Progressive Privilege in Academia

“In social science, many leftists acknowledge the political bias of the field, but some minority simply respond by declaring that the field is not biased.   …  There’s [been] nothing but silence in response to the substantive examples …  of biased research my colleagues and I have offered.”  — co-author of a recent paper on bias in social science research

“… psychological scientists are supposedly the experts on cognitive biases, including harmful ones, yet here they are displaying just such skewed judgments and decisions.”

One colleague told me, ‘We would have never hired you had we known you were a Republican’”  — Psych Professor

Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal, and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side, and that’s a problem too. I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.  — President Obama, Sept. 14, 2015

New Website on the Loss of “Viewpoint Diversity” in the Academy

Opened September 2015,  is a website for “social scientists and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines.”    Loss of viewpoint diversity occurs when everyone in a field thinks the same way on important issues that are not really settled matters of fact. We don’t want viewpoint diversity on whether the Earth is round versus flat. But do we want everyone to share the same presuppositions when it comes to the study of race, class, gender, inequality, evolution, or history? Can research that emerges from an ideologically uniform and orthodox academy be as good, useful, and reliable as research that emerges from a more heterodox academy?

Why Privilege in Academia is Import for Understanding White Privilege and Buddhism

There are many similarities between white persons who are resistant to the possibility of white privilege and many reactions to the idea of a politically left leaning, liberal, or progressive bias in universities.  Because so much knowledge about racism and racial discrimination comes from universities this issue is particularly salient.  The following passage summarizes several aspects:

In social science, many leftists acknowledge the political bias of the field, but some minority simply respond by declaring that the field is not biased. I have yet to see anyone engage the examples of biased research my colleagues and I have offered  …  There’s nothing but silence in response to the substantive examples.  I’m not sure what’s going on there, but I think in some cases they have no schema at all for social science being politically biased. They don’t know what that would look like, have no account of that kind of bias as a category of bias, and they also tend not to see leftist ideology as an ideology – only the other side is ideological. 

In these cases they’ll try to argue that reality simply has a leftist bias. It hasn’t yet occurred to them that when a field is biased, people are expected to make that argument. They haven’t lingered on the fact that their perception of reality being left-friendly is compatible with two realities:  reality having a leftist bias, and the field having a leftist bias.  Nor have they meditated on how to go about finding out which it is.  I’m always dumbfounded that any social scientist would not understand that political ideology can profoundly shape and mediate the “reality” we see, and that being in a field dominated by fellow leftists could have a profound impact on their construal of said reality. That’s an elementary observation, one that is intuitive to lots of carpenters, nurses, and baristas. We of all people have to understand it. — Jose Duarte, blog, 2015


A conversational introduction to the problem of partisanship in psychology.   Be sure to read the feedback at the end and Haidt’s response.  The transcript is from an address by Johathan Haidt (pronounced same as height) given to several hundred members of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology .  Haidt says that social psychology become a Tribal Moral Community, a community that is bound together by liberal values and then blind to any ideas or findings that threaten sacred values.

The “reality based community”:  …  liberals believe that they have science on their side, while conservatives are blinded by religion and ignorance.  But if it’s true that morality binds and blinds, then no partisan community is based in reality. If a group circles around sacred values, they’ll evolve into a tribal moral community. They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.  —  The Bright Future of Post-partisan Psychology, 2011

Political diversity will improve social psychological science

Haidt later published a paper which, for a peer reviewed academic paper, is an easy read.
Duarte, J. L., Crawford, J. T., Stern, C., Haidt, J., Jussim, L., & Tetlock, P. E.  (in press). Political diversity will improve social psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Where are the conservative social psychologists?

“The deliberate discrimination against conservative thinkers is not subtle, unconscious or inconsequential —but rather real and harmful and in need of remedy. “

Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers of Tilburg University added some rigor to Haidt’s provocative speech in 2011 with  two anonymous, on-line surveys of personality and social psychologists. Their surveys to verified the widespread impression of a pervasive liberal bias in the field and drilled down further asking: Are there really no conservative social psychologists, or are they just well hidden?   Inbar and Lammers drew their sample from the membership of the Society for Personality and Social psychology, the same scientific group that Haidt addressed in 2011. They contacted all members on the mailing list, and got nearly 800 responses.   Wray Herbert, author of  On Second Thought about cognitive biases and decision making, summarized InBar and Lammers findings:

Conservative social psychologists perceive the field as hostile to their values. And it’s not just perception. The more conservative respondents were, the more they had personally experienced an intellectually unfriendly climate. Importantly, self-defined liberals do not see this—or believe it. The hostility is invisible to those who don’t run into it themselves.

