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science, Social Issues

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.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  Feb 8, 2011 @10:39 am

    “Social Psychology?”
    They’re complaining about that? It has the word “social” in it. I thought they didn’t do “social?” How about ‘free market’ psychology?

    Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that if you’re looking for “rational conservatives” today, you might start with Blue Dog’ and other species of right-of-center Democrats. They won’t be found anymore on the Republican side. And maybe that’s why our side seems more conservative than we’d like. But you have to feel sorry for them – those poor bastards don’t have anywhere else to go, much as we may wish they did.
    I do miss those Republican “rational conservatives.” They allowed Democrats to stand in sharp contrast to them, rather than the varying shades of gray we have on our side now.
    Anyone want to take the time to explain to the children what a Rockefeller Republican was? That creature is as extinct as the Dodo bird.
    Republican always had some nuts to go along with a handful of Liberals, but when did it become acceptable to elect creatures the likes of Paul, Bachmann, P & S King, Goemert, etc., into Congress, and obvious criminals like Scott into Governorships?
    And when exactly was it that the Birchers began hijacking the Republicans/Conservatives? Was it Bush Sr’s tax increase? Clinton’s election? Clinton’s erection? Little Boots’ run up to the war? Was there something concrete that happened, or was it a slow de-evolution into madness? Was it some Ayn Rand moment? Anyone have any idea?

  2. maha  •  Feb 8, 2011 @10:53 am

    Anyone want to take the time to explain to the children what a Rockefeller Republican was? That creature is as extinct as the Dodo bird.

    Somewhere on the web recently, I came across a fellow who called himself an “Eisenhower Republican.” I so wanted to shake his hand.

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Feb 8, 2011 @11:21 am

    I read about a documentary film maker in the NY Times Magazine this past Sunday who described himself the same way.
    Maybe that’s making a comeback? If not “Rockefeller Republicans”, I’d gladly take “Eisenhower Republicans.” God, that would be too much to wish for, wouldn’t be? A return of some “rational conservatives.” Sigh…

  4. Felicity  •  Feb 8, 2011 @12:50 pm

    Traditionally, the Republican Party was comprised of people big on ‘self-reliance’ while the Democratic Party was called the ‘worker’s’ party. Obviously, tradition flew out the window years ago.

    cundgulag’s question on when, how, or maybe why the Republican Party morphed into the Wacko Party is a question I’ve wondered about also. I suspect it was the advent of the Hippie/Flower children movement (which I loved being a part of but which seemed to scare its onlookers to death.) And then there was, at the same time, the war in Nam and the subsequent ‘disgrace’ (in many people’s eyes) of finally pulling out of that benighted country with our tail between our legs.

    Perhaps the combination of those two events made some people, normally conservative so averse to change, to, out of sheer terror of losing good, old, strong, mom-and-apple-pie America seek desperately to return to the good old days. (And who better to guarantee that return than St. Ronnie.)

    Of course a ‘return’ was unrealistic, if not impossible even unidentifiable so the Party was sort of put together ad hoc like with flotsam and jetsam of remembered pasts and future vague hopes.

    As far as the Social Psychology bunch, assuming it’s composed of informed historians and scientists, truly how would a woman (who recently declared on the flour of the House that the earth was 6,000 years old) fare would she repeat her assertion during a meeting of the Social Psychology Group. Derision is definitely a turn-off.

  5. biggerbox  •  Feb 8, 2011 @12:55 pm

    I think there is a basic bias in the field against people who cannot understand basic concepts like “correlation is not causation”. Students who don’t understand why race and political ideology are not analogous traits would probably not do well, and fail to advance in the field. And while many if not all of such students might identify as ‘conservative’, their failure wouldn’t be BECAUSE they were conservative.

    It would be because they cannot distinguish between inborn traits and acquired ones, and between historically oppressed and economically disadvantaged classes versus historically privileged and advantaged ones.

    The question isn’t why does a field that requires the ability to do sophisticated social analysis have so few conservatives, it should be why are so many people who are bad at social analysis conservatives?

    (Which reminds me, why are these people who believe in the magic wisdom of the market suggesting that there has been some kind of market failure in determining the proper composition of social psychologists? Isn’t the suggestion that there is anything wrong here some kind of ‘socialistic’ complaint?)

  6. Rick Massimo  •  Feb 8, 2011 @1:10 pm

    (Which reminds me, why are these people who believe in the magic wisdom of the market suggesting that there has been some kind of market failure in determining the proper composition of social psychologists? Isn’t the suggestion that there is anything wrong here some kind of ‘socialistic’ complaint?)

