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The academy is broken

Joe Duarte is co-author of a new paper about political bias in the social sciences. It's paywalled, but there is a summary here. I recommend it.

Featuring well-known names such as Jonathan Haidt and Philip Tetlock the paper looks as though it might create something of a stir, especially as it essentially concludes that social psychology is so dominated by woolly liberals as to make its findings untrustworthy:

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.

The authors reckon that there is a golden opportunity at hand to correct this bias within the academy. I must say I'm entirely unconvinced. I think the rot, and the bigotry, are so ingrained as to make the system unreformable. I have often wondered if the future is not in independent scholars and independent funding streams, secure from the depredations of the liberal left. Certainly, it's hard to see why the public should be paying for the academy in its current state.

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Reader Comments (30)

Robin calls it 'neuro-psychological engineering for a collectivist political purpose.

Sep 15, 2015 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

"Featuring well-known names such as Jonathan Haidt and Philip Tetlock"

Well known in their field, perhaps, but not exactly household names. I have no idea how much public money is used to fund them but any at all would be too much for me. Social psychology seems to be mostly "surveys". If anyone wants it, let them pay for it.

Sep 15, 2015 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDerek

I have often wondered if the future is not in independent scholars and independent funding streams, secure from the depredations of the liberal left.

Why is it assumed that State Funding causes the ascendancy of the Liberal Left?

Our current UK Government is far from Marxist. Why haven't they promoted a Conservative social studies field? It's hardly the first Conservative Government in the last 50 years.

Furthermore, if State Funding causes a Liberal Left bias then the Navy must be full of Corbynites.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:00 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

I prefer a more concise description of all things "socially scientific": Bollocks.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

Perhaps examine 'state funding' more perspicaciously.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

State funding causes institutions to produce evidence that more State funding is required.

In the Navy it produces a mindset that sees threats everywhere and requires more ships, men and money to deal with them.

In Social sciences it produces a mindset that sees oppression and inequality everywhere that requires more funding and social scientists to deal with it.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

The paper is not entirely new. A version of it came out about a year ago and was discussed by Judith Curry. An article about it also appeared in the New Yorker. I think Jose Duarte must have blogged on it too but I can't find that.

What seems to be new is the 33 commentaries and the authors' response to these. They are all paywalled so it's not clear how many of these commentaries are supportive and how many critical. I wonder if it's usual for this journal to wait for 33 comments before officially publishing a paper?

The new website and blog Heterodox Academy looks interesting too. JC is a member and has a new blog post about it.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:36 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Of course, the real issue issue here, and one that is being squarely avoided, is that the so-called "social sciences" are not "science" at all, at least not in the rigorous sense that obtains in Physics, Chemistry, etc.

We are asked to squint our eyes and make a distinction between "hard science" and "soft science", or we are asked to use a modern sense of science concerning one set of disciplines but to use another, almost Medieval sense of "science" in another set of disciplines. This amounts to little more than sophistry and evasion. In fact, "disciplines", such as Psychology of Sociology are at best exercises in a sort of crude Philosophy, or in the former case, Theology, wrapped in scientific jargon and draped "procedures" that more mimic scientific procedures than actually implement real, empirical scientific method; at worse they are merely as set of opinions backed up by a dubious and rhetorical use of statistics. So we have in varying manifestations "mock science", "pseudo science", Scientism or outright fraud, and of course, political activism posing as "Science".

The very concepts need to be evaluated in terms of actual "Science". Politics aside, this is a critical need of our intellectual life, for treating these "fields" as the same sort of undertaking as the "hard sciences" (read "real sciences") pollutes our thought and debases science itself. If we understand that much of government "policy" implements some quite dubious and destructive notions born of these "sciences", it is also ruinous for our public and private life. It is not so much a case of "diversity", as it is one of clear thinking and understanding.

Given all this, it is easy to understand why these pseudo-sciences attract the Left, and this has been a constant with the Left since it achieved any political power. It is all part and parcel of their "Scientific Socialism", and the bogus Marxist/Hegelian teleology it uses to justify its power lust.

I disagree that there are no solutions for reform of existing institutions, but of course they require the political will to wrest control of academia from the Left--a condition that in time will surely come. One first step would be to financially decouple the hard sciences and engineering schools from the soft sciences and the "liberal arts" departments and thus stop the free-riding that goes on today. If they were forced to earn their way, things would improve quickly.

