Haidt’s Response to Krugman

February 10th, 2011 by Jonathan Haidt

I recently gave a talk on the need for ideological diversity in social psychology. John Tierney wrote an article for the New York Times describing the talk, titled “Social Scientist Sees Bias Within.” Paul Krugman wrote a dismissive response in his blog, Conscience of a Liberal. His 2 main points were 1) Ideological differences are not like race differences, because people can CHOOSE to adopt a different ideology (which I presume means that it’s OK to discriminate against them, even though ideology is in fact quite heritable)  and  2) Under-representation of any group in any field does not imply discrimination, which is a point I made explicitly in my talk. I fully agree with him that “doing head counts is a terrible way to assess” bias.

I posted a response on his blog, but because my response was #287 out of 310, nobody is likely to see it. I reprint it here:


Dear Mr. Krugman:
I urge you to view the video and/or transcript of my talk at www.JonathanHaidt.com.
I very deliberately did NOT make the moral argument that ideological divides are like racial divides. I agree with you that there are many relevant differences. Also, I directly stated that personality differences will always guarantee that academe is mostly liberal, just as you noted that the military is mostly conservative. That’s all fine by me.
Rather, I focused my appeal to my colleagues one one point: that when conservatives are entirely absent (as opposed to simply underrepresented), then there is NOBODY to speak up, nobody to challenge predominant ideas, and our science suffers. I gave examples of several scientific mistakes that my fellow social psychologists make because our shared values make it difficult for us to entertain alternative hypotheses. People who think of such alternatives dare not speak up.
My research, like so much research in social psychology, demonstrates that we humans are experts at using reasoning to find evidence for whatever conclusions we want to reach. We are terrible at searching for contradictory evidence. Science works because our peers are so darn good at finding that contradictory evidence for us. Social science — at least my corner of it — is broken because there is nobody to look for contradictory evidence regarding sacralized issues, particularly those related to race, gender, and class. I urged my colleagues to increase our ideological diversity not for any moral reason, but because it will make us better scientists. You do not have that problem in economics where the majority is liberal but there is a substantial and vocal minority of libertarians and conservatives. Your field is healthy, mine is not.
Do you think I was wrong to call for my professional organization to seek out a modicum of ideological diversity?

Jonathan Haidt

Posted in Uncategorized, partisanship29 Comments »

29 Responses to “Haidt’s Response to Krugman”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Leanne and jcannonhubka, Jonathan Haidt. Jonathan Haidt said: Paul Krugman critiqued my speech on ideological diversity, and here is his blog post and my response: http://bit.ly/eXANVF [...]

  2. Jim says:

    The inference that psychology is somehow scientific is somewhat jarring. Physics is a science, and ultimately immune to the ideology of it’s practitioners. Psychology is qualitative and ultimately subjective.

    Frankly, I am indifferent to whether a conservative or liberal engineer designs an airplane wing. If I were not indifferent, I would conclude that engineering was not a true, as in empirically based, science.

    That said, your point is fine. If something like psychology is subjective enough to support ideological baggage, then, sure, invite all the subjective opinions to the table. Why not? But don’t pretend you are discussing “reality” in any meaningful way.

    No offense. Just how I view the world.

  3. matt says:

    Psychology is qualitative? Really? I take it you haven’t read much actual psychological research.

    The major difficulty in psychology, in my opinion, is controlling for variables not devising hypotheses that can be tested quantitatively.

  4. Clarke says:

    To Jim:

    The definition of the word ’science’ in my dictionary:

    “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment ”

    Psychology is a systematic study of the physical and natural human through both observation and experiment.

    I suggest you take a few classes in epistemology. Objectivity is a myth.

  5. Rich says:

    @Jim: Physics undoubtedly is a science, but I disagree with the idea that “reality” is what makes it so. Rather, science deals with the creation and testing of workable theories. See, for example, Mlodinow and Hawking’s treatment of the concept of “model-dependent realism” in _The_Grand_Design_. If a theory makes predictions which are testable, and its predictions are accurate enough for practical purposes, the model is “valid” whether or not it embodies “Truth” or “Reality,” and even going back to Plato, there is plenty of reason to doubt whether our conceit of “reality” is anything more than that–our own conceit.

