by Massimo Pigliucci
The latest from University of Virginia cognitive scientist Jonathan Haidt is that people holding to conservative values may be discriminated against in academia. The New York Times’ John Tierney — who is usually a bit more discriminating in his columns than this — reports of a talk that Haidt had given at the conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (this is the same Society whose journal recently published a new study “demonstrating” people’s clairvoyance when it comes to erotic images, so there). Haidt polled his audience and discovered the absolutely unastounding fact that 80% were liberal, with only a scatter of centrists and libertarians, and very, very few conservatives.
“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” said Haidt, noting that according to polls, 40% of Americans are conservative and only 20% liberal. He then went on to make the (truly astounding) suggestion that this is just the same as discrimination against women or minorities, and that the poor conservative academics are forced to live in closets just like gays “used to” in the 1980s (because as we all know, that problem has been solved since).
I have criticized Haidt before for his contention that progressives and conservatives have a different set of moral criteria, implying that because progressives don’t include criteria of “purity,” in-group loyalty and respect for authority, their moral spectrum is more limited than that of conservatives. My point there was that Haidt simply confuses character traits (respect for authority) with moral values (fairness, or avoidance of harm).
As far as this new controversy goes, there are so many ways to make fun of it that I’m having a hard time not indulging in a Jon Stewart moment about it. I will refrain from taking that easy route, but suppose that — as I think is highly probable — the overwhelming majority of people with high positions in Wall Street hold to libertarian or conservative views. Would Haidt therefore claim that liberals are being discriminated against in the financial sector? I think not, because the obvious and far more more parsimonious explanation is that if your politics are really to the left of the spectrum, the last thing you want to do is work for Wall Street in helping make the few outrageously rich at the expense of the many.
Similarly, I suspect the obvious reason for the “imbalance” of political views in academia is that the low pay, long time before one gets to tenure (if ever), frequent rejection rates from journals and funding agencies, and the necessity to constantly engage one’s critical thinking skills naturally select against conservatives. (Okay, the last bit about critical thinking was a conscious slip that got in there just for fun.)
I have spent decades (gulp!) in academia, and I have rarely seen open discussions of political views over lunch, and never (I repeat, never) in faculty meetings or during hiring interviews. I have never (I repeat, never), either in the sciences or in the humanities, seen a candidate’s political views come into into consideration for hiring, and in fact I have never known anyone of my new colleagues’ views on politics until much later, if we became friendly enough to discuss them over a beer (and let me tell you, my experience is that biologists and philosophers rarely talk about anything other than biology and philosophy with colleagues anyway).
What about Haidt’s claim that “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”? I’d say that if that is the only reason their minds jump then they don’t know how to do their work (hmm, perhaps that explains the publication of articles on ESP in their leading journal...). But I seriously doubt that is what’s going on, and I suspect that Haidt is either an incompetent psychologist (not likely) or is disingenuously saying the sort of things controversial enough to get him in the New York Times (more likely).
A serious social scientist doesn’t go around crying out discrimination just on the basis of unequal numbers. If that were the case, the NBA would be sued for discriminating against short people, dance companies against people without spatial coordination, and newspapers against dyslexics. Claims of discrimination are sensibly made only if one has a reasonable and detailed understanding of the causal factors behind the numbers. We claim that women and minorities are discriminated against in their access to certain jobs because we can investigate and demonstrate the discriminating practices that result in those numbers. Haidt hasn’t done any such thing. He simply got numbers and then ran wild with speculation about closeted libertarians. It was pretty silly of him, and down right irresponsible of Tierney to republish that garbage without critical comment. Then again, the New York Times is a known bastion of liberal journalism...
I was more troubled by Michael Shermer's several uncritical, unskeptical tweets on twitter decrying the "liberal bias" of social science as a result of the article.ReplyDelete
It is very convenient to ignore a problem when that isn't a problem for us personally. You claim that the case of discrimination can't be based on the "numbers." Perhaps not exclusively, but when the numbers are so incredibly imbalanced -- society is only 20% liberal -- then only denial will prevent us from smelling a rat.ReplyDelete
Besides, there have been so many cases of hiring and viewpoint discrimination that have already come to light. Do we simply deny them:
"Haidt is either an incompetent psychologist (not likely) or is disingenuously saying the sort of things controversial enough to get him in the New York Times (more likely)."ReplyDelete
A third possibility is that he is spring-loaded to see bias. Isn't that a liberal characteristic? ;-) I would favor that explanation over the desire to be quoted, because who wants to be quoted saying something foolish?
