Is the Academic World Biased Against Conservatives?
February 9, 2011 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Some Social Scientists Claim Pervasive Bias in the Academe Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”
posted by modernnomad (180 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, so long as conservative politics (particularly its social/cultural branch) is associated with the denigration of other "outgroups," it's going to be underrepresented in a field that studies discrimination, and more generally in the humanities and social sciences.

And academia was *teeming* with conservative politics up until 1968 (and well afterwards), so this reflects historical processes.

And, finally, are we seriously using Glenn Beck talking points to analyze the social workings of academia?
posted by LMGM at 6:33 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Finally, someone is acknowledging the long-downtrodden fate of conservatives in the public sphere! Those poor, poor victims, how they've suffered.
posted by DU at 6:35 AM on February 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


Oh good fucking lord.
posted by kmz at 6:37 AM on February 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Snide comment about how I dislike conservatives! I hate this article! What's this article about?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:37 AM on February 9, 2011 [17 favorites]


Is the Academic World Biased Against Conservatives?

And yes, yes it is, because reality is biased against conservatives.
posted by kmz at 6:38 AM on February 9, 2011 [35 favorites]


Well, duh. All of the conservatives resigned out of self-sacrifice to do their small part to reduce the size and expense of the education system.

But, really. I can't imagine any scientist aligning themselves with a party that screams "SCIENCE IS BAD" at the top of its lungs whenever it gets the chance, without putting some pretty huge asterisks next to the label. This is doubly compounded in the social sciences by the GOP's "Fuck anybody who's poor or not white" stance. Big shock that these policies would offend a social scientist to the point of switching parties.

This is akin to Strom Thurmond being surprised that none of his voters were black.
posted by schmod at 6:38 AM on February 9, 2011 [39 favorites]


Oh those poor conservatives, locked out of the lucrative world of social science academia.
posted by octothorpe at 6:38 AM on February 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


"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," said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. "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."

Huh, I never thought about applying those "alternate explanations" to gender disparities. Maybe studying physics makes you a white man the way studying social sciences makes you a liberal!

This totally explains the hair I just found on my chin.
posted by Westringia F. at 6:40 AM on February 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


I TOLD YOU SO!!!

Signed, David Horowitz
posted by TedW at 6:41 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, finally, are we seriously using Glenn Beck talking points to analyze the social workings of academia?

No. There was no mention of Beck. There were two interesting anecdotes about Daniel P Moynihan and Larry Summers, would you like me to read them to you?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:42 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


A friend called my attention to this unfortunate corrigendum before I even saw the article:
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article omitted the name of a scientist who conducted a study published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She is Wendy M. Williams.
posted by knile at 6:43 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wahh!
posted by pianomover at 6:44 AM on February 9, 2011


You know, I bet the bias against conservatives in the academic world is *nothing* compared to the bias against leftist socialists within the banking industry.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:46 AM on February 9, 2011 [47 favorites]


The issue is that what were once moderate and conservative political views are now firmly in the liberal/progressive camp. Nixon and Regan are screaming pinko commies compared to the modern right-wingnut.

Modern conservatism revolves around concocting and parroting enormous lies that are beneficial to the wealthy elite and pleasing for everyone else to believe - black people are inferior and using up all your tax monies - so, yeah, it will be hounded from academia. More traditional conservative views - regulation reform, lowering taxes on the middle class, reductions in pointless spending (including the military), disentanglement from foreign conflicts - are considered liberal socialism these days.

Reality has a liberal bias. No, you can't use science to make black people move to the back of the bus, and I'm sorry if that makes you feel left out.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:46 AM on February 9, 2011 [32 favorites]


Bias is bad. Unless it is our bias. Also, we should look at all possible explanations for a phenomenon. Unless the conclusions might be uncomfortable for us or otherwise ideologically impure.
posted by adipocere at 6:46 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I like how "idealogical bias" is compared to sexual, racial and gender bias. One of these is not like the other.
posted by melt away at 6:47 AM on February 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


Yes this article rubs me the wrong way as well, but Haidt's work is generally fascinating so I'm inclined to dig a bit deeper.

Here is a link to something approaching his actual talk.
posted by ropeladder at 6:48 AM on February 9, 2011


There's also a clear bias against flat-earthers in physics. And against creationists in biology. We cannot let this stand! Teach the controversy!
posted by kmz at 6:50 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


This isn't really I was hoping for when I heard conservatives have changed their minds about promoting affirmative action in academia.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:51 AM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh man, this discussion will not go well. But here goes my ten cents (inflation).

It's unwise and a bit silly to compare ideological discrimination to racial discrimination. It just muddies the water in many ways, especially by implying that this should be addressed because conservatives are being victimized. The reason that this should be addressed is not for the sake of conservatives, but for the sake of having many viewpoints in academia. This should be self-evidently valuable in the university setting. In my experience, many liberals are frankly unaware of the arguments that intelligent conservatives make. Even if nobody's opinion is changed, it is very useful to see how other people think. The liberalism of academia turns things into a bit of an echo chamber, where you can be comfortably liberal and stupid without being challenged.

The issue is that what were once moderate and conservative political views are now firmly in the liberal/progressive camp. Nixon and Regan are screaming pinko commies compared to the modern right-wingnut.

In other words, liberalism is more "correct," so conservatives shouldn't be welcomed into the academic world. I think both wings would benefit from talking with each other. Perhaps you wouldn't generalize and demonize so broadly if you had regular contact with intelligent conservatives.

Just to be clear, I'm not conservative.
posted by Edgewise at 6:51 AM on February 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


(Apologies for quoting myself from another thread, but ...)

Conservatives themselves offer the reasons why there are so few conservatives in the sciences. They will tell you (often, and at length) that they tend to be far more "family oriented" than liberals. Obviously, the numerical difference can therefore be explained by conservatives dropping out of their universities and careers to raise their children. It would be a mistake to see this as a problem -- conservatives are simply naturally more *interested* in children than they are in careers.

It's probably particularly evident in the sciences, because, meaning no disrepect to them, conservatives are simply not as good at math. The Laffer curve? Trickle-down economics? These are not theories that are developed by people with lots of math skills. This isn't to say that conservatives aren't perfectly good at other things, however; someone has to raise all those families, right?

Now, of course it's not known exactly why conservatives have neither the inclination nor the ability to do science. But some recent studies seem to indicate that there are differences in brain structure between conservatives and members of other political parties. Here's a quote from a 2007 study: "The brain neurons of liberals and conservatives fire differently when confronted with tough ... Conservatives tend to crave order and structure in their lives ... Liberals, by contrast, show a higher tolerance for ambiguity and complexity".

So, clearly, brain structures of those dear dear conservatives are simply not suited for scientific tasks, which are often ambiguous and complex.

The mistake here is presenting this as a problem that needs to be solved. We are blessed with a variety of different political groups that are ideally suited to different tasks --liberals serving as scientists, and conservatives cooking food for them and their children. Vive la difference, I say! It's just the natural order of things, and all trying to mess with it is going to do is make a lot of those poor, order-craving conservatives very upset if they try to perform a task they're simply not naturally suited for.
posted by kyrademon at 6:56 AM on February 9, 2011 [42 favorites]


This is the same argument as letting creationists have their version of things printed in school textbooks. Obviously, the main problem with this is that it's FUCKING RIDICULOUS.
posted by pwally at 6:58 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Brown University is offering a new course on conservatism this spring that its supporters say will help bring ideological balance to the school's offerings. ...

In a statement, Brown student and project co-developer Terrence George says students at elite schools are often unable to study views "outside of academia's leftist mainstream."

posted by Joe Beese at 6:59 AM on February 9, 2011


Also adding: yes, it's kind of funny that this type of article is appearing in a newspaper that a bulk of hard-right conservatives immediately dismiss on its face for being "liberally slanted," written by one the people the newspaper hired specifically for the perceived "balance" his conservative credentials would bring. The existence of this article as it appears explains why its own premise is faulty. Like, whoa, man.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:00 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Morality binds and blinds, so open-minded inquiry...gets shut down for decades."

Please watch the actual talk; Haidt actually is worth listening to.
posted by ropeladder at 7:01 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Academia is liberal because that's where people who fail at business and "real life" (i.e. liberals) go to escape and live in their ivory towers. Conservatives go on to work and live in the real world.

Also, academia is liberal because conservatives are discriminated against. Conservatives, who are constantly telling me how pointless higher education and the ivory tower are, apparently ardently desire entry into it. It's all so confusing!
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:02 AM on February 9, 2011


Saying that conservatives deserve the same protection from discrimination in academia as racial or sexual minorities do in the rest of society is, in fact, ridiculous, headline-grabbing hyperbole.

But if the researchers point was that within any group there can be bullying and rudeness towards those who don't share common mores, he is dead on. Witness this thread.

In conclusion, intellectual gangbangs are as ugly as sexual gangbangs are beautiful.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:03 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


As far as the Larry Summers case went, I was predisposed to stand up for the right to hold the viewpoint that men and women might be different, biologically, and that might just have an effect on whether people are good at certain types of reasoning.

But then I looked at what he actually said, and the context. He was not objectively promoting a hypothesis. He was being a dick.

Also, this article fails to propose why there's such a bias in general academia, including the hard sciences. There is a much greater difference between general academics and the population as a whole than there is between general academics and humanities in particular, and they let that go without venturing an explanation.

But there must be an explanation somewhere, right?

And yes, yes it is, because reality is biased against conservatives.

Ah there it is.

In other words, liberalism is more "correct," so conservatives shouldn't be welcomed into the academic world.

If you are a biologist who supports the idea of intelligent design (which is implicitly God's design-no ID advocate I know of has proposed anything other than God as the intelligence that designed stuff), then you are trying to make the data fit a conclusion rather than making your conclusion fit the data. That is bad science.

If you are a physicist and support the party that says all atmospheric scientists are liars and swindlers, and that human activities have no effect on the climate, you are letting an ideological position influence your conclusion rather than looking at the data. That is bad science.

Look, I know plenty of physics types who aren't bleeding heart liberals. There are good reasons why none of them call themselves Republicans.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:04 AM on February 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Part of what's going on here, I think, is that American academia doesn't just draw from or reflect America. What seems center-left in the US would seem right-wing in much of the rest of the world. American academics do represent a political spectrum. It's just not necessarily the same political spectrum as the general American public.
posted by craichead at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I like how "idealogical bias" is compared to sexual, racial and gender bias. One of these is not like the other.

Isn't there more and more evidence that conservatism has a biological basis? It's probably some sort of undiscovered wrath of Kahn like brain parasite
posted by Ad hominem at 7:07 AM on February 9, 2011


To the extent that liberal ideological biases prevent research from even being pursued, this is a real problem.

Look at what happened to Larry Summers. In a rational world, someone might make a doctoral thesis out of evaluating that particular hypothesis.
posted by pjdoland at 7:07 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have seen more than a bit of bias but I wouldn't necessarily describe it as specifically against conservatism as I would an aggressive defense of things perceived liberal. I'll give an example. I work for a publisher that publishes a bit of sociology, and one of the books we published in the last couple of years was a critique of the environmental movement as a religious movement, comparing certain aspects of environmentalism to things found in religions—tenants of faith sort of stuff. I've been really disappointed in some of the reaction I've come across with the book. Naturally it tends to be more popular with conservatives than with liberals, but the way it's perceived by liberals as an attack on environmentalism surprises me. The book makes a point to also look at the economic interests that oppose environmentalism and also critiques those as another set of religious beliefs. But that part often seems ignored by those who just glance at its thesis. They simply can't tolerate thinking about environmentalism as religious. I have seen this reaction to the book more than once and it makes me wonder about objectivity in the social sciences.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:08 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Edgewise,

I think this is a great point -- "The liberalism of academia turns things into a bit of an echo chamber, where you can be comfortably liberal and stupid without being challenged."

...and is supported by statements above such as:

"No, you can't use science to make black people move to the back of the bus, and I'm sorry if that makes you feel left out."

"And yes, yes it is, because reality is biased against conservatives."

..As if all conservatives do is play golf, scheme about how to oppress the negro and beat their wives. I've met some damn intelligent people with conservative-leaning politics. And, for what it's worth, many of them tended to be doers rather than whiners and so their viewpoints were perhaps less vocal. For all its lip-service to anti-discrimination, so-called "liberals" seem all to quick to jump on the conservative-bashing train. Glenn Beck does NOT equal conservative politics as much as liberals would like to think in order to make their job easier.
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:09 AM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


The reason that there are very few social conservatives in the social sciences is the same reason that there are very few young earthers in geology: the findings of the disciplines involved directly undermine conservative ideology. (Same goes for economic history and the Chicago School). Conservative people will either select out or, if they are being honest about their research, become less conservative.

Reality has a left-wing bias.
posted by jb at 7:09 AM on February 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Also, he's seriously misrepresenting the Larry Summers situation, and it undermines his credibility.
posted by craichead at 7:10 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


pjdoland -- That would be the hypothesis that when female hires precipitously dropped during his tenure when he changed the preferred age range for new faculty, it was because of the way in which his daughter played with toy trucks?

The context of the meeting at which he made his statements is rather important.
posted by kyrademon at 7:11 AM on February 9, 2011


More programmers know calculus than graphic designers.

