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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Social Psychologists Detect Liberal Bias Within

"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them." - George Bernard Shaw


Social Psychologists Detect Liberal Bias Within

"40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal... Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

“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”...

He had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s...

“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “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.” It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.

“Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist,” Dr. Haidt said. “Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed. Only in the last few years have liberal sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along”...

[After Larry Summers,] the taboo against discussing sex differences was reinforced, so universities and the National Science Foundation went on spending tens of millions of dollars on research and programs based on the assumption that female scientists faced discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias. But that assumption has been repeatedly contradicted, most recently in a study published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by two Cornell psychologists, Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams. After reviewing two decades of research, they report that a woman in academic science typically fares as well as, if not better than, a comparable man when it comes to being interviewed, hired, promoted, financed and published.

“Thus,” they conclude, “the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort. Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past”...

[The Society for Personality and Social Psychology] made a change on the “Diversity Initiatives” page — a two-letter correction of what it called a grammatical glitch, although others might see it as more of a Freudian slip.

In the old version, the society announced that special funds to pay for travel to the annual meeting were available to students belonging to “underrepresented groups (i.e., ethnic or racial minorities, first-generation college students, individuals with a physical disability, and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered students).”

As Dr. Haidt noted in his speech, the “i.e.” implied that this was the exclusive, sacred list of “underrepresented groups.” The society took his suggestion to substitute “e.g.” — a change that leaves it open to other groups, too. Maybe, someday, even to conservatives"

Addendum: Some of the comments:

"Those conservatives that thought deeply on the subject of political diversity in academics realized, in the 50s and 60s, that one result of the cold war would be to move colleges to the left - the reasons are complex, but not terribly so. They chose to leave and set up a parallel system of "think tanks" to house intellectual conservatism rather than advance it through the academy. It seemed like a losing battle, and perhaps it would have been. Those thinkers built the significant elements of Reagan's arguments. Given the success attributed to Reagan, it would have changed academia significantly if those ideas had come from within the ivory tower. I think it would have been much healthier all around, with more diverse thought today in many fields."

"Speaking as one on the inside of the social sciences I know that this does not happen when it comes to hot-button issues and that more than a few of my colleagues zip their lips when another makes unsubstantiated claims that are nonetheless embraced by the social norms of the discipline. There is even an open disdain for those of us who actually try to teach and employ statistics by saying things like, “Well, this is an issue that lends itself best to descriptive analysis” and "there is more than one way (i.e. other than empirical analysis) to get knowledge." We need to combat “truthiness” on both sides of the political spectrum."

"I am a liberal and a gay man, and I have seen the bias against conservatives play out among my colleagues in the same way that bias against other groups, including women, African Americans and gay men play out. People make offensive jokes when they think no one from the outgroup is there. The assumption is always that we are all liberal. I have heard things said about conservatives that would not be tolerable about any other group. What's more, I have done experiments and research that shows interesting links between being conservative or religious and wellbeing and with being conservative as a risk factor for depression among college students. Yet, I have been actively discouraged from publishing that work by colleagues. When I have presented it, I have been attacked for doing that research. Oddly, the findings emerged in a study of how African Americans are made to feel alienated in a college campus where they are a small minority. Yet, the exact same patterns that can be described about African Americans are there for conservatives. I can present the data about African Americans and be praised, but I can't present the data about conservatives without being jeered or treated as a second rate scientist. This bias is quite disturbing. It has nothing to do with conservatives, but with the refusal to consider and publish empirical, scientific work without bias. Part of this bias may be explained by the fact that many social and personality psychologists, particularly those with more at stake when it comes to publishing, often reinterpret data and tweak statistic analysis to fit their theories and agenda. Perhaps the assumption that the work of every colleague is biased to reflect their point of view and that the data are never exactly what they seem."

The PNAS paper by Ceci and Williams referenced which shows that bias against women isn't a problem in STEM is:

Understanding current causes of women's underrepresentation in science

"Explanations for women's underrepresentation in math-intensive fields of science often focus on sex discrimination in grant and manuscript reviewing, interviewing, and hiring. Claims that women scientists suffer discrimination in these arenas rest on a set of studies undergirding policies and programs aimed at remediation. More recent and robust empiricism, however, fails to support assertions of discrimination in these domains. To better understand women's underrepresentation in math-intensive fields and its causes, we reprise claims of discrimination and their evidentiary bases. Based on a review of the past 20 y of data, we suggest that some of these claims are no longer valid and, if uncritically accepted as current causes of women's lack of progress, can delay or prevent understanding of contemporary determinants of women's underrepresentation. We conclude that differential gendered outcomes in the real world result from differences in resources attributable to choices, whether free or constrained, and that such choices could be influenced and better informed through education if resources were so directed. Thus, the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing, and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort: Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past, rather than in addressing meaningful limitations deterring women's participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers today. Addressing today's causes of underrepresentation requires focusing on education and policy changes that will make institutions responsive to differing biological realities of the sexes. Finally, we suggest potential avenues of intervention to increase gender fairness that accord with current, as opposed to historical, findings."
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