Manns World wrote:ReplyDelete
Rightly so, when those views demonstrate an incompetence in their professions. Both Gaskell and Gonzalez allowed their religious beliefs to take precedence over scientific understanding.
Or, another possibility is that the modern conservative movement is growing increasingly shrill and dismissive of academia; mocking serious science, calling economists "pinheads" and declaring that the opinions of Sarah Palin carry as much intellectual rigor as a president who was a Harvard Law Student, and studied constitutional law?ReplyDelete
If their in-group disapproves of academia, conservatives may be bowing to peer-pressure to stay away from going into something that may hurt their political future.
There can be many explanations for why the polled professors are overwhelmingly left of center. Another may be the well-known bias of reality.
"Similarly, I suspect the obvious reason for the “imbalance” of political views in academia is that the low pay, long time before one gets to tenure (if ever), frequent rejection rates from journals and funding agencies, and the necessity to constantly engage one’s critical thinking skills naturally select against conservatives. (Okay, the last bit about critical thinking was a conscious slip that got in there just for fun.)"ReplyDelete
Let's try replacing "gender" with "political views" and "science" with "academia" and see how offensive that sounds.
"Similarly, I suspect the obvious reason for the “imbalance” of gender in science is that the low pay, long time before one gets to tenure (if ever), frequent rejection rates from journals and funding agencies, and the necessity to constantly engage one’s critical thinking skills naturally select against women. (Okay, the last bit about critical thinking was a conscious slip that got in there just for fun.)"
This may be an apples with oranges issue, but my point is that your language is a tad bigoted, using stereotypes rather than evidence to make your case that academia selects against conservatives. There are plenty of conservatives that are not greedy and are good at critical thinking and you've just lumped them all into a one-size-fits-all stereotype to justify their absence in academia. Why are liberals so ultra-sensitive when it comes to language like that in regards to gender (recall the Larry Sommers affair), but let that same language slip through when talking about conservatives? Inconsistency. That's what I took from Haidt's comments.
Liberals don't want a diversity of perspectives. They just want VISUAL diversity. They are mistaking the symptom (homogenous traits) with the disease (a lack of different perspectives). Given that psychology spends millions of dollars of funding on implicit racial bias research and hardly any on gender differences says something about the political slant of the system. Massimo, while you may have experience in academia, the problem is with PSYCHOLOGY not philosophy or biology. The truth is that PSYCHOLOGY is an all-out liberal love fest and this is very problematic for a field that purports to give us unbiased information about humanity.
"Liberals don't want a diversity of perspectives. They just want VISUAL diversity....The truth is that PSYCHOLOGY is an all-out liberal love fest and this is very problematic for a field that purports to give us unbiased information about humanity."Delete
For starters, Massimo suspects the imbalance in academia is due to certain factors. His main point is that the fact that academia is comprised of mainly liberals doesn't necessarily mean something underhanded is going on. Also, your complaint about stereotyping should be self directed, being that several sentences later you say, "Liberals don't want a diversity of perspectives. They just want VISUAL diversity".
"The truth is that PSYCHOLOGY is an all-out liberal love fest and this is very problematic for a field that purports to give us unbiased information about humanity."
What is the difference between 'liberal' and 'conservative' study of psychology? Your claim is odd and unclear without, at the very least, a distinction.
Largely agree. I am likewise mystified that we need an explanation for such non-explanation-demanding phenomena as few conservatives being in social psychology.ReplyDelete
Manns Word: to post links in blogspot you can use standard html "a href" tags.
As to your examples, two of them are troubling. However, the question of what we mean when we say some group "is persecuted" would be very much clarified by this excellent article.
A biology department isn't the best place to observe the ideological skew. I've been reading Thomas Sowell's Intellectuals and Society, which I highly recommend to anyone who's interested in this topic. He notes that academic departments in fields with higher political salience consistently skew further to the left.ReplyDelete
The fact that you don't feel you've "seen" bias could itself be an example of your bias. Most of us (I include myself in this) would like to think our views are just normal and obvious, so if we're in a milieu where those views aren't questioned and are considered to go without saying, well, that's not a problem; it's only natural that smart, educated people would agree on the obvious.
"A serious social scientist doesn’t go around crying out discrimination just on the basis of unequal numbers." Of course, you're exactly right about this. Unfortunately, this point is often not heeded.
You have links to three stories on your own website. Of these, only the first is even remotely relevant to the issue of active discrimination against conservative faculty members at Universities.