Therefore, graphic designers are biased math and the logic it is built upon.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:11 AM on February 9, 2011


Opps, hit submit before I finished my thought.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:12 AM on February 9, 2011


I had a longer post typed out but accidentally closed the tab but pretty much what I was going to say is goddamn there is a vitrolic left wing circle jerk up in here, no wonder conservatives feel discriminated against in academia.
posted by ghharr at 7:12 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Conservative" these days is just a catch-all term for those disagreeable and stubborn people among us who persist in believing long discredited ideas and in putting their partisan team loyalties ahead of everything else. Why on earth would you want to make Academe more balanced in the direction of cranks who will tell you right out that even the most basic scientific questions should be viewed first in terms of on moral values and personal identity? Liberalism, in the academic sense, means prioritizing the advancement of knowledge and understanding above all else. You can't be illiberal and have a commitment to academic truth.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:14 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


HEY DID YOU GUYS KNOW REALITY HAS A WELL KNOWN LIBERAL BIAS? I JUST CAME UP WITH THAT HAHAHA WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW BARRY GOLDWATER *post*
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:15 AM on February 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


This talk would not fly for two seconds if presented to some people from my department, not because we are all a bunch of discriminating liberals but because he does not for a second consider alternative hypotheses that might well explain the numbers gap. That is an inherent part of a compelling scientific argument.

People self select into their careers, at least to a point. He does not even touch this idea, that maybe conservatives are not drawn to the social sciences or academia as career tracks not because of any overt discrimination but because of simple differences in values, etc. He presumes discrimination without even throwing out a tidbit of evidence that would refute such a totally reasonable counter argument. I don't buy it.

That said, I do believe a diversity of backgrounds in a department makes a university a more interesting place, but good science does not hinge on it.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:15 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


So it's not OK that academia self-selects for left wingers, but it's perfectly OK, and indeed logical (cuz, you know, "markets"), that the corporate executive class self selects for right wingers.

Let me know when fundamentalist preachers and US Chamber of commerce members are a more ideologically diverse lot, then I'll try to give a damn.

Ah, but who am I kidding... this sort of claptrap will actually work. Academia is one of the last strongholds of culture not completely corporatized. It must be absorbed!
posted by mondo dentro at 7:18 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


My studies also indicate a depressing bias against the Amish in the area of computer sciences, and against Christian Scientists in medical fields.
posted by kyrademon at 7:20 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


About the study showing no gender bias in the sciences, written by Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams:

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article omitted the name of a scientist who conducted a study published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She is Wendy M. Williams.

Heh.
posted by Killick at 7:21 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't really believe the article had a point, until I saw the vitriolic comments here against conservatives. Burn that straw conservative down.
posted by garlic at 7:22 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Conservatism is a choice. So is being a social scientist. People make choices based on what they know or want to do.

I think the thing is that the people drawn to being social scientists want society to be more inclusive.

The people who feel the society is too inclusive already become social conservatives.

Fiscal conservatism and social conservatism do have a good number of links, so one tends to lead to the other. Just as being a social liberal might make you also feel more willing to pay taxes for entitlement programs for the greater good. Not to say that every social liberal is fiscally liberal, or the same for conservatives, but there's definitely a trend.

While we're at it, there's also a disturbingly low number of vegetarians working in the meat packing industry.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:23 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a longer post typed out but accidentally closed the tab but pretty much what I was going to say is goddamn there is a vitrolic left wing circle jerk up in here, no wonder conservatives feel discriminated against in academia.

Yeah, I have to say I'm really surprised and disappointed at the low quality of discussion in this thread. I think many MeFites know academia too well to really believe that it's about reality having a liberal bias, but the circle-jerk is just too appealing to resist or something.
posted by nasreddin at 7:23 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Of course there are many reasons why conservatives are underrepresented in social psychology, and most of them have nothing to do with discrimination and social climate."

Haidt makes many of the points that have been made in here. His point is that conservatives are not just underrepresented, they are SEVERELY underrepresented. As in, there are basically none. And there are people who are self-selecting out of social psychology not because they are bad at the pursuit of truth but because they question taboo liberal values.
posted by ropeladder at 7:24 AM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's also a major subset of conservatives who hold demonstrably unscientific beliefs--about evolution, cosmology, economics and many other subjects. A greater than usual proportion of conservatives hold these kinds of beliefs and view it as a betrayal of their identity not to insist on them. So naturally, a greater proportion of conservatives are selected out.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:25 AM on February 9, 2011


If you're leaping to the defense of the conservatives in this, I'd just like to remind you that the phrase "reality based community" was coined by conservatives as a dismisive term for liberals who didn't have the courage or strength of gumption (or hubris) to create and define brand new realities with the same frequency most of use chage our socks. Karl Rove is allegedly the one who declared that "when we act, we create our own reality", leaving the liberals to apply judicious study to what it was they were doing.

If you believe the current situation is a crime of liberalism, then you have to believe that the liberals should have forced the conservatives to study humanities instead of business. Meanwhile, back in reality (this is about reality after all) one of the things conservatives like to howl about is that universities require students to do things like take classes in the humanities as part of their general education requirements.

You can't have it both ways.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:26 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


HEY DID YOU GUYS KNOW REALITY HAS A WELL KNOWN LIBERAL BIAS? I JUST CAME UP WITH THAT HAHAHA WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW BARRY GOLDWATER *post*

Let me put it more objectively then, so as not to make it a meaningless slogan.

I am not a Republican because the party has core positions that directly contradict vast quantities of evidence. I am not talking about ideological positions that both parties come up with B.S. evidence to support (taxes are universally bad, social programs are universally good, etc.), but statements on matters of fact. Notably Intelligent Design, that evidence shows that God directly influenced progress of life in a supernatural manner, and Anti-AGW that evidence does not show that humans have caused a significant alteration in climate through their actions.

These are not ideological positions. These are not matters of opinion. These are positions on matters of fact which to the best of humanity's knowledge are outright wrong.

If I support these positions I am to the best of my knowledge a liar. As a scientist I have a professional obligation to the truth.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:27 AM on February 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


because they question taboo liberal values.

What kind of taboo liberal values exactly? Like the taboo that you should be able to prove things you believe?

What specific "taboo" values are they questioning? That the earth is round? That flies do not spontaneously grow from rotten meat? That prayer can't literally move mountains? What beliefs specifically are rejected that aren't also indispensable for the good faith pursuit of knowledge and understanding?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:28 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


What really stood out to me was the idea that, due to ideology, some legitimate questions are either never asked or, worse, legitimate answers are never considered because they threaten the, in this case liberal, status quo.
Good science means avoidng bias. I'm a liberal, but come on people, bias is a bad thing in scientific thinking.
posted by madred at 7:30 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Legitimate questions such as?
posted by kyrademon at 7:31 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Trends in thought develop all the time amongst groups of people. I don't see how this is that different from the article about allergies that was in the New Yorker recently, or the article about how some experimental results become more difficult to replicate over time. When ideas get "too much" momentum, they stifle research and thinking in competing areas. When ideas turn out to be incorrect or incomplete, they result in waste of resources.

Making this about a lack of conservatives in academia seems like an unnecessary leap. By the broadest definition, wouldn't conservatism want to halt new research and ideas to conserve status quo in knowledge? More narrowly, political views should be immaterial to the advance of science, except of course, in reality some political conservatives propogate pseudo-science to justify conservative values and religion.
posted by snofoam at 7:31 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Zalzidrax, I never thought that ID or that sort of thing was being questioned, but there was some mention of research into black families that was being ignored due to liberal bias. That seems strikingly different to me.
posted by madred at 7:33 AM on February 9, 2011


Discrimination is often a lot more complicated than some gatekeeper saying "I'm not letting an [Outgroup Member] in here".

Outgroup members sometimes may never seek to join since they believe they will encounter hostility, for instance some women are reluctant to enter IT for that reason. Sometimes recruitment is often on a friend-of-a-friend basis, and outgroup members who aren't socially connected have fewer opportunities. Sometimes outgroup members are generally less aware of the possibilities that a particular field offers: it's just not on their radar.

Unless you actually study the reasons, you'll never know.

Personally I suspect the reasons are to do with the existence of a network of right-wing "think tanks", which are relatively well-funded, offer opportunities for self-directed research, have political influence, and don't carry onerous teaching duties. If you're both conservative and academically-minded, you're probably better off joining the Cato/Marshall/Hoover Institute than trying to get on a tenure track at a university. I wonder if the unintended consequence of this is that such people have been cut off from students and the academic mainstream.

But that's just a guess. If we want to actually know, More Research Is Needed.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:33 AM on February 9, 2011 [20 favorites]


Legitimate questions such as?

How big is the innate biological difference between sexes, anyway? For intellectual development is there even any?
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:34 AM on February 9, 2011


Legitimate questions such as?

I presume stuff like: Why did God make white people better than other people? How can we be sure the world is more than 5,000 years old? Why are heterosexual couples so much better at raising children? Etc.
posted by snofoam at 7:35 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


kyrademon-

The "Daddy Truck" and "Baby Truck" anecdote isn't why Summers got dragged over the coals. Rather, it was for wondering aloud if one of the possible causes of a higher number of male professors in math and sciences could be that the variance of I.Q. in men might be wider than in women.

It's antithetical to the basic tenets of science to dismiss a hypothesis because proving it would undermine your already held beliefs about equality.
posted by pjdoland at 7:35 AM on February 9, 2011


Here is my bigger theory about what is going on here, minus all the fun:

Structure and Agency

There is a big-scale debate in academe between people who believe in 'agency' (the influence individuals have) and people who believe in 'structure' (the influence society has). It's not very well understood by the general public, but you can think of it as being a bit like the 'nature/nurture' debate, only broader and more all-encompassing.

The important thing is this: American political conservatism encompasses a really strong belief that 'structure' does not exist (or is at least minimally influential). Think of Thatcher's famous comment that 'there's no such thing as society'. Many American liberals would be baffled at this comment, but American conservatives would have no trouble understanding or accepting it. To them, society ('structure') is something which can only be artificial, and which can only constrain the true power of the individual. Indeed, even the most authoritarian tendencies of the political right, things which those on the left often interpret as a strong desire for structure, are conceptualised in terms of personal loyalty to individual brilliance. There's basically one structural idea that most conservatives accept, and that's the power of the market which, critically, is conceptualised in a way which emphasises the power and importance of the individual and individual agency.

What this Means (skip to here if you understand the structure/agency dichotomy)

There are plenty of places in academe where agency extremists hold sway. Organisational behaviour is one. International relations history is another. Certain kinds of economics are, ironically, stuffed with agency extremists who see all structure as inherently arising out of the interplay of the (more important) agencies of the players involved. These academic disciplines are stuffed with political conservatives.

But social psychology is a field which, by its very nature, studies structure. If you don't like structure, you simply can't be a social psychologist because you'd have nothing to talk about.

I think that this is the reason that conservatives are under-represented in the social sciences. All the other stuff is perhaps contributory, but could also be explained as the result, not the cause, of lots of liberals. And, as I've pointed out, it's not like it's hard to find conservatives in business schools and economics departments. But conservatives can't believe that 'there's no such thing as society' and then go study society. That's a genuine contradiction, and accounts for everything quite neatly, I think.
posted by Dreadnought at 7:35 AM on February 9, 2011 [91 favorites]


I can't see the Times article again, and I forget the name if the researcher... Dammit.
Look, as a critical thinker my job is to persistently observe and evaluate my own potential biases. That doesn't mean I have to throw the baby out with the bath water and start believing in ID or welcoming the Republican overlords, but the suggestion that there is too much preaching to the choir going on might be a good one.
posted by madred at 7:36 AM on February 9, 2011


I would not have gotten tenure had my political and religious beliefs been known to the committee.


Think about that, liberals.
posted by philokalia at 7:36 AM on February 9, 2011


are we seriously using Glenn Beck talking points to analyze the social workings of academia?

really. I can't imagine any scientist aligning themselves with a party that screams "SCIENCE IS BAD" at the top of its lungs

This is doubly compounded in the social sciences by the GOP's "Fuck anybody who's poor or not white" stance.

It's worth remembering that "conservative" means several different things. So, yes, somebody who has a "fuck anybody who's not white" attitude is not going to get along very well in anthropology, for obvious reasons, and is unlikely to major in it, and there are very few biologists who think "believing in evolution" is sinful. However, there is no rational reason why an economic conservative can't be scientist in any field I can think of.

The comments in this thread do pretty much reflect the attitude toward conservatives (of any variety) in academia, and most of them also reflect the idea that all conservatives are alike, and unmitigated embodiments of evil. No, there's no discrimination at all.

That said, I don't think this is likely to change. Conservatives of whatever variety tend to oppose public spending on what they see as silly academic research, and academics depend on it. So US academics, for reasons of economic self-interest if nothing else, tend to vote Democrat. (And, no, the anti-science rhetoric from people on the right does help either. The Republicans have pretty much written off academia.)

(Also, if we eliminate conservatives that have ideological conflicts with various disciplines, we're talking a lot less than 40% of the population. And many economic conservatives may identify themselves as moderate or libertarian.)
posted by nangar at 7:37 AM on February 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


snofoam:


Fuck that noise. So what are hot liberal topics?

Why do corporations want to murder babies so bad? Why isn't everyone who worked in any tangible way for the Bush administration locked up in Guantanamo Bay for war crimes? How come rich people aren't executed at age 30?
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:38 AM on February 9, 2011


Zalzidrax, I never thought that ID or that sort of thing was being questioned, but there was some mention of research into black families that was being ignored due to liberal bias. That seems strikingly different to me.

