09 Feb 2011

More on Political Bias in Academia

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Megan McArdle contemplates yesterday’s New York Times academic bias against conservatives article. She does not pretend to have a solution, but thinks it would be nice if liberals actually recognized their own biases.

[L]iberals, who are usually quick to assume that underrepresentation represents some form of discrimination–structural or personal–suddenly become, as Haidt notes, fierce critics of the notion that numerical representation means anything. Moreover, they start generating explanations for the disparity that sound suspiciously like some old reactionary explaining that blacks don’t really want to go into management because they’re much happier without all the responsibility. Conservatives are too stupid to become academics; they aren’t open new ideas; they’re too aggressive and hierarchical; they don’t care about ideas, just money. In other words, it’s not our fault that they’re not worthy.

Besides, liberals suddenly argue, we shouldn’t look for every sub-population to mirror the composition of the population at large; just as Greeks gravitated towards diners in 1980s New York, and the small market business was dominated by Koreans, liberals are attracted to academia, and conservatives to, well, some other profession. …

I don’t actually know many conservatives who want quotas for conservatives, either–I’m sure they’re out there, but even David Horowitz didn’t go that far. Most of the people I talk to think, like James Joyner, that this may be a problem without a solution. It is just my impression, but I think what conservatives want most of all is simply recognition that they are being shut out. It is a double indignity to be discriminated against, and then be told unctuously that your group’s underrepresentation is proof that almost none of you are as good as “us”. Haidt notes that his correspondence with conservative students (anonymously) “reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s”:

    He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal. “I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “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. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

Beyond that, mostly they would like academics to be conscious of the bias, and try to counter it where possible. As the quote above suggests, this isn’t just for the benefit of conservatives, either. Just as excluding blacks and women from academia by tacit agreement allowed for a certain amount of wrong-headed groupthink, so does excluding people with different political views. No, I’m not saying you have to hire a Young Earth Creationist to be a biology professor, but I don’t see why it should matter in a professor of Mathematics or Sociology.

Trying to be more conscious of one’s own bias, and even to attempt to work against it, should not be such a hard task for people as brilliant, open-minded, and committed to equality and social justice as I keep hearing that liberal academics are. So it doesn’t really seem like so much to ask.

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SDD

It’s very interesting how academics can compartmentalize their prejudices. If they were studying public behavior with respect to purchasing, say, automobiles, they wouldn’t for a moment assume that most people own Volvos and Prius. They would rigorously research what the patterns actually are and why people behave that way. If all they did was summarize their research by saying “SUV buyers are the victims of corporate thought manipulation”, they probably wouldn’t get very far even in their own community.



LibertyorWhat?

Hasn’t it pretty much always been the case that universities exist to provide sinecures for effete malcontents? Technology may eventually fix this when nobody actually goes to a university anymore but instead gets specialized training online. Homeschool your kids and don’t send them to college. Seriously. I didn’t do this but I wish I had.



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