    Compare Newtonian physics with Relativity, for example: the Newtonian model makes predictions that are well within experimental error for many things, e.g. the ballistic trajectory of an object, and for centuries before Einstein were considered “reality.” But we now know that there are circumstances where that model breaks down, and you need a different one (my favorite “useful” example of Relativity is GPS, which would not be accurate without taking Relativity into account!)

    To get back to Dr. Haidt’s discipline, if he and his colleagues are generating models which give testable predictions, “model-dependent realism” suggests that they have earned the right to call their discipline a science. And as in any scientific discipline, without colleagues whose perspectives are different enough to conceive of ways to falsify one another’s hypotheses, nobody is really “doing science.” This is the inherent weakness of orthodoxy, and one cannot credibly claim that it has never plagued Physics. Haidt seems to be saying merely that one aspect of orthodoxy, which is arguably *relevant* when working in social science, is the conservative/liberal dimension.

  6. Thanks Rich, this is perfectly stated. Jim was saying that he perceives a difference between psychology and physics, and indeed there is a difference: physics is a natural science, dealing with “non-anthropocentric” facts, and psychology is a social science, which deals with “anthropocentric” facts (facts that are true only in a world full of human beings, not elsewhere in the galaxy). But as you correctly state, this is not science vs subjectivity, its natural vs. social science. There is MORE room for orthodoxy to take hold in the social sciences, but you are quite right that this is a problem that threatens any group of scientists. You got my point perfect.y.
    Jon Haidt

  7. AlanDownunder says:

    The problem I see in this discourse is that the conservative/liberal divide in the academy is between rational conservatives and liberals whereas the “conservative”/liberal divide in US politics is between rationality and fantasy.

  8. [...] liberals says Jonathan Haidt. And he believes it’s a problem because it creates blind spots. As he writes in a post on the YourMorals blog: "when conservatives are entirely absent (as opposed to simply underrepresented), then there [...]

  9. hmi says:

    @ Clarke: I teach classes in epistemology. The oft-stated belief that objectivity is a myth, is a myth. Come take some of my classes—we’ll soon set you straight.

  10. jeff says:

    While getting a series of Anthro and medical degrees, I grew seriously weary of people that use a whole lot of big words and post-modern mumbo jumbo to put their psych/anth/sociology degrees on the same objective plane as the hard sciences.

    If you believe that physics isn’t objective, I invite you to jump off a building. You can believe that gravitation is some hegemonic, oppressive ideology– but I can calculate when you are going to hit the ground, whether you believe you will hit the ground… or not.

    If anybody has read the DSM III, IV, or whatever number it is, what can be considered a mental illness is terrifying. Having no ideological diversity in such subjectivity not only can label conservatism as a mental illness, but also who gets hired, where research money goes, not to mention how it influences public policy.


    Ask any conservative in your field professor, and they will describe the climate of fear…

  11. richard40 says:

    I read the commenters on Krugmans response, and they clearly illustrate the bias that Krugman denies exists. Conservatives were routinely described as stupid, unscientific, blind to facts, closed to different ideas, haters, etc. It was obvious to me that the liberals themselves were illustrating their own blindness to different views, by stating that conservatives had nothing relevant to say in their field.

    It reminded me of die hard segregationists, who said that no blacks worked at their companies because they were to stupid, lazy, etc.

    As for Krugman saying that bias against political views are not the same because political views can be easily changed, would he take the same tack that antisemitism is OK because jews can pass as christians, or anti gay bias is OK because they can pass as straight? And when Krugman says that numerical disparities do not indicate discrimination, and it is probably just self selection, does he take that same attitude in racial or sex discrimination cases?

    Does he ignore accounts of many conservative/libertarian academics, who say they routinely hide their conservative views, because they fear their collegues and superiors will ostracise them, and their careers will suffer. The accounts you hear from conservatives/libertarians in academia, is almost identical to accounts you used to hear from gays and jews, who had to hide what they were to survive in many fields.