Oh I would agree with the premise that when choosing between letting in racist wackos in who will misapply evidence to "prove" black people suck and not asking questions because we are afraid the answers will insult some group, academia markedly errs on the side of the latter.

However, my problem with the article is that the difference between the general populace and the hard sciences, which doesn't even concern itself with those questions, is at least as big as the difference between the hard sciences and the humanities, and that got let by without comment.

I would be happy if a wider political spectrum were present in academia, but part of the problem, perhaps the biggest part, cannot be addressed by changing the scientists, be they social or otherwise.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:41 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, do the conservatives want us to use Affirmative Action to encourage them to get involved in academics at universities?
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:42 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The important thing is this: American political conservatism encompasses a really strong belief that 'structure' does not exist (or is at least minimally influential). Think of Thatcher's famous comment that 'there's no such thing as society'. Many American liberals would be baffled at this comment, but American conservatives would have no trouble understanding or accepting it. To them, society ('structure') is something which can only be artificial, and which can only constrain the true power of the individual. Indeed, even the most authoritarian tendencies of the political right, things which those on the left often interpret as a strong desire for structure, are conceptualised in terms of personal loyalty to individual brilliance. There's basically one structural idea that most conservatives accept, and that's the power of the market which, critically, is conceptualised in a way which emphasises the power and importance of the individual and individual agency.

Wow, thank you for offering something substantive rather than OOOGA BOOOGA ARENT THE REPUGS STUPID! JERK MY COCK FASTER!

I think this is pretty astute, but it's worthwhile to consider that structure and agency have different connotations in different fields. In my field (history) it's structure that's associated with notionally more conservative beliefs about the stability of political institutions and so on, while agency is widely thought of as being a proxy for "the oppressed subalterns will rise up and overthrow you one of these days, evil white plutocrat!" So how can we account for this distinction? Maybe conservative historians are more likely to be Burkeans than Friedmanites?
posted by nasreddin at 7:42 AM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would not have gotten tenure had my political and religious beliefs been known to the committee. Think about that, liberals.

Yeah, well I would be in jail if anyone knew that I eat random people feet first. Think about that, people I may or may not eat.
posted by pwally at 7:43 AM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


While we're at it, there's also a disturbingly low number of vegetarians working in the meat packing industry.

Derail: As someone who formerly worked in the meat packing industry, let me tell you that you'd be nuts to eat meat after working that job.

posted by schmod at 7:43 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:46 AM on February 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Academics do study secondary sex characteristics, including psychological and intellectual differences.

I know that they do, because I have been told about these studies by my social-psychologist brother-in-law, who was telling me all about it to correct my idea that men and women did not have psychological differences. Sex differences were not his area of study, but he'd learned this stuff as a part of the basic undergraduate course.

Sounds like a very taboo area of research, doesn't it?
posted by jb at 7:47 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I presume stuff like: Why did God make white people better than other people? How can we be sure the world is more than 5,000 years old? Why are heterosexual couples so much better at raising children? Etc.

Snofoam, it's very hard to take you seriously if you're wandering through this thread suggesting this is what being a conservative academic means. I am a liberal academic, and I have many conservative colleagues, none of whom are anything like the caricatures you are painting. Not all conservatives are of the Rush Limbaugh variety, any more than all liberals are the welfare-loving, america-hating, latte-drinking caricature some on the right attempt to paint them with.
posted by modernnomad at 7:47 AM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would be curious to know how many self-identified liberals in academia would say they started out more conservative and gradually moved leftward. The minuscule representation of conservative thought may in fact be that it loses out to the weight of evidence and peer pressure of the environment. It would be fascinating (and likely cannon fodder for some members of the right) if it was demonstrated that the academy had the effect of liberalizing people.
posted by dgran at 7:48 AM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Gagglezoomer, part of the reason why "research" done to back conservative ideology is outside the mainstream of academia is because they study exactly the type of things I suggested. Personally, I think ridiculous stuff like this should be shunned because they aren't legitimate questions.

Regarding your suggested areas of research, I would guess that people have/are studying things like how the structure of corporations leads to things like the Bhopal disaster, the mechanisms by which prosecutions for war crimes have been avoided by those that seem to have committed them and why the poor do or do not rise up against wealthy groups that suppress them.

One thing I was NOT saying is that all conservative people are crazy racist, homophobic creationists. I was saying that research to support these ideals is justifiably excluded from much of academia.
posted by snofoam at 7:49 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, remember that we're talking about social scientists here. I've seen plenty of conservative (or at least mildly-conservative) folks in the Physics and Chemistry departments.

Those two disciplines have sort of been stuck in the 1950s, and an air of conservatism has definitely permeated them as a result (not to mention that the glut of post-WWII-era faculty members is just finally beginning to retire). Ditto for engineers.

Also, I'd posit that most economists are moderate-leaning-conservative. If nothing else, they're cautious about additional governmental regulation, because they know just how weird economic interactions can be.
posted by schmod at 7:52 AM on February 9, 2011


Universal equality is not a "liberal" ideal; it's a Democratic ideal. So if anything, blame America for having such a damned rich tradition of egalitarianism and belief in social justice.

I would not have gotten tenure had my political and religious beliefs been known to the committee.

That's absurd. Their are Christians heading up some of the biggest Universities in the country (unless you mean because you're a non-Christian, but then, conservatives only seem to care for sticking up for Christians these days, so I doubt that).

Also, a lot of people seem to confuse "liberalism" with cranky kids on the internet. Most of those kids don't really have any coherent political philosophy, you know, they just like to get people's goats by saying provocative things or to assert their special snowflake-ness. You can't judge the value of "liberalism" on the basis of the local anarchist skater punk.

It would be fascinating (and likely cannon fodder for some members of the right) if it was demonstrated that the academy had the effect of liberalizing people.

As I understand it, there's already a fairly good body of research suggesting that higher-education tends to have a liberalizing effect. It's sometimes suggested that that's why conservatives are so prone to cutting support for higher education.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:54 AM on February 9, 2011


modernnomad, I think I clarified in my last comment, but I wasn't trying to tar all conservatives with what would have been quite an unfair brush. It is probably more straightforward to say a) What are these issues? There may be some, but it's unclear that it is a big problem. b) Does the lack of research in these areas really stem from the fact that there is a liberal majority? And, how does diversification to include more conservatives really address this?
posted by snofoam at 7:56 AM on February 9, 2011


If you are a biologist who supports the idea of intelligent design (which is implicitly God's design-no ID advocate I know of has proposed anything other than God as the intelligence that designed stuff), then you are trying to make the data fit a conclusion rather than making your conclusion fit the data....If you are a physicist and support the party that says all atmospheric scientists are liars and swindlers, and that human activities have no effect on the climate, you are letting an ideological position influence your conclusion rather than looking at the data. That is bad science.

I think you over-simplify the discussion. Are all conservatives believers in intelligent design? Not by a long shot. Hell, I even know a few conservatives who accept the idea of anthropogenic global warming and believe it could be a problem. These are both policy positions, but neither is a necessary element of conservative philosophy.

Let me try another argument. I think it would be absurd for a university to teach intelligent design, and I wouldn't begrudge a faculty for excluding oil-company apologists. But should believers in intelligent design be excluded from the English department? Let me rephrase that: should a professor who believes in New Age bullshit be excluded from the English department? Should a communist be excluded from the economics department? There could be an argument there, but not so much when you're talking about biology.

I don't think it takes too much to filter out purveyors of nonsense who would teach and research that nonsense. But the criteria shouldn't be explicitly political, and I think there's enough room to actually welcome intelligent conservatives. God knows that we let enough stupid liberals into the hallowed halls. This is especially the case when the ideology wouldn't have a direct impact on the subject matter.

The thing is, it's not hard to find counter-examples for any hard and fast rule about what we consider to be acceptable ideology. For instance, I wouldn't have any problem with discouraging neo-Nazis from joining ANY department. But to draw the line at conservative vs. liberal suggests such a ridiculous certainty on the part of liberals that it seems to be the opposite of rigorous intellectual inquiry.
posted by Edgewise at 7:57 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Legitimate questions such as?" "How big is the innate biological difference between sexes, anyway? For intellectual development is there even any?"

But ... this is studied all the time. There are dozens of research papers on this, if not more.
posted by kyrademon at 7:58 AM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


(And Larry Summers ridiculous, condescending, anecdotal analogy which he was using as an excuse for why he, *personally*, wasn't hiring women most certainly WAS the reason he was raked over the coals -- not for daring to suggest their may be neuropsychological differences between men and women, which is a topic that has, in fact, had a great deal of research and funding devoted to it.)
posted by kyrademon at 8:01 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Anger make grammer bad.)
posted by kyrademon at 8:01 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, remember that we're talking about social scientists here. I've seen plenty of conservative (or at least mildly-conservative) folks in the Physics and Chemistry departments. Those two disciplines have sort of been stuck in the 1950s, and an air of conservatism has definitely permeated them as a result (not to mention that the glut of post-WWII-era faculty members is just finally beginning to retire). Ditto for engineers.

This isn't my experience. These departments are certainly more conservative than the social sciences, but that in no way qualifies them as conservative! The only environment I can think of that's more liberal than the social sciences is the humanities. But my experience with the hard sciences suggests that the majority lean left, while engineers might be more middle of the road. Stuck in the 50's? That definitely doesn't jibe with me, but it might depend on the institution.
posted by Edgewise at 8:02 AM on February 9, 2011


HEY DID YOU GUYS KNOW REALITY HAS A WELL KNOWN LIBERAL BIAS? I JUST CAME UP WITH THAT HAHAHA WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW BARRY GOLDWATER *post*

Wow, thank you for offering something substantive rather than OOOGA BOOOGA ARENT THE REPUGS STUPID! JERK MY COCK FASTER!

I'm finding it incredibly amusing that those defending the conservative viewpont from insulting strawman arguments are doing so with... insulting strawman arguments.

Maybe rigorous intellectual inquiry isn't the conservative strong suite after all.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:09 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


HEY YOURE DOING WHAT YOU SAID THE OTHER GUYS ARE DOING! I WIN LALALALLA *roll credits*
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:12 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am not a conservative and hence am unqualified to offer a defense of "the conservative viewpoint," whatever that may be. I am, however, pretty good at spotting groupthink, and this right here is groupthink of the purest sort.
posted by nasreddin at 8:15 AM on February 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


it's worthwhile to consider that structure and agency have different connotations in different fields. In my field (history) it's structure that's associated with notionally more conservative beliefs about the stability of political institutions and so on, while agency is widely thought of as being a proxy for "the oppressed subalterns will rise up and overthrow you one of these days, evil white plutocrat!"

That's an interesting point, to which I have two responses/refinements of my argument:

1. Just because conservatives believe in agency, it doesn't meant that liberals don't. I think that most political ideologies believe that both structure and agency are important and influential. Reagan-Thatcherite conservatism is unusually extreme in its exclusion of structure. In this respect, R-T conservatism, in itself, historically unusual. Early-modern conservatives really, really believed in structure. So structure/agency isn't a left/right thing. But structure/agency is an R-T conservative thing.

2. What we're seeing in history is that most of the discussion of 'agency' takes place in the context of post-structuralism. So back in the sixties, structuralists came along and said 'history isn't just kings and battles, economic and intellectual forces are important too'. Then, by the late seventies/early eighties there was a countervailing movement which is often generally known as 'post-structuralism'. One of the big post-structuralist critiques was that structuralists were eliding the power of the individual with their emphasis on big historical forces, institutions and social structures. As is often the case in the C20, this gets wrapped up with political critiques too, so when people talk about 'agency' they tend to be more interested in talking about subaltern agency than the agency of political decision-makers.

BUT there are significant areas of the historical profession that missed out on structuralism completely. I'm working in one of them (I do IR naval stuff) and I'm often faced with blanket statements like 'history is driven by decisions made by individual leaders'. This area is, consequently, very amenable to Reagan-Thatcherite conservatives, and I work alongside many of them. Indeed, being that I'm very interested in structuralist approaches, I myself often feel like a bit of a persecuted minority! :-)
posted by Dreadnought at 8:19 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


They're measuring the wrong thing, here. Academia doesn't select against conservativism. It selects against anti-intellectualism, which has a strong correlation with conservative beliefs.
posted by kafziel at 8:28 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The important part of post-structuralism is that most post-structuralists do not deny that there is structure. Labour historians talk about agency -- within the context of structure (the class system). There is no sub-altern if there is nothing to be sub to.

Also, we must not confuse pre-1850 conservatives or progressives with post-1850 -- the relationships have flipped. In c1600, for example, progressives were in favour of freer markets and the conversion of common property into private property; conservatives were in favour of common property and Market restrictions.
posted by jb at 8:32 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


'history is driven by decisions made by individual leaders'

Even if you take this as a given, the structure still can have a strong influence in selecting the leaders, and thus driving the decision making. It is possible that the structure is expressing itself through the leaders it selects.