    When they start complaining about the lack of pacifist generals, I’ll start listening.

  7. Felicity  •  Feb 8, 2011 @1:58 pm

    biggerbox – Conservatives I know aren’t comfortable with thinking in depth about much of anything beyond their immediate perceived environment. In fact, a feeling of comfort seems to be the criterion on which they accept a belief or not. Nor do they seem curious. (The fact that science long ago determined that there was no scientific basis for ‘race’ as it’s popularly thought of doesn’t really interest them. They are comfortable with their beliefs and the facts only confuse them.)

    Ah, yes, the “magic wisdom of the market.” Years ago I pointed out to a conservative friend that a rising tide doesn’t raise boats that have sunk, she literally threw me a blank stare and changed the subject.

  8. moonbat  •  Feb 8, 2011 @3:00 pm

    Conservatives in social psychology? It seems like an oxymoron, unless they’re Jonah Goldberg (Liberal Fascism) types who try to invert the meaning of words, thereby destroying the field.

    I read somewhere earlier this week – and I don’t know if this is true or not – but that conservatives in California were trying to get into the University of California system to eliminate the sociology departments. It’s not just that conservatives aren’t interested in certain fields, they are downright threatened by, and openly hostile toward certain subjects. If people learn a little bit, they might start to revolt against the established (conservative) order.

    Why are conservatives threatened by knowledge or free thinking? I thought they were all about freedom? /snark

  9. jamie  •  Feb 8, 2011 @3:16 pm

    Eisenhower Republicans are now called Blue Dog Democrats. IMHO Obama is close to a Eisenhower Republican and to the right of a Rockefeller Republican. That’s how far to the right this country has swung and we are paying a heavy price for the ride. How much further do we have to go before sanity returns? I am in my late 70′s and had such hope after the 2008 elections. Such a disappointment.

  10. Ken Lovell  •  Feb 8, 2011 @3:52 pm

    I understand atheists are under-represented amongst the ranks of theologians, and a quota system is under consideration.

  11. Ken Lovell  •  Feb 8, 2011 @3:57 pm

    BTW they were whining on NRO the other day that Google had acknowledged the anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration with special graphics but ignored St Ronnie’s 100th birthday. There are no limits to their capacity for finding evidence of the way the establishment is tilted in favour of liberals.

  12. Rick Massimo  •  Feb 8, 2011 @6:32 pm

    BTW they were whining on NRO the other day that Google had acknowledged the anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration with special graphics but ignored St Ronnie’s 100th birthday. There are no limits to their capacity for finding evidence of the way the establishment is tilted in favour of liberals.

    Evidently we have to tell them “You’re stupid and nobody likes you” even more directly before they get it.

  13. charles  •  Feb 8, 2011 @7:07 pm

    Nobody has pointed out that it’s neither bias nor self-selection — it’s “education”. In other words, anybody who understands enough to be knowledgeable in “social psychology” is going to become a liberal.

    I say, absolutely, let’s get a lot more conservatives into this re-education system and try to turn them into liberals!

    But I suspect they’d just flunk out.

  14. Candide  •  Feb 8, 2011 @9:54 pm

    Charles wrote:

    Nobody has pointed out that it’s neither bias nor self-selection — it’s “education”. In other words, anybody who understands enough to be knowledgeable in “social psychology” is going to become a liberal.

    Well, the righties do have their own education system – it’s called “home schooling.” Of course, that’s only good through high school. If they want to go for higher education, there’s Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University where they can get a Ph.D. in Creation Science, Noah’s Flood Geology or Trickle-Down Economics.

  15. Swami  •  Feb 9, 2011 @12:26 am

    Gulag.. you threw me on that Rockefeller Republican question. I did a Wikipedia review and was stunned to find out it’s supposed to equate with a “liberal” repugican like Nelson Rockefeller. The only problem with that is I don’t recall Nelson Rockefeller as being anything near a liberal…two things stand out in my mind regarding Nelson..one is Attica, and the other was his draconian drug laws. So in my mind Nelson goes down in perpetuity as a major scumbag unworthy of any label that might soften history’s view of him.

  16. c u n d gulag  •  Feb 9, 2011 @8:41 am

    Swami,
    All true!
    Maybe it’s because he didn’t kill all of the prisoners and behead all of the drug dealers.
    And in ‘Republican World,’ that made him a Liberal.
    Go figure….

  17. Virginia  •  Feb 9, 2011 @1:23 pm

    Whenever I hear a conservative complain that the universities are dominated by liberals I have a ready answer. Of course they are. Universities are full of smart people and smart people tend to be liberals.



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