Political Attitudes in Social Environments

Jose Duarte, Jarret Crawford, Charlotta Stern, Jonathan Haidt, Lee Jussim, and Philip Tetlock wrote an article, “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science,” in which the argued that the field of social psychology would benefit from the inclusion of more non-liberal voices (here I’m using “liberal” in the sense of current U.S. politics). Duarte et al. argue that “one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity . . . Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking . . .”

Their article is scheduled to be published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences with several discussions, including one by Neil Gross and myself.

Here’s our abstract:

We agree with the authors that it is worthwhile to study professions’ political alignments. But we have seen no evidence to support the idea that social science fields with more politically diverse workforces generally produce better research. We also think that when considering ideological balance, it is useful to place social psychology within a larger context of the prevailing ideologies of other influential groups within society, such as military officers, journalists, and business executives.

And here’s the rest of our discussion:

Although we appreciate several things about the Duarte et al. essay, “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science,” including its insistence that social scientists should work to minimize the impact of their political views on their research and its sensitivity to political threats to social science funding, we find their central argument unpersuasive. Contrary to the assertion of the authors, we have seen no evidence that social science fields with more politically diverse workforces have higher evidentiary standards, are better able to avoid replication failures, or generally produce better research. As there are no standardized ways to measure these outcomes at the disciplinary or subdisciplinary level, and as reliable data on researcher politics at the disciplinary and subdisciplinary level are scarce, there have never been—to our knowledge—any systematic attempts to examine the relationship between epistemic quality and variation in the political composition of the social-scientific community. The authors are thus calling for major changes in policy and practice based on sheer speculation. The authors cite some evidence of the benefits of “viewpoint diversity” in collaboration, but there is a scale mismatch between these studies (of small groups) and the field-level generalizations the authors make. In point of fact, research on the history and sociology of social science suggests that scientific/intellectual movements that bundle together political commitments and programs for research—movements of the sort the authors believe to have weakened social and personality psychology—have arisen under a wide range of political conditions, as have countermovements calling for greater objectivity. Until we know more about these and related dynamics, it would be premature to tinker with organizational machineries for knowledge production in the social sciences, however much one may worry, alongside the authors, about certain current trends.

In addition we think it is helpful to consider the Duarte et al. argument in a broader context by considering other fields that lean strongly to the left or to the right. The cleanest analogy, perhaps, is between college professors (who are disproportionately liberal Democrats) and military officers (mostly conservative Republicans; see the research of political scientist Jason Dempsey, 2009). In both cases there seems to be a strong connection between the environment and the ideology. Universities have (with some notable exceptions) been centers of political radicalism for centuries, just as the military has long been a conservative institution in most places (again, with some exceptions). And this is true even though many university professors are well-paid, live well, and send their children to private schools, and even though the U.S. military has been described as the one of the few remaining bastions of socialism remaining in the 21st century. Another example of a liberal-leaning profession is journalism (with its frequently-cited dictum to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” and again the relative liberalism of that profession has been confirmed by polls of journalists, for example Weaver et al., 2003), while business executives represent an important, and influential, conservative group in American society. There has been some movement to balance out the liberal bias of journalism in the United States, but it is not clear what would be done to balance political representation among military officers or corporate executives.

In short, we applaud the work of Duarte et al. in exploring the statistics and implications of political attitudes among social researchers. The psychology profession is, like the military, an all-volunteer force, and it is not clear to us that the purported benefits of righting the ideological balance among social psychologists (or among military officers, or corporate executives) are worth the efforts that would involved in such endeavors. But these sorts of ideological what-ifs make interesting thought experiments.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have problems with a lot of the social psychology research that gets published and publicized. And I certainly feel that political conservatives should feel free to contribute to this field. It’s not at all clear to me that a change in the mix of political attitudes among psychology researchers has much to do, one way or another, with scientific reform in this area. But it’s a question worth raising, just as it’s worth raising in the context of journalism, business, the military, and other institutions within our society.

65 thoughts on “Political Attitudes in Social Environments

  1. Universities have (with some notable exceptions) been centers of political radicalism for centuries

    I wonder if that’s actually true, or if it’s something that began only in the 20th century. Traditionally, the primary purpose of universities was to train priests, and professors and students tended to come from the higher social classes. Universities may well have been a conservative force in the past.

    • Read any history of Europe during the age 1700-1900; the main force behind political change was students and professors. The Göttingen Seven comes to mind as an immediate example.

        • In the English-speaking world, the famous universities have largely been centers of privilege and conformism, where the Establishment reproduces itself. Occasionally the shibboleths change, but in the big picture, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia represent extraordinary continuity over the centuries.

        • Steve:

          Wow—I made the mistake of reading some of the comments at your site: they’re pretty rude!

          Regarding the substance of your comment: yes, this is an interesting question. It is my impression that, historically and at the present, universities tend to be centers of political radicalism. You’re offering a data point in the opposite direction, and that’s valuable.

