) but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if it were such a bias – in fact I would expect it to at least some extent.

    .==> “Even beyond that, it’s hard to see how this could play a role.”

    I think you should look at some of their material that explicates how they think a lack of diversity affects which studies get conducted (which questions are asked), and other manifestations. I think there is some merit to their arguments.

    I don’t remember a whole lot of their answers, but they give arguments as to why the disparity is at least in part due to explicit bias, and they give explicit arguments as to why the scientific method in and of itself is not sufficient control for the potential biases, how a lack of diversity influences what questions are asked in research, etc.. And they don’t ignore that political diversity is not the only important frame for diversity (although elevate it in the hierarchy somewhat farther than what I’d agree with).

    Here, they talk about solutions:

    http://heterodoxacademy.org/solutions/

    Duarte’s involvement is interesting. It’s a challenge to get past his involvement to see what there might be of merit in their arguments. I have an instinctual reaction that their basic approach is reactionary, and I’ve made some progress in pulling together my understanding as to why, but I think it’s worth an open investigation.

    There was an interesting online article a while back where there was a give and take among somewhere between 10-20 (I think) prominent social scientists reacting to and with Haidt about this stuff – it was very interesting…I’m looking for it but without much luck so far. If anyone comes across it, it would be appreciated.

  17. Joshua says:

    Benjamin –

    ==> ” It is simply a fact that conservatives on average rate lower on traits like Openness. ”

    Are you referring to empirical research to make that statement? If so, can you link to some of it?

  18. Here, Joshua:

    Suppose that two American friends are traveling together in Italy. They go to see Michelangelo’s “David,” and when they finally come face to face with the statue, they both freeze dead in their tracks. The first guy — we’ll call him Adam — is transfixed by the beauty of the perfect human form. The second guy — we’ll call him Bill — is transfixed by embarrassment, at staring at the thing there in the center. So here’s my question for you: which one of these two guys was more likely to have voted for George Bush, which for Al Gore?

    I don’t need a show of hands because we all have the same political stereotypes. We all know that it’s Bill. And in this case, the stereotype corresponds to reality. It really is a fact that liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called openness to experience. People who are high in openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable.

  19. Joshua,

    They would argue that yes, that is true in the social sciences, and that they have evidence to support that hypothesis. The one paper that I’ve seen that expands on that theory is one that I think Duarte was involved in, where he did a kind of experiment to see whether a paper would be more likely to get published depending on a change in a detail that wasn’t significant except in the sense of the politics of the conclusion.

    Except this seems somewhat different to what I was suggesting. I think there is a difference between finding it difficult to publish a paper that has a conclusion that may have a political implication and someone who holds certain political views finding it hard to build a career. If the argument is that a conservative might struggle to make a career in academia because their publications will have a conservative bias and will hence be more likely to be rejected, then that would seem to be an indication of an explicit bias on their part. It could also be an indication of a bias on the part of reviewers too, but again I don’t see how you solve this by simply adding more bias.

  20. Joshua says:

    ==> “If the argument is that a conservative might struggle to make a career in academia because their publications will have a conservative bias and will hence be more likely to be rejected, then that would seem to be an indication of an explicit bias on their part.”

    Well, good point. Although it would still leave a bias in the body of research.

    I don’t know how useful it is for me to say what I think I remember about what they said, but as I recall there was something also about how some non-trivial % of surveyed social scientists acknowledged interpersonal bias towards academic conservatives. Although it wasn’t nearly universal, even the existence to some extent would have a differential effect….

    My main point is that I think it’s worth reading at least some of their stuff. IMO, it isn’t as trivial or easily dismissed as I might have thought.

  21. Joshua says:

    And yes, the point of not solving it by adding more bias is a good point – but I don’t see reason to believe that would be an outcome of their proposed solutions.

  22. Joshua says:

    Thanks Willard –

    I’ll have a listen.

  23. Joshua –

    Openness is liberal almost by definition. For those familiar with personality trait research and theory, this is common knowledge. Once you understand what Openness is measuring, you realize it would be bizarre if it didn’t correlate to liberalism.

    It is probably related to studies that have shown conservatives on average have a stronger disgust response. For example, it is more common for a conservative to find homosexuality disgusting. It’s not just a matter of it being morally wrong, but also viscerally repugnant within conservative experience.

    There are both positives and negatives to these traits, as one would expect. Openness seems to correlate with some things that aren’t necessarily good in all ways: fantasy proneness, hypnotizability, etc.

    This kind of thing has been studied ad nauseum. I probably could link to hundreds of academic papers and books that have studied and discussed this topic, but here are just a few links:

    http://peterjonason.com/uploads/Jonason-Personality_and_Politics.pdf

    http://2012election.procon.org/sourcefiles/the-secret-lives-of-liberals-and-conservatives-personality-profiles-interaction-styles-2008.pdf

    http://sites.duke.edu/niou/files/2011/06/gerber-huber-etal.pdf

    http://www.tc.umn.edu/~cdeyoung/Pubs/Hirsh_2010_A_politics_PSPB.pdf

    http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/0003-066X.61.7.651

    http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sbp/sbp/2000/00000028/00000001/art00001

    http://www.yorku.ca/mar/Xu%20et%20al%202013_PSPB_cultural%20exposure%20mediations%20relation%20betwen%20personality%20and%20political%20orientation.pdf

    http://www.subjectpool.com/ed_teach/y4person/O/McCrae_Sutin2009Openness.pdf

  24. And yes, the point of not solving it by adding more bias is a good point – but I don’t see reason to believe that would be an outcome of their proposed solutions.

    Well, if they think there is a liberal bias that influences the results of social science research, then it’s hard to see how adding conservatives wouldn’t do this. I also find some of their solutions rather uncomfortable. Some of it comes across a little as though being a conservative is some kind of characteristic that needs protection. I may have to think of this a little more, but my gut reaction is to disagree with this very strongly. In my view, it runs the risk of trivialising genuine issues with diversity. If a group of people want to encourage more people that they would regard as useful additions to a field, to consider a career in that field, then that seems entirely reasonable. Expecting the field as a whole to find ways to encourage this, does not.

  25. Adam R. says:

    ATTP: “How do you identify a conservative if they don’t specify this on their application form?”

    How do we know that is the point at which the (likely imaginary, I grant) discrimination occurs?

    Minority students were not blatantly barred admission at American university gates, at least not after the civil rights movement, but discrimination was (is) real, nevertheless Often it occurred in quite subtle forms that had their effects long before students reached college age. So subtle, in fact, that reformers despaired of identifying and correcting them all, and attacked the problem directly with Affirmative Action.

    I am not arguing for the existence of a liberal glass ceiling blocking the ascension of conservative academics in the humanities, but something is certainly keeping them out. If I had to guess, the cause is the low regard—even contempt—in which the whole field is held by conservatives. The fact that it is dominated by liberals is providing a feedback effect.

  26. Joshua says:

    Thanks Benjamin. More than enough. 🙂

  27. Joshua says:

    ==> “Well, if they think there is a liberal bias that influences the results of social science research, then it’s hard to see how adding conservatives wouldn’t do this”

    Well, sure…but the net effect might result in more balance in the overall body of research – which wouldn’t necessarily just mean more absolute bias (or a useless false balance of differently-biased research).

    I also need to think about that more.