That first link has exactly *two* stories of faculty being “discriminated” against because of their “conservative” beliefs. One of these, the case of Iowa State University astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez’s tenure case, is presented in a wildly misleading light. First, the facts of the case make clear that Gonzalez was not in fact an obvious candidate for tenure but for his views on ID – his publication record since being hired at ISU was weak, he had gotten no major grants, had gotten limited observation time, failed to graduate a reasonable number of PhD students, etc. etc. Second, he included his book on ID *as part of* his tenure package, and so its scientific value was in fact “fair game” as part of the decision.
In the other case, Martin Gaskell’s not being hired by the University of Kentucky, Gaskell, as you noted, won an out of court settlement. The facts in the case are of course unclear, but it is possible that Gaskell was passed over for the position because of his religious views, and that is certainly why the University settled. It is more likely that he was passed over not for his religious views, but for his publicizing his views on the links between his science and his religion, views that are wildly at odds with our best science. The fear expressed by the faculty member you quote rather out of context started with her noting that his website, linked from his current position's official page, has lectures on reconciling a somewhat literalist interpretation of the bible with science, and continues “If we hire him, we should expect similar content to be posted on or directly linked from the department Web site.” While making a hiring decision on the basis of religious beliefs in this context would be impermissible, making a decision on the basis of someone to be hired by a science department regularly posting misleading pseudo-scientific material on their website would seem not to be.
Continued from previous:ReplyDelete
What about your other two links? One of them purports to be about students being dismissed from academic programs on the basis of their beliefs. Let’s look at them. In the case of Julea Ward she was *not* dismissed for refusing to change her beliefs. Despite claims to the contrary, she admitted under oath that no one had asked her to change her beliefs. What she was asked to do was abide by the program requirements, which reflect ACA and other psychiatric associations’ rules, that she effectively counsel people regardless of their race, gender, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. and be able to effectively separate her own beliefs from her treatment plans. She continually refused to counsel people on matters related to “homosexuality,” which amounted, in her mind, to refusing to counsel any openly homosexual clients at all. Someone who refused to counsel “Christians” would, I take it, also be removed from the program, as would someone who refused to counsel “blacks” or any other group. And Jennifer Keeton’s case? Exactly the same, and the court dismissed it on the same grounds. Sorry, but you don’t get to graduate from an accredited counseling program in the U.S. if you think that homosexuality is morally wrong, a choice, and refuse to separate your personal beliefs from your treatment plans. Duh.
The other link is to a story about a university in Canada where the student organization denied funding to a student group that promoted an anti-abortion stance, on the grounds that the student association had a policy against discrimination that included the rights of women to abortion. This is a tricky case, balancing fair funding of student groups against the legitimate desire of student organizations, and the University as a whole, not to fund organizations whose main purposes they believe to involve the systematic oppression of other people. But it is key to note that the organization, while defunded, would still be permitted to use University space for its activities – it wasn’t banned from campus, just not funded. Again, whether this was in fact the right balance to strike is certainly debatable. But it isn’t an obvious case.
So, in support of your contention that universities really do discriminate against “conservatives” you’ve provided three links, all of which involve religion rather than political beliefs per se, and none of which shows an obvious bias at work.
Why are most university professors “liberal”? Not for the most part because conservatives are discriminated against, but because conservatives tend, on average, to choose life-paths that don’t involve working long hours for low pay, and forgoing or delaying starting families. In those academic fields with the highest pay (business, engineering), we in fact see higher percentages of self-identified political conservatives.
This is a cutting criticism, but I ask, Massimo: did you really have to add "(Okay, the last bit about critical thinking was a conscious slip that got in there just for fun.)"?ReplyDelete
"Claims of discrimination are sensibly made only if one has a reasonable and detailed understanding of the causal factors behind the numbers."ReplyDelete
Under current law, claims of discrimination can be made on the basis of "disparate impact".
"We claim that women and minorities are discriminated against in their access to certain jobs because we can investigate and demonstrate the discriminating practices that result in those numbers."
Many who claim women are thwarted from math and physics by sexism seem unable to cite specific acts of discrimination or discriminatory practices. They, instead, claim unequal outcomes are the result of a general climate of indirect bias.
Massimo, I think Tierney has a problem with gender gap issues, he had a few other columns where the main argument was that women are underrepresented in science because of innate biological differences between the sexes. I think he thinks he is "open minded" because he is fighting "political correctness".ReplyDelete
I am posting a link below to an article in Ms. magazine that in turn links to two of his NYT articles in which he explains his views. I think if you read those two Tierney articles you'll be less surprised at this most recent article.