          On a slightly different direction, let me emphasize that the point about political radicalism is not contradicted by the observation that universities are often also centers of privilege. It is possible to be privileged and politically radical, or privileged and politically reactionary, or anywhere in between. And of course political positions are multidimensional. The starting point of Duarte et al.’s article is that academic social psychologists (and college teachers and researchers more generally) are, on average, far to the left in the U.S. context. And, as Gross and I point out, other professions skew to the right. It’s an aspect of political polarization.

      • “Read any history of Europe during the age 1700-1900; the main force behind political change was students and professors.”

        Perhaps, although Karl Marx would not have agreed with you.

        But if you define “political change” as being the popularity of dueling scars, well then you definitely have a point.

      • Weren’t the Göttingen Seven protesting *against* a change / abolition of the Constitution? That’s hardly radicalism as it’s commonly understood.

    • “Universities have (with some notable exceptions) been centers of political radicalism for centuries, just as the military has long been a conservative institution in most places (again, with some exceptions).”

      In Venezuela these days, the college students tend to be on the right and the soldiers on the left. I think that has been fairly common since Bonaparte and Bolivar, at least in countries poor enough to keep economic issues important.

      Of course, a lot has to do with what you define as political radicalism: In America today it tends to be not things that Marx would consider radicalism, but instead things like transgender rights sensitivity awareness and other movements that distract from potential threats to the economic power structure.

      • From The Guardian:

        Oxford University changes dress code to meet needs of transgender students

        Sunday 29 July 2012

        Oxford University has rewritten the laws governing its strict academic dress code following concerns that they were unfair towards transgender students.

        Under the new regulations, students taking exams or attending formal occasions will no longer have to wear ceremonial clothing that is specific to their gender.

        It will mean men will be able to sit tests in skirts and stockings and women will have the option of wearing suits and bow ties.

        The laws, which come into force next week, follow a motion put forward by the university’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer society (LGBTQ Soc) was passed by the student union.

        Jess Pumphrey, LGBTQ Soc’s executive officer, said the change would make a number of students’ exam experience significantly less stressful. …

        Under the old laws on academic clothing – known as subfusc – male students were required to wear a dark suit and socks, black shoes, a white bow tie and a plain white shirt and collar under their black gowns. …

        Simone Webb, president of LGBTQ Soc, said: “This is an extremely positive step, and indeed long overdue.”

        She told The Oxford Student: “I am of the opinion that it is possible to keep elements of tradition in this way while making them unrestrictive to trans students, genderqueer students, or students who wish to wear a different subfusc to that which they’d be expected to wear.”

        • This article was amended on 30 July 2012. The original referred to Simone Webb as “he” and Jess Pumphrey as “she”. This has been corrected.


        Now that’s political radicalism!

  2. If there is no evidence to support “social science fields with more politically diverse workforces generally produce better research” then what about diversity in general?

    Why do Universities spend money on encouraging diversity?

    • not to go all meta. But I think that if Andrew et al had raised the same evidentiary standards against policies to increase other types of diversity they would have been seen as very conservative.

      Here, because the minority involved are conservatives, they might come across as liberals.

      But I don’t think the issue is about academic productivity etc. I think the real issue is one of discrimination. I suppose those young faculty members who are to the right of center often censor themselves in the midst of the mostly liberal tenured faculty. This is sorry state of affairs in and of itself.

      • That’s a good point.

        Why the selective demand for a very high evidentiary standard in this particular case, when we accept diversity (of sex, race etc.) as a de facto policy in everything from student admissions, to municipal supplier selection.

      • Fernando:

        I don’t really know where youall are coming from here. I didn’t not raise evidentiary standards “against” anything. We were commenting on a published article. The article made some strong claims, and we remarked that we had not seen any empirical support for these claims. “We have seen no evidence” is just that, a statement that we have seen no evidence.

        • Andrew:

          To be clear, I am not criticizing you at all.

          And the point is not about evidence “against” anything.

          The _observation_ I am making is that using evidence as a metric in this particular question may come off as liberal, while using an evidence metric for other kinds of diversity may come off as staunchly conservative. To me this was interesting.

        • Andrew:

          BTW, I see your point that you are not explicitly against the proposal. You are just saying that there is no evidence for it.

          This can be easily interpreted against it, specially when evidentiary standards are not often raised when other types of diversity are concerned.

          But my point is not that you are for or against. My point is that questioning the evidence in one context or another can be interpreted very differently.

      • In academic fields like evolutionary psychology, the rise of women academics contributed impressively to progress by bringing a diversity of insights. For example, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s writings on how a mother can get more domestic chores work out of a pre-pubescent 11-year-old daughter than out of a sullen 15-year-old daughter who is increasingly devoting her time to maximizing her value on the mating market is not the kind of thing that male researchers would have likely noticed.