    But ultimately, groups of differing political biases, who acknowledge and agree in good faith to account for biases, working together or reviewing each other’s work, would at least have the potential to gain better control over biases through combined effort. If as a group, the field does not seek out to diversify their pool of researchers, they forego that potential.

  28. For science bias would be a problem, for me personally my colleagues being biased would be great.

    That means that it is extremely easy to do interesting work on topics they ignore or to show them wrong.

    So how about the thesis: if social science is a science then the few conservatives that chose to work in it should have it easy to get ahead.

  29. izen says:

    This is where the whole Ravetz/Hulme concept of post-normal science in which the nature of the ‘reality’ that is discovered by scientific research is shaped by the socio-political views of the researchers collides with the inherent internal contradictions of the idea.

    On this basis a field of science that shows a significant bias in the socio-political makeup compared to the general population will produce significantly biased scientific results. Therefore finding that the social sciences are disproportionately filled with individuals that can be classified at one end of some arbitrary political spectrum leads to the conclusion the field is producing biased results. An error that could be ‘corrected’ by widening the diversity of the socio-political beliefs of the people involved in the research.

    Of course, as this research was carried out in a field that ‘suffers’ from this apparent bias it is by their own principles subject to doubt until replicated and confirmed by a more diverse research community.

  30. Andy Skuce says:

    Here is a paper with some stats of political affiliations of US faculty.
    http://www.criticalreview.com/2004/pdfs/cardiff_klein.pdf
    Democrats are the majority in all fields except military studies and sports. In Sociology the ratio of Democrats is overwhelming.
    Here is a NYT article about Jonathan Haidt, where he makes the case for increased conservative representation in social psychology.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/science/08tier.html?_r=3&ref=science

  31. Willard says:

    How many psychologists does it takes to rediscover Thoreau? More than the efficient and humorless German it takes to change a light bulb, which means enough to plan an outdoor trip and monitor its participants:

    Some of the scientists say a vacation like this hardly warrants much scrutiny. But the trip’s organizer, David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, says that studying what happens when we step away from our devices and rest our brains — in particular, how attention, memory and learning are affected — is important science.

    “Attention is the holy grail,” Mr. Strayer says.

    “Everything that you’re conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/technology/16brain.html

    We need more research on Thoreau in psychology.

    Thoreau’s a conservative, right?

  32. Joshua says:

    Found the article I was looking for…

    “On January 27th, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt gave a provocative talk at the annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology which is already making waves and is a prime candidate for an Edge conversation.

    Edge is pleased to present (a) the video of Haidt’s narrated presentation, (b) the transcript of the talk which Haidt provided and (c) discussion and feedback from Daniel Kahneman, Daniel Gilbert, Steven J. Heine, Alison Gopnik, David Pizarro and Lee Jussim.”

    https://edge.org/conversation/the-bright-future-of-post-partisan-social-psychology

  33. izen says:

    Motes and beams…

    There is an area of scientific research with a long and ignoble history of bias, data manipulation and just plain wrong findings being promoted because of the beliefs and motivations of the scientists and funders.

    Medical research, especially pharmaceuticals, is notorious for the repeated offences of hidden data, statistical manipulation and unwarranted conclusions.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3238108/Global-drug-giant-GSK-published-flawed-study-led-millions-children-wrongly-prescribed-dangerous-antidepressants.html

    I doubt the disproportionality of secular liberals to religious conservatives is any less in clinical research than in other fields of science, but the distortion in the research is not driven by political ideology in this case, it is entierly finacialy motivated.

  34. Adam,

    I am not arguing for the existence of a liberal glass ceiling blocking the ascension of conservative academics in the humanities, but something is certainly keeping them out.

    How do you know this? Are there lots od conservatives doing undergraduate degrees, but fewer staying on to do postgraduate degrees, and even fewer still getting research positions and then faculty jobs. If this is the case, then maybe there is something keeping them out, but I haven’t seen any real evidence to show this. Or by keeping them out do you also include the possibility that they themselves are sometimes choosing to not start in the first place. My main reason for being dubious that there is something keeping conservatives out is that I can’t quite see how it could be happening given that I rarely (if ever) know the political views of those that I’m involved in recruiting. It’s also not something one could determine by simply meeting someone. Unless the Social Sciences are different, how then are conservatives kept out?

  35. Adam,
    I kind of missed this

    If I had to guess, the cause is the low regard—even contempt—in which the whole field is held by conservatives.

    This is possible, but this would suggest it is conservatives themselves who are keeping themselves out, not anything in the system that is actively doing so.

  36. Joseph says:

    Izen. I think it’s interesting to note that although we have a lot of medications that treat psychological illnesses, like depression, they don’t actually know how the drug changes the brain to relieve the symptoms. They understand what neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin) are involved, but they don’t really understand how increasing or decreasing those transmitters ultimately affects behavior or mental state. We have come a long way I think in terms tying certain structure and systems to certain classes of behavior, memory and perception but the brain is such a complex, dynamic. and interconnected structure that I think it will take some time to fully understand.

    But I do think that medication can work for some people. With depression it is sometimes difficult to find the right one or the right dose.

  37. bill shockley says:

    izen said:
    I doubt the disproportionality of secular liberals to religious conservatives is any less in clinical research than in other fields of science, but the distortion in the research is not driven by political ideology in this case, it is entierly finacialy motivated.

    Isn’t the same true in the field of economics:

    Alternatives to Capitalism has been a taboo topic since the end of the WWII. Climate science has been under attack in the same way, by the same people.

    Richard Wolff, in the 60s, proposed for his PhD thesis a critique of Marxian economics and was told by the department at Yale that such a subject was inappropriate, so he picked something else.

    The most popular president in US history, Franklin D Rooselvelt, taxed the rich and corporations and used the money to put 10s of millions of people to work during the depression, created all kinds of social programs… Social Security, Unemployment Compensation, National Parks, minimum wage (which was higher then than it is now in real terms). His reforms were chipped away in the following decades along with the power of unions. The concepts of communism and socialism were demonized, tax rates reverted . In Europe, unions still are relatively powerful, communist and socialist parties hold office and are not a joke.

    Now, Wolff claims, with the economy going down the tubes, people are willing to talk about alternative concepts to capitalism. Evidence? He cites the fact that he (a Marxist economist) has become a popular speaker in the last half decade.

    Related, off-topic:
    Per capita emissions footprint in Europe is half what it is in America. Is it a coincidence that some of the countries with the lowest carbon intensity are socialist countries?
    https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/sroc/Tables/t0305.pdf
    https://googledrive.com/host/0B6KqW0UlivnVODFmVEp6Ui1zYVE

  38. Chris says:

    This is a very US-centric “programme” which is maybe not so easy to relate to from a European point of view, since the latter rather lacks the US politically-right style angst against the liberal nature of universities that has been a theme for many decades (see e.g. Allan Bloom’s near-30 year old – “The closing of the American Mind” or Robert Hughes “Culture of Complaint” from the early 90’s). In fact it’s rather fascinating that one of the (presumably recommended) “Publications” on the Heterodox Academy web site is Haidt’s own “The coddling of the American mind” which (at a quick perusal I admit) seems to be voicing pretty much the same complaint as Allan Bloom’s 30-year old complaint.

