Denying Bias Is Bad Science

Dave Killion — November 9, 2014

Quick on the heels of my post concerning Partyism comes this New Yorker article: “Is the Field of Psychology Biased Against Conservatives?” From the article –

On January 27, 2011, from a stage in the middle of the San Antonio Convention Center, Jonathan Haidt addressed the participants of the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. The topic was an ambitious one: a vision for social psychology in the year 2020. Haidt began by reviewing the field that he is best known for, moral psychology. Then he threw a curveball. He would, he told the gathering of about a thousand social-psychology professors, students, and post-docs, like some audience participation. By a show of hands, how would those present describe their political orientation? First came the liberals: a “sea of hands,” comprising about eighty per cent of the room, Haidt later recalled. Next, the centrists or moderates. Twenty hands. Next, the libertarians. Twelve hands. And last, the conservatives. Three hands.

The article goes on to confirm what you and I already suspect it will, which is that of course psychology is biased against conservatives. The field is comprised of (largely progressive) human beings, human beings are biased, and when most of them are biased in the same direction, then one will see that bias compromise the field. This is as true of libertarians and conservatives as it is of progressives, and it explains the progressive bent in the media-academic-entertainment complex. Can such biases be overcome? Not if the biased won’t admit there’s a problem –

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…

If we were dealing with any type of discrimination other than political ideology, how likely does it seem that Gilbert would have indulged in similar musings?  Would he have publicly proclaimed the possibility that caucasians, heterosexuals, or males dominate the field because they were “more interested in new ideas”? I think he would rather have a Brazilian (NSFW). If the field were dominated by Christian Conservatives, what chance is there that any progressive would suggest it was because Christian Conservatives were “just more intelligent”? None, I’ll wager. Happily, there are ways to conduct research that serve to minimize the effect of bias in research, and the article details some of them. But why would researchers adopt solutions to a problem they deny exists?

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