While it is laudable to have independent funding sources, etc., eventually the crisis in the academy has to be faced in order for our Civilization to return to reasonableness and survive. To abandon the academy to the Left is to court annihilation.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterhattip

I think Mr Gambaccini captured politically correct enforcement quite well this morning on Radio4 when talking about Operation Yewtree:-
“That's the premise under this mutation of the British justice system which has occurred from the centuries old, internationally respected, objective, evidence based system, into the subjective, rumour and accusation based system, there can be no evidence, only people who agree.... ".

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterPMT

Certainly, it's hard to see why the public should be paying for the academy in its current state.

Let's put it more bluntly. In the worst cases, the public is paying teachers to indoctrinate students in Marxism.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered Commenterrabbit

Apparently, there's a saying in Washington that the Pentagon is surrounded on all sides by Reality...

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterManniac

I think the full paper & commentaries is available at:

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:49 PM | Registered CommenterQ

Stuck-Record, a good counter-argument.
But it seems to argue for the institutional incompetence of not only social scientists, but also Admirals.

That may be true.
Yet your argument seems to apply to everything. That seems too strong a case to make.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:54 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

I think you mean 'socialist' rather than 'liberal'. A (lefty) liberal is US terminology that makes no sense here, Canada or Australia where Liberals see themselves as very distinct from socialists like the Labour party or SWP. It makes even less sense when thinking about neo-liberals. As for the term 'wooly' liberal, I always understood that to be a term directed at those Liberals who prefer compromise and coalition to conflict - eg Clegg's vision of adding a 'heart to conservatives and a head to Labour'. Or are you just presuming there are only two schools of thought; conservatives and the unenlightened?

One could argue that socialists are more likely to join the social sciences just on the basis of the name. Certainly the social science dept. at my Uni overwhelmingly consisted of lefty rebels-without-a-clue students and weirdy beardy lecturers. I get the impression they are now joining Enviro and Earth science courses having realised that a social science degree is a passport to oblivion.

Of course as several people said on a previous thread there is at least one more axis to the graph.

Sep 15, 2015 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Ostensibly, Navies fund for practical, and in the USA at least, proper constitutional needs.

Governments, particularly leftist ones, fund very often for purely political needs, the t2o chief ones being their Nomenklatura, and retaining control.

It is therefore specious to compare the two.

I would also point out that 1) Whomever is placed in charge, the apparatus of the government (and academia) is firmly in the hands of the Left, and their Nomenklatura--to keep this game working this is in fact the primary reason the Left seeks political power. It is not just a matter of electing a "Conservative Government", and 2) The UK Tories of today can scarcely be called "Conservative"--they are centrists or perhaps very slightly right of center, but are statists to the core.

In days gone by they would have been seen as center left.

True, things a 'evolving', as they say, but the Tories of today still believe in a strong, paternal state that regulates the lives of it its subjects. The notion of a nation of citizens who hold a limited government accountable is only slightly less hazy in their eyes than it is to the Left. The Tories in time would just create their own nomenklatura if given the chance.

The point is to get scientific funding back in private hands and focused on making research to part of the foundation for profitable entrepreneurship and engineering, rather than as some sort of amorphous "understanding of Mankind"; the latter is just so much sloganeering use to mask power grubbing and rent seeking.

One thing that government funding should most surely not be doing is worrying about the "climate". They should never have the money to waste on such hustles or the power to act on such power grabs in the first place.

Sep 15, 2015 at 4:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterhattip

Or, as Alan Sokal wrote about his book 'Fashionable Nonsense' (and in reply to the notion that some social science books and writers are difficult because they deal with profound and difficult ideas), "if the texts seem incomprehensible, it is for the excellent reason that they mean precisely nothing."

Sep 15, 2015 at 4:32 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

For 'social psychology' read BBC.

Sep 15, 2015 at 4:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I agree with much in the paper but like the Bish I doubt things are going to change.

I think that instead of talking about political labels (like conservative or liberal) we should think communal vs individual. The war between the two is much older than politics. People naturally slip into one or other of the modes depending upon circumstance and nature. We are all a mix of the two outlooks, which is why politics is a bad way to describe the behaviour. No political party reflects exactly how we view different subjects.