    OK it remains to be seen where exactly the Orthodox Academy is going to stake out it’s programme if it has one (presumably it aims for political influence broadly defined which seems to be a major self-regard of Social Science programmes these days). But I had a bit of a think about “liberal” practices (that relate to the sort of thing that Hughes and Haidt were/are complaining about) in my Uni – providing places in Uni buildings for Muslim students to pray; the hugely increased numbers of students given increased time in exams; exam scripts printed on coloured paper and all the other liberal (!) things we do do to help particular students (that they are pretty unlikely to be afforded in the “real world”). While this (and more especially the focus on “political correctness” in the use of words etc.) seems to be considered “coddling”, it seems not to be much of an issue in Europe. Of course we do have our own instances of adherence to “political correctness” e.g. in Uni College London’s peremptory dismissal of Tim Hunt…

  39. bill,
    I think they do acknowledge that economics is a discipline where there isn’t the kind of disparity that they’re highlighting for other areas of the Social Sciences.

    Chris,
    A good point about it being very US-centric. That may make it difficult to put it into a European context.

  40. snarkrates says:

    Liberal and conservative in the US are defined relative to current political fashions. Unfortunately in the US, the right has been moving rightward with such speed and cluelessness that academia simply could not keep up. These days, if you went by his positions, Nixon would be leftward of Hillary Clinton and pushing on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Reagan couldn’t win a state GOP primary. It could be argued that the paucity of academics on the right of American politics has more to do with bias in redistricting than with bais in academe.

  41. Raff says:

    As usual I have no thoughts worth contributing, but I did spot two typos: “Is their some kind of discrimination” and “all find and good”.

  42. Joshua says:

    Benjamin –

    Just wondering if you have any links to any kind of meta-analyses (the last link does kind of serve that function).

  43. The Edge article linked by Joshua above is worth reading, including the discussion below it.

    THE BRIGHT FUTURE OF POST-PARTISAN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
    https://edge.org/conversation/the-bright-future-of-post-partisan-social-psychology

    How big the problem is and what to do about it depends on the reasons for the political bias. Is there any information on that? The Edge article was lacking in that respect. Only provided anecdotes; most in the emails the author got afterwards (mentioned in the discussion). Still those anecdotes should not happen; we have to make sure that the culture is welcoming too all.

    In this discussion we should probably distinguish three cases.
    1. The speed of scientific progress
    2. Bias in the sense that results are systematically wrong to one side.
    3. Bias with respect to the problems solved.

    1 and 3 seem most likely, but when people think of bias they probably mostly think of 2.

  44. I would emphasize there are many factors that relate to ideological predispositions and the ability to assess reality, in terms of science or otherwise.

    There are studies showing that liberals are on average less susceptible than conservatives to certain cognitive biases, confirmation bias and backfire effect. Maybe it is unsurprising that conservatives wouldn’t be attracted to a field such as psychological research (or science in general) which seeks to avoid these kinds of cognitive biases.

    Liberals also have biases and weaknesses (just look at the trait Conscientiousness that liberals rate low on and you’ll understand).

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/liberalism-weaknesses-failures/

    For example, liberals favor out-groups. Liberals are also biased toward hyper-alertness to social cues, according to studies of eye movement. But it is unclear to what extent and in what ways this would create a problematic bias in scientific research. To figure that out would require quality research of those doing research, a hard task to accomplish.

    http://pps.sagepub.com/content/7/5/508.short

    Consider issues that liberals are biased against, such as nuclear power. Research has found that liberals don’t have as strong of an emotional response to this issue as do conservatives toward global warming. And accordingly liberals are more willing and able to change their minds to accomodate new info about nuclear power whereas conservatives were less willing or able in regards to global warming. Chris Mooney discusses this research in his book, The Republican Brain.

    http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/the_republican_brain%3A_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_–_and_reality

    This might relate as well to the correlation of liberalism and ‘opennesss to experience’. It is obvious that aspects of ‘openness’ are directly oppositional to confirmation bias. To be low in ‘openness’ would mean to seek out the familiar and known, and as such would lead one to want to confirm what one already knows/assumes. It’s because of ‘openness’ that liberals enjoy discovering something new. A strongly liberal person finds pleasure in this and so discovering something new, even if it disproves former assumptions, is still seen as a good thing from a liberal perspective of ‘openness’. The liberal-minded person will even intentionally seek out the unexpected simply for the excitement of being surprised.

    I think there is danger in seeing conservatives and liberals as neutral categories in all ways. For example, research shows conservatives have a better ability at focusing by excluding distractions while liberals are hyper-aware of their environment (and the people around them, i.e., empathetic awareness), and so it would follow that conservatives are going to be overrepresented in fields requiring high degrees of focus (I’m perfectly fine that most surgeons are probably conservatives; heck, give me the most conservative surgeon there is if he’ll save my life with his hyper-focused conservative mindset). Does this mean liberals entirely lack the ability to focus? Of course not. But it would be silly to criticize as anti-liberal fields requiring focus. It’s just a fact that conservatives are better at this just as it’s a fact that liberals are better at ‘openness’.

    I know liberals tend to like to avoid discussions of IQ disparities, because of how conservatives and racists like to use such data. But in this case, I think it is unavoidable.

    http://www.livescience.com/18132-intelligence-social-conservatism-racism.html

    It is obvious that science is biased toward those of high IQ. Liberals have a much higher average IQ than conservatives. That isn’t to say there isn’t a sub-group of conservatives with high IQ, but it is anyone’s guess how large of a group they are.

    A good question to ask is: Why do people of lower average IQ choose to identify as conservative? It’s not likely that the label is causing cognitive impairment. There is something about the conservative ideology, worldview, or mindset that is attractive to those of lower average IQ. That probably relates to the conservatives self-selecting out of scientific fields.

    To complicate things, labels don’t necessarily match views held. An earlier Pew survey found that 9% of people who were liberal across the board, socially and economically, self-identified as conservative.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/liberalism-label-vs-reality-analysis-of-data/

    I’m willing to bet those politically liberal ‘conservatives’ were above average both in liberal-minded traits and IQ. What makes them conservative? Is it just a cultural identity as with someone who still attends church even though they lost faith long ago?

    Assuming the sub-group of high IQ self-identified ‘conservatives’ are also correspondingly more liberal-minded, would including high IQ conservatives necessarily lessen liberal-minded biases? What if the biases that are being seen are inherent to or at least strongly correlated with high IQ itself? Steven Pinker basically makes that argument in his recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, when he discusses the Moral Flynn Effect. Maybe someone should do a scientific study about that. But if a study was done, would conservatives accept the results of that study?

    As Haidt gets brought up in discussions like this, I think it is good to keep in mind Haidt’s own biases:

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/jonathan-haidts-liberal-minded-anti-liberalism/

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/re-the-moral-stereotypes-of-liberals-and-conservatives/

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/haidts-moral-intuition-vs-ethical-reasoning/

  45. Willard says:

    As a side note, I will observe that the liberal-conservative frame can’t even be imported in Canada without modification. Modeling moral issues on a specific bipartism is a very big limitation.

  46. Joshua –

    “Just wondering if you have any links to any kind of meta-analyses (the last link does kind of serve that function).”

    I don’t offhand know of a meta-analyses ideology and the Openness trait. This is an area that has seen a ton of research. Trait research goes back to earlier last century, and a lot of it is cross-national. The focus on ideology-focused research, however, has been more recent.

    One of the criticisms of trait research is the argument that the theory it is based on is biased. There has been much research to test these criticisms. For example, some conclude that Openness needs to be separated into different aspects, as it is unsurprising to correlate Openness to intelligence when the trait is defined by that which contributes to intelligence. There has been a move toward analyzing the sub-traits to find what is directly relevant in particular correlations.