  3. I think it’s fair to say the jury’s out on political homogeneity’s impact on publication quality in (especially social) psychology, but I think Haidt and co-authors do seem to have picked up on some trends that are worrying independent of whether there’s a research-quality impact; these figures, in particular, were concerning to me:

    “As a final step, the team asked each person a series of questions to see how willing she would personally be to do something that could be considered discrimination against a conservative. Here, an interesting disconnect emerged between self-perception—does my field discriminate?—and theoretical responses about behaviors. Over all, close to nineteen per cent reported that they would have a bias against a conservative-leaning paper; twenty-four per cent, against a conservative-leaning grant application; fourteen per cent, against inviting a conservative to a symposium; and thirty-seven and a half per cent, against choosing a conservative as a future colleague. They persisted in saying that no discrimination existed, yet their theoretical behaviors belied that idealized reality.”

    (from an NYT summary: http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/social-psychology-biased-republicans )

    Particularly that last one—37.5 percent would be willing to discriminate against a conservative candidate if there were an equally qualified liberal candidate available? Another summary claims the willingness to do so increases in the liberal-ness of the discriminator. Disconcertingly tribal.

    • Convex:

      As we wrote, it’s a question worth raising, just as it’s worth raising in the context of journalism, business, the military, and other institutions within our society.

      • Right, I did see that in your original post; the phrasing seems very weak, though, if that makes sense, considering that they’re not just raising the question, but presenting active evidence of a problem. I just thought I’d chime in that they do seem to have found something genuinely problematic, and aren’t just throwing out an unsettling conjecture.

    • From the New Yorker essay: [NYU political psychologist John] Jost wrote, “Haidt fails to grapple meaningfully with the question of why nearly all of the best minds in science find liberal ideas to be closer to the mark with respect to evolution, human nature, mental health, close relationships, intergroup relations, ethics, social justice, conflict resolution, environmental sustainability, and so on.”

      Jost nailed it. When it comes to questions of bias, if you can’t address that then ya got nuthin’.

      • One way to test this question would be to look at the two sides of anthropology: leftist cultural anthropology v. more ideologically diverse physical and evolutionary anthropology (e.g., population genetics, evolutionary psychology). The ideological schism within the academy is so bad at Stanford for about a decade they broke into two departments — Cultural Anthropology v. Anthropological Sciences.

        My impressions is that cultural anthropology, which was riding high a half century or more ago during the Margaret Mead Era is pretty much dead in the water these days to the thinking public. I hear about cultural anthropologists mostly it seems in the context of them denouncing Jared Diamond.

        That’s a shame because there’s a lot it could contribute if it weren’t so ideologically chained down. I read the heterodox cultural anthropologists like Robin Fox and John Tooby.

        It wouldn’t be hard to construct measures using search engines of which kind of anthropologist — the leftist cultural anthropologists or the more diverse scientific anthropologists — get in the news more these days.

        I’d bet on the more diverse field doing more interesting things.

  4. Andrew:

    It looks like Duarte et al make the assertion specifically about Social Psychology.

    By expanding it to all “social sciences” & later in your rebuttal even broader to “college professors” you move the goalposts, I think.

    I’d be intensely skeptical if someone said Neurosurgery departments need to watch their Dem. /Rep. balance. But for Social Psych. I’m more sympathetic to the argument. If they had said Poli Sci or Econ. then even more so.

    • Rahul:

      We write, “we have seen no evidence that social science fields with more politically diverse workforces have higher evidentiary standards, are better able to avoid replication failures, or generally produce better research.” We have seen no evidence for this in social psychology either.

      • Have you tried searching for the evidence? Is there mere absence of evidence, or evidence of absence?

        The latter would cripple Duarte’s thesis but not the former. Ultimately, it is a question about which side should the burden of proof lie upon?

        It is easy to argue that the burden lies upon whoever wants to change the status quo but is that always the best argument?

        • Rahul:

          I don’t disagree with anything you wrote. We were not intending to say that Duarte et al. were wrong, we were merely saying what we know on the topic. As we wrote, we believe the topic of political diversity is worth studying in many aspects of life.

        • To put it another way: you seem to think we were interested in “crippling Duarte’s thesis” but that is not at all the case. We think Duarte et al. have interesting things to say, and we wanted to share our thoughts in this area.

        • Again the confusion between “you have no evidence” with “you have nothing important or true to say”.

          Saying the first and preventing the second from being heard seems to one of those insurmountable opportunities.

      • If you think they are arguing that more political diversity will improve statistical practices and replicability then I don’t think you quite understand what Haidt et al. mean by “improve social psychology”. Their argument is about theory and question generation, not methods.

