Moi? Bias in the Academy?

May 19, 2011

A reader commenting on one of my posts about academic freedom called my attention to the work of Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virgina, who recently was profiled in a “Findings” piece by John Tierney in the New York Times.  (Findings articles report on recent scholarly studies.)

Haidt, the piece tells us, began a speech at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in January by conducting an informal poll.  He asked “how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.”  He remarked that “This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity.”

Haidt argued 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,  …but when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.” He added that “social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.”

“Can social scientists open up to outsiders’ ideas? Tierney wonders.  “Dr. Haidt was optimistic enough to title his speech “The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology,” urging his colleagues to focus on shared science rather than shared moral values.”

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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