    It’s also good to keep in mind that the strength or weakness of the correlations are relative and to some extent situational. Liberals, for example, were more strongly supportive of Bush’s policies after 9/11 if they saw videos of the attack, but liberals who didn’t see videos maintained more of their liberal-mindedness. Threat perception has a major impact on traits like Openness. Researchers have noted that it is easier to make a liberal into a conservative than the other way around. Fear is a powerful force.

    I did a few web searches to see what I could find. There have been some meta-analyses. I also include few others that caught my attention.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00668.x/full

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656612001158

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656609001822

    http://ejop.psychopen.eu/article/view/672/html

    http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Political%20Ideology__Its%20structure,%20functions,%20and%20elective%20a.pdf

    http://contracabal.com/PDF/Jost-1.pdf

    http://pps.sagepub.com/content/3/2/126.short

    http://davesource.com/Fringe/Fringe/Politics/Conservatism-and-cognitive-ability.pdf

  47. Raff,
    Thanks.

    Victor,

    How big the problem is and what to do about it depends on the reasons for the political bias. Is there any information on that? The Edge article was lacking in that respect.

    Yes, that was my impression too. It’s one thing to identify that there are more people with a particular political leaning in some area; it’s another to work out why, or to establish that this is necessrily an issue.

    Something thay struck me is that in the UK we know that there is a decrease in the fraction of women in the physics sciences as you progress through the different career stages. There is a larger fraction in the undergraduate population, than in the graduate population, which is again larger than anongst postdocs, etc. So, you can see a definite drop off. Given that I can think of no reason why women wouldn’t be as capable as men of carrying out research in the physical sciences and teaching in the physical sciences, I think this is something worth understanding and addressing. Do they see something similar with conservatives?

  48. Joshua says:

    Benjamin –

    ==> “What makes them conservative? Is it just a cultural identity as with someone who still attends church even though they lost faith long ago?”

    My pet theory is that cultural/social identity is more explanatory for findings of “values” or “morals” differences along ideological lines than actual differences in “morals” or “values.” By that I mean that even though on some survey intended to assess values, I might come across as answering a set of questions differently than a libertarian or conservative, but in real life practice – say in taking care of my family or how I treat my neighbor, there would be relatively less difference in how our values and morals are manifest. The reason for the differing results on the survey are at least somewhat explainable by certain social/identity cues identified with certain issues more than underlying moral or value principles.

    I come about this because over the past couple of years in Internet discussions I’ve run across so many people who mistakenly reverse engineer from my political positions to wrongly interpret my morals of values. And I believe that I see that a lot in exchanges between others (running on both sides of most issues).. I’m very dubious of these taxonomies of moral and values and even psychological or cognitive attributes, in association with political ideology, for largely that reason. Not to say that I think that they have no value, but intuitively feel that they tend to be way overstated.

    Did that explanation make any sense? Any thoughts?

  49. Joshua says:

    Geez. Thanks, Benjamin –

    But just two or three would have sufficed. 🙂

  50. Joshua says:

    Benjamin –

    Just started reading your blog posts. Interesting stuff. Thanks. Much of it helps to concretize much of my reaction – and in particular, much of my reaction to Haidt’s stuff about “microagressions” – (which, in my thinking so far seems to me to suffer from lack of empirically-based definitions, lack of reference to more universal characteristics like motivated reasoning, identity protective cognition, or reputational threat, a rather facile willingness to identify “trends” without clear, longitudinal data.

    I keep thinking of how 30 or 40 years ago, someone objecting to the Confederate flag flying over a Statehouse would be the version of Haidt’s caricature of college students as being intolerantly, self-victimizing in response to unintended and insignificant insults, with the significantly harmful outcome of being unable to face the real world after being “coddled.”

  51. izen says:

    @-ATTP
    “Given that I can think of no reason why women wouldn’t be as capable as men of carrying out research in the physical sciences and teaching in the physical sciences, I think this is something worth understanding and addressing.”

    This is a pattern seen in a number of other fields. As so often there are a number of explanations for which evidence has been sought, so there is support for;-
    1) Oppressive male patriarchy. (Rosalind Franklin?)
    2) Women prefer to devote more time to life (including child-rearing) in a socially shaped choice about their work-life balance.
    3) In most mammals, including humans, phenological variety is greater in males than females. Traits like height, weight, mathematical ability… etc have a wider ‘bell curve’ for males than females. There are more geniuses and risk takers, but more morons and suicidal socially inept.
    So there are more borderline semi-autistic obsessives who will devote their life and career to cosmological arcania among males than females.

    These ‘explanations’ may not be mutually exclusive.
    (grin)

  52. Joshua –

    “But just two or three would have sufficed.”

    Well, just focus on the first two or three, in that case. Ha! I do tend to like to throw out more than enough data, just to be as clear as possible about what I’m talking about. It is a fascinating and confusing field, the more you look at the data. But it easily gets overly simplified in discussing it in the comments section of a blog.

    “My pet theory is that cultural/social identity is more explanatory for findings of “values” or “morals” differences along ideological lines than actual differences in “morals” or “values.””

    Your pet theory makes intuitive sense. It is a valid and worthy hypothesis that someone should test. The challenge, however, is that it is easier to test individuals than to test the social context within which individuals live. Fully getting at the social cues would not be a straightforward endeavor.

    We aren’t necessarily all that far apart in our views. I’ve learned to be wary about all such data. Still, it fascinates me. There are patterns there that seem significant, whatever they might mean.

    “Did that explanation make any sense? Any thoughts?”

    I’m not sure I have anything important to add. I do write about these kinds of things in my blog, from time to time. I bet we could have many interesting discussions.

    I’ve been developing my own pet theory in recent years. My thinking has shifted away from a focus on personality research and theory. Here is my most recent foray into what I’ve come to call symbolic conflation, something I see as central to the link between conservatives and liberals:

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/why-are-you-thinking-about-this/

  53. izen,
    I’d never heard 3) before.

    Joshua,
    Can you explain this a little more. I’m not quite getting what you’re suggesting

    I keep thinking of how 30 or 40 years ago, someone objecting to the Confederate flag flying over a Statehouse would be the version of Haidt’s caricature of college students as being intolerantly, self-victimizing in response to unintended and insignificant insults, with the significantly harmful outcome of being unable to face the real world after being “coddled.”

  54. Joshua –

    “Much of it helps to concretize much of my reaction – and in particular, much of my reaction to Haidt’s stuff about “microagressions”…”

    I forgot about Haidt’s writings on “microaggressions.” I don’t have a well articulated opinion on the matter. But I noticed these comments that make some good points:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/greg-lukianoffs-story/399359/#comment-2186938393

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/greg-lukianoffs-story/399359/#comment-2223411440

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/greg-lukianoffs-story/399359/#comment-2219716570

    I would point out that political correctness is used across the spectrum. Those making accusations of it are often trying to hide their own guilt or complicity. According to the theory of the reactionary mind, Corey Robin would predict that the reactionary right would increasingly use an adapted form of political correctness, if they found it to be effective, which seems to be the case.

    Then again, I’d argue that political correctness is hardly a new thing. Public censure and suppression of free speech used to be the norm. We now complain about political correctness for the very reason there is less of it today and so we’ve become sensitized to it.

