There are two articles by Megan McArdle over at the Atlantic about Liberal Bias in Academia. She argues that it definitely exists, and is a horrible thing. Moreover, she argues that it hurts liberals. As usual she's factually, demonstrably wrong.
Now for a while, I've thought that the lack of conservatives in the academy was a serious problem. Going to school in Virginia, I loved arguing with my conservative professors. There were relatively few of them, and my ideas are on stronger footing because of those debates. The conservative ideas my professors hold are both well defended and narrowly held. None of them were "Young Earth Creationists" or believed in anything scientifically ridiculous.
These articles provide an excellent example illustrating why there are so few conservatives in the academy. Many people, McArdle included, have difficulty basing beliefs on evidence as opposed to what they want, desperately, to be true. There are plenty of naive people on the left who also fall into that category, but conservatives have turned the willful ignorance of reality into an art form.
By questioning scientific fact and theory since the Scopes Monkey Trial, conservatives have set conservatism up in opposition to the scientific method. The academy is based on the scientific method. Knowing this, we shouldn't be surprised or upset by any disparity in numbers.
He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.Meanwhile, liberals, who are usually quick to assume that underrepresentation represents some form of discrimination--structural or personal--suddenly become, as Haidt notes, fierce critics of the notion that numerical representation means anything. Moreover, they start generating explanations for the disparity that sound suspiciously like some old reactionary explaining that blacks don't really want to go into management because they're much happier without all the responsibility. Conservatives are too stupid to become academics; they aren't open new ideas; they're too aggressive and hierarchical; they don't care about ideas, just money. In other words, it's not our fault that they're not worthy.
"This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity," Dr. Haidt concluded...
"Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation," said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. "But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations."
As Paul Krugman pointed out in response to Tierney, discrimination for ideology is not the same as discrimination for race. People, by and large, have control over what they think and believe. There are people with certain beliefs that should be excluded. I think all Americans would agree that White Nationalists who want a revolution against the American Government shouldn't teach impressionable undergraduates. Most of us would be happy, left or right, if we saw a White Nationalist who advocated terrorist attacks sacked for his beliefs. That's an extreme example, but it illustrates the point.
If your beliefs are wrong, if they are widely believed to be wrong, if you are joining the ranks of conspiracy theorists and lunatics, then you're probably not well suited for the Academy.
Paul Krugman is attacked by McArdle.
Every once in a while you get stories like this one, about the underrepresentation of conservatives in academics, that treat ideological divides as being somehow equivalent to racial differences. This is a really, really bad analogy.I have no idea what distinction one is supposed to make between beliefs and something you "can't change". Could Paul Krugman become a devout Baptist and a supply sider tomorrow, if the financial incentives were right? I devoutly hope not. I presume that Paul Krugman holds the beliefs he does because they are his best guess at what is true, and that he could no more change his beliefs than he could change his native language.
And it's not just the fact that you can choose your ideology, but not your race. Ideologies have a real effect on overall life outlook, which has a direct impact on job choices. Military officers are much more conservative than the population at large; so? (And funny how you don't see opinion pieces screaming "bias" and demanding an effort to redress the imbalance.)
And there we have it. That last sentence shows clearly why McArdle, as a conservative, doesn't understand Academia and is herself not the kind of person the Academy would want in its ranks.
You might not take offense to "I presume that Paul Krugman holds the beliefs he does because they are his best guess at what is true," but if I were Paul Krugman, I would. I don't guess. I don't look at facts and figures and say "Well gollie gee, I guess that the world is flat!" I use facts to form my opinion. I would presume that Krugman does as well.
But the real clincher is this gem: "that he could no more change his beliefs than he could change his native language." Yes he could. If he was shown that what he believed was factually incorrect. That is what separates not the liberal from the conservative, but the academic from the imbecile: the ability to change your beliefs when you are proven wrong.
That is what Academics, conservative and liberal, hold as one of the highest values. You'll excuse me if I argue that young earth creationists probably don't have that capability. But hey, prove me wrong! If you've got facts, I'll believe you.
Think of the creationist museum--or Larry Summers getting attacked by a swarm of angry critics for suggesting that it was possible that inborn differences in the distribution of intelligence might explain why men--who have a higher observed variance in math ability--are more likely to be found in the sciences.
Now, Summers could be wrong---as I say, I am inherently suspicious of narratives that offer neat explanations for why the dominant position of one group can't be changed. But the critics did not rush to explain why this was unlikely to be right. They furiously rushed to punish him for having said it. They were angry about sexism, not science.
Yet one more reason why I am suspicious that liberals' unshakeable commitment to scientific rigor is what forces them to exclude conservatives tainted by association with creationism.
I don't say this to denigrate liberals--obviously, conservatives have their taboos too. But it's healthier if different groups, with different taboos, all have a place in the quest for truth. Monoculture is as unhealthy for ideas as it is for agriculture.
Okay, lets deal with the obviously stupid first. "Yet one more reason why I am suspicious that liberals' unshakeable commitment to scientific rigor is what forces them to exclude conservatives tainted by association with creationism" might as well read "I am suspicious that liberals are committed to the scientific method because they exclude those that argue against the scientific method."
There's nothing unscientific about excluding the unscientific.
You should not hire professors that don't believe in the scientific method in the same way that you shouldn't hire a preacher who doesn't believe in Jesus. It's a job requirement. It's pretty much the main thing you look for when considering a candidate.
In the case of Lawrence Summers, his comments were clearly nothing but ridiculous post-feminist misogyny. They were sexist statements which flew in the face of accepted science. If you make ridiculous claims, you're going to be ridiculed. It happens to liberal academics all the time.
I don't understand why McArdle thinks liberals are a monoculture. If you find three liberals, you might well find as many as seven ideas. I've seen it happen in the comments here at DKos. We aren't some monolithic group which marches in lockstep. We have plenty to disagree on, and we do, passionately. The same is true of the Academy. There are heated disagreements between various groups and individuals. The idea that the Academy is a monoculture because it excludes unscientific garbage is laughable.
The rest of her second article is a response to the comments made on her first. I'd go through them but I tend to doubt that "some guy commenting on my blog" is an authority that someone writing for the Atlantic should be quoting. Still, there's one final statement that needs to be addressed.
And with apologies to all the brilliant, open-minded, scientifically grounded liberal academics who suggested this one, [the bias exists] not because academia simply weeds out illogical people who can't handle the scientific method. Professors are overwhelmingly pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, anti-military, and in favor of redistribution and regulation programs. These aren't a matter of logic and scientific evidence; they're value judgements.
Yeah. Let that one sink in. There's no logical or scientific evidence that sexes are equal. It's a value judgement whether homosexuality is genetic or a matter of choice. The positive or negative effects of military action can't be measured. Sure predator drones kill Pakistani children, but hey, I value that.
When I began reading her article, I was of the opinion that conservatives were in fact underrepresented in Academia. Since reading what she had to say about the issue, I'm actually fairly content with that fact. If this is how most conservative thinking works, then I'm not sure there's much value to it.
I'm willing to bet that since reading how genetic studies are really just value judgments you've face-palmed at least once. Want another? McArdle was paid for these articles.