Sunday, August 12, 2012

Anti-conservative bias and social psychology

My most popular blog post of all time was the one I did on conservative trust in the scientific community vs retraction rates.   I called it "Paranoia is just good sense if people really are out to get you" because I had a suspicion (confirmed when I ran the data) that conservatives might actually be behaving rationally when they said they trusted science less, given the ever increasing retraction rates in prominent journals.

Now, a new study shows that this distrust of the scientific community is even more well founded than I originally thought.

In a survey conducted by two self proclaimed liberals, it was found that there is heavy evidence that conservatives are being systematically discriminated against in the field of social psychology.  What unnerved the authors even more is that this was not a case where people were hiding their bias:

To some on the right, such findings are hardly surprising. But to the authors, who expected to find lopsided political leanings, but not bias, the results were not what they expected.
"The questions were pretty blatant. We didn't expect people would give those answers," said Yoel Inbar, a co-author, who is a visiting assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and an assistant professor of social psychology at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands.
He said that the findings should concern academics. Of the bias he and a co-author found, he said, "I don't think it's O.K."

The study isn't available yet, so I can't say I've read the nuances.  Still, it's hard for me to believe two liberal authors would have attempted to skew the results in this direction.  Conservatives have claimed this bias exists for years (look no further than the ethics complaint lodged against Mark Regnerus for proof), and will no doubt find nothing shocking about the results.  For liberals to have to face what this means however, that's something new.  Even in the comments on this article, the vitriol is surprising, with many saying that conservatives are so out of touch that it is an ethical responsibility to keep them out of fields like social psychology.


It is much to my chagrin that social science gets lumped in with harder science, but since findings in this field are so often reported in the media, it makes sense to take them in to account.  We have a vicious cycle here now where some fields are dominated by one party, who then do studies that slam the other party, then accuse that party of being anti-science when they don't agree with the results.  This is crazy.  The worst thing that can happen to any scientific research is too much consensus....especially when it involves moving targets like social psychology.  With 40% of the population identifying as conservative, how can we leave those perspectives out?  Everyone, liberal and conservative, should be troubled by these findings.  Those untroubled by this should take a good look at themselves and truly ask the question "what am I so afraid of?".


  1. Now, a new study shows that this distrust of the scientific community is even more well founded than I originally thought.

    Social science is to science as fantasy is to reality.

  2. Having tried to engage on this subject on another blog I can tell you that liberals are not troubled. They have two responses:
    1. The study is wrong and there is no liberal bias.
    2. There is no liberal bias - the reason there are not more conservatives in academia is that they are ideologically rigid and stupid and thus should not be hired.
    They are adamant about this.

  3. I find it hard to believe academics are discriminating against conservatives. To do that they would have to identify conservatives and I think that's beyond their ability.

    Speaking as a Ph.D. who's not a professor, I think this is probably because leftists are more likely to be attracted to shaping "young skulls full of mush." If you're going by "They say" instead of "It is," it's of utmost importance to influence what "They say." If you're going by "It is," such influence is of secondary importance.

  4. When I've tried to engage on this in blogs with academics it's become clear that they do not distinguish between someone who differs from the liberal agenda on a couple of issues, libertarians, social conservatives, economic conservatives or any variation thereof. You're either completely on their team or off their team and thus a stupid right-winger who shouldn't be hired; if they were discriminating; which they're not. On the other hand, you can differ to the left and be more radical; that's diversity.

  5. I truly love it when people who are railing against a perceived bias against their in-group do so using statements such as "leftists are more likely to be attracted to shaping young skulls full of mush," or "Social science is to science as fantasy is to reality," and my personal favourite, "you can differ to the left and be more radical; that's diversity."
    No bias there at all. Or does bias only count when you perceive that it's against those you favour?
    Old chestnuts about pots calling kettles black come to mind.