    In case you’re interested, here is some analysis of the problems of political correctness:

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/culture-of-paranoia-culture-of-trust/

    Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness
    by John L. Jackson

    “Given this newfangled reckoning of American racism’s potentially cloaked animosities, the white man’s newest burden is hardly lightened by political correctness—just as black people’s deepest racial suspicions are only bolstered by America’s current penchant for dressing up every ideological position (no matter how reactionary or elitist, partisan or self-interested) as simply another better version of egalitarianism. […]

    “The demonization of public racism is clearly a social and moral victory, but it has come at a cost. Political correctness has proven tragically effective at hiding racism, not just healing it. In sacrificing noisy and potentially combative racial discussions for the politeness of political correctness, we face an even more pernicious racism, a racism that’s almost never explicitly declared, except among the closest of confidants. But as the “White Like Me” skit’s lampoon shows, people recognize the fact that racism might be even more effectual under the cover of color blindness and rhetorical silence.”

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/racecraft-political-correctness-free-marketplace-of-ideas/

    Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
    by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields

    “In the controversy over Dr. James D. Watson’s remarks in London, some of his defenders charged his critics with a “politically correct” retreat from science, insisting that good science requires a free marketplace of ideas . Researchers must be free, they implied, to salvage the old bio-racist ranking of superior and inferior races, regardless of the collapse as science of its core concept, race. But it is doubtful that those foes of political correctness would wish to rehabilitate that part of bio-racism that once identified inferior white races. […]

    “Consistent application of the “free marketplace of ideas” principle today would restore to bio-racism and eugenics the respectability they once enjoyed. Instead, “inferior white races ” vanished from the lexicon of bio-racism, to rematerialize outside its purview as “ethnic” groups. The “shiftless, ignorant, and worthless” white people vanished altogether. No one attributes to political correctness the demise of bio-racism as applied to white persons. So, the free-marketplace-of-ideas apologia for Watson’s bio-racism as applied to black persons turns out to be a familiar interloper, the practice of a double standard.”

  55. izen says:

    @-ATTP
    “I’d never heard 3) before.”

    Its the attempt to invoke biological determinism to legitimise reason 1)

  56. Eli Rabett says:

    There is enough evidence of plasticity and stupidity in IQ scores to make Eli doubt them as markers of social categories. For example, Russian born Jews were the lowest scorers on the tests given by the US Army in WWI, and Catholics in Northern Ireland score well below Protestants.

  57. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> ” Can you explain this a little more. I’m not quite getting what you’re suggesting”

    Are you aware of the explosion in discussion about “microagressions?” If you aren’t, I’ll give some needed background.

  58. Joshua,
    No, I’m not familiar with that. I’ve been trying to work through some of Benjamin’s comments, but it’s been a long day working in the garden, and I’m rather tired.

  59. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> ““Given that I can think of no reason why women wouldn’t be as capable as men of carrying out research in the physical sciences and teaching in the physical sciences, I think this is something worth understanding and addressing.””

    The interesting question for me is the relative explanatory power of the issues that izen raises as an explanation for real world differences in gender proportionality in academia, as compared to the other issues such as those raised here:

    “…Gender equity in school enrollment, women’s share of research jobs, and women’s parliamentary representation were the most powerful predictors of cross-national variability in gender gaps in math. Results are situated within the context of existing research demonstrating apparently paradoxical effects of societal gender equity and highlight the significance of increasing girls’ and women’s agency cross-nationally.”

    http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-136-1-103.pdf

    “…Even nations with high overall gender equity (e.g., the Netherlands) had stronggender-science stereotypes if men dominated science fields specifically. In addition, the relationshipbetween women’s educational enrollment in science and implicit gender-science stereotypes was strongerfor college-educated participants than participants without college education. Implications for instruc-tional practices and educational policies are discussed”

    http://www.academia.edu/8976288/Womens_Representation_in_Science_Predicts_National_Gender-Science_Stereotypes_Evidence_From_66_Nations

    My guess is that izen’s #3 (i.e., biological determinism) is probably a pretty weak explanation – although his #3 might be more relevant for gender disparities in stratification of faculty hierarchy within academia (although probably not as much as some, like Summers and Haidt, seem to believe).

  60. Eli Rabbet –

    All that means is that IQ scores are caused more by environmental factors than by genetic factors.

    You can only detect genetic factors in populations where environmental conditions have been vastly improved (e.g., for the upper classes in developed countries). Most of the improvements in IQ so far have come from changes in envrionmental conditions, from better nutrition to decreased toxic exposure, from better education to more public resources.

    That is something many IQ researchers, including Flynn, have acknowledged. Flynn, in particular, has observed that IQ has been increasing in numerous populations. It actually has increased the most among the populations that are now or were relatively more poor and disadvantaged. Changing environmental conditions is why, for example, Jews of Russian ancestry have had such a major IQ shift. As for Northern Irish Catholics, as with American blacks, there is a legacy of centuries of prejudice and conflict.

    All of this is well known by IQ researchers. They understand many of the mechanisms behind why various populations score the way they do. A big factor in recent decades has been the regulation of lead pollution and use of lead in products, which disproportionately effected the poor and minorities.

    None of this is a criticism of IQ tests. All that IQ tests do is demonstrate the development of particular cognitive abilities. But they aren’t designed to explain the causes of and changes in IQ disparities, just to measure them. As such, IQ tests can be used as indicators and proxies in determining various correlations and their causal implications.

    I would agree and many IQ researchers would agree that IQ tests aren’t useful as markers of social categories. But ideologies mean more than mere social function. Ideological labels have been shown to correlate to various psychological traits.

    To what degree those are caused by social factors or something else is a complex debate. There is some research that shows social environments have influence on cognitive development. It leads one to wonder how different ideological groups create different social environments, such as when conservatives intentionally concentrate and segregate themselves into suburbs.

    There are many well-researched correlations. But precisely what is causing what?

  61. izen says:

    @-Joshua
    “My guess is that izen’s #3 (i.e., biological determinism) is probably a pretty weak explanation –”

    My guess is that it is a serious category error to think that biological determinism arising from gender dimorphism can be separated from social-cultural factors as explanatory. Its the Nature/Nurture error revisited.

  62. Ron Graf says:

    If we agree different subjects stimulate men versus women, on average, to different degrees, and we agree that masculinity-femininity is a spectrum that spans both sexes, might we agree this explains some types of segregating influences. And, those who do not carry the predispositions of another group have difficulty in empathizing with the different values those predispositions are based upon. For example, men often see women as having a more sensitive disgust response due to their response to seeing bugs or rodents. But this may simply be due to a predisposition for increased hygiene due to their biological role as child care givers.

    Benjamin says that it is scientifically proven that conservatives have a heightened disgust response, as can be seen, for example, by their revulsion of homosexuals. (BTW, I list myself as a conservative and have no revulsion of homosexuals, aborted fetuses, or dispatched rodents, though I believe the last two are not morally equivalent.) I am an electrochemical engineer, so I guess I fit the demographic of “anti-science” climate denier. If you asked me why I was not interested in academics I would say that I wanted to use education as a tool to solve problems and create new ingenious ways to solve problems. I teach only those whom I feel are worthy by their demonstrated interest and qualification. My wife is a teacher. She teaches the same book lessons to anyone countless times. Both are important contributions to society; I have interest in just one of them. I suppose some conservatives view those who choose academic vocations as getting their stimulation from using education as a power tool to influence people. And, I suppose to the degree influence turns to control this is what the term “liberal elitist” comes from. Maybe predisposition to academics is related to some elitism, regardless to causality. Maybe being a libertarian has appeal only if you are not feeling compelled to control other’s political behavior and beliefs. Maybe that is why campuses are having a tough time from keeping their faculty and student bodies from censoring on campus speech. I know my thoughts have bias. The question is who thinks their thoughts are not biased? Those are the ones us science-loving folks fear.