    As for the military being conservative, the overepresentation of leftists in academia is over 3 times as bad as the overepresentation of conservatives in the military.

  12. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    “Conservatives were routinely described as stupid, unscientific, blind to facts, closed to different ideas, haters, etc.”

    And in social interactions in blue-state urban life, these adjectives somehow are taken as an axioms. It’s not that the average urban leftist has gone to any trouble to understand conservative positions well enough to refute them – rather, he ’signifies’ by means of those pejoratives that he is on the right team and there’s an end on it. The best arguments made from that side are quotes parroted from some popular Authority, and the worst come from the Facebook ‘unfriend’ button.

  13. stan says:

    The paper referenced has an interesting quote near the end regarding the professional behavior of sociologists and climate:

    “By this we mean the concern that anything that could be seen to cast doubt on the ‘integrity’ of the climate scientists has to be avoided in order to protect the political impetus behind it. There seems to be the curious conviction that lest you want to be accused of helping the fossil fuel lobbies and the climate sceptics, you better keep quiet.”

    Because being perceived to be on the approved side and being accepted by your friends is more important than truth. Academia allows immature teenagers to continue acting like they are in junior high school long after they’ve grown old and gray.

  14. Jamie says:

    But, again everybody, the importance of intellectual diversity in pursuit of knowledge is NOT that it’s “fair,” but that it’s a bastion against BAD SCIENCE. Or BAD LITERATURE, for that matter. BAD MUSIC. Whatever.

  15. Snorri Godhi says:

    While listening to your talk, it occurred to me that one reason why it is easy in social psychology to ostracize non-orthodox views, is that it must be relatively difficult to falsify hypotheses in social psychology. To put it another way, it is probably easier for social psychologists than for physicists to hold on to their preconceptions in the face of contrary evidence. (Speaking for myself, I found it much easier to falsify hypotheses in AI than in the other field I have experience in, neuroscience. I might add that being able to find out quickly that I am wrong makes me happier. This might be related to learned optimism.)

    An unrelated point: it might be useful for an American “liberal” to read National Review for a while, to get a different perspective, but ultimately, I should think it best to stop reading opinion pieces altogether, and use the time to read and ponder the classics. Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, and Hume might be good places to start.

  16. Calvin says:

    Hey Snorri,

    I think that’s a problem with statistically-oriented or social sciences (e.g., economics, epidemiology, or social psychology) in general. It’s much harder (if not impossible) to conduct an experimentum crucis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimentum_crucis). That’s why, more than harder sciences, we need to pay special care to replication and sampling.

  17. Matthew says:

    “The inference that psychology is somehow scientific is somewhat jarring. Physics is a science, and ultimately immune to the ideology of it’s practitioners. Psychology is qualitative and ultimately subjective.”

    Sorry, but I beg to differ on a matter of Philosophy of Science.

    Not even the most basic form of scientific endeavor, that of formal logic, escapes the gravitational pull of ideology and socially-constructed convention. It requires for operation an acceptance of assumptions that are not provable within the confines of logic itself.
    Likewise the question of what constitutes acceptable subjects and acceptable norms of practice and evidence is also a construction, in fact the very tenet of evidence is another convention established on ideological grounds.
    To deny psychology the honorific label of “science” whilst bestowing it on physics, is itself an ideological argument and one that breaks the rules of the convention of what constitutes a science.

    Science is what we agree by convention it to be, not something self-evident or revealed veridically by nature, and so are the requirements to be classified as “objective”.

    Science works because it deliberately exposes arguments to embarrassment, not because it has some sort of unique and perfect access to an objective reality.

  18. Matthew says:

    @Snorri, it is no more difficult to form falsifiable arguments in the social sciences than it is in physics, the question is whether the practitioner does so or not.

    Whether psychotherapy, for example, is more effective than a placebo is quite testable – all it requires is that somebody does the work to put the matter to the test.

  19. elliott.gorelick says:

    The problem is that in order to locate these mythical challengers to orthodoxy, you have to find people who are sane. The baggage (insane beliefs) of modern conservativism (sp?) is way too heavy to justify attempting to have a rational conversation with them. And contrary to your belief, people like Greg Mankiw rather than enhancing the study of economics make it a joke.

  20. dlp says:

    Dear Professor Haidt,
    As a sociologist who also writes about the academic labor market, I feel a need to weigh in on this (feel free to contact me at my personal email address to pursue this discussion further).
    First, let me agree with the basic premise that there is an important aspect to diversity, especially in social science, and that what some have called “groupthink” can create particular forms of consensus with serious real world consequences. Most people would have no problems acknowledging the impact of Chicago school economics on the sorts of policies adopted in countries where a good chunk of Chicago economists dominated policy and academia (e.g., the Chicago boys in Chile). In fact, I would argue that the two academic ideas to have the biggest impact on policy and society are actually conservative ideas, one associated with the University of Chicago economics, the other with Neo-Realist perspectives in foreign relations (it is not an accident that Republicans have nominated more academics for the state department than Democrats have).

    That said, I think a major problem with your argument, comes when you talk about discrimination against conservatives. As anyone who writes on discrimination and minorities can attest, it is not sufficient to show that underrepresentation exists. It is also necessary to show some evidence that that under representation exists because of something inherent in that system.

    Let’s think about academia, for example. The academic career is often referred to as a pipeline. People don’t simply get offered a full professor job out of the bat. Instead, there is this slow progression of graduate student ->assistant professor -> associate -> full.

    The claims of some sort of bias in academia leading to the under representation of certain minorities (NSF defines under represented minorities as Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans) comes not from absolute numbers, but from the realization that as one progresses through that pipeline, those minorities become even more under represented. That is, the evidence points to a “leaky” pipeline. Minorities will be overrepresented within adjunct ranks and further underrepresented within full professor ranks. Which means that given a certain population entering the academic labor market, there is strong evidence that something is blocking the progress of minorities and women. If that is racism or something else is still the matter of research, but the fact is that the evidence does bear out the notion that there is something within academia that leads minorities and women out of the pipeline.

    Meanwhile, if we look at the existing data with regards to ideology within academia, what we find is that the numbers of conservatives or republicans across age and rank groups is fairly stable, even somewhat increasing as one goes up in rank. If we treat ideology as somewhat stable across one’s lifetime, then that the problem regarding the ideological imbalance lies outside academia per se. That is, if we treat ideology as fairly stable, the somewhat similar proportional representation of conservatives across ranks indicates that there is no evidence of a selection mechanism that biases against conservative academics.

    Now, of course, we do know that ideologies change over time, and that people do have an option to change ideologies. While it is easy to dismiss Krugman’s suggestion as if he was talking about some insidious attempt to misrepresent or change one’s ideologies, this points to the very important issue that ideology is endogenous to career choice. A self interested conservative might consistently vote democratic based simply on the fact that democrats might devote more money to universities.

    Besides that, there is the fact that ideologies and the population’s ideology center change over time. Someone mentioned the other day that Reagan would have a hard time winning a primary nowadays within the Republican party, after all, he raised taxes and was very liberal on immigration. Notably, Carlyle once called economics the “dismal science” because that particular brand of (then) radical liberals thought that a free labor market based on supply and demand was preferable to slavery.

    As such, I would argue that there is no significant evidence that the academic pipe line selects out conservatives, and that their underrepresention has an explanation elsewhere. Elsewhere likely being a nation that has had its ideological center shift right in quite dramatic fashion. I am completely open to the idea that there is a statistically significant bias against conservatives in academia (i.e., something that goes beyond the purely anecdotal). But every single data point that I have seen to this day point to ideology being irrelevant in hiring and promotion chances, which means that the imbalance comes prior to the academic pipeline and are not further compounded within it. And that if, instead, we seek to redress this imbalance by creating the imbalance in an opposite direction, we’d end up with a situation that is more likely inferior.


