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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Academic Bias

Megan McArdle writes at Bloomberg:
In fact, few other professional spheres are as strongly skewed to the right as academia is to the left; when I looked into this a few years ago, the only professional group I could find with a similar rightward skew was Southern Baptist ministers, a comparison that neither group probably finds very flattering. Military officers are weakly conservative (two-thirds to one-third), but the enlisted are less so, and whether your business skews Democratic or Republican varies by industry and job description. Professors really do stand out as extremely politically concentrated on the left in a way that few other groups are, especially in areas like social psychology.
As Jonathan Haidt and the good folks at Heterodox Academy have argued, this makes it too easy for the group to adopt weak theories that flatter consensus beliefs without giving them the rigorous interrogation they’d get from a more balanced profession.
There's another harm: The leftward skew disconnects academia from the society that it is supposed to serve. The bitter culture wars we’ve been living through, and the increasingly nasty partisanship, are the signs of a society whose factions no longer know how to talk to one another.
Haidt writes:
A new data set has come in. Bill von Hippel and David Buss surveyed the membership of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology. That’s a professional society composed of the most active researchers in the field who are at least five years post-PhD. It’s very selective – you must be nominated by a current member and approved by a committee before you can join. Von Hippel and Buss sent a web survey to the 900 members of SESP and got a response rate of 37% (335 responses). So this is a good sample of the mid-level and senior people (average age 51) who produce most of the research in social psychology. Von Hippel and Buss were surveying the members’ views about evolution, to try to understand the reasons why many social psychologists distrust or dislike evolutionary psychology. At the end of the survey, they happened to include a very good set of measures of political identity. Not just self-descriptions, but also whom the person voted for in the 2012 US Presidential election. And they asked nine questions about politically valenced policy questions, such as “Do you support gun control?” “Do you support gay marriage?” and “Do you support a woman’s right to get an abortion?”
The graph shows that 291 of the 326 people who responded to this question picked a left-of-center label (that’s 89.3%), and only 8 people (2.5%) picked a right of center label, giving us a Left to Right ratio of 36 to one. This is much higher than that found by Inbar and Lammers. The main source of political diversity appears to be the 27 people (including me) who self-identified as centrists.

The graph shows that 305 of the 322 people (94.7%) who responded to this question voted for Obama, 4 (1.2%) voted for Romney, and 13 (4.0%) said they voted for another candidate. This gives us a Democrat to Republican ratio of 76 to one.

Inside Higher Ed describes a new book by Julie R. Posselt, which describes the graduate admissions process.
In most cases Posselt observed, the committee members used banter and “friendly debate” when they disagreed with one another. They didn't attack one another or get too pointed in criticizing colleagues. She describes one discussion she observed -- in which committee members kept to this approach -- that left her wondering about issues of fairness.
The applicant, to a linguistics Ph.D. program, was a student at a small religious college unknown to some committee members but whose values were questioned by others.
“Right-wing religious fundamentalists,” one committee member said of the college, while another said, to much laughter, that the college was “supported by the Koch brothers.”
The committee then spent more time discussing details of the applicant's GRE scores and background -- high GRE scores, homeschooled -- than it did with some other candidates. The chair of the committee said, “I would like to beat that college out of her,” and, to laughter from committee members asked, “You don't think she's a nutcase?”
Other committee members defended her, but didn't challenge the assumptions made by skeptics. One noted that the college had a good reputation in the humanities. And another said that her personal statement indicated intellectual independence from her college and good critical thinking.
At the end of this discussion, the committee moved the applicant ahead to the next round but rejected her there.