  63. Joshua says:

    OK, here goes. It’s a huge issue and I’ve been spending way too much time online, so I’ll try to keep it brief but that will be tough.

    The issue of free speech on campus, and “microagressions,” and “trigger warnings” has blown up recently here in the States. Haidt has been a fairly key participant.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

    Basically it goes like this: A Caucasian-American goes up to a Latino-American and asks them where they were born. That is interpreted as an aggression – an implicit statement that the Latino-American is inherently less a viable American than the Caucasian American (who would, presumably, never be asked that question). The Latino American goes on line to denounce how she was treated and to collect community support for being targeted unfairly.

    This has become a very fertile ground for talking about power-imbalance and related issues of free speech, and has become highly politicized. The concept of microagressions has been linked to “trigger warnings” and occurrences like Condoleezza Rice being disinvited to speak on a college campus because of protests about her politics, and objections being raised about using the word “nigger” when discussing Huck Finn, etc.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opinion/sunday/judith-shulevitz-hiding-from-scary-ideas.html?referrer&_r=2

    The right wing sees in this a perfect example of the intolerance of the leftwing and the tyranny of the majority… with the net effect of free speech being under attack and universities losing their status as being a place of free exchange of ideas.

    https://www.nas.org/images/documents/A_Crisis_of_Competence.pdf

    (Keep in mind, that although that link was posted at Judith’s, some people do consider the orginators of that document to be “advocates.”)

    So…

    The complaint about “microagressions,” speaking broadly, is that it’s a bunch of whiny, privileged, liberal college students who are raising incredibly insignificant, perceived slights to ridiculously high levels of importance, and in so doing, are bullying innocent people who never intended any insult or aggression, and that the net effect is that this movement on campuses (by students who are aggressively responding to microagressions) is the vanguard in an assault on the very foundations of the academy and the very roots of the first amendment.

    My comment about the Confederate flag was to suggest that maybe the reaction is just a tad overwrought (Haidt has linked to and responded very favorably to an analysis that identifies this trend as a social evolution into a new culture – the “victim culture”)… and that while some of this stuff may indeed be going over the line, it is basically noise amidst the signal of a larger trajectory of greater social equality. In other words, if the same sociological frame were used to look at the issues about the Confederate flag, many of the people who in in today’s frame support bringing the flags down and also see doom and gloom from the “microagressions” movement, could have applied the same analysis 20 or 30 years ago to the flying of the flag on statehouses: Those objecting to a statehouse flying the flag in 1995 would have been whiny liberals and African Americans who were taking offense to people merely expressing pride in their heritage, and that lobbying the public to bring the flags down would represent an unacceptable infringement of freedom of expression and a sign that spoiled and hypersentive self-victimizers were being coddled at the expense of principles of the founding fathers.

    My point was that the potential overreach on some college campuses, sometimes, should be placed into the larger context of how society has been changing over time instead of being viewed in an alarmist isolation.

    Not to mention, that what’s taking place on college campuses is insignificant by orders of magnitude compared to the level of financial and social resources that are devoted to concerns about “microagressions” against the more dominant sectors of our society, such as white male Christians prattling on about the discrimination of the “war on Christmas” because someone wished them a “Happy Holiday.”

    Geez. That was hard to encapsulate. Don’t know if I made it coherent or not.

  64. Joshua says:

    izen –

    ==> “My guess is that it is a serious category error to think that biological determinism arising from gender dimorphism can be separated from social-cultural factors as explanatory.”

    I agree. It’s a false dichotomy. I’m saying, however, that when viewed in isolation, the biological determinism that you referenced, IMO, doesn’t have much explanatory power – particularly w/r/t the question of hiring overall (as compared to levels of status).

  65. Joshua,
    Thanks, that was very clear. I guess one issue I have with that whole premise is what do you define as “free speech”. Does campaigning for someone to not be allowed to speak on a campus qualify as free speech, or not? In a sense, it’s campaigning to stop someone else from speaking, but only at a location, not everywhere. Personally, I think campuses should be open to all sorts of ideas, and open to all sorts of views being expressed. However, playing the free speech card in this context seems a little ironic. Of course, they can criticise those who campaigned against a speaker, but putting it into the context of free speech seems like an over-reaction.

    Of course, maybe I’m biased, given that people whining about censorship whenever I delete a comment rather ticks me off 🙂

  66. Joshua says:

    Benjamin –

    Just now reading your 5:07. I see that we touched on some of the same issues (although you more succinctly). If you don’t stop linking soon, I won’t get anything done for the next month.

  67. Joshua says:

    I agree that much of the “free-speech” agonizng is drama-queening. Everyone loves a slippery slope. Much of what is seeing as an attack on free speech is more a shift in whose free speech is being valued.

    As usual, you make good points.

    But….having worked in the academy myself, there are some disturbing issues w/r/t closing of dialogue among those who disagree. I can certainly envision times when I challenged students in some ways fundamental to their identities (most of my work there was specifically with minority, immigrant, and under-represented demographics) that I can see could have played into a reaction that could have lead to my being censored not entirely dissimilar to some of the examples of more extreme reactions to microagressions.

    So I really do think that there is some work to be done to figure out how differing perspectives on this can be reconciled. My biggest issue is with how it seems that some folks are trying to leverage these issues to pursue pre-existing idiological agendas (with recognition, of course, that I’m doing the same).

  68. Joshua,

    So I really do think that there is some work to be done to figure out how differing perspectives on this can be reconciled.

    Yes, I agree. Understanding these kind of things would indeed be interesting.

    My biggest issue is with how it seems that some folks are trying to leverage these issues to pursue pre-existing idiological agendas (with recognition, of course, that I’m doing the same).

    Yes, that describes one of my issues too.

  69. Joshua says:

    One of the biggest ironies is the ideological alignment between many of those who have concerns about the politically correct, self-victimizers on college campuses and those who are “skeptical” about climate change.

    Geez, with the whole RICO thing, it’s “we’re all a bunch of victims here” 24/7 in the “skept-o-sphere over the past couple of days.

  70. Gator says:

    ATTP: your problem is that you take these people seriously, and consider this as a “scientific” problem (i.e. something to be honestly investigated) and they consider this a political problem (i.e. one more way to push their agenda.)

    What does it even mean to be “conservative” these days? In the USA, this apparently means you are batshit crazy. No wonder scientists don’t self-identify as a conservative. That’s a far cry though from academia being staffed by godless Stalinists.

  71. Eli Rabett says:

    Benjamin D,

    All that means is that IQ scores are caused more by environmental factors than by genetic factors.

    You can only detect genetic factors in populations where environmental conditions have been vastly improved (e.g., for the upper classes in developed countries). Most of the improvements in IQ so far have come from changes in envrionmental conditions, from better nutrition to decreased toxic exposure, from better education to more public resources.

    Exactly Eli’s point, although you must also acknowledge that IQ gaps are used by “conservatives” as a justification for denying better nutrition, decreased toxic exposure, better education and more public resources to social groups they do not favor.

