Bias in academic research is more common than most people realize. Some recent posts on this topic by Lee Jussim on the Psychology Today Rabble Rouser blog caught my eye. In “Psychology’s Political Diversity Problem“, Jussim shows the abstract of a paper he coauthored on the decline in political diversity among psychological researchers, and the nefarious effects that decline has had on the scope and quality of research. From the abstract:
“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;”
Similar phenomena can and have corrupted other areas of research, such as climate science, in which outright fraud has been committed (East Anglia, temperature records) amid a breakdown in the integrity of the peer-review process. The destructive mechanisms, according to Jussim and his coauthors, are “self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination” against researchers holding minority views. I would add that research often will be colored when future funding is perceived as contingent on the nature of the findings.
Jussim follows up with another post on the Rabble Rouser blog entitled “Liberal Bias Distorts Scientific Psychology (and Education)“. In this post, he links to a “disclaimer” essentially stating that his conclusions are NOT a condemnation of the personal morals, competence, or fair-mindedness of so-called liberals in his profession (I disagree with his use of the term “liberal”– these are leftists, not real liberals). He also elaborates on the article he coauthored and provides links on various dimensions of the topic, such as this post by economist Michael Munger entitled “Our higher education system fails leftist students.” From Munger:
“Our colleagues on the left could choose to educate their liberal students, but since education requires ‘collision with error,’ that is no longer possible. That’s because the faculty on the left were themselves educated by neglect, never confronting counterarguments, in a now self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance and ideological bigotry.”
Of course, none of this is new. Bryan Caplan, who is a big fan of the Jussim article, confronted the same topic ten years ago as it pertained then (and still does) to academic economists:
“Even if we control for quality of publications, the gatekeepers – journal editors and referees – also feel virtually no financial cost of rejecting articles they find ideologically distasteful. So there is probably more discrimination against right-wingers than the data suggest, not less. …
If there is no discrimination, how does it happen that Alex [Tabarrok] and I and half the other staunch libertarian economists in the world are all in the same department? Segregation is the predicted effect of worker-on-worker discrimination. And that’s what we see.”
These are the lamentations of some extremely talented academics, not amateurs or pseudoscientists. This is not sour grapes; they are all engaged in a principled fight against bad odds. More importantly, they marshall powerful arguments that their respective fields of study suffer greatly from the effects of “monoculturalism”. After all, differences and argument are the essence of vibrant research and, ultimately, truth-seeking.