  5. @Keith:

    To me it is the difference between “Yes, this makes sense. I think this has a good chance of working”


    “I’m skeptical this is going to work. Doesn’t look promising as an intervention”

  6. Dear Andrew, you write that

    “there have never been—to our knowledge—any systematic attempts to examine the relationship between epistemic quality and variation in the political composition of the social-scientific community. The authors are thus calling for major changes in policy and practice based on sheer speculation.”

    however, to me it seems much more intuitive that diversity in the way participants construct their world views could improve the output of an endeavour to understand sociological phenomena than it is that you could in any ways prove that gender or racial diversity improves the output of either similar or more profit-oriented projects. However, the latter is generally regarded as a worthwhile aim.

    At the same time, as I assume that the authors of the study are less left-leaning than most in the social sciences, I guess they would agree with you, as I do too, that imposing any kind of quota regarding attitudes would be extremely counter-productive.

  7. I’ve always found some of the statements about the political leanings of academics kind of odd and not my experience. Of course years of education probably has some correlation with belief in science (i.e. accepting evolution, accepting the scientific consensus on climate change) you still find plenty of academics out there arguing “conservative” positions on them. And I mean people call Charles Murray a sociologist, but even beyond that there are many conservative political scientists and probably even more conservative economists. Academic researchers like WIlson and Kelling created broken windows policing and plenty of people. I’ve met tons of regular faculty who oppose unionization for adjuncts. Net of being highly educated and their demographic backgrounds, is it really true that faculty in general or social psychologists in particular are more liberal than expected? I suspect that the idea of “conservative” or “liberal” is pretty nebulous, I’m not sure what exactly people mean by it. The articles in social psychology you are usually quoting are generally what I would consider conservative since they often argue for biological determinism (women can’t even choose clothing colors! It obviously follows that they should be paid less). It seems to me that asking someone if they are liberal or conservative is kind of like asking them if they are for or against abortion or if they are for or against police hitting people. The GSS and other sources tell us that for the majority of americans the answer is ” I am for and against that.”

    • Elin:

      I agree that college faculty are not ideologically uniform, but there are standard questions on party id and political ideology, along with various issue attitudes. And, on these, college faculty are quite a bit to the left of the average American.

      • Sure, but I’m saying two things. The average American doesn’t have a college degree, not to mention a doctorate. So that’s kind of a straw comparison. And those standard questions are definitely useful for measuring something, specifically probably some kind of self definition and they are possibly just as good as some complex data reduction method in the end. But then you have the millenials who kind of like Rand Paul except they think gay marriage is fine so … it’s not actually so simple to say who is who. I would say quite a few people represent political diversity just within their own views.

        • I just took a quick look at the 2012 GSS post secondary teachers versus other teachers. Not to over interpret, because I haven’t really thought much about it, but for POLVIEWS the college teachers are more likely to self report being extremely liberal, extremely conservative, and moderate than the non college teachers (and everyone else). Really interesting thinking about variation. (Assuming I did the recodes of occupation right)

        • If you look at the research by Adam Bonica on political donations, you will see that ecademics are amongst the most liberal professions out there. As liberal as oil & gas are conservative.

        • I wouldn’t really consider political donations to be a great measure of this; they are so self-selected (I think his data requires at least two separate donations). Too bad there isn’t a direct measure for the donors that has captures the complexity of the data for candidates.

        • Actually I went back to OCC80 and all years since 2000 instead so I could get a more decent sample size and just looked at people with 18+ years of education and the college teachers are more likely to self-identify as liberal, but there is certainly meaningful variation, which is what the original post was about (though perhaps they are saying that there is particular homogeneity among social psychologists?). I just don’t know (and haven’t done any reading on) what people mean when they say they are liberal or conservative with that kind of item. I do think it’s interesting to consider whether it’s a good thing to have something like confirmation bias going in a lot of different directions.

  8. Some might ask why. Back in the 50s and 60s there were a whole lot of scientists that were Eisenhower Republicans or further to the right, but the Republicans starting with Nixon fully embraced the paranoid style in American politics and started rejecting science.

    • Nixon’s resignation speech is my first political memory and I’m not a political historian so my perspective limited but my sense was things really started going to shit under Reagan. (I thought Nixon actually decent on environmental issues. I have no memory of anything Ford did on science-related issues.)

      Once upon a time I interviewed for an ACS Congressional Fellowship. (The interview itself is a story for another time:-) One of the Congressmen I was interested in working for was Sherwood Boehlert*. As far as I could tell he’d been a very good advocate for NSF and DOE R&D. He was literally the last Republican that I felt some affinity for.

      * The other two were Bernie Sanders and Barney Frank.

    • Eli:

      Sure. But, to be fair, even if Duarte is an ideologue, maybe that’s what it takes for someone to care enough about the topic to study it in depth. So I think his arguments need to be taken on their own terms.

      • Given the impact of social psychology(ists) on advertising, political and commercial, and marketing in general, forgive Eli if he thinks Duarte’s argument kind of misses the point. There are plenty of social psychologists beavering away in right wing think tanks and schools of business. Try searching social psychology in the Legacy Tobacco Archives.