    The Haidts of the world call out IQ gaps as macro-aggressions.

  72. Eli Rabett says:

    One of Donald Trump’s types goes up to a Latino American and asks where he was born.

    You just fall off the turnip truck bucky?

  73. Searching for D.H. Lawrence’s Things, I stumbled upon this fascinating website:

    I shall argue that white genocide is actually happening. There are people in positions of power who are promoting policies that they know will lead to the extinction of the white race. Unless, of course, we stop them.

    http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/09/white-genocide/

    We need more arguments of that kind in psychology.

    Because, bias.

  74. Izen –

    I agree that the Nature/Nurture debate is pointless. There is no separation of genetics from environment, not to mention epigenetics, Junk DNA, chimeras, etc. That said, we can differentiate specific factors and discern specific correlations and even directions of causality.

    Since you mention gender and mathematical ability, I would bring up Claude M. Steele’s research. He has studied stereotype threat and wrote an insightful book about it. When stereotype threat was neutralized, women did as well as men on math tests, which brings up the issue of gender bias in fields where mathematical ability is required. Research found similar results for minorities with academic testing and whites on sports testing. Not all of the disparities are explained by stereotype threat, but a surprising amount of it is.

    That is just one environmental factor among multitudinous known and unknown environmental factors. That doesn’t even touch upon the complex interrelationships with all the other factors mentioned, genetics and beyond. I recently saw a great example of the unclear relationship of genetics to expressed ability.

    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140905-the-women-with-super-human-vision

    The article is about a rare ability caused by genetics. I could imagine someone using it as evidence for biological determinism. It’s one of those rare cases where a gene correlates to something so specific.

    However, I noticed one thing that demonstrates the complexity of genetics.

    “This is a particularly poignant issue for Antico. Thanks to the random draw of the genetic lottery, the particular gene variant that gave rise to her amazing vision has meant that her own daughter is colour blind.”

    So, apparently the same genetics led to almost polar different results for mother and daughter. One gained extra color vision and the other lost it entirely. Many factors contribute to how genes are expressed and the expression can lead to diverse results.

    A while back, I came across another interesting piece of data related to gender. It shows that gender patterns found in one population can be quite different from that of another. It isn’t always males who are disproportionately found at the cognitive extremes. It depends on the population and the environment in which that population lives.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/unseen-influences-race-gender-and-twins/

    The Bell Curve Wars
    by Steven Fraser

    “A remarkable phenomenon commented on in the Moynihan Report of thirty years ago goes unnoticed in The Bell Curve–the prevalence of females among blacks who score high on mental tests. Others who have done studies of high-IQ blacks have found several times as many females as males above the 120 IQ level. Since black males and black females have the same genetic inheritance, this substantial disparity must have some other roots, especially since it is not found in studies of high-IQ individuals in the general society, such as the famous Terman studies of high-IQ children, which followed these children on into adulthood and later life. If IQ differences of this magnitude can occur with no genetic difference at all, then it is more than mere speculation to say that some unusual environmental effects must be at work among blacks. However, these environmental effects need not be limited to blacks, for other low-IQ groups of European or other ancestries have likewise tended to have females over-represented among their higher scorers, even though the Terman studies of high-IQ individuals from the general population found no such patterns. One possibility is that females are more resistant to bad environmental conditions, as some other studies suggest. In any event, large sexual disparities in high-IQ individuals where there are no genetic-or socioeconomic-differences present a challenge to both the Herrnstein-Murray thesis and to most of their critics.

    “Black males and black females are not the only groups with significant IQ differences without any genetic differences. Identical twins with significantly different birth weights also have IQ differences, with the heavier twin averaging nearly nine points higher IQ than the lighter one in some studies.’ This effect is not found where the lighter twin weighs at least six and a half pounds, suggesting that deprivation of nutrition must reach some threshold level before it has a permanent effect on the brain during its crucial early development.”

  75. O. Bothe (@Geschichtsposten) chipped in the Heterodox debate, writing what I would also write as a naive natural scientist: Why not?

    Orthodox academic biases and heterodox rectification? What?

  76. Ron Graf –

    “Benjamin says that it is scientifically proven that conservatives have a heightened disgust response, as can be seen, for example, by their revulsion of homosexuals.”

    Social science isn’t about declaring absolutes. The research is about patterns of cognitive behavior, general predispositions, averages across specific populations, correlations to varying degrees of strength, rules with many exceptions. What it is not about is individual people, rather the aggregate of individuals in a particular sample, ideally as representative as possible. This is basically the same for when speaking about ‘heritability’ in genetics.

    “(BTW, I list myself as a conservative and have no revulsion of homosexuals, aborted fetuses, or dispatched rodents, though I believe the last two are not morally equivalent.)”

    It also isn’t necessarily about conscious beliefs and statements. Much of this research looks for biases, responses, and brain activity that is mostly or entirely unconscious. Scientists have various ways of measuring behaviors and tendencies: third party observers, brain scans, physiological indicators, eye tracking, etc.

    “If you asked me why I was not interested in academics I would say that I wanted to use education as a tool to solve problems and create new ingenious ways to solve problems.”

    I should point out that I’m not in academia. However, my conservative parents were both in education, my father was a professor and my mother a public school teacher. I don’t have strong personal opinions about academia—although on general principle I support education, largely because of my conservative parents’ influence.

    “I suppose some conservatives view those who choose academic vocations as getting their stimulation from using education as a power tool to influence people. And, I suppose to the degree influence turns to control this is what the term “liberal elitist” comes from. Maybe predisposition to academics is related to some elitism, regardless to causality.”

    A unique argument. I’ll give you that. I’d have to something more than speculation, though. There are plenty of academics, like my father. There are many conservative colleges and conservative departments where conservative research would be welcome. Your hypothesis should be tested, but until then it is just speculation, not that there is anything wrong with that.

    I think it would be more accurate to say that what you refer to is just elitism. It can be found in many sectors of American society. There has always been a special brand of elitism in America and it cuts across the political spectrum. I doubt elitism is found to a greater degree among academics than elsewhere. Academics, in the big picture, have neither immense wealth nor immense power, especially as tenure as become less common. Whatever elitism academics may have, it is fairly small scale. The increasingly non-academic administrators of universities have much more influence in decisions made and in the atmosphere created.

    “Maybe being a libertarian has appeal only if you are not feeling compelled to control other’s political behavior and beliefs. Maybe that is why campuses are having a tough time from keeping their faculty and student bodies from censoring on campus speech.”

    You actually will probably find libertarians in academia as a greater percentage than you will find in the general population. I mentioned my academic father who is not only a conservative for he also has a libertarian bent. Of course, my father was a professor in the conservative field of business management. I inherited some libertarian thinking from my discussions with him, and it is based on my own libertarian tendencies that I defend against both biases and false accusation of biases. I don’t favor political correctness, whether done by the left or the right.

    “I know my thoughts have bias. The question is who thinks their thoughts are not biased? Those are the ones us science-loving folks fear.”

    If we are to be fair, we’d have to admit that most well educated people are above average in their awareness of issues of biases and their danger. Many college courses are specifically about teaching critical thinking skills. That isn’t to say that knowing about biases makes one free of all biases. It’s just knowledge to be used.

    The main purpose of the scientific method is go guard against potential failures, limitations, and problems. There are many researchers, specifically in the social sciences, who spend their entire careers studying biases. Some have even studied biases in science itself. That is science at its best.