Whats a good book on structure/agency? This is an interesting topic to me.
posted by no_moniker at 8:34 AM on February 9, 2011


2. What we're seeing in history is that most of the discussion of 'agency' takes place in the context of post-structuralism. So back in the sixties, structuralists came along and said 'history isn't just kings and battles, economic and intellectual forces are important too'. Then, by the late seventies/early eighties there was a countervailing movement which is often generally known as 'post-structuralism'. One of the big post-structuralist critiques was that structuralists were eliding the power of the individual with their emphasis on big historical forces, institutions and social structures. As is often the case in the C20, this gets wrapped up with political critiques too, so when people talk about 'agency' they tend to be more interested in talking about subaltern agency than the agency of political decision-makers.

Yeah, this is very much on point. I highly recommend Walter Johnson's article "On Agency," where he discusses the problem at some length:
There is embedded within this account of the unidirectional trade between present and past an idea of history writing as a mode of redress. The claims of the past upon the present are registered in terms of stolen "agency" and addressed through the writing of history which returns that "agency" to its rightful owners. Or, more accurately, through accounts which represent that agency being as returned, since the rightful owners in question have long since passed on. Which raises the question of what is really at stake in the repetition of this phrase: why don't historians invoke their colleagues or their students or their tenure files or their pocketbooks as the beneficiaries of the work they undertake? Framing the question that way seems to me to highlight what is at stake: the injunction to "give the slaves back their agency" functions as an advertisement of good will. As such it has a similar function to the knowing laughter you hear at conference panels when someone reads out the remarks of the racist other or the moment when the author of a book addresses the readers across the proscenium of standard historical narration to assure them that even if the slaveholders or racists or colonialists in question did not see the error of their ways he or she does.
posted by nasreddin at 8:34 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck bipartisanship and fuck conservatives. When was the last time they fretted about leaving us out? When was the last time they met us halfway on something? When was the last time they tried to "understand" us? I'm fucking tired of it. They have their knuckle-dragging talk radio, and we have science. That's how it is, that's how it's meant to be, and that's how it will always be until they destroy the world with their paranoid racist apocalyptic visions, or else they come around to our point of view out of the realization that the world is leaving them behind.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:38 AM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


The comments in this thread do pretty much reflect the attitude toward conservatives (of any variety) in academia, and most of them also reflect the idea that all conservatives are alike, and unmitigated embodiments of evil. No, there's no discrimination at all.

And this is different from how liberals are treated how? Ooohh, the conservatives have to struggle against professors making abstruse arguments in peer reviewed journals. How scary. Liberals on the other hand have to stand quietly while they are buried under an avalanche of media distortions funded by hundreds of billions of dollars a year of plutocratic money.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:41 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll get upset about this right after they fix the injustice of the lack of Communists running major corporations.
posted by ged at 8:49 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


>The comments in this thread do pretty much reflect the attitude toward conservatives (of any variety) in academia, and most of them also reflect the idea that all conservatives are alike, and unmitigated embodiments of evil. No, there's no discrimination at all.

And this is different from how liberals are treated how?


It's not, but I don't see why that's a reason to stoop to that level. I'm liberal, I've got a brain, and I'm not going to be dragged down to the level of Glenn Beck et al talking points. I get dismayed and depressed by my friends on the left who have decided that the only to combat loud ill-thought out rubbish is by spouting their own version of it (see also Olbermann, Keith).

Both the "liberal" and "conservative" tags embody a wide range of political viewpoints, and trying to simplify them into one slogan so that you can just dismiss entirely the other side is what people like Bill O'Reilly are all about, and it depresses when the left adopts the same tactics. We should be abe to convince people we right through the force of our arguments, not because we are the loudest and can shout the other side down.
posted by modernnomad at 8:50 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


In other words, liberalism is more "correct," so conservatives shouldn't be welcomed into the academic world.

If by "other words" you mean words I wouldn't use at all, and that belong to a straw man argument, then yes.

I think both wings would benefit from talking with each other. Perhaps you wouldn't generalize and demonize so broadly if you had regular contact with intelligent conservatives.

I have. Have you? Have you listened to the interminable, intertwined convolutions of logical fallacies modern conservatives use? There's a lot of mental horsepower there, and it's used almost entirely for sophistry, even when debating among themselves.

I'm done talking with them. There's no point, and no benefit. The age of P.J. O'Rourke and William F. Buckley and George Will - the infuriating but honest conservative, with well-reasoned, logically-constructed and rational views to debate - is over.

There is no conservative MeFi. There is no equal and opposite equivalent. This is why they've been pushed out of academia.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:54 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The comments in this thread do pretty much reflect the attitude toward conservatives (of any variety) in academia, and most of them also reflect the idea that all conservatives are alike, and unmitigated embodiments of evil. No, there's no discrimination at all.

Aside from a personal anecdote where someone thought they might not have gotten tenure if they disclosed their beliefs, has anyone even tried to show that discrimination against conservatives actually occurs?
posted by snofoam at 8:55 AM on February 9, 2011


has anyone even tried to show that discrimination against conservatives actually occurs?

So it's possible that conservatives experience disparate impact but not disparate treatment? I think a lot of conservatives would be happy to see the principle adopted that the latter is bad but the former is acceptable.
posted by topynate at 9:02 AM on February 9, 2011


So it's possible that conservatives experience disparate impact but not disparate treatment?

What is your point? No one has shown that they experience either.
posted by snofoam at 9:05 AM on February 9, 2011


"Aside from a personal anecdote where someone thought they might not have gotten tenure if they disclosed their beliefs, has anyone even tried to show that discrimination against conservatives actually occurs?"

And who would do that research? Liberal academics? A conservative think-tank? That's a no-win situation, no matter who conducted the research one side or the other would dismiss it out of hand. This is one of those "we know because we know" questions that will never be answered to anyone's satisfaction.

"The age of P.J. O'Rourke and William F. Buckley and George Will - the infuriating but honest conservative, with well-reasoned, logically-constructed and rational views to debate - is over. "

What a sad statement that is. The people that pass for conservatives these days wouldn't be fit to carry William F. Buckley's metaphorical jock-strap.
posted by MikeMc at 9:06 AM on February 9, 2011


This is one of those "we know because we know" questions that will never be answered to anyone's satisfaction.

Perhaps, but discriminatory hiring practices have been identified in plenty of other situations. Maybe if it was a real issue, there would be victims fighting against it. (And, of course, in America, even if it isn't a real issue, there would probably be someone suing over it.)
posted by snofoam at 9:11 AM on February 9, 2011


What is your point? No one has shown that they experience either.

But they do experience disparate impact. Disparate impact is the data-point which provoked Haidt's talk and therefore this discussion. The term is defined such that the cause of conservatives' absence in academia is irrelevant.

My point is the boring "what's sauce for the goose" one. Discrimination against certain protected groups is legally recognised as being so problematic that not only is it forbidden, but the effects of it are also forbidden, even in the absence of actual discrimination. If, as Haidt says, the sociology for political identity is similar to that for other identities, that suggests the same standard should be applied.
posted by topynate at 9:27 AM on February 9, 2011


Does this mean we've finally rigorously defined "conservative" and "liberal"?
posted by Eideteker at 9:29 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Bias" does not mean "having an informed opinion, and feeling free to dismiss obviously bad ideas." Not all ideas have merit.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:32 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does this mean we've finally rigorously defined "conservative" and "liberal"?

Thankfully the fine folks at gotoquiz.com have finally put that thorny issue to bed.
posted by MikeMc at 9:35 AM on February 9, 2011


The relative lack of conservatives in academia still doesn't prove disparate impact. If, for example, the three conservatives in the room were the only ones who tried for a career in that field, there's no discrimination happening. Maybe read the wikipedia link you put in your last comment.
posted by snofoam at 9:45 AM on February 9, 2011


The age of P.J. O'Rourke and William F. Buckley and George Will - the infuriating but honest conservative, with well-reasoned, logically-constructed and rational views to debate - is over.

I understand that you're trying to be "reasonable" and all that but O'Rourke, Buckley, and Will were skilled at sounding intelligent, not at arguing- their arguments are routinely little more than chains of logical fallacies built on misperceptions or outright lies. To suggest that they had "well-reasoned, logically-constructed, and rational views" is an insult to well-reasoned, logically-constructed, and rational views (O'Rourke in particular, who spent his career trying to sound like Hunter S. Thompson without ever taking anything identifiable as a risk) and we should reject such false equalities.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:50 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do social science.

In my experience, sure, most people are liberals or Democrats, and there's a bias insofar as it can be kosher to poke fun at conservatives/Republicans. I'll even allow that this really isn't proper, except insofar as everyone gets fun poked at them sometimes.

But really, nobody gives a shit about your political beliefs as long as you're not a tedious asshole blowhard about them. And if you are a tedious asshole blowhard about your political beliefs, everyone hates being around you no matter what those beliefs happen to be.

And if you're productive, nobody even cares very much whether you're a tedious asshole blowhard, as long as you're not completely intolerable about it.

“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."

I don't doubt that a grad student might say something like that, but that's not because it's true. It's because grad students, more or less by definition, don't know their discipline very well.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:52 AM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


One of the books we published in the last couple of years was a critique of the environmental movement as a religious movement. ... But that part often seems ignored by those who just glance at its thesis. They simply can't tolerate thinking about environmentalism as religious.

Perhaps it is because it is a really, really stupid thesis.
posted by JackFlash at 9:55 AM on February 9, 2011


Even if you take this as a given, the structure still can have a strong influence in selecting the leaders, and thus driving the decision making. It is possible that the structure is expressing itself through the leaders it selects.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not defending this view. Indeed, there's an even better argument against it:

Pre-Structuralist Agency Historian: "History is driven by individuals. Think of all those times when Churchill changed the course of history with a single word!"

Neo-Structuralist: "Fair enough, but think of all those other times when Churchill expended thousands and thousands of words attempting to change the course of history, and got nowhere, seemingly being stimied by insubstantial and yet all-powerful forces which represented no interest, responded to no individual."

PSAH: "Um... but those times weren't the important times, so they don't count!"

Whats a good book on structure/agency? This is an interesting topic to me.

Oh boy, now there's a question...

I honestly don't know if there's a single book that covers all of this. Part of the problem is that the actual structure/agency debate is pretty boring. Anybody who addresses it directly quickly realises that the answer is 'both are important', and that's not interesting enough to get published. So the actual writings tend to be about second-order wrinkles on the problem, which are a) really hard to read and b) mostly crap.

For example, much structuralist writing (Levi-Straus, Lacon, some Foucault) get bogged down with bogus pre-complexity/emergeance explanations of how structures work (linguistic determinism! Freudian unconcious! Semiotic determinism! Bunnies!). I'm told that a rare good example is Charles Tilly's work. I have Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons on my shelf, but I havn't had the time to read it yet (*blush*).

On the other side of the hill, post-structuralists are kind of notorious for putting forward critiques of structuralism without actually building up much in their place (see, for example, Foucault, who gets to be a structuralist and post-structuralist at the same time). For my money, the clearest post-structuralist writing is in archeology, a field in which (rather confusingly) structuralism is called 'processualism' and the equivilent of post-structuralism is 'post-processualism'. I think a really great book about this debate is Preucel, Robert W, ed. 1991. Processual and Postprocessual Archaeologies: Multiple Ways of Knowing the Past. Carbondale, IL: Center for Archaeological Investigations. It's clear, in depth, and unlike most work on the subject actually makes concrete suggestions for getting the best out of both approaches.

This, however, is very rare. I think most of the work on the subject is, frankly, by people who've lost sight of the big picture. I actually think that the article that nasreddin suggested (above) falls into some of the traps that infest the whole debate. The guy perports to be critiquing the study of agency, but he actually ends up arguing against the idea that 'agency' in history might have political conequences for the present (which I think is clearly wrong). I mean, when scholars say that they're 'giving slaves back their agency' they don't mean that they're going back in time and literally giving them agency, they mean they're putting the agency of the slave back into the historical picture of them (from whence it was supposedly taken away by those agency-eliding structuralist jerks). Plus, replace the word 'redeem' with 'memorialise' (and I think that scholars who use words like 'redemptive' really do mean memorialise, except with a self-agrandising twist) and the whole argument evaporates. Memorialisation absolutely is a legitimate purpose for history.

On preview, that last paragraph might sound like a big derail, but I actually think it's pretty on-point. Arguments about structure and agency are mired in mutual incomprehension, because each side wants to frame the debate in terms of secondary issues that make their own ideas look good.

In the debate in this thread, one side is saying 'social sciences find against conservative ideology' without attempting to explain why this discipline should be so incompatible with social science disciplines. Conversely, the other side is saying 'don't oversimplfy conservatives' without stopping to consider how mistrust of the Republican Party on one issue (evolution, climate change) might indeed push a person into the arms of their Democratic rivals and, thus, in a politically polarised society like the USA, further to the idological left. In academe, as in life, you can't have an argument without rebuttal or you end up with years of fruitless noise.
posted by Dreadnought at 9:57 AM on February 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Certain interests attract certain 'types.' This is not a mystery of the universe by any stretch. The thing here that is alarming (to me) is not the disparity in 'representation,' but the desire of conservatives to 'colonize' this profession.

If we really want equality of political views in every profession, can I be the liberal investment banker? Please?

Seriously, i swear i'll only spend my money on hookers and blow and not feeding the homeless and destitute. Oh and yachts. I'll buy yachts. Like seventeen of them. I promise i'll feed them.

Yachts are something you feed, right?
posted by Fuka at 10:03 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fuka, I get your point, but there are plenty of "liberal" Wall Street types. George Soros for example. I don't understand where the idea came from that people in highly paid finanical professions are always "conservative".