        • Eli:

          Yes, I agree, and this is consistent with what Gross and I wrote. Instead of speaking of a liberal or conservative bias in different areas, I think it makes sense to consider this as a form of political polarization, with the liberals in one place and the conservatives in another.

        • Yes, but isn’t such extreme polarization bad? At least in a University Dept. No one expects Cato or the ADL to be unpolarized.

  9. I think it is too strong to say that there is “no evidence” for the benefits of a politically diverse field. As you note, there is small-scale “evidence of the benefits of “viewpoint diversity” in collaboration,” and these plausibly provide some support for field-level generalizations, even if it is weak support. I would argue that there is also relevant large-scale historical evidence — for example, the stifling of biological research in the Soviet Union based on ideological strictures to which researchers were held, or the greater progress of science among (arguably more ideologically open) Protestants in modern Europe than among Catholics. Finally, there is a plausible mechanism by which political diversity can help social psychology: conservative researchers will point out flaws in progressive-biased articles, and progressive researchers will point out flaws in conservative-biased articles. Everything we know from human psychology makes it eminently plausible that scientists will be better at observing statistical (and other) flaws in studies opposing their own views; so having some social psychologists who oppose progressive views will make it more likely that statistical (and other) flaws in progressive-biased articles will be pointed out.

    It is also worth balancing concerns about lack of evidence with the degree of change that the authors are calling for. I do not think they are calling for anything like a 50-50 balance of progressives and conservatives in Social Psychology. I think I once read Haidt say that 10% conservative social psychologists would be a good number to aim for. If the mechanism for correcting problems in the field is as described above, this seems plausible: we just need a critical mass of conservatives, not parity with the population.

  10. > There has been some movement to balance out the liberal bias of journalism in the United States…

    A few thoughts:

    1. Journalism is – or at least should be – about investigating, uncovering information, and conveying how things are – as best you can determine. A journalist who isn’t willing to question authority is really just a stenographer. Willingness to question authority is an inherently liberal trait.

    2. Suppose engaging in the practice of journalism leads one to adopt politically liberal beliefs? Has anyone tested that hypothesis?

    3. Liberal bias in journalism? Really? Please cite the evidence for this assertion because when I turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper it sure doesn’t come across in the reporting. Number of programs devoted to labor issues (from workers’ perspective) vs number devoted to business issues? Number of mainstream programs focused on environmental advocacy? PBS did what with Bill Moyers? It’s not that there aren’t liberal journalists but few of them are working in mainstream media.

  11. The field of economics is more politically diverse than most of the social sciences, and it’s probably not wholly unrelated that economics is slowly imperializing a lot of adjacent fields precisely because economists have more freedom to push the political envelope slightly. I’ve devoted a lot of effort over the decades to critiquing economists’ cluelessness when they look at things like crime and abortion (e.g., Steve “Freakonomics” Levitt), but I have to admit they tend to be less shackled into boredom than the more ideologically homogeneous fields.

    For example, here’s my brand new critique of the obvious flaws in a vast social mobility project be Harvard economist Raj Chetty, who is advising Hillary Clinton:


    Chetty’s analysis of his own data is weak, but, still, as an economist he’s allowed to take on projects that would activate the crimestop mechanism in the brains of most sociologists.

  12. “Universities have (with some notable exceptions) been centers of political radicalism for centuries,”

    How true is this assertion?

    I’ve read a lot, in passing, about Oxford and Cambridge down through the centuries, and most of the time they seem more “Brideshead Revisited” than committed to radical change (e.g., Communists in the 1930s and a small amount of New Leftism in 1968-1974 or so).

    Here’s a quantitative way to assess this. Both Cambridge and Oxford universities were granted their own seats in Parliament (separate from the towns they were in) from 1603 to 1950. How radical were the MPs returned by the universities?

    Here’s Cambridge University’s MPs:


    Cambridge from the earlyish 19th Century onward sent about 90% Tories to Westminster.

    Oxford, of course, was even more conservative. From Wikipedia:

    The university strongly supported the old Tory cause in the 18th century. The original party system endured long after it had become meaningless in almost every other constituency.

    After the Hanoverian succession to the British throne the Whigs became dominant in the politics of Cambridge University, the other university represented in Parliament, by using a royal prerogative power to confer Doctorates. That power did not exist at Oxford, so the major part of the university electorate remained Tory (and in the first half of the 18th century sometimes Jacobite) in sympathy.

    The university also valued its independence from government. In a rare contested general election in 1768 the two candidates with administration ties were defeated.

    In the 19th century the university continued to support the right, almost always returning Tory, Conservative or Liberal Unionist candidates. The only exception was William Ewart Gladstone, formerly “the rising hope of the stern unbending Tories”. He first represented the university as a Peelite, supporting a former member for the constituency – the sometime Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Gladstone retained his seat as a Liberal, for a time after 1859. Following Gladstone’s defeat, in 1865, subsequent Liberal candidates were rare and they were never successful in winning a seat.

