Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NY Times Finds Bias Against Conservatives in the Academy

New York Times, Social Scientist Sees Bias Within, by John Tierney:

Some of the world’s pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80% of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40% of Americans are conservative and 20% are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.” ....

For a tribal-moral community, the social psychologists in Dr. Haidt’s audience seemed refreshingly receptive to his argument. Some said he overstated how liberal the field is, but many agreed it should welcome more ideological diversity. A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10% conservative by 2020.

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Doesn't this ONLY demonstrate that perhaps social science attracts liberals more than conservatives? If you count "diversity" as including political perspective, then yes, there is less of it amongst these conferees, but it doesn't necessarily mean discrimination. People self select their fields of study, profession, etc. Opportunity also plays a big role.

I'll bet there are other qualities social scientists share amongst themselves...introversion, etc.

Posted by: elotrolado | Feb 18, 2011 1:52:40 PM

@ reality bites:

I would love to see you find a credible and unbiased source for your following inflammatory and false generalization: "Also, liberals are smarter (atheism and liberalism both correlate with IQ and education levels), actually look at facts and data, and want to change things for the better." Please try to refrain from such comments here on TaxProf Blog, for it does not add anything to the conversation.

@ George W:

I agree 100% with your post. Thank you for the incite.

Posted by: Kona | Feb 8, 2011 11:27:39 AM

@ Porcupine

The comparison of conservatives to minorities is absurd. The wealthiest and most powerful people in our society have nothing in common with oppressed minorities.

Rich conservatives / libetarians dominate virtually all aspects of our economy and government. The United States is off-the-charts right-wing compared to the rest of the developed world. It is also of course, off the charts in terms of inequality and lack of social mobility.

But the powers tha be are not satisfied controlling 99% of the country. They want to control academe and thought too. How Orwellian.

Posted by: reality bites | Feb 8, 2011 9:04:29 AM

The reason there are so many liberal academics is that liberals actually care about things besides money. The conservatives have all gone into finance, health care, energy,military contracting, real estate, telco, and other profitable sectors of the economy.

Also, liberals are smarter (atheism and liberalism both correlate with IQ and education levels), actually look at facts and data, and want to change things for the better.

Why become an academic if you think everything is fine, the US does everything right, and all of the answers to life's mysteries are contained in the bible or the collected works of Ayn Rand? It doesn't make for scintillating research.

Posted by: reality bites | Feb 8, 2011 8:59:22 AM

A broad range of opinion is great but there should be no pressue to hire someone with discredited ideas or crackpot notions, either of the right or the left, in business or in education, just because they are "under represented". Many people should be: flat earthers, holocaust deniers, 9/11 conspiracy nuts, luddites...the list of the crackpot is endless. Leave then where they belong, on the margins and talk radio.

Posted by: George W | Feb 8, 2011 8:23:33 AM

It looks like Captain Obvious (NY Times) has struck again!

Posted by: dtc | Feb 8, 2011 8:20:07 AM

I'm fascinated how the exclusion of conservatives is justified by the same means that were used to exclude women and minorities when I was in law school. They're not that smart, the argument goes, or they simply have other interests; and besides, aren't there other spheres that they dominate? The most effective discrimination is always that no one notices.

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 8, 2011 6:38:50 AM

And I'm sure there is no bias against liberals at the Chamber of Commerce, corporate boards, etc. I'm sure they really welcome anyone who wants corps to pay their fair share of taxes, or who oppose 500-1 pay differentials between CEOs and average workers.

Posted by: Porcupine | Feb 8, 2011 5:23:31 AM