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a certain subset of ALL people, regardless of race, creed OR political persuasion motivate to make a killing in banking/investing; some just figure out how to game the system better than others. It doesn't matter if your home page is the Huffington Post or the Drudge report.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:15 AM on February 9, 2011


"To suggest that they had "well-reasoned, logically-constructed, and rational views" is an insult to well-reasoned, logically-constructed, and rational views "

Buckley on the War on Drugs™:

"Treatment is not now available for almost half of those who would benefit from it. Yet we are willing to build more and more jails in which to isolate drug users even though at one-seventh the cost of building and maintaining jail space and pursuing, detaining, and prosecuting the drug user, we could subsidize commensurately effective medical care and psychological treatment."

"It is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana. I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors."


Nope, no logic or rationality there. Buckley was a master at being a drooling moron who just pretended to be well educated, thoughtful and articulate. Not to say that every word from his mouth was a pearl of wisdom but come on.
posted by MikeMc at 10:21 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


How about this: Conservatives don't care about society, right? That's a bedrock "conservative" principle nowadays. Anything less than absolute denial of a broader social context is "socialism," after all.

So why the hell would they be inclined toward studying social science, the study of society? My vote is that they self-select out of the field because most "conservatives" probably see it as a field for losers. The same reason conservatives rarely become teachers or social workers.

but there are plenty of "liberal" Wall Street types. George Soros for example.

Ah! Yes, the infamous Soros bogeyman, the only example anyone ever offers of a liberal Wall Street type (and he isn't even especially liberal, just not so big on authoritarianism; Soros was especially politically active for a brief time against Bush, Jr--who got reelected anyway btw--not on behalf of any particular positive liberal agenda. If that's what "liberalism" has been reduced to nowadays--Jesus, just forget it. This thing is just hopeless at this point).
posted by saulgoodman at 10:22 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nope, no logic or rationality there. Buckley was a master at being a drooling moron who just pretended to be well educated, thoughtful and articulate. Not to say that every word from his mouth was a pearl of wisdom but come on.

That is hardly a conservative viewpoint by any even vaguely modern metric.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:23 AM on February 9, 2011


Soros isn't sufficiently liberal to 'count', Buckley isn't sufficiently conservative. Come on, these are people who self-identify as liberal and conservative, and who associate politically with other people with the same identity. We don't apply purity tests in the context of race or (usually) religion, why ideology?
posted by topynate at 10:33 AM on February 9, 2011


Ah! Yes, the infamous Soros bogeyman, the only example anyone ever offers of a liberal Wall Street type (and he isn't even especially liberal

Okay, here is a summary of contributors from Goldman Sachs to Democrats/Republicans over 20 years. As you can see, MOST of it goes to DEMOCRATS, a rough proxy for so called liberal ideology. So there, suck it.

I mean, what do you want, Jamie Dimon frothing at the mouth and waving a copy of a "People's history of the United States" in Times Square?
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:37 AM on February 9, 2011


Ah! Yes, the infamous Soros bogeyman, the only example anyone ever offers of a liberal Wall Street type (and he isn't even especially liberal, just not so big on authoritarianism; Soros was especially politically active for a brief time against Bush, Jr--who got reelected anyway btw--not on behalf of any particular positive liberal agenda. If that's what "liberalism" has been reduced to nowadays--Jesus, just forget it. This thing is just hopeless at this point).


Jamie Dimon is another good example. Actually, because "Wall Street" is centered in New York and recruits from elite universities, its ranks are quite liberal (please don't no-true-Scotsman). Your suggestion that George Soros is the token liberal of the financial sector is insane. Furthermore, there's nothing in gagglezoomer's comment to suggest he's invoking Soros as a "bogeyman" -- he said he was a liberal in the financial industry, he didn't say he was one of the Elders of Zion. I'm frankly ashamed of you.

How can so many of you look at a thread like this and think, Oh, looks like those lazy, overbroad, vitriolic comments need a little more support -- better jump in!
posted by grobstein at 10:39 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand where the idea came from that people in highly paid finanical professions are always "conservative".


Well, if you generalize this to just "highly paid," that it's because the data supports it. Sure, obviously, not everyone in highly paid financial professions identifies one way or the other, but generally, as income goes up, so does the percentage of folks voting R. None of the Fox News blather about lattes and Priuses changes that.
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 10:42 AM on February 9, 2011


snofoam, disparate impact usually becomes a legal issue when job applicants are affected disparately, but dissuading a protected group from applying also counts. For instance, if you have an online application process, you have to ensure that the fact that it's online doesn't lead to relatively fewer minority applicants. A more direct analogy would be, for example if an employer required its employees to attend an event related to the Confederacy. It could be argued that such a requirement acted to stop black people applying to work at the company, even if the company was careful to hire applicants in a way that avoided adverse impact.
posted by topynate at 10:44 AM on February 9, 2011


Subcommandante Cheese, one of the principal results of the Gelman study is that high pay correlates with voting R in Republican states but not in Democratic ones. So it's a priori unlikely, based on that study, that finance workers, who tend to work in liberal states, would be more conservative.
posted by topynate at 10:49 AM on February 9, 2011


I don't understand where the idea came from that people in highly paid finanical professions are always "conservative".


Well, if you generalize this to just "highly paid," that it's because the data supports it. Sure, obviously, not everyone in highly paid financial professions identifies one way or the other, but generally, as income goes up, so does the percentage of folks voting R. None of the Fox News blather about lattes and Priuses changes that.


The word "financial" in "highly paid financial professions" is there for a reason; it is not redundant. It refers broadly to the sector of the economy involved in the allocation of financial capital. You can't "generalize this to just 'highly paid,'" because the statement is about a completely different (much broader) population. How a gas station owner in Kansas votes has no bearing on the comment you purport to be responding to.

It's like if I said, "Highly paid university professors tend to vote Republican," and then backed it up with data showing that high-income voters skewed conservative.

On preview, topynate can tell you specifically why the data you're invoking says the opposite of what you claim to think it does.
posted by grobstein at 10:51 AM on February 9, 2011


I think the discussion above re political persuasion of financial workers is kind of a mini-example of how having an all-liberal leaning faculty could shut down academic debate. Of course left-wingers don't want to acknowledge that, by and large, financial sector executives are liberal even though the data clearly supports it, because these are the "bad guys" who ruined our economy and took grandma's pension. Couldn't there be other "uncomfortable truths" or "dangerous ideas" that go unsaid because the answers are at opposition to accepted ideology?
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:59 AM on February 9, 2011


We don't apply purity tests in the context of race or (usually) religion, why ideology?

I've been a self-identifying conservative. I've been a self-identifying liberal. I'm currently a self-identifying pro-labor leftist, who thinks our current ideas about politics--which are more identity driven than ideological--are all kinds of screwed up, historically anomalous and unhelpful.

Soros may be liberal-leaning, but he's not the rhetorical "liberal" because no such animal exists. People are people. They behave liberally or illiberally; they hold liberal or illiberal views on specific matters at specific times, but are not forever frozen in amber as representatives of their ideological species in the process. They are not born into some special tribe of "liberals" who all agree about everything. Quite the opposite. They are called "liberal," in part, because they allow for the possibility of disagreement at all.

Soros played a key role in helping his country (Hungary) transition from Communism to Capitalism. He's a wealthy capitalist who opposes authoritarianism, not some kind of liberal crusader. And even if he were, so what? A single liberally-inclined financier is enough to correct an imbalance that has whole cottage industries devoted to right wing PR cropping up around it? The Koch brothers, Murdoch, K Street, the Disneys, Norquist, Melon-Scaife, the Family, all of them balanced out of existence by Soros? Hardly.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:02 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


topynate, sure, but there's still nothing but conjecture that this could be happening, which is still a far cry from showing that it is actually happening.
posted by snofoam at 11:02 AM on February 9, 2011


I'm open to the idea that there are conservatives who could be good social scientists but drop out because they feel so uncomfortable, and I would call that a legitimate problem. On the other hand:

1) It's nothing compared to what the first blacks and the first women to integrate into new fields went through. Put some steel in your spine and break some barriers. Heck, devote your research to anti-conservative bias in academia, and do it so well that your peers are persuaded by your results.

2) I would love to know how many currently liberal social scientists were conservative when they took their first college class. Ten years of advanced education was pretty integral in moving me from a dittohead to a flaming liberal. And I don't think it was peer pressure--this was all in Texas, and a lot of my fellow students were conservatives. The study led me that way.

3) I do agree that there is likely a lot of self-selection here. Conservatives just aren't drawn to social science like liberals. Combine that with a good accounting of the "formerly-conservative" researchers and I bet that this problem, while still present, gets a lot smaller.

4) And, in the final analysis, I give a damn, but's it's a very small damn that I'm giving. I don't have enough tears left to shed any for beleaguered conservatives who didn't get to be professors.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:04 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


"That is hardly a conservative viewpoint by any even vaguely modern metric."

Buckley seemed to think so. It's a quite practical and utilitarian position to take but I guess since it lacked moral judgments and condemnation of the weak willed it made him a bit of an outlier.
posted by MikeMc at 11:04 AM on February 9, 2011


As you can see, MOST of it goes to DEMOCRATS, a rough proxy for so called liberal ideology. So there, suck it.

As you can see, you've confused party affiliation with political ideology. Why? Because that's all we've got left in the US anymore, period. Party affiliations and personal financial interests, but no substantive, coherent political philosophies at all.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:04 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I certainly stand corrected in regards to that study. I wasn't familiar with the majority of the posts on that blog, just the one I posted to. There's a moral in there, somewhere. It's actually pretty easy to find.

The word "financial" in "highly paid financial professions" is there for a reason; it is not redundant.

Don't assume I didn't, or don't, understand this. My response is that people's beliefs, in this regard, are based off of the recognition that the Republican party is a party representing the interests of the rich, and that on a basic level, the numbers show that the rich recognize the same and vote accordingly. Now, things have become a hell of a lot less black and white in the last ten to twenty or so years, since the Democratic party has stopped caring so much about regulation, and so no, it doesn't surprise me that there are plenty of folks supporting democrats in the financial industry. I can still easily understand why folks think there's an inherent conservatism to the financial sector.
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 11:07 AM on February 9, 2011


Why are so many of you equating conservativism with membership to the Republican party? More conservative thinkers like Edmund Burke certainly have worthwhile ideas that should be consumed and debated whether or not we'd rather read Thomas Paine because he fits more comfortably into our worldview. That's one example out of many but it's one I've encountered personally in academia (where a majority of students outright reject Burke because of his reputation an refuse to give him the credit he is due) and I think that's more what's at issue here, not a Glenn Beck/Bill O'Reilly style propaganda barrage. YMMV.
posted by nonmerci at 11:08 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


gagglezoomer, I was being facetious and lampooning the stereotype of investment bankers being drug addled yacht buyers and not inclined to any sort of charity, as well as mocking the idea that any profession needs to have a specific cross-section of viewpoints within it.

Both ideas are equally absurd. I certainly don't (personally) like the idea of a liberal mortgage officer, nor do I like the idea of a deeply conservative social worker. I'm alarmed that these people want to colonize these professions, not because they are conservative, but because anyone who wants to do this wants to alter the behavior of these professions.

When I contemplate the motives of people wanting the alter the behavior of social scientists, I'm alarmed.
posted by Fuka at 11:11 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


There probably aren't many illiterate people working in social psychology either. Social psychology is biased against illiteracy!
posted by goethean at 11:15 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Other entirely random examples I can think of: when studying European integration, liberal intergovernmentalism always comes up, and while it's more conservative than using a constructivist approach, it still *has value.* It's not inherently narrow-minded, and it should be discussed and debated in spite of its more conservative tendencies as a political theory. I think it's important to acknowledge the value here, and to distinguish between conservative modes of thought and more liberal ones. Neither is better than the other, and by approaching both one can better understand or grasp the issue and his/her stance on it.

In Cold War studies, some professors might entirely ignore the work of so-called "Cold Warriors" who view Soviet Russia as entirely negative and Stalinism as devoid of any good. On the other hand, more liberal historians write on some of the benefits of Stalinism and some of the similarities of Soviet Russia to 1930s America, for example. Is anyone really positing that we should only read one, or the other? Like nasreddin upthread, I'm surprised by the quality of this discussion. I don't weigh in either way as to whether there is an inherent bias (though anecdotally I can see it in some of my course experiences) but all the ID/young-earther/segregation examples seem way off the mark, here.
posted by nonmerci at 11:16 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


financial sector executives are liberal even though the data clearly supports it, because these are the "bad guys" who ruined our economy and took grandma's pension

Whoa! Wait a minute. I don't think that's at all true. I'm pretty sure there's data that contradicts this. Wall street always donates more money to political candidates with the most popular support (they "like a winner" and want a chance "to have a seat at the table," in the argot), so simply pointing to one or two years of political contributions in one direction or another demonstrates nothing. I can't find any hard statistics on this, though I could swear it's been studied, but here's a funny forum thread on the topic that backs up the general impression of Wall Street as Republican dominated at the top levels. But even that only tells us about party allegiance, which is not a sufficient substitute for a political leaning. Some of the best presidents we've ever had were liberal Republicans, and some of the worst, conservative Democrats. No, those are not oxymorons. At least, they weren't until a few years ago when all those pseudo-conservative blowhards took over the churches and radio stations.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:17 AM on February 9, 2011


Tim Geithner and Larry Summers are both Democrat apparachiks. Neither could be said to be liberal or left-wing on financial or economic policy.

