Social psychology, Haidt went on, had an obvious problem: a lack of political diversity that was every bit as dangerous as a lack of, say, racial or religious or gender diversity. It discouraged conservative students from joining the field, and it discouraged conservative members from pursuing certain lines of argument. It also introduced bias into research questions, methodology, and, ultimately, publications. The topics that social psychologists chose to study and how they chose to study them, he argued, suffered from homogeneity. The effect was limited, Haidt was quick to point out, to areas that concerned political ideology and politicized notions, like race, gender, stereotyping, and power and inequality. “It’s not like the whole field is undercut, but when it comes to research on controversial topics, the effect is most pronounced,” he later told me. (Haidt has now put his remarks in more formal terms, complete with data, in a paper forthcoming this winter in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.)
Haidt was far from the first to voice concern over the liberal slant in academia, broadly speaking, and in social psychology in particular. He was, however, the first to do it quite so visibly—and the reactions were vocal. At first, Haidt was pleased. “People responded very constructively,” he said. “They listened carefully, took it seriously. That speaks very well for the field. I’ve never felt as if raising this issue has made me into a pariah or damaged me in any way.” For the most part, his colleagues have continued to support his claims—or, at least, the need to investigate them further. Some, however, reacted with indignation.