New Evidence of Bias Against Conservatives in Academia

by John Sides on August 8, 2012 · 9 comments

in Academia

From a new survey of social psychologists:

Just over 37 percent of those surveyed said that, given equally qualified candidates for a job, they would support the hiring of a liberal candidate over a conservative candidate. Smaller percentages agreed that a “conservative perspective” would negatively influence their odds of supporting a paper for inclusion in a journal or a proposal for a grant.

More here.  Apropos of this, here is a new article—sort of a “how-to” for conservative academics—by Robert Maranto and Matthew Woessner entitled “Diversifying the Academy: How Conservative Academics Can Thrive in Liberal Academia.”  (I think it is outside the paywall.)  Here is a previous post on Woessner’s research.


dwisneski August 8, 2012 at 11:34 am

I am sure that the majority social psychologists probably are liberal. What I am not sure about, however, is that these political leaning translate into systematic bias against conservatives in the field as a whole. We need to be careful when reading studies such as the one presented in this article. One point that is likely to be glossed over in the news reports of that study’s findings is that the sample used is likely far from representative. Participants were recruited by sending out requests to the list serve for the major society in the field (the society for personality and social psychology). In a study that is attempting to make claims about population parameters such as the attitudes of all social psychologists in the field, this sample is likely to fall short in a number of ways. Furthermore, I also have some concerns about the wording of many of the questions in the survey. When the questions essentially ask whether participants would, for example, accept a paper for publication if it had a conservative slant, I would hope that most would say no. In the same vein, I would also hope that they would say that they’d reject paper if it had a liberal slant. We can’t know this, however, because such questions about liberal bias were not asked. My point here is that if we are to determine the extent to which there is a liberal bias in the field, we need to base our claims on research more sound than this.

Cornelius August 8, 2012 at 11:34 am

I wonder if this is true in political science; my gut reaction is no. Political scientists, in my experience, are fairly conservative. Then again, how does one define “conservative?” I have found that academics willing to question the status quo are the ones who really suffer.

Anonymous Coward August 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

I can’t speak for what goes on in social psychology, but I really have to think that in political science a lot of these complaints confuse being conservative with being an intolerably tedious jackass about conservative politics.

Hardly anybody cares about your politics if you’re reasonably productive, so long as you’re not an intolerably tedious jackass. And if you’re productive enough, people will even stop caring that you’re a jackass.

Likewise, if you’re an intolerably tedious jackass, hardly anybody cares very much what you’re a jackass about. You could be an intolerably tedious wanker about conservative politics, or liberal politics, or socialist politics, or baseball, or Star Trek or Tolkien and it won’t make any difference to the speed with which your not-colleagues want to get rid of you so they can be in the office without worrying that you’re going to pin them in their office for another tirade about whatever it is you have tirades about.

Anonymous Coward August 8, 2012 at 12:01 pm

(I think it is outside the paywall.) Here is a previous post on Woessner’s research.

It is behind a paywall but there is what claims to be a shorter version here:

It is terrible. It starts by complaining about a talk by Ayers at the meeting of the American Education Research Association, as if it were surprising for an association meeting to feature a talk from a member who has consistently been in the news, or for there to be talks that do not present original research. For example, the endless series of “meet the author” and “author meets critics” and roundtables about whatever at APSA.

It next questions why Ayers would be on the board of the AERA, apparently considering it so blindingly obvious that no actual rationale that he should not is offered. Since they seem so confused, let me offer an explanation: Bill Ayers is on the board of the American Education Research Association because he has a large body of published research on education.

Following this, it states “One of us saw the same thing this spring at AERA, when a panel degenerated into a revival meeting on how all right-thinking people back affirmative action, and should fear satanic Supreme Court moves to trim it back.” I’m not sure what to make of this, since I don’t do education research. It could be exactly as presented, complete with absurd hyperbole and literal references to the court being Satanic. Or it could be the case that education researchers overwhelmingly support affirmative action for the same reasons that climate researchers overwhelmingly support anthropogenic global warming and biologists overwhelmingly support Darwinian evolution. They don’t say, only offering catty comments.

I could go on, but, again: there’s a difference between being conservative and being a tedious jackass about conservative politics.

David Karger August 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Another crucial question the study failed to ask its participants was “why”. I don’t have a deep understanding of social psychology, but it seems to me that question of whether liberal or conservative perspectives are “right” is closely connected to the core questions asked in social psychology. Thus, people may be rejecting conservatives, not out of some unjustified bias, but out of a carefully thought-out intellectual position. As a hot-button examples, some extreme social conservatives see homosexuality as “curable”. Liberals tend to see this as a ludicrous idea; presumably a conservative academic who held it would be rejected, not because of general bias, but because they are intellectually weak.

In my (computer science) field, there is a small group who argue that they’ve found new means of computation that are not covered by our “universal turing machine” model. I would be biased against hiring such individuals, or inviting them to symposia, not because I dislike them, but because I think such arguments reveal a lack of intellectual rigor. Perhaps something similar is going on in social psychology?

Joe Bruns August 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm

On the other hand, this survey was conducted by social scientists, and you know they can’t be trusted because of their liberal bias.

brent August 9, 2012 at 3:08 am

I wouldn’t hire a conservative because they seem to be too ideological and less interested in empirical evidence and the scientific method. I think the problem is that the facts and science are usually on the side of liberals, and liberals usually use these things to support their arguments. Am I liberal educator for showing my students the evidence that there is global warming, since liberals also use the same information and strategy? I’m more interested in facts and science. If liberals and Democrats tend to support these things, then outside of the classroom I might align with them and support them.

Mark August 9, 2012 at 9:09 am

I think this comment thread has provided further support for the findings in the article! Of course this comment is from a non-liberal so I may just be too stupid to understand the sophisticated analysis provided by the commenters. On the other hand, I used to be a liberal so perhaps someone needs to determine when and how my brain became diseased and unable to process empirical evidence and understand the scientific method thus causing me to become intellectually weak.

Total August 9, 2012 at 10:18 pm

so I may just be too stupid to understand the sophisticated analysis provided by the commenters.


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: