RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What has liberal bias in academe cost scholarship?

The common observation that conservatives are heavly excluded from academe has sometimes been answered with the claim that scholarship has not suffered from a lack of conservative viewpoints. This was most recently advanced by Jonathan Katz.

Katz is evidently unaware of Jonathan Haidt's writing on the subject. His most recent piece on the exclusion of conservatives from social psychology speaks far better to his field than I, an outsider, ever could. He identifies several problems with this, including

  • Confirmation bias
    leading to widely-accepted claims that reflect the scientific community’s blind spots more than they reflect justified scientific conclusions (see, e.g., the three risk points discussed previously)
  • Negative attitudes regarding conservatives can produce a psychological science that mischaracterizes their traits and attributes.
  • Researchers may concentrate on topics that validate the liberal progress narrative and avoid topics that contest that narrative.
  • Liberal values and assumptions can become embedded into theory and method.
In my own hard-science field, liberal assumptions dramatically undercut the funding and support for pure science, and promote the exploration of areas in which the Left have an interest. Examples:
  • In chemistry and materials science, liberal priorities of developing renewable energy has grossly distorted the funding process, to the extent that even fairly unlikely avenues to solar power are pursued, while other important areas of research go unexplored, and while fundamental scientific research often can only be done by piggybacking it on an applied science project.
  • In biology/health science, vast amounts of money and effort are poured into projects whose purpose is to identify mostly implausible hypotheses linking common commercial chemicals with health problems. Particularly egregious has been the witchhunt against bisphenol-A. I challenge any physical scientist to look at some of the seminal papers about xenestrogens. He/she will be appalled at the shoddiness of the research; some of the results actually contradict the fundamental laws of chemical kinetics, for example.
  • In agricultural science, research on the beneficial effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide have been discouraged or downplayed.
  • In climate science, even academics who do not question the fundamental basis of climate change have been attacked and even subpoenaed by Congressional liberals, because of contentions that the effects of anthropogenic global warming on extreme events, for example, have been exaggerated, and cannot be detected in properly corrected data. Most egregious example: Roger Pielke Jr. was essentially forced out of the field for his heterodoxy.
  • Research on the genetic and molecular basis of the large effects heredity has on intelligence has been almost abandoned in the US, out of fears of encouraging eugenicists and racists. This hurts our understanding of the brain.
  • Larry Summers was forced out of Harvard for simply contending that the underrepresentation of women in certain fields might not be entirely due to sexist discrimination. Of course, most of the science actually backs Larry up. There is tons of research on sex differences and how they affect men's and women's interests and choices. Steven Pinker has written volubly on the subject.
  • At NSF, the entire proposal process has been subordinated to social engineering. Now fully half of a proposal has to deal not with the science but what are euphemistically called 'broader impacts', which include shibboleths of pushing more women and minorities into STEM fields

Katz's discounting of all of this is puzzling. Of course, he's a liberal pundit; unlike those of us in academia, he has no obligation to be untendentious. But let me just note he is in no better a position discounting bias against conservatives than Southern Democrats were in discounting the effects of racial bias.

(Edit) Jonathan Haidt has another essay in praise of Nick Kristof here.

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