    Even after the introduction of proportional representation, in 1918, both members continued to be Conservatives until 1935. Independent members were elected in the last phase of university elections to Parliament, before the constituency was abolished in 1950.

    • > “Universities have (with some notable exceptions) been centers of political radicalism for centuries,”
      > How true is this assertion?

      Interpreting the statement and the question a little differently, I’ll speculate that p(university|radical) >> p(radical|university). (You’re addressing the latter.)

  13. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your Comment. A few thoughts:

    1) We don’t see political or intellectual diversity as a portable, acontextual value to be shopped around for application to any field. This is not about simply taking fields that are politically homogeneous and making them better through political heterogeneity.

    Rather, it’s about social science. Political homogeneity is a threat to the validity of social science because modern political ideologies and philosophies carry with them all sorts of assumptions and tenets regarding human nature, free will, the force of social contexts, the force of innate differences, the validity and accuracy of stereotyping, and so forth.

    More deeply and broadly, modern scholars might have any number of assumptions about what counts as ethical behavior, or what counts as rational behavior (e.g. Lord, Ross, and Lepper (1978 or so) assuming that people should change their positions on capital punishment simply because they were given purported data on its deterrent effects by someone in a lab coat, completely missing the fact that such views are heavily driven by principles of justice and deontological concerns.) This can be a problem if they tend to have the same assumptions, the same philosophy.

    An apolitical example is how we’ve somehow gotten away with measuring a purported personality trait of “openness to experience” by asking people to certify that they are “sophisticated in the arts” and “like to play with ideas.” This is an obvious and profound cultural bias. The field is dominated by white urban liberals, and not surprisingly the field has defined “openness to experience” as one’s congruence with white urban liberal tastes.

    A credible and valid social science is extremely unlikely to arise from such a narrow cultural firmament. It would be miraculous if white urban liberals were able to expunge themselves of all their cultural and political biases in the conduct of their research. It would require remarkable training, training which does not exist, and may not be theoretically feasible.

    In the paper, we gave a few examples of politically biased research (different from above.) I’m curious if you agree with those as examples of bias (e.g. treating environmentalist tenets, analogies, and prophecies as “realities” and calling it denial of reality if participants disagree with them, which is to say, if they disagree with environmentalist ideology. There, researchers conflated ideological tenets and values for descriptive reality, which is a radical deterioration of social science.)

    2. The evidence you’ve requested – showing that greater intellectual diversity in other social sciences pays off on the outcome variables of interest – is not possible as far as I know. There are very few social sciences (six?). They’re all dominated by urban white liberals. There isn’t enough variance to detect an effect, and any such effect would require a decades-long induction of some kind. It would require the entry of large numbers of non-leftist researchers, be they conservative, libertarian, or some other heterodox perspectives (or even lots of apolitical people, but such people would be less effective at detecting left-wing bias than libertarians, conservatives, et al.) Without the entry of large numbers of non-leftists, your test would be impossible (and also, people from rural backgrounds and blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans – we’ve made essentially no progress on diversity on those fronts either.) But the entry of large numbers of fresh minds is exactly what we are proposing, so your preferred evidence logically requires your adoption of our proposals, yes?

    (Economics is not as dominated by leftists as the other social sciences, but I still think there are structural leftist biases even there. Their strange brand of utilitarianism, their social welfare functions which they routinely seek to maximize by the massive use of state coercion to control and manipulate individuals, take their money, outlaw their preferences, etc. is deeply, deeply statist, almost psychopathic in how cavalier they are about using the coercive machinery of the state. Their core assumption that anyone’s “welfare” can be deduced and managed by distant strangers, by anointed economists and state agents, is quite radical and its ambition is not matched by its empirical support or coherence. We may come to find that economists are biased toward a central government role in economic life simply because it gives economists more to do, more power, more recognition, more stature…)

    3. Doubling back to point 1, we didn’t talk about the military because we’re not in the military — we’re social psychologists focused on a problem and opportunity we see in our field. Perhaps the military would benefit from more intellectual diversity. They’re certainly extremely inefficient and are sometimes plagued by terrible leadership (see the Beirut Marine barracks bombing and their rules of engagement, and Mogadishu and the quality of the Army’s officers’ decisions in that debacle. The military seems to suffer from profoundly unintelligent decisionmaking at times. I don’t know if political diversity is the answer there, but some other kind of intellectual diversity might be. Some of their issues might be the general problems of large organizations, especially non-market organizations (I consulted at a nuclear power plant last year, and electric utilities have some of the same monopoly, non-market dynamics that breed complacency and bad decisions.)