    By the way, there are many scientific researchers who are employed outside of academia in various institutions, private and public, for-profit and not-for-profit. For example, at least millions of dollars go to scientists who are critical of anthropomorphic global warming. There used to not be a consensus in the support of AGW and now there is, but it took decades of research to come to this point. That is how science works.

    I’m not sure what more can be expected.

  77. izen –

    I overlooked an earlier comment by you. I like what you had to say.

    “Medical research, especially pharmaceuticals, is notorious for the repeated offences of hidden data, statistical manipulation and unwarranted conclusions.”

    That does seem to be the case

    “I doubt the disproportionality of secular liberals to religious conservatives is any less in clinical research than in other fields of science, but the distortion in the research is not driven by political ideology in this case, it is entierly finacialy motivated.”

    There is the problem of money as a powerfully motivating factor for motivated thinking. But it goes further than that. It isn’t just that there are plenty of biases in that field, but more importantly that most doctors aren’t well trained in dealing with those biases. That is because most doctors are simply trained to be doctors, not researchers. It isn’t their area of expertise, even though many are drawn to do research for various reasons.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/flawed-scientific-research/

    This is particularly problematic for certain areas. In medical research, folk categories of races are used as ways of collecting data. These categories are taken as assumptions, but never tested for there is really no way to test them, as they don’t fit present scientific knowledge.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/race-realism-social-constructs-and-genetics/

    This implicit race realism is a bias, but it certainly isn’t liberal. Of course, most conservatives never complain about these kinds of biases, because they too take these biases without question. Heck, race realism is such a central bias of our entire society, even many moderate and mainstream liberals don’t go very far in questioning any of it. This is significant considering that minorities are underrepresented in science and medicine.

  78. Victor,
    Oliver’s post is interesting. I agree that diversity is generally good and that we should be trying to ensure that we aren’t biasing what we choose to research and what we find interesting. However, is political ideology one that we should be focusing on? As someone pointed, the balance in a country can change in a timescale shorter than a typically academic career. Why just academia? What about the finance sector. If it is just to try and open up research areas that are being ignored, then it may be a fine, but if the implication is that there is an actual bias in the research itself, then adding a different set of biases seems the wrong way to resolve this.

  79. Why just academia? That is one step wider: One of my questions above was why just the social sciences? I see no need to limit this to academia; diversity is often a good idea in a knowledge society where blind spots and black swans can be fatal to your organization and reduce its contribution to society.

    In this case the answer would be, I think, because of the benefits for academia. Having blind spots may be even more important for science than for other institutions.

    How important it is, and what you would thus be willing to do, will depend on the field of study. I would expect that diversity is less important for scientific progress in the natural sciences than in a social science.

    The Edge mentioned an example of a graduate student who had voted conservative who got an email from his professor for every US soldier who died in Iraq. That kind of bullying is completely unacceptable. Stopping that would benefit diversity in every aspect. A no regret measure.

    It is not just about political diversity, and when it comes to political diversity there is much more than just two warring fractions in the USA. In science a diversity of skills and educational backgrounds is important. Other personality traits could be important. Especially extroverts are underrepresented in science, while they are important, if only to connect the introverts.

    I am not thinking of quota’s for conservatives, but at least some vigilance would be good. No idea where in this middle we should aim for. Conservatives will stay a minority in biology in the USA as long as they have trouble with evolution. Even if some of them claim to be able to use evolution as a tool on the job, while being creationist in private, that will decrease the quality of their work.

    I know a colleague from Serbia who thinks that global warming is a NATO conspiracy (the conspiracies need to be adjusted to the local culture). But his own work he does well. I see no problem that he sees global warming as a conspiracy in private, even if he would likely be more effective if he did not have troubles with reality.

  80. Victor,

    In this case the answer would be, I think, because of the benefits for academia. Having blind spots may be even more important for science than for other institutions.

    Yes, which is what I was trying to get at with the point that if people want to encourage more conservatives (for example) to consider academic careers, that may be a very good thing. However, I do think that how this is addressed has to be very different to how we might address something like gender balance.

    Maybe my issue is partly related to how they framed some of their solutions. It seems to be putting the onus on those currently in academia to be more mindful and to encourage participation by those with alternative viewpoints. Okay, but what about just getting out there and encouraging conservatives to consider such careers. I find it very difficult to understand how there can be an explicit bias against conservatives given that I’ve rarely – if ever – been aware of someone’s political views when involved in recruitment. Maybe it’s different in the US, but even there it didn’t seem obvious how there could be an explicit bias against conservatives.

  81. Victor,

    The Edge mentioned an example of a graduate student who had voted conservative who got an email from his professor for every US soldier who died in Iraq. That kind of bullying is completely unacceptable. Stopping that would benefit diversity in every aspect. A no regret measure.

    I agree with this absolutely. However, I suspect that this is an example of how academia can be very bad at dealing with bad behaviour in academics, rather than necessarily something specific to non-conservatives.

  82. Vinny Burgoo says:

    A quick google suggests that there are currently only three ‘Deans of/for Diversity and Inclusion’ at British universities and that two of them share the one job – so really there are only two. What’s more, there seem to be no Chief Diversity Officers in British academe.

    Is this a good thing?

    If there were more diversity & inclusion deans and CDOs, would there be more political diversity in British social science departments?

    Less?

    If less, would that be a symptom or a cause?

    Discuss. Both sides of the paper, which must be recycled and recyclable.

  83. Vinny,
    I don’t think that political ideology is a protected characteristic in the UK. I really doubt that any inclusion officers at UK universities are dealing at all with political diversity. I even have some memory of being told, during a meeting about diversity, that discriminating on the basis of someone’s political views is in fact not covered by discrimination law. This appears to be consistent with this, which says

    The law against discrimination because of religion or belief does not cover purely political beliefs unless they are also philosophical beliefs.

  84. Vinny Burgoo says:

    ATTP, British courts have in the recent past found that poltical views can be so deeply held that they should be treated as religious views. See, for example, this:

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/nov/03/tim-nicholson-climate-change-belief

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/cif-green/2009/nov/05/tim-nicholson-climate-change-philosophy

    OK it’s the only case I know of, but if a leftie’s* wishy-washy angst about climate change can be pinned down as legally equivalent to a religion by a British judge then why shouldn’t conservatives’ angst about all sorts of things be treated similarly under the law?

    ===
    *Nicholson’s next job was with 10:10.

  85. Vinny,
    I think that arguing that people whose views about society are so strong that they’re akin to religion would be a benefit to Social Science research, might be quite a difficult argument to make.

  86. Vinny Burgoo says:

    I forgot to mention the political–>philosophical part of the political–>philosophical–>religious thing re Nicholson. Just assume that it’s there. Thanks.

  87. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Er, do you read social science much?

  88. Vinny,
    If your point is that they’re already there, then that still doesn’t mean that more of it would be a benefit.

  89. Vinny Burgoo says:

    You’re right. It wouldn’t.

    As you were.

  90. mt says:

    To the extent that the cluster of ideas currently calling itself “conservative” (a misnomer in my opinion) is explicitly anti-intellectual, it is hardly a surprise that it is under-represented at the academy. Indeed, if anything is surprising it is how well-represented it is. Anyway, in my opinion these are not your grandfather’s Tories.

  91. Pingback: Free speech in academia | …and Then There's Physics

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