In areas where communal effort is more efficient, we see that behaviour dominate. Thus in psychology and climate science, the group raise their profile by agreeing whereas in finance or manufacturing the greater reward is for individualism. Even in banking, co-operation can develop (eg Libor) but in that field we recognise that communal behaviour can be destructive. Society is prone to communal dominance in fields we consider essential and are reluctant to criticise. Eg NHS, education, child protection, even the BBC. Those involved stop competing for individual reward for excellence and start protecting the communal strength to claim what it considers necessary. The rewards for communal behaviour are lower but the effort required is lower too.

Just by recognising that psychology has slipped into the communal mode doesn’t mean it’s possible to stop it. For all the reasons the paper discusses, the behaviour is self sustaining. I’m not even sure what could be done to promote more individualism. Academic science makes it very hard to stop group think. It’s much easier to publish 10 papers that are acceptable but wrong than 1 paper that is unpalatable. Paul Ehrlich has made an entire and distinguished career out of getting stuff absolutely wrong. What reward is there other than satisfaction for the right answer, especially if nobody recognises that you're right?

Sep 15, 2015 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I suspect that under-representation of diverse views, at least the political ones, is nothing new. It was certainly the case when I was at Uni in the '60s. It could be that it came upon us here in the US in the thirties. Or maybe it's the nature of the beast, you can't do it if you tend conservative.

One might ask if the participants have ever been bothered by it, or is it another example where most of what some of the rest of us might consider extreme liberals believe themselves to be quite moderate - middle of the roaders, so to speak.

Sep 15, 2015 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterjferguson

Could we have a National "Sack a Social Parapsycientist" Week? If it is a success, no one will notice, so we could have another one the following week. And the week after........

Without a constant stream of made up horror stories, the whole country will feel happier, and happy people commit less crime, work harder, learn more, get sick less often etc etc. It should have cross party support, and a consensus of agreement. What is not to like?

Sep 15, 2015 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

O'Sullivan's First Law (O'Sullivan's Law):
"All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing."

The social 'sciences' are pretty much permanently lost down the left wing rabbit hole. Left wingers will not hire or tolerate the presence of right wingers (opposite is not true). It would require serious dedicated intervention by funding, hiring and editorial boards over a generation to fix these imbalances, and to a degree it relies on death of the old guard.

Could perhaps start to address the imbalance by requiring a mandatory 2 years study of history, economics and perhaps a stint working in prisons, or the police before letting people from insulated rich backgrounds do social sciences.

And of course not many right wingers would be interested in social sciences anyway, so likely a bit pointless to try to fix the imbalances - the question is why we continue to fund them? Seems they have almost no benefit to society.

Sep 15, 2015 at 6:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobL

One of my favourite Bishop Hill posts, by Mike Haseler; from awhile ago:

Social science has only two problems: it isn't science and it isn't social.

Indeed it combines the worst aspects of both areas. It takes as a dogma the dispassionate "uncaring" attitude that science needs to be impartial, and throws away the impartial bit and replaces it with a sloppy agenda driven attitude toward data and methodology which is common in society.

Sep 15, 2015 at 6:25 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

"The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination."

How ironic- after all social psychologists constantly lecture others about the need for "equality" and "inclusion".

Sep 15, 2015 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Jferguson, that would be my gut feeling too, that it has always been this way since at least the 60s. But in their survey of surveys they find otherwise - a sharp upturn in left bias in the 90s.

Sep 15, 2015 at 7:04 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

hattip on Sep 15, 2015 at 4:13 PM
"... the Tories of today still believe in a strong, paternal state that regulates the lives of it its subjects."

It is true of their current hierarchy, but traditionally the party was for secure borders, a secure currency and civil order supported by simple easily understood laws, including property rights, not a new law created every day in reaction to a newspaper headline. I would say that most wanted to be left to their own devices: small business owners, the self employed, with a small state and a low government tax take being a welcome consequence.

As an example of the hierarchy's new thinking, A Lists were created by CCHQ to 'help' constituencies choose their PPCs. :)

Sep 15, 2015 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

I believe there is a need for social scientists, but not that many, and certainly not at Bachelor of Sc level.
Is a niche like nuclear engineering or plastics mould extrusion experts or something.