  21. Snorri Godhi says:

    Calvin: to your list of sciences where falsification is hard, you might add climatology.

    “it is no more difficult to form falsifiable arguments in the social sciences than it is in physics”

    I did not say it is difficult to form falsifiable hypotheses in the social sciences: I said it is difficult to actually falsify them.

    “Whether psychotherapy, for example, is more effective than a placebo is quite testable”

    Again, I did no say it is not testable: I said it is hard to test.

    It occurred to me that Dr. Haidt might make his point by analogy to research on peptic ulcers: afaik there has ever been any _discrimination_ against pathologists claiming that bacteria cause peptic ulcers, yet such pathologists were grossly _under-represented_ and therefore the hypothesis that turned out to be correct was neglected, in favor of conventional thinking (and with substantial human suffering).
    That disposes of the objection raised in dlp’s comment, that under-representation does not prove discrimination.

    Once more, my personal experience might be relevant. Since I happened to be in Denmark at the time of the cartoon riots, I have had occasion to reflect on 2 things: first, that being unable to understand what is going on can actually be dangerous to one’s life; and second, that American “liberalism” (as well as “libertarianism”) impairs one’s ability to understand what is going on.

    The 2nd point is well illustrated by Elliot Gorelick in this thread: leaving aside that he presumes to know what “conservatives” believe even though he can’t spell “conservatism”; the main issue is that he can’t even imagine that there are points of view other than American “conservatism” and “liberalism”. (In fact, after the cartoon riots, I have had a look at American “conservatism” and was disappointed to find that, originating as a reaction to “liberalism”, “conservatism” shares the “liberal” conceptual framework. That is why I turned to the classics, as I mentioned above.)

  22. Gene says:

    Jeff and Snorri Ghodi got it right. That is so dead on. Haidt still has a point though…there is an OBVIOUS disparity in the social sciences between libs and cons. I mean, as flowery as the discussion might be…sometimes eloquence obscures the totally friggin obvious. Everyone KNOWS social science is a haven for lefties.

    But I think Haidt did go beyond the obvious. Even though some consider social science highly subjective, certainly, avoiding a dominating liberal bias should make it a little more objective. I mean, there is SOME objective knowledge that comes from psych research (anything that can be experimentally shown, is predictive, even if only statistically, it has value).

    If you want to get really nitty gritty, even physics is not completely “objective”…it’s merely instrumental to understanding objectivity (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrumentalism)

  23. [...] the comment section of this post has become a debate (for many) over whether psychology is objective (science) or subjective (art). [...]

  24. Roger says:

    The thing in question is not “objectivity”, it’s about the type of social belief systems which are conducive to “knowing” that is not restricted by the pre-emption of “Tribal Moral Cult” belief systems that allow no space for different viewpoints. Here is a clip that highlights philosopher of science Donald Campbell’s assessment of what social systems of belief could be considered “scientific” …

    “… A fundamental issue in the philosophy of science is to describe the type of discourse community that promotes scientific thinking in any area of endeavor. As phrased by Donald Campbell (1993, 97), the question is, …

    “which social systems of belief revision and belief retention would be most likely to improve the competence-of-reference of beliefs to their presumed referents?”

    “[This viewpoint suggests] that a minimal requirement of a scientific social system is that science not be conducted from an ingroup-outgroup perspective. Scientific progress (Campbell’s “competence-of-reference”) depends on an individualistic, atomistic universe of discourse in which each individual sees himself or herself not as a member of a wider political or cultural entity advancing a particular point of view but as an independent agent endeavoring to evaluate evidence and discover the structure of reality.”

  25. Bo says:

    dlb writes (feb 14): “I would argue that there is no significant evidence that the academic pipe line selects out conservatives…every single data point that I have seen to this day point to ideology being irrelevant in hiring and promotion chances, which means that the imbalance comes prior to the academic pipeline and are not further compounded within it”

    Incredible! Sir with all due respect you must have come of age in the last ten years or so…you clearly missed the cold war and the sixties and the forty year reign of left wing activism. The new left takeover was decisive in making virtually every academic dept. outside of the natural sciences hostile towards conservatives. They are not in your ‘pipeline’ for the same reason that atheists appear to be underrepresented in the seminary.