Okay, now I feel like I'm having my "Google-Ron-Paul" moment, but I just saw The Inside Job and there is no difference between the two major American parties on financial policy, which is by de fault major economic policy and affects standards of living across the entire planet.
posted by jb at 11:19 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


jb: Well, both parties get their money from the same places, don't they? What possible incentive would they have for threatening the economic status quo that pays for their campaigns? Even if they succeeded in fighting the good fight on financial policy, they'd be out of the game come next election, when their campaign coffers ran dry. Most people can't afford to just gamble away $2000 bucks (or whatever the max individual contribution is) on some politician's campaign with no expectation of an immediate return on their investment. But those who can afford it often contribute to both sides. The bias toward the economic status quo is deep and increasingly systemic. The only potential fix is mandatory public campaign financing--but the courts are even questioning congress' authority to publicly subsidize campaigns now, so good luck with that.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:01 PM on February 9, 2011


As others here have alluded, this kind of discussion just highlights the degree to which the terms "liberal" and "conservative" both have been distorted in the last generation or so in American politics. Any significant time spent outside the American media bubble, say in Europe or even Canada, makes this clear.

It's one thing for specific words in a language to gradually evolve and shift in meaning over time (the Anglo-Saxon word "girl" once meant any small child, IIRC), but quite another for these two to be so dramatically shifted in such short a span. To illustrate, consider historical usages and their remnants: when was the last time you heard of someone getting a conservative arts degree?
posted by Philofacts at 12:04 PM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why are so many of you equating conservativism with membership to the Republican party? More conservative thinkers like Edmund Burke certainly have worthwhile ideas that should be consumed and debated

Because Edmund Burke is dead. What are left are conservative Republicans and they are all insane and/or stupid.
posted by JackFlash at 12:13 PM on February 9, 2011


non-merci: as I said upthread, confusing pre-1850 conservatives with the contemporary use of the word conservative is unproductive. Very few Americans who identify as conservative would agree with conservative positions c1800, which in Britain were anti-free trade, largely anti-capitalist and also were monarchist.

And the young earth/ID comparisons are completely accurate. Many people who currently identify as conservative do not believe that there is currently racial bias in society; when confronted with empiracal studies demonstrating that people do have unconscious biases (as has been found by social psychologists through experimentation), they must either a) ignore the evidence or b) change their minds. if they do the first, they will fail to be good academics; if they do the second, they will become less conservative.

Another example: many economic conservatives believe that increased market integration leads to economic growth and development, and therefore to reduced poverty. This belief is the theoretical underpinning of international development and trade policy. However, recent empirical studies by both economists and historians have found no correlation between international market integration and economic development (let alone causation). Again, either you must a) ignore the evidence or b) at least question the claim that Market integration (In these cases, I've been particularly talking about international Market integration and it's relationship to national development -- domestic Market integration may have a different relationship with national development. And I have no idea why my iPod has decided Market is a proper noun).

the social sciences are not a game of opinion; they are serious studies of real phenomenon. Like all sciences, there is vigorous debate over the interpretation of results and a great deal of disagreement; indeed, I would say that the debates within disciplines are far greater than debates between disciplines and the rest of the world. (No one criticises a scholar as hard as another scholar). And while all questions are worthy, there are wrong and less wrong answers; the less wrong are what we call our models. If you insist that your personal ideology must be accepted as one of those models, without regard for the evidence to support it, then you are doing bad social science, just like any Young Earther insisting that the earth is 6000 years old, regardless of the evidence for or against this. I once took a class on social welfare policy with a Thatcherite; he asked fascinating questions about the detriments of government-based poor relief (aka welfare or unemployment or social security) - and he changed my mind regarding the history and benefits of charitable efforts in the 19th & 20th centuries. And yet the very readings he had chosen for the class undermined his own claims on the overall issues. He simply ignored what didn't fit with his ideology, or would make up facts to support his claims. (At one point, he claimed that Canadian socialised medicine could work, but not British or Americans, because both places had more immigrants. Of course, the proportion of immigrants to the overall population was and still is twice as high in Canada. Similarly, not even the CIA factbook was a convincing source to show that the US had a lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rate than other developed countries which had socialised medicine.)

Throughout the social sciences, there are findings like these that contradict contemporary conservative ideas and policies. There are also findings that question and contradict some liberal preconceptions. In my research, for example, I find that the local people had as little interest in the environment or biodiversity as the developers who would destroy it; their objection to development was fundamentally a legal and economic one. And lots of die hard environmentalists who also happen to be historians react to this with "Oh, that's interesting", because I present evidence to support my point.

John Ogbu's work on culture and educational attainment among African-Americans is far more respected than my meager research, though it contradicts liberal ideas that racial disparities are due solely to discrimination. Of course, he probably didn't identify as "conservative", so that doesn't count, right?
posted by jb at 12:15 PM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Of course left-wingers don't want to acknowledge that, by and large, financial sector executives are liberal even though the data clearly supports it, because these are the "bad guys" who ruined our economy and took grandma's pension. Couldn't there be other "uncomfortable truths" or "dangerous ideas" that go unsaid because the answers are at opposition to accepted ideology?"

Well, first off, the data doesn't support it. The data supports that they contributed more to Democrats over the last couple decades. But party membership is a poor proxy for ideology (as others have pointed out), there are other reasons why they might contribute (such as wanting to influence the dominant party more to their interests, which may be conservative), and it's entirely possible that they may be mixed ideologically, socially liberal and fiscally conservative. There's also the point that most of the places these businesses are located have distorted, Democrat-heavy political machines (to the point where Bloomberg is a Republican in [electoral] name only), which can also skew the relative totals of donations — if you choose the conservative in a Democrat-Democrat primary, just giving to a Democrat does not show a liberal bias.

The critiques of academic groupthink are worthwhile, but the article's a hackjob and there are myriad explanations for the distribution of conservatives in academia. I'll also note that this topic comes up every couple of years, and never really results in much.

I'll also note that when I was in college, the same people complaining about lack of conservative representation both in the professors and on the school paper were the ones holding the "Whites Only" bakesale that was supposed to be a critique of affirmative action — even as they demanded more participation within the academy, ostensibly through some form of affirmative action for ideology.

The counterpoint of that is that one of the best arguments I ever had — and I didn't realize I had lost at the time — was with the stridently conservative local government prof who found us in the poli-sci lounge talking about a ballot initiative. It was over a greenbelt measure that I supported, but he was ultimately right about the consequences — I had supported the greenbelt as an anti-sprawl initiative, and he characterized it as a sop to local homeowners in order to increase their real estate prices. Ultimately, as the coalition for the greenbelt fell apart, the outcome was an increase in prices without much increased density.

posted by klangklangston at 12:22 PM on February 9, 2011


Pater Aletheias  Ten years of advanced education was pretty integral in moving me from a dittohead to a flaming liberal ... I do agree that there is likely a lot of self-selection here. Conservatives just aren't drawn to social science like liberals.

But you don't care much that the former might indicate a problem with the ideological uniformity of higher education, or why the latter might be the cause of the former.

I understand that kyrademon's comment was meant to be a skewering of the claims people have made about women in academia, but to me it pointed up the necessity of better making room for conservatives in academia for many of the same reasons we think it's important to welcome women.

I am a liberal who does not want liberals to have disparate control of our civilization's accounts of ourselves and the world around us.
posted by hat at 12:32 PM on February 9, 2011


Just a thought - is it at all possible that one of the reasons the recent conservative movement has been so anti-intellectual (more so than the historical standard, I think), is that they've been shut out of the academy? Think tanks push particular ideologies, they don't fund general development of ideas. That's what the ivory tower is for.

Maybe by not letting them have a place at that particular table academic liberals have created the monster they now face, blind and unreasoning.
posted by overhauser at 12:34 PM on February 9, 2011


I would not have gotten tenure had my political and religious beliefs been known to the committee.

Pure conjecture.

As a counterpoint, I am not allowed by law to teach in (the public schools of) California.

if it was demonstrated that the academy had the effect of liberalizing people.

Isn't it established that more education = less conservatism?

The age of P.J. O'Rourke and William F. Buckley and George Will - the infuriating but honest conservative, with well-reasoned, logically-constructed and rational views to debate - is over.

I don't think this is true at all. What is over is the age of those sorts of people making a living with their well-reasoned arguments. All my conservative friends (admittedly few) are of the well-reasoned variety. They are pretty much all social liberals, however.

It will be interesting to see where the "well-reasoned" conservative ends up politically. I think you'll see them break strongly from the Republican Party at some point.

Also, what several people said about the rise of conservative think tanks. Academia did not have that competition in the '50s and '60s. Why take a low-paying academic job at the public university when you can make twice as much at a conservative think tank?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:40 PM on February 9, 2011


The problem is that people now un-reflectively (mis-)take the concepts of "conservatism" and "liberalism" to be opposites. They are not. They can conflict, but they can also be complementary. Academia is inherently "liberal," among other reasons, because liberalism and liberal ideals are what gave birth to the concept of the university. It's what we used to understand as a liberal idea that people have a right to be educated at all.

People study liberal arts in the university because of these historical realities. These realities didn't use to be such a sticking point because self-identifying conservatives in the past didn't understand their beliefs as necessarily being in direct, ideological conflict with the ideals of liberalism. That's changed because we've reduced both ideas down to nothing more than arbitrary identity markers signalling what political teams we are on.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:47 PM on February 9, 2011


Jb--Agree to disagree. As someone very much a part of academia and working toward a graduate degree in the social sciences, "conservative" values, Enlightenment-era or not, are still very much a part of discussions of various social theories (be they legal, political, historical, etc.) Furthermore, the European understanding of conservative and liberal outside of the realm of American politics is something you and others may do well to investigate; it's sort of ridiculous to say that only the O'Reilly/Olbermann dichotomy constitutes conservatism and "liberalism" (hard to say that since it's such a misuse of the term), and what anyone else says on the subject is false.

I am a member of the Democratic party, but find much value in conservative thought with regard to political philosophy and international relations theory. I do not believe your examples are at all relevant in regard to either of these fields, and I get the feeling you are being willfully ignorant in order to make a point, the sense of which I cannot deduce. I'm not confusing one with the other: if someone says they are conservative and they enjoy Fox News, I'm fairly certain I won't engage them on intellectual topics in any event. If however they claim to hold conservative views because they tend to think that Realpolitik is a more useful look at the field of international relations than discursive analysis, I'm not going to tell them they are wrong for thinking so but rather engage them on the topic and ask them why they feel it is a more fitting theory. This does not mean they are slack-jawed hicks incapable of rationalizing, nor can you or anyone else make a conclusive response as to their absolute wrongness--you can only offer your own theory in rebuttal.

I'm not sure why I'm even trying to have this conversation--the status quo of American politics and rhetoric is fundamentally depressing, and your long response only states more eloquently what others have said so quite callowly upthread.

On preview: what saulgoodman said.
posted by nonmerci at 12:59 PM on February 9, 2011


non-merci: Thank you for assuming I am American. I am not, never have been, and I am now European by immigration.

Europe has also had a shift in conservatism in the last 200 years, or at least Britain has -- the country I study and to which I now owe some allegiance. British conservatism is not now what it was in Burke's day; I have met some actually 18th century style conservatives (pro-aristocracy, not so sure about this mob-rule they call democracy -- anti-Common Agricultural policy, but probably pro-Corn law if asked)

but no one would claim that mainstream conservatism
in the post-Thatcher era was of this bent. And that is what the discussion is about: how many social scientists would, in the context of the 2010 definition of conservatism (pro-small government and anti-social welfare, pro-free trade and anti-Market regulation -- and in the case of social conservatives, anti-gay marriage and pro-Church) would define themselves as conservative.
posted by jb at 1:17 PM on February 9, 2011


non-merci -- the RealPolitik people in IR are idiots who ignore evidence and human psychology.

And to imply that the only other option is discursive analysis is to build your strawman out of rotten silage.
posted by jb at 1:19 PM on February 9, 2011


sorry -- I was mistaken in my
analysis of realpolitik. upon discussing it with my IR historian husband, he reminded me that Realpolitik people in IR are the ones who ignore human history, rather human psychology.
posted by jb at 1:33 PM on February 9, 2011


It's interesting to me that Haidt referenced Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions", which is one of the most interesting books I've ever read, and it is from a conservative intellectual perspective.

Much of this comment thread is beneath Metafilter. By the time the third person said any variation of "reality has a liberal bias" y'all ought to have been embarrassed for them. I was.
posted by Danila at 1:39 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


He's a wealthy capitalist who opposes authoritarianism, not some kind of liberal crusader.