Rightly so, when those views demonstrate an incompetence in their professions. Both Gaskell and Gonzalez allowed their religious beliefs to take precedence over scientific understanding.//
I think that you're proving my point. You have dismissed these men merely because of their religion and charge them with "incompetence" based upon your supposition that they must be incompetent if they don't share your worldview.
John, I like the way you expressed the failure of many to see discrimination.
It comes down to this: "If they don't hold my worldview, they must be incompetent. This isn't discrimination; it's just enlightened professional discernment."
What a capacity we have to justify our ugly!
As evidence the Times article quotes a "student" (it doesn't say what level) as writing:ReplyDelete
“Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished."
The idea that one would know how research will turn out before you do it is a symptom of something wrong, but not of bias.
Universities are just as conservative as they are progressive (I once heard Stanley Fish called a conservative, I was like, wha?). The problem is that universities operate in an international context, whereas Haidt is questioning academics in a national context. Because the United States is ridiculously conservative by international standards, their university populations seem oddly left wing, and of course they will appear to gravitate toward the left domestically.ReplyDelete
If Haidt wants a problem to tackle, he should wonder why the United States is domestically so far from the international mainstream. Or wonder how to dominate the world with his brand of conservatism. You know, whichever floats his boat.
CVC - "Under current law, claims of discrimination can be made on the basis of "disparate impact"."ReplyDelete
No, under current law, a *protected class* of people, one to which "strict scrutiny" applies, need not show intent to discriminate but rather merely the disparate impact of policies in order to sue. "Conservatives" are not a "protected class" in this sense (neither are "liberals").
Mann - "I think that you're proving my point. You have dismissed these men merely because of their religion and charge them with "incompetence" based upon your supposition that they must be incompetent if they don't share your worldview."
No, we call them incompetent because in one case, he'd basically stopped doing serious science in his field, and started doing crappy non-science in another, different field, and in the other case, because it was clear to his potential colleagues that he would embarrass them by associating their department with non-scientific religious views masquerading as science.
If your religious beliefs are such that you refuse to accept e.g. evolutionary theory, the approximate age of the earth, the basic structure of the solar system, the periodic table, or any other basic and straightforward facts about the world, and your refusal to accept those facts affects your work, and your work is judged to be poor on that basis, you aren't being "discriminated" against because of your "viewpoint."
"creationism" and/or ID aren't legitimate scientific 'viewpoints' on which there is any serious debate -- they are views held only because of religious convictions and which are, in both law and common sense, regarded as non-science. Likewise, the idea that homosexuality is a 'sin,' morally wrong, etc., is held only because of religious convictions, and has no scientific or other basis (indeed, has to the best of my knowledge no basis in any moral system not derived from religious texts).
James, I think the leftism our academics embrace mirrors that of European academics. Our leftists and their leftists transit back and forth across the Atlantic.ReplyDelete
continued from above:ReplyDelete
One can be a devoutly religious person and do good work in sciences. One probably can't be a devout biblical literalist of the 'young earth' variety and do good work in biology. That's just life -- if you decide to play a different game, one that doesn't take scientific practice and evidence seriously, you don't get to play with the scientists.
And, as it turns out, there is in fact good research on why conservatives don't *tend* to go on to get PhD's, and hence don't *tend* to go on to try to get faculty jobs. People identifying as conservative or far right on the political spectrum are far more likely to rate being well off financially as an important consideration in their career choice (speaks against being a faculty member in the arts and sciences), and far more likely to rate raising a family as very important (speaks against getting a PhD and going into academics generally). People identifying as conservative or right leaning are far less likely to enter college planning to pursue a doctorate, and remain far less likely as they move through their college education. (for a summary of some of this research, from indeed a conservative perspective, see:
Until relatively recently (1960s), active discrimination against women and people of color was common and (mostly) legal at colleges and universities. Social conservatives in the U.S. have not, and do not, suffer anything like discrimination in that sense. Policies put in place to try to ameliorate those historic wrongs are also about trying to make fields more welcoming to people that had historically been actively prevented from joining those fields. Again, nothing like this applies in the case of conservatives.
