More on bias in academia

The New York Times and the Washington Post must be under some kind of obligation to run an “academia is biased to the left” piece once or twice a year (excluding, of course, the regular appearance of this theme in the columns of David Brooks and George Will, to give two examples). And yesterday’s Outlook section in the Washington Post has another one.

According to the formula, it begins with an unverifiable anecdote:

>A sociologist I know recalls that his decision to become a registered Republican caused “a sensation” at his university. “It was as if I had become a child molester,” he said. He eventually quit academia to join a think tank because “you don’t want to be in a department where everyone hates your guts.”

>I think my political views hurt my career some years back when I was interviewing for a job at a prestigious research university. Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned, in a casual conversation with department members over dinner, that I planned to vote Republican in the upcoming presidential election. Conversation came to a halt, and someone quickly changed the subject. The next day, I thought my final interview went fairly well. But the department ended up hiring someone who had published far less, but apparently “fit” better than I did. At least that’s what I was told when I called a month later to learn the outcome of the job search, having never received any further communication from the school. (A friend at the same university later told me he didn’t believe that particular department would ever hire a Republican.)

>Now there is more data backing up experiences like mine. Recently, my Villanova colleague Richard Redding and my longtime collaborator Frederick Hess commissioned a set of studies to ascertain how rare conservative professors really are, and why. We wanted real scholars to use real data to study whether academia really has a PC problem. While our work was funded by the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, we (and our funders) have been very clear about our intention to go wherever the data would take us.

For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to look for a job in academia, the experience he mentions is completely common. Having been on both sides of hiring committees, “fit” considerations (not merely publications) can play a very central role. Besides, how can the author tell that he was rejected because he said he would vote Republican? He can’t read the minds of that committee, and no amount of research of the AEI is going to vindicate him. That anecdote, in other words, illustrates nothing other than the lazy way this guy reaches conclusions.

Of course, I’m just saying that because I’m biased.

There’s a better discussion of this piece (and this type of piece) at LGM.

3 thoughts on “More on bias in academia”

  1. “Now there is more data backing up experiences like mine.”

    Wow, speculative, unreferenced, vague anecdotes of personal experience count as data? Someone tell that to the people over at Nature. I submitted an article to them that demonstrated how dogs prefer round kibble to triangular kibble on the basis of what some guy at the pet shop told me and they had the nerve to say I lacked sufficient data!

    I wonder if this stroke uses this kind of “data” to pick up on the ladies, “You know, honey, people tell me I’m kind of a big deal in the old sackaroo if you get my drift, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.” Yeah, how’s that working out for you there, dumbass?

  2. What is so interesting about this case is that it is a sociologist. Much of contemporary conservative thought is based on the denial of the meaningfulness of sociology. The rhetorical strategy of invoking “individual responsibility” is nothing more than a red herring designed to make sure that sociological factors are excluded from conversation of any major social problem. As long as we stay focused on the individual and assert that they have an Ayn Rand-style radical freedom wherein no external factors can ever be thought to be operative in decision making, then social programs designed to help those who need it will appear pointless. It is hard to believe that a sociologist would find objections from colleagues whose life’s work he is implicitly calling meaningless for the political gain of those who want tax cuts for selfish reasons. Surely, this is an anomaly, i mean no biology department would fail to welcome a Creationist among their ranks.

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