Are you not familiar with the Open Society Institute?
posted by electroboy at 1:42 PM on February 9, 2011


To my mind, the more worrisome portion of the article was not its argument about the underrepresentation of conservatives, but the larger ideological point about the elevation of quasi-religious political dogmas to the status of foundational scholarly assumptions in many academic disciplines. I think the first comment in this thread was really illuminating:

Well, so long as conservative politics (particularly its social/cultural branch) is associated with the denigration of other "outgroups," it's going to be underrepresented in a field that studies discrimination

Leaving aside the assumption that conservatism is "associated with the denigration of other 'outgroups'" (which it's absolutely not, except in the rhetoric of the opposition-- so a more balanced political presence in academia would in any case remove this objection), since when has social science been defined as "the study of discrimination"? Surely sociology should be committed to the objective gathering of information about human society, psychology to the objective gathering of information about the human psyche, and so forth. The idea of "discrimination" is one small part of a theory about how society works-- and a fairly politicized and temporally localized theory at that-- and any sociologist worth his or her salt should, I'd think, be committed to the ongoing revision of that and any other theory depending on the shape of the evidence accumulated to date.

That means that it should be perfectly OK for an academic to question whether women are biologically less inclined toward scientific pursuits (don't agree? Do a study and prove the contrary!), or how much of differences in the performance of various minority groups are owing to family structures or cultural factors vs. pervasive discrimination. That, instead of funding studies to investigate these questions, professional academics shout the speakers off the floor or brand the ideas too radically evil for consideration, speaks really poorly of the status of reason and critical thinking in an institution that's supposed to be the ultimate refuge for those qualities. We need our academy to be an academy. If a number of scholarly fields have become less fundamentally oriented to constant objective investigation at all levels, and instead have reshaped themselves as frankly interested in and committed to only particular sorts of knowledge, in the service of frankly political ends (however noble), then that's a problem for the intellectual future of our society.

The scientific method only really works when you're openmindedly committed to answering questions-- the first half of the twentieth century gives us any number of horrific examples of how bad and wrong science, sociology and psychology can get when you use their investigative tools, even well-meaningly, to support political conclusions whose truth you've already assumed. Anytime you endorse a particular principle (particularly one as inherently complex as "discrimination" or "sexism") to the extent of ruling out the possibility of evidence to the contrary-- or even of questioning whether such evidence could exist-- then that principle has ceased to be science, and become a faith. Right now, having a dogmatically religious university system may only harm people who're not of that particular religion. But ultimately, it has the potential to work out badly for everyone.
posted by yersinia at 1:57 PM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Are you not familiar with the Open Society Institute?

When capitalists spread their money around to increase economic opportunity for poor people, that's liberalism in service to conservatism, in the same way that Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party's embrace of the labor movement was as much motivated out of the self-interested desire to preserve social stability as it was the egalitarian spirit of liberalism. God forbid we should try to help our fellows in bad circumstances; that's all just liberal politics to hear some people talk. Doing or trying to do anything good, apparently, is liberalism.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:57 PM on February 9, 2011


That, instead of funding studies to investigate these questions, professional academics shout the speakers off the floor or brand the ideas too radically evil for consideration, speaks really poorly of the status of reason and critical thinking in an institution that's supposed to be the ultimate refuge for those qualities.

Um, but people are doing all these kinds of studies. So where's the evidence of a problem? I've read about them here on MeFi.

Or what, is somebody behind the scenes pushing for a big research grant on one of these controversial issues right now, and they're running into opposition, and so that's why we're talking about this again?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:03 PM on February 9, 2011


Isn't this one of the things that changed radically in 1989, though we didn't see it at the time (and quite a bit after)? Before the wall came down, conservatives and liberals and social democrats agreed that modern, western society was a good idea. So in most universities there would be professors with different opinions, feuding, but feuding with the same types of arms. Everyone was for science, even for social sciences and the humanities, because science was a cornerstone of the good society.
I've met a lot of conservatives in the social sciences, during the 90's when I was working on my Phd. It was quite normal to be re-examining pre-WW2 conservatism, or for instance, to study the role of public housing in preventing social mobility. I was seen as somewhat of a radical leftist because I carried around my well-worn Poppers. (Which was fun, when only few years earlier, silently reading Popper was seen as an equally fanatical sort of right wing activism).
But during the nineties and noughts, conservatism was taken hostage by populism and specially populist anti-intellectualism, and most of the conservative academics disappeared - many into more lucrative jobs in politics or into the commentariat were they would earn their cash by lying on TV (while privately citing Strauss or Bourdieu to justify the lies). Those who hung on in academia seemed to become increasingly crazy, engaging in strange schemes to forward incomprehensible projects, ranting about conspiracies which maybe happened during the seventies, or imagining Islamist baby-killing enemies in the place of their old Communist foes.
Bjorn Lomborg is a nice example of this tendency within the social sciences, since he manages to be in both groups: he is an economist, specializing in statistics, but his career is a strange middle between populist politics and crazy academic, since he obviously knows nothing about environmental science and doesn't care.
posted by mumimor at 2:24 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am now fascinated by the idea of there being a conservative brain drain from universities to think tanks. Where can I read more about this?
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:39 PM on February 9, 2011


This is just a first google hit: Leo Strauss and the Neo-Cons at War, but it seems to point to some other sources. I need to go to bed now, but may look for more tomorrow, if you are interested.
posted by mumimor at 2:49 PM on February 9, 2011


When capitalists spread their money around to increase economic opportunity for poor people, that's liberalism in service to conservatism

Is there any evidence that's the primary motivation?
posted by electroboy at 3:10 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


To my mind, the more worrisome portion of the article was not its argument about the underrepresentation of conservatives, but the larger ideological point about the elevation of quasi-religious political dogmas to the status of foundational scholarly assumptions in many academic disciplines.

Luckily, that part was essentially made-up claptrap.

since when has social science been defined as "the study of discrimination"

Since never. Luckily, nobody said that it was except you to argue against that.

It was merely stated that social science is a field that studies discrimination. This is indisputably true, in the same way that biology is a field that studies enzymes but is not defined as the study of enzymes.

That means that it should be perfectly OK for an academic to question whether women are biologically less inclined toward scientific pursuits (don't agree? Do a study and prove the contrary!), or how much of differences in the performance of various minority groups are owing to family structures or cultural factors vs. pervasive discrimination.

Then I have some wonderful news for you: it is.

Here's an easy example for you. That first question? In his more or less off-the-cuff talk, Summers based his argument on work by Xie and Shauman. Work that was -- guess what -- successfully published. I'm not about to go read all of them, but it looks like work from the same larger project was published in four articles (including the American Sociological Review) and ultimately as a book from, ironically, Harvard University Press.

Likewise, the people the linked article cites as the critics nobody believes, Ceci and Williams, have had to settle for having their work published in such out of the way places as Oxford University Press.

The stuff that's described as being too outre' and challenging for horribly biased, liberal social science is getting published in horribly biased, liberal social science publications after making it through peer review by horribly biased, liberal social scientists.

That, instead of funding studies to investigate these questions, professional academics shout the speakers off the floor or brand the ideas too radically evil for consideration, speaks really poorly of the status of reason and critical thinking in an institution that's supposed to be the ultimate refuge for those qualities.

Again, I have great news for you: that doesn't happen. Yay!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:12 PM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


financial sector executives are liberal even though the data clearly supports it

Oh, this again.

I work for a similar Financial Institution, and I gave generously to the Obama campaign. However, I'm not an executive at my company; I work in a technical position.

Those numbers you posted are bogus to your claims without further breakdowns. Why? They include everyone who works for an organization, from the folks in the mailroom to the CEO and in-between. That's a crappy way of "proving" that financial execs are primarily Democratic, and you need much more focus -- information on the Executive Level contributions alone -- to prove your point.

Moreover, you didn't even mention the 2010 numbers, where the 74/26 Democrat/GOP in '08 swapped to 39/60. And that's not the first time that's happened (look at 90' and 92').
posted by Asim at 3:13 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there any evidence that's the primary motivation?

Well, no, but it's not secret that the wealthy used to be willing to cuddle up to liberal ideas out of self-interest. Teddy Roosevelt's famous Bull-Moose speech on the Progressive Party ticket laid out the self-interested conservative argument for liberalism in pretty direct terms at the time. It wasn't like it was a secret that wealthy supporters of progressive politics were motivated as much by self-interest as concern for the advancement of liberal ideals. For example, consider Roosevelt's following statements on that occasion:
And now, friends, this incident that has just occurred - this effort to assassinate me- emphasizes to a peculiar degree the need of the Progressive movement. Friends, every good citizen ought to do everything in his or her power to prevent the coming of the day when we shall see in this country two recognized creeds fighting one another, when we shall see the creed of the "Havenots" arraigned against the creed of the "Haves." When that day comes then such incidents as this to-night will be commonplace in our history. When you make poor men - when you permit the conditions to grow such that the poor man as such will be swayed by his sense of injury against the men who try to hold what they improperly have won, when that day comes, the most awful passions will be let loose and it will be an ill day for our country.
It used to be understood that promoting social justice and economic equality was a stabilizing, conservative position, as well as a liberal one. Now we're too simplistic to get that.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:35 PM on February 9, 2011


oh, here's a link to the bull moose speech.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:36 PM on February 9, 2011


It used to be understood that promoting social justice and economic equality was a stabilizing, conservative position, as well as a liberal one. Now we're too simplistic to get that."

That was pre-Reagan. I mostly read the thread, but did I miss links and pointers to examples of excellent contemporary conservative thought?

I am now fascinated by the idea of there being a conservative brain drain from universities to think tanks.

It's only a drain in the sense that the tanks are lower. Is anyone arguing that the constellation of well-funded (see Koch Bros) Republican "thinktanks" are not propaganda apparatuses? Do we have examples of most-excellent conservative thought coming out of these "thinktanks?" It's more like rats deserting the (obviously sinking) ship of rationality.

But really, doesn't the hairsplitting going on in the Kristol-Beck feud really indicate of the state of conservative "thought?" On one side we have the elite village-approved conservative and on the other, the rodeo-clown conservative, and it's hard to tell the difference.

Lacon +1 Foreclosure
posted by psyche7 at 3:53 PM on February 9, 2011


Well, no, but it's not secret that the wealthy used to be willing to cuddle up to liberal ideas out of self-interest.

Eh, I tend to think it's a rhetorical device to appeal to the self-interest of wealthy people. Soros doesn't have much interest in drug rehab or parole reform in Baltimore, but that's a big part of what OSI does here. It's certainly possible that he's only doing it to keep the peasants from his gates, but it seems unlikely.
posted by electroboy at 3:57 PM on February 9, 2011


But really, doesn't the hairsplitting going on in the Kristol-Beck feud really indicate of the state of conservative "thought?"

No, not really. Beck is lunatic and Kristol is a neocon who's consistently wrong about everything, neither of which are particularly representative of conservative thought, although they're likely representative of the Republican party. Sort of like when the right claims that Obama or Pelosi are liberals, when they're really left-leaning moderates.

As for reasonable conservative thinkers, I occasionally like Ross Douthat (who took over Bill Kristol's column at the NY Times) and Andrew Sullivan. For real old-school conservatism, The American Conservative occasionally has good articles (even if it was founded partly by Pat Buchanan).
posted by electroboy at 4:31 PM on February 9, 2011


Also, Little Green Footballs has changed pretty dramatically from a few years ago, and is more right-leaning moderate these days. The stories on the front page right now are "Video: O'Reilly Interrupts President 48 Times", "Ron Paul Calls Neo-Confederate Loon As Witness at First Hearing on Fed", "Tim Pawlenty Endorses Another Anti-Gay Hate Group" and "More Republican Attacks on Women's Rights".
posted by electroboy at 4:38 PM on February 9, 2011


I feel like there are three things I learned from this thread:

1) There is a bizarre and persistent belief that certain specific topics are considered "taboo" by a liberal scientific establishment. I say bizarre not because it is unthinkable that some subject might actually be taboo, but because the specific ideas in question are from such widely-researched fields that the idea that they are untouchable would be dispelled by any more than casual acquaintance with the topic. One odd side effect of this is that Larry Summers has somehow become to be seen by some as a Martyr on the Altar of Pure Science, rather than a guy who stopped hiring women and then was kind of a dick about it. Anyway, weird.

2) There is a distinct dearth of conservatives in certain scientific fields. Hiring bias seems unlikely (political beliefs are nonobvious and not questioned during interviews), but a number of possible reasons have been proposed for this, including some or all of: (A) Conversion -- after contact with certain facts and research, conservatives may be more likely to alter their ideology to something else; (B) Willful Ignorance -- conservatives may avoid certain facts and research because they contradict their ideology; (C) Hostile Environment -- conservatives may feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in a field where their ideology is uncommon and possibly disdained; (D) Inclination -- conservatives may, because of their ideology, be drawn towards professions other than scientific careers.

Of these (C) may, in fact, be of real concern to academia if it is a genuine effect; in theory, no one should feel unwelcome to performing research. However, it is a little puzzling to figure out what to do about it, if it's real. An affirmative action program to support an ideology seems rather problematic to begin with; an affirmative action program to support an ideology which is fundamentally opposed to the idea of affirmative action programs goes straight down the rabbit hole. Nonetheless, there's no reason not to perform the basic research to determine whether or not this or the other possibilities are actually occurring.

3) Some people really can't take a friggin' joke.
posted by kyrademon at 5:31 PM on February 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wanted to contribute something more constructive than dismissive disdain for many of the comments. That added little to the conversation and I apologize.

I was initially attracted to this topic because I am a sociology/psychology major at a school with a large number of students serving in the military. I noticed significant discomfort from other students in one of my classes on race and ethnicity. For example, our textbook assumed as a matter of fact that America is stratified along racial lines and that racial discrimination plays a significant role in American society today. Several of my classmates simply denied this, a few made arguments to the contrary, but when every question posed to the class and every assignment assumes racial stratification as a fact it is hard to do anything but go along with it after a while. I didn't agree with those classmates but it did raise my awareness as to an issue with the texts.