Let's be clear: what no one has done in the comments yet is find *any* case in which someone at a research university was persecuted for their 'ordinary' conservative or right-of-center views (as opposed to for mixing religion and science, or for refusing to fulfill the requirements of their field). You *can* find cases where people were persecuted for their far-far-'left' views (Ward Churchill) or for their far-far-'right' views (Philippe Rushton). But these cases are clearly outliers, and usually end up with the 'persecuted' person doing OK in the end... But that's another issue. Really, for all the talk of the liberal university silencing the conservative viewpoint, articles with conservative viewpoints still seem to get published regularly by mainstream journals. Do many 'social conservatives' get hired by e.g. departments of "Gender Studies"? No. Do many economic 'liberals' get hired by business schools? No. Within Gender Studies departments, there is an *assumption* that certain goals are worth pursuing, and certain goals are bad; the arguments over those goals take place between that kind of Department and other academic and social groups, not within the Department. Within MBA programs, there is an *assumption* that certain goals are worth pursuing, and that other goals are not; the arguments over those goals take place between the MBA program and other academic and social groups. We still expect, and are right to expect, that these groups will treat each other, and perhaps especially students (no matter what those students' views), with respect. But the fields themselves are limited in the perspectives they take in, by the very nature of the fields.
Manns Word said..ReplyDelete
"You have dismissed these men merely because of their religion and charge them with "incompetence" based upon your supposition that they must be incompetent if they don't share your worldview."
No, I have dismissed these men because their views were at odds with the scientific worldview, a worldview that these men were supposed to teach.
Sure, but everyone transits everywhere, and American political theory is very influential. American pragmatism, for example, may actually be more popular in Europe than it is in America. Rawls' influence continues to rival Habermas'. While the American conservative movement doesn't really have ideas. It's more about nationalism, religion, and realpolitik. It's really a domestic movement.
Massimo, I want to take issue with your assertion that the academy is extremely apolitical.ReplyDelete
I remember a math professor I had had leftist poltical cartoons all over the door to his office. One of them was claiming that the reason solar energy was not deemed economically feasible in 1979 was because of a conspiracy of the big oil companies.
An experimental psych class I took in 1981 was taught by prof Elliot Aronson, and he wrote the textbook for the course, "The Social Animal". In this book, he psychoanalyzed every opinion that was deemed conservative at the time and concluded that each and every one of them was psychologically dysfunctional. Fortunately, most of the class was taught by a grad student so I did learn a lot of fascianating things about experimental psych. In the one lecture taught by Aronson, he spent the whole time railing against the evils of capitalism. I thought the guy was a disgrace. I can't see how a conservative grad student could possibly have survived under him.
At Caltech, I remeber the president of the school and some of the other faculty being very vocal about their opposition to the Reagan arms buildup.
That said, I do think most of the difference between the political views of the academy and those of the population as a whole are mostly the result of selection bias. People who believe that the free market is a just and efficient system will leave school once they have marketable skills and enter the private sector as soon as they can. Also, I think that economics and business professors are probably more conservative and in their economic, though not their social, politics than professors in other disciplines, and this is due not to selection bias or discriminaion but rather to a more accurate understanding of the relevant issues.
“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community.” It must be bad if a psychologist has to resort to anthrobabble instead of psychobabble. "Tribal moral community"? Give me a break. Ditto for the self-pitying comparison to racism and sexism.ReplyDelete
Otherwise the problem that immediately leaps out at me are the assumptions that US citizens are (a) a homogeneous group with political opinions distributed evenly through that group and (b) psychologists are drawn randomly from that group. Psychologists may be drawn from a class that tends to be more liberal (urban middle class, something like that) .
There is also the problem that certain disciplines will tend attract people with certain beliefs. For example, if you sincerely believe in "America, f*ck yeah!" you are probably not going to go into anthropology. It's self-selection not "discrimination." Economics departments and Business programs will probably also skew politically (and not necessarily to the Left).
Has anyone tried to get the far more relevant data: how does the proportion of conservatives among applicants for academic positions compare to the proportion of conservatives among successful applicants for academic positions?ReplyDelete
Surely this information would settle a lot of the back-and-forth above.
Of course, it may not be easy to get an unbiased sample of applicants. Conservatives who feel discriminated against may not want to reveal their conservatism in a survey while applying for academic jobs. This would make the proportion of conservative applicants seem lower, which would tend to underestimate any actual hiring bias that may be present.
Another bit of information that may be informative would be longitudinal data. Do conservatives tend to become more liberal after time in academia? If so, that might account for some of the apparent disparity. It would, of course, also spawn a whole new set of controversial theories:
- social pressures cause people to shift their political allegiance
- critical thinking (of the sort presumably encouraged in academia) leads people to more liberal positions (ie, liberals are more correct than conservatives)
- scientists are secretly conducting widespread conservatectomies on members of the academic population
Anyone fancy taking on this research project?