    And please note: most of these ‘conservatives’ were and are classical liberals….there were never very many monarchists in the universities (though perhaps there should have been a few to balance out the ubiquity of Marxists). The irony is that many found homes in private sector think tanks where they wound up having a profound influence on public policy, much more so than if they had remained in the universities I do believe.

  26. What do the Germans mean by “Geisteswissenschaften”? “Geist” can mean mind, spirit, even ghost, and “wissenschaften” can mean learning, knowledge, scholarship, and science. Most Leftist “liberals” choose to believe that their politics is based on a worldview that chooses mind over spirit and certainly over ghosts, and science over the more general learning or knowledge or scholarship. In its mild form, for many leftists science drifts toward instrumentalist and highly experimental methodology, relying upon the general cultural approval of science because it leads to technological change (considered good on the whole). It is extreme form, leftists cut off any association of Geist with mind, relegating it to the realm of ghosts or other “superstitions.” In this form, reality equals that which is know only by a scientific methodology, and all the rest is “myth” or “ideological bias” or “plain stupidity” or subjectivity. The proper term for this extreme scientific emphasis is “positivism,” which is mostly and usually an unconscious philosophy. So the word “science” for them carries the “ideological”=philosophical epistemology of positivism. This is the major “sacred value” that makes social psychology a bias that “binds” its practitioners together and also “blinds” them to the value of the best of conservative thinking. The best conservatives understand “Geisteswissenschaften” as the attempt to apply a broadly rational or reasonable approach to all learning, and such would by definition exclude conservatives who deny the scientific truth of evolution because of a religious need for “intelligent design ‘evidencing’ a Designer”.

    The best of conservatives are really “liberals,” but in the classical sense, i.e., liberals who avoid positivism and its correlative, which is a religious view masquerading as based on some sort of perceived set of facts (e.g., miraculous Biblical “events”). Liberals are scholars in the classical sense, and pay close attention to the history of philosophy and the anthropological and historical study of religion (i.e., of the major parts of culture up until the last couple of centuries). What are called “liberals” today, in at least the “Leftist” sense, are not liberal at all, for classical liberals do not adhere to positivism and are, on the contrary, quite suspicious of the move from “psychology” and “sociology” to that of “social sciences,” which inevitably apes the epistemology of the hard sciences. Ask a Ph.D in psychology who was the first psychologist in the world, and they will not know that the answer is Plato. Classical liberals try to find facts for their views when facts are relevant, rather than assuming that facts are always presupposed as relevant. If facts are not relevant, that does not mean that nothing intelligent can be said beyond that point (as it does for positivists).

    Classical liberals have room for learning that is learning and not sheer subjectiviity, but is also not science and does not need to be called science to have status and a hearing. Classical liberals speak to and are heard by other classically inclined liberals, as distinct from the gnostics on the Right (religious positivists, such as evangelicals) and gnostics on the Left (anti-religious or ’secular’ positivists). Gnostics are those pseudo-intellectuals who believe that their worldview is based on facts and therefore is invincible. Gnostics also hold views that, in their view, leads to what Nietzsche called “will to power,” a Faustian knowledge. Knowledge which does not lead to power is a subjective quirk, for them, and should lead to branding conservatives as insane or psychopathological. Often this is nothing more than an unconscious projection of a sort of insanity, a pneumapathology, of the Left.

