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.