Left-Wing Dominance of Academia Faces Challenge

For decades, academia has been stereotyped as a bastion of left-wing dogma. That may be about to change.

Hailed by Steven Pinker as “one of the most important papers in the recent history of the social sciences,” a team of leading social psychologists studying the lack of conservative and non-liberal opinions in their field have issued a clarion call for political diversity.

Their paper, which reviews years of research on the lack of non-liberals in social psychology, was released with great fanfare this Monday.  Under the blunt title “Political diversity will improve social psychological science,” the researchers make the case that the inclusion of more conservatives and non-liberals in their field would greatly improve its quality.

Reviewing the available evidence, the researchers found:

(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.

The full summary of their research can be read here.

The authors aren’t content with just describing the problem — they’re actively working to fix it, too. Together with other academics, researchers, and graduate students who are concerned by the issue, they have formed a group called Heterodox Academy. In its mission statement, the group declares its intent to “increase viewpoint diversity in the academy, with a special focus on the social sciences.”

They have a challenge ahead of them. Political intolerance at universities has reached an apex. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has charted a six-fold increase in the rate of politically motivated speaker disinvitations on U.S college campuses since 2001. In Britain, a review of speech codes on 115 universities by Spiked found that 47 had “banned and actively censored ideas on campus.” A further 45 were found to have “chilled speech through intervention.”

But the team behind Heterodox Academy are under no illusions about the challenge they face. One of its leading members is Steven Pinker, the renowned evolutionary psychologist who last year delivered FIRE’s 15-year anniversary address, defending the free and open exchange of ideas as “essential to human flourishing.” Pinker was a first-hand witness to one of the more egregious acts of campus intolerance in recent decades: the forced resignation of Larry Summers as President of Harvard, after he suggested that innate gender differences might explain unequal representation.

The public face of the movement for political diversity is social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who recently attracted considerable attention for “The Coddling of the American Mind,” an Atlantic cover story jointly authored with Greg Lukianoff, the president of FIRE. In the essay, Haidt and Lukianoff comprehensively deconstruct the trendy idea that college-age students ought to be protected from potentially offensive, emotionally discomfiting ideas on the grounds of mental health. They also cite some of the recent stories of intolerance on campuses, such as the filing of Title IX complaints against Laura Kipnis and the growing tendency of leading comedians to avoid “oversensitive” college students.

By seeking a wider range of political views in academia, Heterodox Academy is targeting the root of these problems. Today’s generation of intolerant student activists derive their views from the legacy of 1960s social science – in particular the idea that the social environment, from gendered toys to “unconscious microaggressions,” is responsible for social inequality. It’s part of the reason why campus activists are so relentless in their attempts to control the speech and thoughts of others — they believe it’s the root cause of inequality.

Heterodox Academy is one of the most significant developments in the rise of cultural libertarianism. Their goal – political diversity – is completely at odds with the increasingly authoritarian direction of campus politics. If they are successful, they may do more than just end the left’s dominance of the social sciences. They may also end political correctness as it exists today.

Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter


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