Jonathan Haidt still thinks like a liberal

The New Yorker has a piece which follows up on how extremely biased the field of social psychology is, Is Social Psychology Biased Against Republicans?:

…A 2012 survey of social psychologists throughout the country found a fourteen-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans. But where were the hard numbers that pointed to bias, be it in the selection of professionals or the publication process, skeptics asked? Anecdotal evidence, the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert pointed out, proved nothing. Maybe it was the case that liberals simply wanted to become professors more often than conservatives. “Liberals may be more interested in new ideas, more willing to work for peanuts, or just more intelligent,” he wrote. The N.Y.U. political psychologist John Jost made the point even more strongly, calling Haidt’s remarks “armchair demography.” Jost wrote, “Haidt fails to grapple meaningfully with the question of why nearly all of the best minds in science find liberal ideas to be closer to the mark with respect to evolution, human nature, mental health, close relationships, intergroup relations, ethics, social justice, conflict resolution, environmental sustainability, and so on.”

…“There’s often a lot of irony in this area,” he said. “The same people who are exquisitely sensitive to discrimination in other areas are often violently antagonistic when it comes to political ideology, bringing up clichéd arguments that they wouldn’t accept in other domains: ‘They aren’t smart enough.’ ‘They don’t want to be in the field.’ ”

…As the degree of conservatism rose, so, too, did the hostility that people experienced. Conservatives really were significantly more afraid to speak out. Meanwhile, the liberals thought that tolerance was high for everyone. The more liberal they were, the less they thought discrimination of any sort would take place.

Call it “liberal privilege” in academia. The assumption is often that the normative framework you are working with is on the cultural Left (these discussions are much more relevant for social issues since the high socioeconomic status backgrounds of many academics means they are less interested in Left populism in economic domains, even if they give lip service to it). Two examples will suffice personally. I was at a dinner hosting a speaker once when someone started talking about how “we” could reach out to conservatives. The assumption was that of the two dozen people around the long table none would be conservative. Second, I had an exchange with a patronizing reader who advised that I tone down any mention of politics on my blog since that would alientate readers. I responded that it seemed to work for PZ Myers, to which he responded “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.” The issue here is that the reader didn’t think of liberal politics as politics.

Second, the idea that liberalism just aligns with reality is a nice and neat conceit, but it is, as a nice liberal would say, “problematic.” Chris Mooney has a short piece on the priors of sociologists and human nature. “Blank slate” dead-enders aren’t just found on the political Right, though some of that exists there too (e.g., homosexuality, the important of shared family environment). Additionally, the natural sciences tend to be less politically liberal overall than fields like sociology and social psychology. I’m skeptical that this suggests that the best minds are in sociology and social psychology.

Finally, I do have to note that Haidt still offers a fundamentally liberal solution to the conservative deficit: “Haidt believes that the way forward is through a system of affirmative action: engaging in extra recruitment and consciousness-raising efforts for political conservatives in much the same way as for women or ethnic minorities.” All the same issues that afflict racial and ethnic affirmative action might be relevant in the case of conservatives. It may actually be the case that conservatives don’t have the inclination and aptitude for particular fields. This doesn’t negate the reality of discrimination, but it questions axiom that discrimination in a crude sense is shaping the different demographics we see in different fields, and a simple fiat fix can solve the problem. It is true that social psychology probably suffers from the lack of ideological diversity, but it won’t prevent the field from publishing lots of fluffy results which are picked up by the media oblivious to p-value fishing. Yes, people won’t take social psychology seriously, but most scientists probably never have. Bias is real. And discrimination is real too. But sometimes the solutions are more pernicious than the problems. That’s a conservative insight.

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