    Journalism has a well-documented leftist bias, which is to be expected given their demographic political homogeneity. I think some of the things we’re saying about social psychology could fruitfully apply to journalism.



    • Joe:

      Thanks for the response.

      I have not seen convincing evidence for leftist bias in journalism, but I do know that individual journalists are more likely to be on the left than the right. (The poll data I saw had something like 34% identifying as Democrats, 17% identifying as Republicans, and the rest as independent.

      In many ways, though, the real bias in journalism is neither left nor right but a bias in economic perspective. See here, for a discussion of, as Mark Palko puts it, “the way most journalists have internalized upper and upper-middle class perceptions.” One could argue that this is a “rightist” bias in the sense of not understanding how lower-income people live, but it seems to me more of a bias of perspective that’s nether left nor right.

      In Red State Blue State we also talk about the media’s metro-area bias, that in their attempt to understand the “other” (the part of America outside of NY-DC-LA), they often make fools of themselves. A notorious example was conservative pundit David Brooks’s embarrassing trip to Red Lobster, but of course similar cluelessness appears across the political spectrum.

      • That’s an interesting example. None of the poor people I know go to Trader Joe’s. It’s too expensive and there are no TJs in their neighborhoods. The journalist didn’t seem to have a sense of the geography of poverty, didn’t know where to drive to find the cheap supermarkets. I think this might be partly a function of cloistered urban living where people don’t drive much, if at all, so they never see large swaths of their metro area. The journalist mentions that she walks to work, so I’m not sure she has a car.

        The other surprising thing was the low calorie-density of the food she bought for her food stamp challenge. She doesn’t eat meat, and she eats very little fat. She makes all sorts of inferences from how tired and depleted she feels on the $29 budget for a week of food, seems to assume that this is how poor people must feel. Poor people eat much more calorie-dense foods. And they don’t spend three bucks on a half-gallon of almond milk, or four bucks for a dozen eggs. No Mexican would ever spend two dollars for eight corn tortillas.

        That whole thing is a vivid example, a caricature really, of how many urban liberal elites don’t know what poverty is like. They might be systematically overestimating the day to day suffering involved. My own experience with poverty was nothing like they imagine.

        On the media bias more broadly, I think it will show up most in story selection. I call this an exogenous type of bias, as opposed to endogenous bias, which would be in the story itself, how it’s written, the word and label choices, etc. An example of story selection or coverage bias: As far as I know, other than Fox News, no major media outlet has reported Dan Kahan’s finding that climate skeptics know more climate science than climate believers do. That’s a major finding (and deeply surprising to me — I would have expected no difference), and it contradicts a common narrative about “deniers” and such. I’d expect that to make it very newsworthy, but so far no one is covering it. Science writers tend to be environmentalists, which becomes a problem when covering environmental issues. And I also think that once the “denier” tag is on something, people don’t want to touch it. I think it creates a force field, where there’s so much stigma attached to a perceived position that anything perceived as favorable to that position faces a much higher burden.

        • Joe:

          I don’t see anything particularly “urban” or “liberal” in that reporter’s cluelessness about how poor people go shopping, any more than I see anything particularly “suburban” or “conservative” in David Brooks’s cluelessness, in his notorious “Red Lobster” article, about how middle-class people go out to dinner. In both cases you could argue that the cluelessness serves a political agenda of the left or right, but to me the problem is that the reporters in question aren’t actually reporting (for example, by talking with people and observing what poor people and middle-class people actually do). Underlying that is some system of incentives in part motivated by what people like to read. After all, here we are discussing a laughably clueless first-person account; we’re not talking about a serious article about real lifestyles. It’s not just that many urban liberals, and suburban conservatives, and urban conservatives, and suburban liberals, and etc etc, don’t know what poverty is like, it’s also that (a) this is the stuff that gets in the press and indeed is the stuff we seem to like to read, and (b) various misconceptions are then used to push political agendas.

  14. And to echo others’ points, yes it is important to know that we are mostly talking about validity. We’re not talking about replication issues, statistics, p-hacking, etc. Validity is a key attribute of scientific research. There are aspects of methodological validity where social scientists seems to have some blind spots, aspects that might not be the focus of proper training. For example, asking participants if hard work pays off in the long run, and then calling it “rationalization of inequality” if they say yes. That’s a validity problem.

    On the issue of whether left-liberalism is on the right side of history, we should be very cautious about adjudicating the rightness of ideologies in real-time. I’m not sure why scientists would need to do that. In any case, the academic left was complicit in perhaps 100,000,000 deaths over the course of the 20th century. The left routinely defended communism and socialism, even after many of the massacres were known. Quite of a few scientists were so sympathetic to communism that they actually spied for the Soviet Union, helped them develop nuclear weapons, and thus helped the regime hold power for longer, all the while enslaving thousands in the Gulag. I’m guessing that’s not the right side of history. We’ve never fully come to terms with this, with what happened to the world quite recently, and how our academics and intellectuals propelled it.