    Furthermore, classical liberals are suspicious of those on the Left who have made their careers into political advocacy. These latter comb academia for heretics=”conservatives,” and they justify such by calling “liberal academia” a self-serving and self-defining group, which is what the pipeline to tenure is all about. Leftist politics looks more and more like an unconscious religious passion (defining “religion” as “ultimate concern,” a la Paul Tillich). Kant tried to make the necessary distinctions, between a “theoretical reason” that creates the scientific enterprise, and a “practical reason” that deals with what he called the major “posulates” that are necessary to get along in life (freedom, immortality, and God). His idea was that both are necessary to be fully human, although practical reason takes priority for Kant. With regard to the latter, discussed in the Critique of Practical Reason (which is ignored by the positivists who came in Kant’s wake, those overjoyed by the destruction of all past metaphysics), Kant tried to make religion (immortality and God) reasonable, a sort of “rational faith” to use a questionable term (to easily snarled at as “oxymoronic” by Leftists) of Kant’s. “God” becomes the “rational” but not scientifically or empirical demonstrable notion that happiness and ethical duty (“ethical character” if you like) can “coincide,” that ethics, in my phrase, is not a “sucker’s game.” So I suggest we need to call Leftist professors not “liberals” (they may be liberal in morals, but more likely antinomian) but rather gnostics, and call Rightest evangelicals or religionists who cannot abide by the separation of church and state as also “gnostics.” Doing so, we cut across the usual, deplorable grain of Left versus Right, liberal vs. conservative, thereby creating a more useful duality between gnostics and anti-gnostics.

    It would be nice to have a “positive” (distinguished from positivistic) term for anti-gnostics, but until one comes along, perhaps we should simply use the term “scholar,” implying either a humanistic thinker of non-partisan, historically informed broad knowledge, or a scientific thinker by profession who is also personally a scholar as well. To take up this way of thinking, I warn you, requires that we give up our scapegoats and straw men, we give up our hatreds and moral condescension (on both sides), and get down to the difficult task of thinking and speaking carefully based on wisdom rather than cleverness.

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  28. Lee Passey says:

    @dlp: Thank you for your respectful and well-reasoned response. I found your “leaky pipeline” analysis particularly persuasive. One of the nicest thing about this assertion (that there is no evidence of a selection mechanism that biases against conservative academics) is that it is a testable assertion. If you can point us to studies that have sought, and failed, to find a “leaky pipeline” I personally would find it useful. If others can point to studies that have demonstrated that the “leaky pipeline” for conservatives actually exists, that would be useful too, and I may begin to discount your opinion. If there are no studies, then I suggest that this might be a good thesis topic for an up-and-coming graduate student somewhere :-) .

    You state that “I would argue that there is no significant evidence that the academic pipe line selects out conservatives, and that their underrepresention has an explanation elsewhere.” I agree and would like to suggest a couple of additional explanations for that underrepresentation.

    The kind of academic feedback that Professor Haidt is ultimately seeking is feedback that challenges his (and others’) conclusions and offers contradictory evidence and alternative interpretations of existing evidence. However, this kind of academic challenge requires individuals whose reactionary impulses[1] favor challenging established group memes, and who are not intimidated by the stature (and opinions) of the thought-leaders in any particular field of study.

    If Professor Haidt’s “Moral Foundation” theory is correct, liberals will fit naturally into academia, whereas conservatives will feel uncomfortable in the role they must play. Thus, I suggest that academia self-selects for liberals; it does not intentionally exclude conservative thinkers, conservative thinkers simply do not want to “play that game.” In addition, I am nowhere near as pessimistic as Professor Haidt as to the ability of people’s reactionary impluses to change over time. I believe it is likely that a conservative in an academic setting will, over time, become less committed to intellectual authority and the need to conform to group think, and will therefore drift into liberalism.

    To achieve Professor Haidt’s desire for the kind of “ideological diversity … [that] will make us better scientists,” the best hope may be to solicit/appoint “devil’s advocates” who are committed to challenging orthodoxy while at the same time accepting it. This is a difficult “double-think” position to accept, but it may be the best we can hope for.

    [1] I find Professor Haidt’s use of the term “Moral Foundations” less than useful because the word “moral” simply carries too much semantic baggage. As I understand his analysis, “Moral Foundations” are relatively innate and are triggered as reactions to perceived situations. These reactions are non-rational and virtually instantaneous. I find the phrase “reactionary impulse” a more accurate description of what Professor Haidt is trying to describe, and it does not carry the same possibly irrelevant value overload as “Moral Foundation.”

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