My classmates were not stupid and they were not anti-intellectual, they just weren't liberal or leftist. I know conservatives have alternate explanations of the impact of race and ethnicity in America; it's something black conservative social scientists like Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams write about a lot. In some of my papers I have tried to incorporate perspectives from conservative writers, such as including conservative explanations of the economic plight of third world countries in one of my poli sci classes. I just can't imagine these perspectives being taught in any of my classes and I view this as a problem with the classes and the curricula, not with conservatism.

I went to a conservative website (Instapundit) to see what they were saying about this topic and that led me to an article called The Ideological Profile of Harvard University Press: Categorizing 494 Books Published 2000-2010 (pdf). As I expected, sociology was the field with the most bias. I know simply as a student, I would like more exposure to books and research articles from conservative or libertarian perspectives (the article has a nice list of books). It's not a matter of me agreeing with them or not. I'm just curious and I think that's what science is supposed to be about.
posted by Danila at 5:38 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


jb: Repeatedly misspelling my username is cute.

I didn't assume you were American, but noted your very American distinction between conservative and liberal which is, in my opinion, misguided.

I never said that Realpolitik and discursive analysis were the only sides of IR theory--it was an example, not a dichotomy. I suppose that it's easier to undermine my arguments with your rhetoric; obviously someone that holds your very unfortunate beliefs is not interested in having a conversation but instead engaging in a pissing contest. Nicely done.
posted by nonmerci at 5:56 PM on February 9, 2011


electroboy: I think you may have proved my point by referring me to Douthat, Sullivan, Amcon and LGF for examples of serious conservative thought. Douthat is a joke, Sullivan and Amcon (both with telling histories) being libertarian-oriented don't agree with Obama's National Security/Secrecy State and I know LGF has reformed its cesspool a bit. I was thinking of more serious thought, like, you know, the kind produced in academia where conservatives don't seem to want to work because either it doesn't pay enough or you have to deal with facts. Also, I have a hard time distinguishing between "Republican" and "conservative." Do the attempts to redefine rape and restrict abortion even further, come from the "Republicans" or the "conservatives?"
posted by psyche7 at 6:31 PM on February 9, 2011


nonmerci - I apologising for misspelling your username. I had misread it initially, and was struggling too much to try to keep my autocorrect from changing it to non-mercy that I failed to notice that you do not use a hyphen.

I am not engaging in a pissing contest. I brought up some specific examples of how findings from social science undermine specific conservative tenets. Yes, as my husband pointed out to me, I was being very contemporary and Anglo-centric in my definition of conservatism. But, of course, contemporary Anglo-American conservatism is the topic of the link.

Indeed, the specific topic of the original talk was the place of conservatives in social psychology. As pointed out up-thread, one aspect of Anglo-American conservatism in the post-Regan/Thatcher era is a de-emphasis on the importance of society and an emphasis in individual agency (another way that modern conservatism differs strongly from earlier conservative ideologies). But social psychology is explicitly oriented on studying the individual in their social context. Asking why there are not more social psychologists ascribing to an ideology that is at odds with the very questions the field studies is like being suprised that there aren't more creationists studying evolutionary biology.

My "unfortunate beliefs"? Did I unwittingly admit to liking to eat babies? They are tasty, and oh so tender. Yes, I do find IR specialists who insist in seeing all state action through the Realpolitik lens silly; it makes total sense to be talking about realpolitik when discussing Bismarck or Churchill (both of whom followed the ideology), but it makes no sense when talking about the international policies William of Orange or even Louis XIV, which were as influenced by religion as they were by the needs of the state. Similarly, I have a problem with the austistic nature of Chicago school economics, while being continually impressed with advances made in our understanding of economics by behaviour economists and historical economists -- both areas of economics which are very data, as opposed to theory driven. I have, you see, an unfortunate belief that social science should study what really exists and has existed, rather than being driven by theory and ideology. And I have no patience for coddling theories or ideologies which fly against research.

That said, I have personally struggled with the issue of bringing one's personal morals into academic social sciences. Is the place of a historian, for example, to morally condemn coercive enclosures which deprived the poorer sorts of access to common resources, while increasing the revenue potential for the landlord? Some would say yes; some would say no. And yet to not talk about the effects of these actions on social equality would be to ignore a large part of history, and a potentially very important fall-out (the question of whether increased landlessness was a factor in providing labour force for the British industrial revolution).

Ideology, of course, has a large part to play in what questions people ask, as will basic interests. People who have no interest in social inequality will not study social inequality, just like I don't study super-conductors, though they are super important. But as very well pointed out by ROU up-thread, there are plenty of those "conservative" questions (such as about secondary sex characteristics) being asked and discussed and published in the oh-so-liberal academia.
posted by jb at 6:54 PM on February 9, 2011


That means that it should be perfectly OK for an academic to question whether women are biologically less inclined toward scientific pursuits (don't agree? Do a study and prove the contrary!), or how much of differences in the performance of various minority groups are owing to family structures or cultural factors vs. pervasive discrimination.

The latter has been written about John Ogbu, whom I alluded to upthread -- sorry for the lack of a link then (was on an ipod).
posted by jb at 6:59 PM on February 9, 2011


It would be hard to be a faculty member at a major university and be an anarchist (the full, card-carrying deal). You could make an academic study of anarchism, of course. There's a reason why "academic Marxist" is a bit of a joke.

An university is basically a duchy, a Venice, a city-state; it is an intensely hierarchical institution (look at the org chart of Harvard University if you don't believe me).

Conservatives don't understand this or are deliberately obtuse about it, as if they confused academe with a commune. '68 was a blip on the timeline here in the U.S. It changed very little. A professor spends his or her career ascending rungs on a ladder towards tenure (or not, if stuck in the adjunct track).

Liberal academics generally feel a bit raw on this subject; that is why Larry Summers put his foot in it so spectacularly.

It's even harder if you work in the administration of an university. You probably share the liberal values of the faculty (why you wanted to work there), but you are part of the structure of authority. I knew someone (a family friend) who was an assistant to the provost at a first-tier university and who felt guilty about having, in essence, to help cut off people's heads (i.e., fire them, or tell them that they were disqualified for tenure or their research was defunded).
posted by bad grammar at 7:02 PM on February 9, 2011


I think you may have proved my point by referring me to Douthat, Sullivan, Amcon and LGF for examples of serious conservative thought.

I wasn't offering them up as examples of academics, more as examples of mainstream conservative thought, since metafilter seems to be unable to identify any "conservatives" other than Glenn Beck.

I was thinking of more serious thought, like, you know, the kind produced in academia where conservatives don't seem to want to work

Places like that bastion of ivory tower liberals, The Chicago School?

Douthat is a joke, Sullivan and Amcon (both with telling histories) being libertarian-oriented don't agree with Obama's National Security/Secrecy State and I know LGF has reformed its cesspool a bit.

Douthat wrote for Harpers and currently writes for the NYT. How is he a joke? What is Amcon's "telling history"?

Do the attempts to redefine rape and restrict abortion even further, come from the "Republicans" or the "conservatives?"

Does the inability to pass legislation with majorities in both houses come from Democrats or liberals?
posted by electroboy at 9:51 PM on February 9, 2011


The word "conservative" seems to confuse a lot of people. At its heart conservatism isn't about individual autonomy, or the right to bear arms, or whether evolution is directed by god - it's about maintaining and strengthening the existing power structures of a society.

300 years ago in Western Europe the conservatives weren't getting excited about individual freedom. They were the ones defending the privileges of the aristocracy against the demands of the middle and working classes for less government intervention in their lives. In communist states, after the first generation of actual radicals has been purged, you end up with conservatives as the ones defending the stability of the "leftist" regime. In the modern US the really important power structures depend on the operation of a free market, or at least a kind of free market, so it's no surprise that US conservatism is all about freeing the market from government intervention - unless that intervention involves subsidising fossil fuels, or pumping cash into the military-industrial complex, or absolving polluting industries of responsibility for their externalities.

This is one reason why US-style rightwing "libertarianism" is regarded as a bit of a joke everywhere else - 95% of the time it's a transparent attempt to use classical liberal rhetoric to rationalise the pursuit of conservative political goals.

So why would a conservative want to enter the academic world? You don't become an academic because you want the world to stay the same, you go through the years of poverty and uncertainty and really hard work (I gave up on the grind of further study after my honours year) because you want to make things better, and because universities are some of the few institutions where it's possible to succeed without betraying a progressive philosophy. If you're generally happy with things the way they are, you do something else which supports the status quo while making you a lot more money than being an academic ever will.

Having said all that, I've never even been to America so I might be completely wrong. The article was worth reading for that hilarious correction, anyway.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:36 AM on February 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


So why would a conservative want to enter the academic world?

To do research maybe? I don't think there's any inherent reason why somebody who supports the political status quo would necessarily hate knowledge and be uninterested in how the human brain works or in the history of literature.

Conservatism is often anti-intellectual, though, and there are reasons for it. New knowledge can be disruptive, and intellectuals do have propensity to promote change.
posted by nangar at 5:28 AM on February 10, 2011


It's certainly possible that he's only doing it to keep the peasants from his gates, but it seems unlikely.

Oh sure. I don't mean to question Soros' sincerity. At the same time, if you pressed him, I'm sure he'd admit that one of the major benefits of promoting social justice and economic mobility is that these are necessary conditions for long-term social stability and the general welfare. There's nothing cynical about acknowledging that obvious fact. Also, notice the difference between the kind of liberal activism we're talking about in Soros' case (devoting his resources to actively working on real social problems) as opposed to the kind we usually see on the right (whose activism seems to be almost entirely limited to achieving conservative political gains, fund raising and promoting contemporary "conservative" ideas to the media--the central idea being the extremely nihilistic view that we can't really solve our social problems through conscious effort, we shouldn't want to anyway because society's losers deserve what they get, and trying to address problems of social inequity and economic injustice will only make them worse).

Really there's no need to view these things strictly in terms of some fundamental conflict between the liberal and conservative weltanschauung. In practical terms, liberal and conservative ideals can and IMO ought to be viewed as complementary.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:07 AM on February 10, 2011


I think it's worth listening to Haidt's talk, if you haven't.

Haidt is not, as some people here have assumed, a conservative trying to break into academia (and certainly not an IDist or a white supremist). Haidt is an atheist, but he believes that religion is adaptive, in that it promotes group cohesion through allegiance to sacred values and people and objects that embody them, and this applies to quasi-religious behavior like ideological allegiance as well. He also believes this is bad for scientific research whether the values in question are religious or political.

This link might play better than the one in the NYT article. I'll quote some bits.
When sacred values are threatened we turn into intuitive theologians, that is, we use our reasoning not to find the truth but to defend what we hold sacred.

There's a direct contradiction between Darwin and the book of Genesis ... Some Christians began to read Genesis as a metaphor. But those who really sacralize the Bible were not able to make such a compromise. They went the other way. They became even more literalist and more fundamentalist. This makes it harder for them to understand the biological world around them. They were forced into a lot of bad biology like intelligent design.

Sacralism distorts thinking. These distortions are easy for outsiders to see, but they're invisible to those inside the forcefield.

... moral forcefields are not only found in religious communities. They can operate in academic fields as well.

....

Sacred values bind teams together and then blind them to the truth. That's fine if you're a religious community. I follow the sociologist Emil Durkheim in believing the social function of religion is group binding. But this not fine for scientists who ought to value truth above group cohesion.

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. You can see this on the right with global warming denialism.

....

Rick [McCauley] is the only social psychologist I know of that publicly acknowledges that he is politically conservative.

When I first met Rick, I was wary of him. I'd heard he was a conservative. I'd heard he supported the Vietnam war. It was only after I'd forged a personal relationship with him that I got over my mistrust .... It took a while to realize how valuable it was to hear from someone with a different perspective. Rick is now one of America's foremost experts on the psychology of terrorism. I'm convinced that many of his insights have only been possible because he stands outside the liberal forcefield.

....

Of course there are many reasons why conservatives would be underrepresented in social psychology. Most of them have nothing to do with discrimination or hostile climate .... But two or three hundred to one in a nation where the underlying ratio is one to two?

....

What I want emphasize today is that is a scientific issue. We're hurting ourselves when we deprive ourselves of critics, of people who are as committed science as we are but ask different questions and make different background assumptions.

But imagine if we had a true diversity of perspectives in social psychology. Imagine if conservative students felt free enough to challenge our dominant ideas and bold enough to pull us out of our deepest ideological ruts.
posted by nangar at 10:37 AM on February 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


The problem, nangar, is that Haidt uses examples from published research. Because of treating things as sacred values, we don't study... what this study studies. Because we treat things as sacred values, we can't come up with hypotheses like... the ones over here, in this nicely published research. Only researchers outside the "liberal forcefield" can come up with theories or findings that challenge our sacred truths, and I will demonstrate this by describing research that has come from inside that forcefield, that I just said couldn't happen.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:32 AM on February 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Fascinating essay and debate about Glenn Beck's rhetoric against Frances Fox Piven going on over at the Chronicle for Higher Ed right now. Folks who liked this thread will probably find much to discuss over there.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:25 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


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