    On the flip side, as a straightforward empirical fact, capitalism has radically improved and extended human life. We’ve never seen anything like this in history. The health, wealth, safety, access to knowledge, the breadth and quality of entertainment, much of it quite uplifting, the ability of non-rich people to travel widely, the ability to communicate in countless media, and so on. This is revolutionary. What the industrial revolution and capitalism have done is starkly obvious, yet wildly underexposed. We can easily imagine a parallel universe where the capitalist breakthrough is a formal area of focus in history and economics departments, even in social psychology. But it isn’t in our universe, presumably because leftists still control academia, and they’ve not been curious about the greatest advance in human welfare in all of recorded history.

  15. What a strange comment. You seem to be arguing that yes the field is biased but no it doesn’t matter.
    Of course it matters. If the field is packed full of lefties, then leftist assumptions and built-in values go unchallenged, and groupthink prevails.
    We had a nice example of this last night of course. A team of “Expert” statisticians, all UK academics, @BESResearch on twitter, came up with their final prediction yesterday: 274 Conservative and 278 Labour seats.

    The fact that you are so reluctant to accept this, and resort to smear tactics (“ideologue”) only serves to prove Duarte et al’s point.

    • Paul:

      1. You write that I seem to be arguing that “yes the field is biased” but I never said such a thing. Actually I’m not quite sure what field you’re talking about. Duarte et al. write about social psychology in the US, by you’re writing about political scientists in the UK.

      2. Multiparty elections are unpredictable and it is not a surprise to me that a prediction was off. In other years the consensus predictions were off in the other direction. Political scientists in the UK might well be biased but this doesn’t seem like the best way to look for such bias.

      3. I don’t recall ever calling someone an “ideologue” so I searched this thread for that word, and all I found was this: A commenter had linked to some writings of Duarte in which he (Duarte) was involved in political battles:

      But, to be fair, even if Duarte is an ideologue, maybe that’s what it takes for someone to care enough about the topic to study it in depth. So I think his arguments need to be taken on their own terms.

      This is not a smear tactic. It’s a discussion. Not everything is a political fight. Sometimes we try to figure things out. If you want political fights, this blog is probably the wrong place for you.

        • Paul:

          It’s not an insult or a smear to say that someone is involved in political battles—it’s just a description! There’s nothing wrong with being politically involved. The earlier commenter pointed out Duarte’s blog where he was having political arguments which related to claims made in published papers, claims that Duarte disagreed with. This is all fine, not a misrepresentation. I didn’t say, nor did I mean to imply, that Duarte only engages in political battles, this was just the thing that the commenter pointed out to us.

        • Ah, I didn’t see any of this before. Someone linked to my main report on Lewandowsky. I’m not sure what’s controversial about that. I would think it fits with the overarching argument that the field is politically biased. Someone was able to title their paper “NASA faked the moon landing — therefore, (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science” when in their sample of 1145, they had only ten people who believed the moon landings were faked, and only three of those ten also believed that climate science is a hoax.

          That looks to be a severe example of both political bias and the lack of rigor required of findings that appear to affirm left-wing narratives or disparage conservatives. It might also implicate deeper, non-political vulnerabilities in the way the field uses inferential statistics, especially where correlations are used to link views or people when there is no data for the reported trait or view — i.e. leveraging variance on one side of a scale to generate a correlation statistic, then leveraging the correlation statistic to speak of people being “high” or “low” on some variable when no one was there.

          I don’t think Andrew has labeled me uncharitably at any point. Perhaps characterizing my debunking of Lewandowsky and his data as a “political battle” could be viewed as an example of bias — if every time we call out bogus research in political psychology, we’re tagged as engaged in a “political battle”, it will might weaken the force of such debunkings. If everyone in the field did that, if everyone saw a methodological rebuke of a politically biased study as a political battle, and paid little attention to the methodological issues, it would serve as a sort of immune system for the political biases of the field. That would lock out almost any attempt to reform the field or to call out bias, so the label should probably be reserved for actual political arguments, but such arguments seem unlikely and out of place in social psychology (e.g. an argument over the justice of tax cuts — that’s not what we do, or what we want to do.)

        • Jose:

          Again, I do not intend “political battles” to be any sort of dismissal or put-down. If your disagreement with Lewandowsky were purely methodological, I’d call it a methodological battle, but clearly there is a political dimension as well (as indicated by your remarks about left-wing narratives).

          It’s fine for methodological critiques to have a political dimension. To take an example from another direction, recall the critique of the famous Excel error of Reinhart and Rogoff. The critique was methodological but it was coming from a political direction. Nothing wrong with such a critique, and I think nothing wrong with labeling it as political.

          It is an unfortunate aspect of our discourse that “political” is often taken to be a put-down. I don’t see it that way—indeed, I’m a political scientist!

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