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08 February 2011

Manufacturing Controversy

Many have wondered about the unquestionable correlation between the academe and left-leaning politics. "Why are all of my professors so liberal?" In an article in the NYTimes yesterday, John Tierney give us an interesting take.
In his speech and in an interview, 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.

The fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology have long attracted liberals, but they became more exclusive after the 1960s, according to Dr. Haidt.…
I would argue that Dr. Haidt has the causality reversed, that is, it is actually the scientific approach and its conclusions that influence who remains in the field and what they believe. Conservatives have largely self-selected out of the social sciences because the science contradicts much of their belief system, and science, unlike a political philosophy, is not an unchallengeable worldview. It is by definition malleable and shifting.

Moreover, Conservatives—if and when they reach minority status—are wholly different from "the exclusive, sacred list of 'underrepresented groups'" (i.e. racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, etc.) in that they do not experience the harmful outcomes that those in the so-call sacred list have. Quite the contrary. Conservatives are more likely to be white educated men of upward mobility and high status. As social scientists, we are not concerned with underrepresented groups simply because they are underrepresented. We are concerned because underrepresentedness creates, reinforces, and exacerbates the disadvantage inherent for so many underrepresented groups. Being underrepresented may go against our cultural concern over "fairness," but there is an essential difference between social justice and social fairness. This is the fundamental misunderstanding of those who are right-leaning regarding the progressive position: it is not about political correctness; it is about social equity.

Much as was done by the media with the "controversy" in science over the Creationism-vs.-Evolution debate, this Times article describes an imagined crisis in the social sciences. It is not a liberal agenda running amok; it is scientists doing science.

UPDATE: Here is Krugman's take on this article.

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