17 September 2015

How Did Academic Psychology Become So Liberal? Is This A Problem?

A new metastudy looks at the dramatic shift of the academic discipline of psychology to the political left (a shift present in most of the humanities and social science), and tries to figure out how it came to be and suggests that corrective action is both possible and desirable for the discipline.

The Worst Case Scenario: Disciplinary Genocide Via Conservative Political Edict

The potential downside of an overwhelmingly liberal academy could go well beyond the concerns expressed in the paper, as headlines from academia in Japan this week show:
Many social sciences and humanities faculties in Japan are to close after universities were ordered to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

Of the 60 national universities that offer courses in these disciplines, 26 have confirmed that they will either close or scale back their relevant faculties at the behest of Japan’s government.

It follows a letter from education minister Hakuban Shimomura sent to all of Japan’s 86 national universities, which called on them to take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organisations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

The ministerial decree has been denounced by one university president as “anti-intellectual”, while the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, regarded as the country’s most prestigious, have said that they will not comply with the request.

However, 17 national universities will stop recruiting students to humanities and social science courses – including law and economics, according to a survey of university presidents by The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which was reported by the blog Social Science Space.
From here via Marginal Revolution.

The Money Chart

diversity graph
Figure 1. The political party and ideological sympathies of academic psychologists have shifted leftward over time. Circles show ratios of self-reports of liberal vs. conservative. Diamonds show ratios of self-reports of party preference or voting (Democrat vs. Republican). Data for 1924–60 is reported in McClintock et al. (1965). Open diamonds are participants’ recollections of whom they voted for; gray diamonds are self-reported party identification at time of the survey. Data for 1999 is reported in Rothman et al. (2005). Data from 2006 is reported in Gross and Simmons (2007). The right-most circle is from Inbar and Lammers (2012) and is the ratio of selfidentified liberal/conservative social psychologists.
The Abstract, Citation and Link to the Executive Summary
Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity – particularly diversity of viewpoints – for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: (1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years. (2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike. (3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking. (4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.
Duarte, J. L., et al.,P Political diversity will improve social psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, 1-13 (2015).

How Did This Happen?

The material below from the executive summary of the paper (emphasis added) explains the mechanisms that caused this to become the case.
5. Why are there so few non-liberals in social psychology? 
The evidence does not point to a single answer. To understand why conservatives are so vastly underrepresented in social psychology, we consider five explanations that have frequently been offered to account for a lack of diversity not just in social psychology, but in other contexts (e.g., the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in STEM fields, e.g., Pinker, 2008).

5.1. Differences in ability

[Are conservatives simply less intelligent than liberals, and less able to obtain PhDs and faculty positions?] The evidence does not support this view… [published studies are mixed. Part of the complexity is that…] Social conservatism correlates with lower cognitive ability test scores, but economic conservatism correlates with higher scores (Iyer, Koleva, Graham, Ditto, & Haidt, 2012; Kemmelmeier 2008). [Libertarians are the political group with the highest IQ, yet they are underrepresented in the social sciences other than economics]

5.2. The effects of education on political ideology

Many may view education as “enlightening” and believe that an enlightened view comports with liberal politics. There is little evidence that education causes students to become more liberal. Instead, several longitudinal studies following tens of thousands of college students for many years have concluded that political socialization in college occurs primarily as a function of one’s peers, not education per se (Astin, 1993; Dey, 1997).

5.3. Differences in interest

Might liberals simply find a career in social psychology (or the academy more broadly) more appealing? Yes, for several reasons. The Big-5 trait that correlates most strongly with political liberalism is openness to experience (r = .32 in Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloways’s 2003 meta-analysis), and people high in that trait are more likely to pursue careers that will let them indulge their curiosity and desire to learn, such as a career in the academy (McCrae, 1996). An academic career requires a Ph.D., and liberals enter (and graduate) college more interested in pursuing Ph.D.s than do conservatives (Woessner & Kelly-Woessner, 2009)…

Such intrinsic variations in interest may be amplified by a “birds of a feather” or “homophile” effect. “Similarity attracts” is one of the most well-established findings in social psychology (Byrne, 1969). As a field begins to lean a certain way, the field will likely become increasingly attractive to people suited to that leaning. Over time the group itself may become characterized by its group members. Professors and scientists may come to be seen as liberal just as nurses are typically thought of as being female. Once that happens, conservatives may disproportionately self-select out of joining the dissimilar group, based on a realistic perception that they “do not fit well.” [See Gross (2013)]…

Self-selection clearly plays a role. But it would be ironic if an epistemic community resonated to empirical arguments that appear to exonerate the community of prejudice—when that same community roundly rejects those same arguments when invoked by other institutions to explain the under-representation of women or ethnic minorities (e.g., in STEM disciplines or other elite professions). [Note: we agree that self-selection is a big part of the explanation. If there were no discrimination and no hostile climate, the field would still lean left, as it used to. But it would still have some diversity, and would work much better.]

