An article in the New York Times about the dearth of conservatives in the field of social psychology has triggered the usual self-pitying whining from the usual suspects. More proof, they complain, that they are discriminated against by the evil liberal elite!
But the article itself is frustrating. It doesn’t define “conservative,” for one thing. There are, or there used to be, self-defined conservatives who are intelligent and rational people who might make fine social psychologists. However, such conservatives are rare specimens who must keep their heads down and their opinions to themselves among conservatives and liberals alike.
To liberals, especially the young folks, “rational conservative” is an oxymoron. Yet, children, there used to be such people. And I suspect there are a few such people out there. But rational conservatives are an entirely different species from contemporary conservatives, of all stripes — social, neo-, and paleo- — and contemporary conservatism has pretty effectively hunted them all down and driven them out of their company.
Considering that much contemporary conservatism is hostile to science — especially the humanities, biology and earth science — well, OK, any science except engineering, although they sometimes try to fake being economists — it makes sense that the dearth of conservatives in social psychology is the result of self-selection, not discrimination.
This is not to say that social psychologists don’t have sacred cows that get in the way of objectivity, particularly where race and gender issues are concerned. But you don’t eliminate bias by artificially insisting that other biases must be equally valid. Only the science itself should matter.
This is amusing:
Can social scientists open up to outsiders’ ideas? Dr. Haidt was optimistic enough to title his speech “The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology,” urging his colleagues to focus on shared science rather than shared moral values. To overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions.”
Well, yes, I suppose reading Sowell could teach them that African American men can be pig-headed bigots, too.
Anyway — the Society for Personality and Social Psychology is considering adding conservatives to the category of underrepresented groups, along with racial minorities, the disabled, and lesbians/gays and the bisexual and transgendered. Students who fit into these categories can get subsidies to help them travel to the annual meeting. Yes, amusing.
Update: Paul Krugman –
It’s particularly troubling to apply some test of equal representation when you’re looking at academics who do research on the very subjects that define the political divide. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?
Again, it seems obvious to me that any group of people who would choose to become social psychologists would be predominately liberal, not because of academic bias but because social psychology is inherently something that would appeal to liberals more than conservatives. It’s self-selection, not bias.