@Jonathan - "No, under current law, a *protected class* of people, one to which "strict scrutiny" applies, need not show intent to discriminate but rather merely the disparate impact of policies in order to sue. "Conservatives" are not a "protected class" in this sense (neither are "liberals")."ReplyDelete
There are plenty of local laws that cover political affliction and speech under discrimination. And of course religion is covered under the EEOC - not that it would apply to a bio teacher attempting to teach ID - it doesn't and should NOT. I am not saying this represents discrimination. I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of bias and disparate impact out of hand.
Good points and well put.
But for the most part, the language of disparate impact versus intent applies to federal case law and to a lesser extent state law rather than local statutes.
And of course, strict scrutiny just demands that there be a compelling state interest in the policy. Beating disparate impact likewise just demands a compelling business interest not addressable by other policies having a lesser impact.
O.k., acting as devil's advocate here - I'm very left wing compared to most on this blog, but only slightly. A study into the effect of political influence on hiring practices is complicated by the fact that it is a system of steps...
1) do well as an undergraduate
2) do well as a masters student
3) do well as a phd student
4) get hired at a university, and do well
5) get tenure
...and this is an oversimplification!
At every step of the way, participants are encouraged or discouraged by a strange minutia of factors that can sometimes seem perverse.
If you want to make an argument against discrimination, you have to overcome, at every stage, an atmosphere of discouragement.
I have never seen any "political test" in hiring or promotion at my university, just as Massimo says has been his experience. True, we have always rejected those dumber than a sack of hammers. If that happens to correlate with political views, and selects against the right-wing, who is surprised? We don't hire ham-fisted pianists either, despite their claims that we are discriminating against their two-tone (low-high) music because we discriminate against ham-fistedness. No: we just think they should actually learn to play the piano. Ditto for the right-wing: you are not discriminated against in academia because you are right-wing, but because what you write, say, and believe is just demonstrably stupid.ReplyDelete
This is fun fenomenon. Conservatives are fond on nostalgic superiority. They count religious geniusses in past times. And this proves to them that christianity is scientific worldwiev and christian history is a reason why we have fine scientific and technological society.ReplyDelete
There is no even a word about discrimination...
Not exactly sure what point you are making, but yes, certainly, the "pipeline" from entering undergraduate student to faculty is long and complex.
It is possible that phenomena of the sort that lalawawa notes discourage some conservative students from continuing their careers, or disadvantage them in subtle ways. Of course, even if it is true that university faculty tend, on average, to be significantly more liberal than the population as a whole *and* that they "display" some of their political views in their choice of cartoons and political speech, etc., there have been, in every academic department I've been a part of, more conservative faculty members, too. And at every university I've been at -- not every department, mind you, but at every school -- there are conservative faculty members who make it a point to put conservative cartoons on their doors, too.
But even if university campuses were, in general, not friendly to conservative viewpoints and hence uncomfortable for conservative students, that still wouldn't be a similar experience to a campus being uncomfortable for e.g. homosexual students or black students. The reason is simple -- conservatives are, broadly speaking, not discriminated against nor disadvantaged in other areas of their lives. So frankly, they don't really "need" an especially "safe" place in which they are protected from being made a bit uncomfortable.
The argument that conservatives are under-represented on college campuses and hence some kind of remediation is necessary presumes that conservatives in the U.S. -- who are, for the most part, used to being in the most privileged and advantaged groups -- should be able to maintain their status at the top, immune from being made uncomfortable or having to confront views different from their own.
Protected groups are generally protected *because* they are generally *disadvantaged* -- trying to make workplaces, university campuses, etc., more welcoming is important *because* society in general usually isn't, and past real harms demand enforced responses. That doesn't apply to conservatives (or, for that matter, to liberals).
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
A good article from Practical Ethics on this very topic.ReplyDelete
Thanks for posting, Ian: indeed, the Practical Ethics article was clear, logical, fairly complete- as opposed to Mr. P's, which was decidedly and casually ad hominem, that started off with ridiculing that seemed to stem from attitudes developed during a previous treatment of Haidt-generated ideas. The ridiculing itself seemed the point. Maybe Mr. P should be forgiven for taking a break, for providing entertainment instead of enlightenment that particular day.Delete
I thought Haidt's final response quite useful, though quite off-topic of the original, because it dealt with the limits of rationality in the context of being maligned by a fan of rationality. Mr. P's cursory response to end the dialogue was unfortunate, because I think his well-considered opinions on the failings and risks of rationality would've been useful.