5.4. Hostile climate

Might self-selection be amplified by an accurate perception among conservative students that they are not welcome in the social psychology community? Consider the narrative of conservatives that can be formed from some recent conclusions in social psychological research: compared to liberals, conservatives are less intelligent (Hodson & Busseri, 2012) and less cognitively complex (Jost et al., 2003). They are more rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible (Jost et al., 2003). Their lower IQ explains their racism and sexism (Deary, Batty, & Gale, 2008), and their endorsement of inequality explains why they are happier than liberals (Napier & Jost, 2008).

As conservative undergraduates encounter the research literature in their social psychology classes, might they recognize cues that the field regards them and their beliefs as defective? And what happens if they do attend graduate school and take part in conferences, classes, and social events in which almost everyone else is liberal? We ourselves have often heard jokes and disparaging comments made by social psychologists about conservatives, not just in informal settings but even from the podium at conferences and lectures. The few conservatives who have enrolled in graduate programs hear these comments too, and some of them wrote to Haidt in the months after his 2011 remarks at the SPSP convention to describe the hostility and ridicule that force them to stay “in the closet” about their political beliefs—or to leave the field entirely.

Haidt (2011) put excerpts from these emails online (in anonymous form); representative of them is this one from a former graduate student in a top 10 Ph.D. program:

I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it was for me in graduate school because I am not a liberal Democrat. As one example, following Bush’s defeat of Kerry, one of my professors would email me every time a soldier’s death in Iraq made the headlines; he would call me out, publicly blaming me for not supporting Kerry in the election. I was a reasonably successful graduate student, but the political ecology became too uncomfortable for me. Instead of seeking the professorship that I once worked toward, I am now leaving academia for a job in industry.

Evidence of hostile climate is not just anecdotal. Inbar and Lammers (2012) asked members of the SPSP discussion list: “Do you feel that there is a hostile climate towards your political beliefs in your field?” Of 17 conservatives, 14 (82%) responded “yes” (i.e., a response at or above the midpoint of the scale, where the midpoint was labeled “somewhat” and the top point “very much”), with half of those responding “very much.” In contrast, only 18 of 266 liberals (7%) responded “yes”, with only two of those responding “very much.” Interestingly, 18 of 25 moderates (72%) responded “yes,” with one responding “very much.” This surprising result suggests that the hostile climate may adversely affect not only conservatives, but anyone who is not liberal or whose values do not align with the liberal progress narrative.

5.5. Discrimination

The literature on political prejudice demonstrates that strongly identified partisans show little compunction about expressing their overt hostility toward the other side (e.g., Chambers et al., 2013; Crawford & Pilanski, 2013; Haidt, 2012). Partisans routinely believe that their hostility towards opposing groups is justified because of the threat posed to their values by dissimilar others (see Brandt et al., 2014, for a review). Social psychologists are unlikely to be immune to such psychological processes. Indeed, ample evidence using multiple methods demonstrates that social psychologists do in fact act in discriminatory ways toward non-liberal colleagues and their research.

[Here we review experimental field research: if you change a research proposal so that its hypotheses sound conservative, but you leave the methods the same, then the manuscript is deemed less publishable, and is less likely to get IRB approval] Inbar and Lammers (2012) found that most social psychologists who responded to their survey were willing to explicitly state that they would discriminate against conservatives. Their survey posed the question: “If two job candidates (with equal qualifications) were to apply for an opening in your department, and you knew that one was politically quite conservative, do you think you would be inclined to vote for the more liberal one?” Of the 237 liberals, only 42 (18%) chose the lowest scale point, “not at all.” In other words, 82% admitted that they would be at least a little bit prejudiced against a conservative candidate, and 43% chose the midpoint (“somewhat”) or above. In contrast, the majority of moderates (67%) and conservatives (83%) chose the lowest scale point (“not at all”)….

Conservative graduate students and assistant professors are behaving rationally when they keep their political identities hidden, and when they avoid voicing the dissenting opinions that could be of such great benefit to the field. Moderate and libertarian students may be suffering the same fate.

In essence, liberals are moderately more inclined to pursue an academic research and teaching career than conservatives, and this tendency has become self-fulfilling as the liberal majority in academia has created a hostile environment for conservatives and openly discriminates against people who express conservative views or research agendas.

The study fails, however, to really engage with a really key question presented by their money chart.

Why did a stable equilibrium that prevailed from the early 1930s to about 1990 (which seems to be the equilibrium which the authors of the study hope to restore) was suddenly disrupted causing the percentages of conservative in academic psychology to fall from about 20%-33% to about 6.5%?

The change has happened not so much in the last 50 years as in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010 (starting around the time that I was finishing my higher education) which coincides with the rise of identity politics and the notion of "political correctness" in the academy.  It also coincides with the rise of secular religious identity and the collapse of mainline Christianity in favor of both secularism on the liberal end and Evangelical Christianity on the conservative end.

And this coincides (in a development that probably isn't independent of the rise of identity politics) with an increasingly close identification Evangelical Christians with the Republican party and the tail end of the "realignment" process.  While conservatism has not always been (and still isn't) naturally anti-intellectual or anti-science, the anti-intellectual and anti-science orientation of Evangelical Christianity is a long standing one that was starting to seep into the conservative political movement in the United States at that time.

In particular, the empirical data of psychology has been strongly at odds with conservative Christianity's views on questions of gay rights, which has been a defining social issue in the United States in the period in which the academic discipline became far more liberal.

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