Someone studying a field like sociology should first have a Phd in statistics.
Otherwise its like having blind playing football innit..good fun to watch maybe but not amounting to anything serious.

Philosophy is another such thing..the pillars of philosophy become 100% hard science:
Metaphysics and epistemology is the field of people like David Deutsch and Max Tegmark , the new Einsteins.
Logic is the field of expert mathematicians with computer science under their belt.
Ethics, the last field where many lefties probably have flocked to, will become hot once the AI singularity has been reached: At that moment hard questions will suddenly need to be answered what it is to be "human", what good and bad behaviour is etc. Because we will create conscience then out of thin air on a whim.

Sep 15, 2015 at 11:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusNotWarmerDueToCO2

Probably a fair analysis, I was at an event last week in which a session turned into a slagging off of Daily Mail readers. Note that the Behavioral and Brain Sciences is a journal that publishes target articles and invites commentaries, nothing strange about 33 responses, that is how it works.

As a cognitive psychologist (also politicised) working in a department that contains social psychologists, I don't think that there is anything about the institutional structure that has created this situation. Ask here, why did you become a psychologist? 90% of the time the answer is "because I want to help other people". Putting the underlying motives to one side (which never quite seem as selfless to me as they might appear) you get a whole bunch of people who want to stick their noses in for the benefits of society. That creates the basic political and social infrastructure that sustains itself easily.

Me? I'm the other 10%. Failed chemist, the intensive lab work on the degree course was no fun at all and psychology seemed much more interesting. I made the mistake of reading The History Man before I went to university, a completely depressing book, but it is excellent preparation for a life in the social sciences.

Sep 16, 2015 at 6:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterMax Roberts

A H/T to hattip:

"Scientific Socialism", and the bogus Marxist/Hegelian teleology it uses to justify its power lust.

In one.

Other than, providing for a myriad of non useful jobs.

I was and am still not sure what 'social sciences' or as hattip calls it "Scientific Socialism" - ever achieved, achieves nor, am I very sure what 'it', they are all about - and science, should I say scientific methodology would seem to be the very least of it. The jobs for the boys, governments - actually politicians roll off the line are, fashioned and are totally reliant on humanities faculties; their outputs, conclusions and statistics, ideologies. Thus are, social sciences of academia manufacturing everything but in reality, produces only ether.

Why are we having this conversation and because we are, academe has got us rattled but hey! that's the idea! Alinsky ['Rules for Radicals'] was big on that sort of deflection argument idea and to keep the population cowed and in fear of the unknown.

What better cosh to use on people and society, than a non event which is unprovable but seemingly according to 97%...... a man made - existential threat......cue drum roll and welcome to the utter futility of CO² emissions limitations and therein all the guff of the green mania and of course: Agenda 21.

Social science, psychology, humanities......... is all about utilizing the fear of mankind's age old but endemic incertitude - the Cultural Marxists make play with us all - that we allow them to and by using our money to do it - is to our shame. Let them study it, why not? You never know, eventually one day they may unearth a useful thought, but not on the taxpayer's ticket.

Sep 16, 2015 at 7:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

"I made the mistake of reading The History Man before I went to university, a completely depressing book, but it is excellent preparation for a life in the social sciences." Sep 16, 2015 at 6:44 AM

It is depressing, as is anything about these grizzly people; but also brilliantly funny at times. I recall one of the faculty being unavailable because she had had to make an emergency dash to the site of an outbreak of tribadism in the East Midlands.

I read somewhere that Malcolm Bradbury's inspiration for the history man himself was a young Professor Laurie Taylor. Taylor was a BBC regular more recently - now why might that be?

Sep 16, 2015 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterFen Tiger

Of course, the real issue issue here, and one that is being squarely avoided, is that the so-called "social sciences" are not "science" at all, at least not in the rigorous sense that obtains in Physics, Chemistry, etc.

While it isn't technically correct, I have fun with the line: 'Any field of study with "science" in its name, ISN'T'

Science: Astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, etc.
Not Science: "Climate" science, political science, social science, etc.

Sep 17, 2015 at 9:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Jay

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