Even the Practical Ethics article missed the broader question implicit in Dr. Haidt's weakly argued conjecture: is there hidden a priori discrimination in academia along liberal/conservative lines? The question is pertinent because we are seeing evidence apart from Haidt's moral work that liberal/conservative differences are merely parenthetically political, that they are more fundamental, as seen in robust personality correlates using a variety of personality models, as well as twin studies that point to a large genetic component to political difference, and a host of random-seeming behavioral contrasts.
There have been comments here and there on this blog that liberal/conservative is a U.S. phenomenon, but that is almost certainly incorrect, as there is great meta-analysis work showing very similar polarization, across a center, in many cultures of the western world (I know of no research about the East). The book The Big Sort is a very interesting demographic and sociological meditation on this point. In my own case, I think it highly likely that I have discriminated against conservatives when hiring through personality/behavioral-based bias that highlighted them to me as not optimal. That is just speculation, but it dovetails with other evidence of fundamental difference, as well as the evidence of my staff's political proportions.
Academic discrimination may be a natural fallout of this broad delineater. The value of such research may go back to Mr. P's absent final comments: the right has a great sensitivity to what they see as blatant employment of Descarte's Error by those on the left to prove their points. I haven't seen academic evidence, but I've gathered a lot of apocrypha and personal observation of inflexible, bias-driven rationality by the left, and am personally convinced of the significance of the problem. I believe the so-called New Athiests especially guilty of it: they often sound no more balanced than Lenin did as he crowed his social solutions in the years before he abruptly stutter-stepped the message circa 1922. Conservatives usually say this distorted rationality is their chief complaint about liberals (I interview them in the context of political communication research). Usually it is expressed simply as "Liberals think they are so smart", but examples make clear their distrust of our version of rationality, which they think makes us blind to our own versions of the biases we see so clearly in them. Academia would provide a great laboratory to look for liberal discrimination because nearly every non-conservative institution is leftward biased among the teacher population, in nearly all fields.
Liberal rationality abuses would rather neatly explain part of a problem in which we assume implicitly, glibly to be further evolved than conservatives because of our respect for science. That implicit assumption often pulls me out of conversations nowadays to meta levels. Makes me think of how many mirrors and angled lights I'd have to drag into the bathroom to get even a crummy look at my bald spot. It's ok though, because the wife, she tells me it ain't bad at all.
I am sure that you have never asked anyone about their politics in a hiring interview, etc. But let me ask you if you could tell what my politics might be from my publications:ReplyDelete
Essay – “The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts”– Studies in Emergent Order, Vol. 3 (2010): 195-211
Essay – “From the Sensory Order to the Moral Order: Bridging Hayek to Hayek (Part I)” – NOMOI, Vol. 1 (2010): 3-5
Book Review – Roger Scruton “Beauty” – Philosophical Practice, Vol. 4.3
Book Review – Craig Dove “Nietzsche’s Ethical Theory: Mind, Self and Responsibility”– Philosophical Practice, Vol. 4.1
Book Review – Lou Marinoff “The Middle Way” – Philosophical Practice, Vol. 3.2
Article – “Interdisciplinarity versus Multidisciplinarity” – Time’s News:
Essay Reprint – "Literature as a Game: Game-Play in Reading, Creating, and Understanding Literature” – Esophy
Essay – "Literature as a Game: Game-Play in Reading, Creating, and Understanding Literature” – Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, Volume 7 Number 2, August 2006
Book Review – Madison Jones' “Nashville 1864: The Dying of the Light” – Bibliophilos
Or my conference presentations:
Short Story – "For the Love of Orchids" – USM Cross-disciplinary Seminar, Spring 1999
Essay – "Hubris: The Virtuous Vice" – International Society for the Study of Time Conference, August 2007
Essay – "Spontaneous Order and Emergent Phenomena: An Interdisciplinary Approach" – Fund for Spontaneous Orders Conference, “Orders and Borders,” Nov. 2008
Colloquium – Liberty Fund, “F. A. Hayek,” June 7-12, 2009
Essay – “The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts” Fund for Spontaneous Orders Conference, “Organization and Emergence: Tensions and Symbiosis,” Dec. 3-6, 2009
I also list popular publications on my C.V. that would make it even clearer what my politial orientation is.
