Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Krugman & Freakonomics on Bias Against Conservatives in the Academy

Following up on this morning's post, NY Times Finds Bias Against Conservatives in the Academy:

NY Times (The Conscience of a Liberal), Ideas Are Not The Same As Race, by Paul Krugman:

Every once in a while you get stories like this one, about the underrepresentation of conservatives in academics, that treat ideological divides as being somehow equivalent to racial differences. This is a really, really bad analogy.

And it’s not just the fact that you can choose your ideology, but not your race. Ideologies have a real effect on overall life outlook, which has a direct impact on job choices. ...

It’s particularly troubling to apply some test of equal representation when you’re looking at academics who do research on the very subjects that define the political divide. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?

Now, I don’t mean to say that political bias in the academy is absent, although it’s not consistent: I can well imagine that it’s hard to be a conservative in some social sciences, but in economics, the obvious bias in things like acceptance of papers at major journals is towards, not against, a doctrinaire free-market view. But the point is that doing head counts is a terrible way to assess that bias.

NY Times (Freakonomics), Should We Be Surprised at Political Bias in Academia?, by Stephen J. Dubner:

The lack of diversity isn’t actually “statistically impossible” in a self-selecting group. But that of course is the point. How can it be that an academic field is so politically homogeneous? What kind of biases does such homogeneity produce? What sort of ideas get crowded out? And how homogeneous are other disciplines?

I have to say that I was surprised at the overt political (leftward) bias exhibited by several prominent economists at the recent American Economics Association meetings, although my sample set was quite small.

It is interesting — and sobering — that two fields, psychology and economics, that we rely upon to describe and amend bias in the world are themselves so susceptible to bias within the ranks of their practitioners.

Legal Education, News | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Krugman & Freakonomics on Bias Against Conservatives in the Academy:


"...a tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency..."

I can believe this, but not in the way Krugman meant it. He is not a smart as he thinks he is about most things outside of his economic areas, and from what I hear, maybe not so smart about things inside them either. His thought processes have wandered into the realm of delusional wishful thinking.

I always found a higher representation of conservatism and libertarianism amongst practicing engineers and scientists. They also were more willing to test their hypotheses and beliefs against reliable data, and revise them if necessary. In academia, there was always a stronger liberal/progressive bent among the science faculty, engineering less so; though mostly they tried to keep politics out of the classrooms.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Feb 10, 2011 9:37:50 AM

This follows just a couple of weeks after the news of an astronomy prof getting a large settlement from U. of Kentucky for having been denied a job for his religious views.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Feb 8, 2011 7:36:01 PM

In economics, which is my field there is fact based economics and faith based economics. Fact based economics relies on empirical studies, objective analysis, data collection, and the integrity of peer reviews and has pretty much passed the test of time.

Faith based economics relies on ideology that is generally unsupported by studies, research, analysis and instead depends upon one's particular political views.

I think this is the bias that is being detected in studies like this. You just don't find many economists who support unregulated capitalism in academia, since all of the facts, experience, data, studies and historical perspectives show that it does not work. Similarly you do not find many scientists who believe the Earth was created a couple of thousand years ago, and that man and dinosaurs co-existed in tenured positions.

As has been often quoted, but rarely followed, "you are entitled to your opinion, you are not entitled to your facts".

Posted by: Sid (real one) | Feb 8, 2011 5:46:02 PM

The mocking tone that often greets conservatives (see two comments up) is, once again, almost identical to that which greeted women and minorities 30 years ago. I remember a conversation with the then Yale dean about this precise issue. We'll bend teaching needs to hire women and minorities, he said, but we won't compromise our academic standards. We would hire women if they were as good as men. So far, we just haven't met any.

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 8, 2011 2:58:14 PM

Paul Krugman: The unrest in Egypt is the result of global warming (which is caused by white conservative capitaists in the United States).

Paul Krugman joins the crowd who think that they can see the signal of greenhouse emissions in noisy, short-term data on food prices, and then construct a chain of causality to the ongoing unrest in the Middle East. Such tenuous claims of attribution have about as much scientific standing as Pat Robertson saying that Hurricane Katrina was the result of the vengeful wrath of God.

Here is what Krugman writes today:

[T]he evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we’re getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we’ll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come.

Posted by: Woody | Feb 8, 2011 2:31:13 PM

Oh, I thought all this liberal "diversity" stuff was about getting a diversity of ideas rather than racial or gender preferences. So, maybe, in the manner of John Kerry, Krugman was for diversity before he was against it...or, he's for whatever suits his needs at the moment.

While Krugman says that one "may choose your ideology," as a conservative, one better not admit it at many universities if you want to get and keep a job.

And, how stupid of him to claim that scientists, liberal of course, only can understand and make judgments on global warming. I can read charts as well as the next guy, but I don't rely on government grants when I'm doing it, and there are still enough objective scientists who can call it correctly when the numbers are being fudged.

Posted by: Woody | Feb 8, 2011 11:28:40 AM

I recently was shocked to learn that Ministers and Priests all have similar ideologies: a belief in the principal tenets of Christianity. One might think that there were some Buddhists, Moslems, Jews, Confucians, and people of other ideologies would be in the fold of Ministers and Priests. Why aren't they present in a meaningful amount at functions officiated by Ministers and Priests. Any why are they not allowed to become Ministers or Priests?

Many minorities in this country have overcome bias to become reasonably represented in many professions in America. Buddhists, Moslems, Jews, Confucians, and people of other ideologies (and women of any ideology) who would have been shunned by law schools and white shoe law firms 50 years ago (or less). Somehow, by the 21st Century, all these people can go to virtually any school they want to and they were and will be hired by virtually any law firm (that is, of course, when law firms hire again).

This "woe is me" I'm a conservative and being shunned by the academy is self-pity. Do you think all the people above got into law school and law firms with a "woe is me" attitude? Some had to start their own firms, some had to press on and on to get into law school or to break the barrier to white shoe land. So take your huge tax cuts and spend the money on forming law schools that have you point of view or have a variety of views to create a competing dialog. I'm sick of hearing people with $500 shoes and $2,000 suits complain about no conservative views on campus. Do something! (I recognize that many conservatives are not rich, but neither are many liberals. The point being that those with the cash need to put their money where their mouth is. At least Rupert Murdoch, like him and product or not, does this.).

Posted by: tax guy | Feb 8, 2011 11:20:12 AM

I am fascinated with the virtual singular focus on the academy on these lack of political diversity issues. How about focusing on other institutions such as the military where the officer corp is about 90% Republican and very conservative? Never once have I heard a peep about doing something about this. I do not make such a suggestion and am happy to let the marketplace produce the results that it does in the military, the academy and a the rest of the economy. I find it peculiar that those who most embrace marketplace results are anxious to tinker in one segment of the economy only.

Posted by: Bill | Feb 8, 2011 10:28:49 AM