It gets worse. Inbar and Lammers also asked respondents to assess their willingness to discriminate against conservatives. Would they be more likely to reject a paper or a grant application that showed a politically conservative perspective? Would they be reluctant to invite a conservative colleague to a symposium? Would they favor a liberal job candidate over a conservative candidate? The disturbing answer to all these questions was yes, and the more liberal the respondents, the more likely they were to discriminate against conservatives in all these areas. So it appears that the well-hidden minority of conservatives have good reason to stay hidden.

… Social tolerance and fairness are liberal values so it’s embarrassing to uncover intolerance of a different kind in one’s own back yard.  What’s more, psychological scientists are supposedly the experts on cognitive biases, including harmful ones, yet here they are displaying just such skewed judgments and decisions. Several of the commentaries raise serious questions about how ideology might be shaping the issues and questions that social psychologists choose for exploration—and the ones they are blind to, or deliberately reject as uninteresting or taboo.   …  Most commentators agree … that pervasive liberal bias is unhealthy for the field—and for intellectual inquiry generally.   //   The deliberate discrimination against conservative thinkers is not subtle, unconscious or inconsequential—but rather real and harmful and in need of remedy.  — Where are the conservative social psychologists?,  website of the Association for Psychological Science (, August 21, 2012

It’s diverse if you’re liberal

Op-ed from the LA Times.  Conservative and libertarian professors are becoming increasingly rare at colleges and universities, and this lack of intellectual diversity hampers the development of innovative solutions to the nation’s problems.  Intellectual diversity is more important to education that race, ethnicity, gender and demographic diversity.

QUOTES:  Only a third of college students felt that their professors made learning about different views a priority. In fact, most did not think it entirely safe to hold unpopular opinions on campus. … This lack of intellectual diversity at our nation’s colleges and universities should be a concern to all of us. It means that our future leaders in industry, government and science are receiving a one-sided education   //  Whether demographic diversity enhances learning is still debated among social scientists. Intellectual diversity clearly does so, however. … Studies show that students respond better to multiple ideological perspectives, which stimulates critical thinking and creativity, improves understanding and decision-making quality, and facilitates moral development.  //  If … diversity is defined to include every kind of differentness except different political ideas, then our universities will never be truly diverse in the way that matters most for learning and the development of innovative solutions to our nation’s problems.  — It’s diverse if you’re liberal

How Ideology Has Hindered Sociological Insight

Chris C. Martin,Department of Sociology,Emory University

Absence of Intellectual Diversity in Law Schools: “Stark Imbalance”

“I have posted in the past about the absence of intellectual diversity in the legal academy and the stark political/jurisprudential/methodological imbalance at the top law schools. Most of these schools are just like Georgetown Law — where most students will graduate after three years without ever once laying eyes on a conservative or libertarian professor at the front of a classroom.  …   The problem is not limited to law schools. There is a similarly rigid academic orthodoxy all across campus, and scholars in other departments are finding similarly pernicious effects.”   —   Professor of Law, Georgetown

More Pages on this Blog

General Issues of Cognitive Bias and Social Pressures in Science

The Trouble With Scientists: How one psychologist is tackling human biases in science

QUOTES:  Given that science has uncovered a dizzying variety of cognitive biases, the relative neglect of their consequences within science itself is peculiar.  //  The role of bias in science became clear to Nosek as a graduate student in psychology. “Like many graduate students, my idealism about how science works was shattered when I took research methods” //

One of the reasons the science literature gets skewed is that journals are much more likely to publish positive than negative results: It’s easier to say something is true than to say it’s wrong.  //  Not only can poor data and wrong ideas survive, but good ideas can be suppressed through motivated reasoning and career pressures.  //  Skepticism about bold claims is always warranted, but looking back we can see that sometimes it comes more from an inability to escape the biases of the prevailing picture than from genuine doubts about the quality of the evidence. 

“Fighting these issues isn’t easy, because they are cultural challenges—and no one person can change a culture,” he says. “So I started with the issue that I could control: the power of my research designs.”   //  “One of the larger issues is getting scientists to stop fooling themselves. This requires elimination of motivated reasoning and confirmation bias, and I haven’t seen any good solutions for that.”  //  “The critical barriers to change are not technical or financial; they are social. Although scientists guard the status quo, they also have the power to change it.”


Miscellaneous NOTES & QUOTES

The value of multidimensional diversity in any social science or branch of research psychology. We’ll be limited in our ability to understand major swaths of human motivation if we don’t experience them ourselves or come from the requisite culture. The BBS paper focuses on political diversity, but I increasingly think other dimensions are just as important – we need a lot more black people, Latinos, Natives, people from rural communities, people who have served in the military, people from non-Western and non-affluent cultures, and probably more masculine men. (I don’t think “men” and “women” are necessarily sufficient categories. Semi-relatedly, GLBT are not underrepresented in social psychology – they’re overrepresented (the percentage in our field is greater than the percentage in the general population), which is why I didn’t mention them. Maybe we still need more. I’ll have to think about this.) —

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