With pubilcations that include articles on F.A. Hayek, what are the odds that I'm going to get an interview at all from a humanities department? You don't have to wait for me to get there to discriminate against me.
On a more light-hearted, not-too-rigorous note, conservatives prefer their people simple.ReplyDelete
Dear Prof. Pigliucci:ReplyDelete
Let me be certain that I have understood you. You did not watch my talk, even though a link to it was embedded in the Tierney article. Instead, you picked out one piece of my argument (that the near-total absence of conservatives in social psychology is evidence of discrimination) and you made the standard response, the one that most bloggers have made: underrepresentation of any group is not, by itself, evidence of discrimination. That’s a good point; I made it myself quite explicitly in my talk:
"Of course there are many reasons why conservatives would be underrepresented in social psychology, and most of them have nothing to do with discrimination or hostile climate. Research on personality consistently shows that liberals are higher on openness to experience. They’re more interested in novel ideas, and in trying to use science to improve society. So of course our field is and always will be mostly liberal. I don’t think we should ever strive for exact proportional representation."
In my talk I made it clear that I’m not concerned about simple underrepresentation. I did not even make the moral argument that we need ideological diversity to right an injustice. Rather, I focused on what happens when a scientific community shares sacred values. A tribal moral community arises, one that actively suppresses ideas that are sacrilegious, and that discourages non-believers from entering. I argued that my field has become a tribal moral community, and the absence of conservatives (not just their underrepresentation) has serious consequences for the quality of our science. We rely on our peers to find flaws in our arguments, but when there is essentially nobody out there to challenge liberal assumptions and interpretations of experimental findings, the peer review process breaks down, at least for work that is related to those sacred values. (The great majority of work in social psychology is excellent, and is unaffected by these problems).
The fact that you criticized me without making an effort to understand me is not surprising. That is common in the blogosphere (although I rarely see it among philosophers). Rather, what sets you apart from all other bloggers who are members of the academy is what you did next. You accused me of professional misconduct—lying, essentially–and you speculated as to my true motive:
"I suspect that Haidt is either an incompetent psychologist (not likely) or is disingenuously saying the sort of things controversial enough to get him in the New York Times (more likely)."
As far as I can tell your evidence for these accusations is that my argument was so bad that I couldn’t have believed it myself. Here is how you justified your accusations:
[Your blog only accepts comments of up to 4,000 characters. To see the rest of my response, please go to http://www.yourmorals.org/blog/2011/02/haidt-requests-apology-from-pigliucci/ ]
It's funny and a bit sad to see the blind bigotry of Pigliucci and several commenters. They imply, without citing any evidence whatsoever, that there are so few conservatives in the academy because conservatives are stupid. Yet, they would never dare to make this same argument about, say, black underrepresentation (even though that would be much easier to argue empirically). This is exactly what Haidt was talking about: in certain fields, some ideas are accepted axiomatically without anyone questioning them, while at the same time some other ideas are thought to be so obviously false that they are not even considered.ReplyDelete
Moreover, Pigliucci totally misrepresented Haidt's actual argument. See Haidt Requests Apology from Pigliucci.
Jonathan Haidt says he googled “liberal social psychologist” and got around 3000 hits, compared to 3 hits for “conservative social psychologist”.ReplyDelete
So I googled “liberal social psychologist” and got 2,880 results. The only problem is when you go to the next page, you find that there are really only 16 results. Google is funny that way.
Bing gave no hits for “conservative social psychologist” and about 5 or so hits for “liberal social psychologist”, not counting redundant hits or pages talking about Jonathan Haidt.
My response to Prof. Haidt can be found as a major new entry at Rationally Speaking: http://goo.gl/NG6ghReplyDelete
I find it funny that there is no response to my challenge that my C.V. would be discriminated against, so that I would not have even gotten an interview. Funny . . . or telling. One of the two.ReplyDelete
I thought your point compelling Troy, and sort of responded just above your c.v. entry. No offense, but I wouldn't touch you with a ten foot pole- you'd be quite unsettling to the New World Order. Don't get me wrong- I'd love to hire you in the name of diversity- but then we'd be stuck with you, and that just seems so tough on everybody. So we're going to do you a favor and pass on you up front.Delete
So, you don't think respect for authority is a moral value. How about, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."?
Well, since I do not believe in any gods...Delete
Haidt's point was that conservatives do believe in gods, and therefore have a different set of moral criteria than progressives.Delete