On Monday, the New York Times ran a fascinating story about the field of social psychology, highlighting a study by University of Virginia psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt on what for many is a pretty obvious fact — that those involved in the field of social psychology tend to be very liberal. Dr. Haidt explains that the sacred causes of fighting for civil rights and against racism became a shared morality that both “binds and blinds:”
“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.” It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks – violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.
Dr. Haidt also examined this tendency to ignore science when it comes to sex differences (one wonders if the New York Times reporter considered his own paper’s treatment of Summers when doing this story or Summers “right to think freely” as Haidt says below?).
Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publiclywhether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). “This was not a permissible hypothesis,” Dr. Haidt said. “It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely.”
Instead, the taboo against discussing sex differences was reinforced, so universities and the National Science Foundation went on spending tens of millions of dollars on research and programs based on the assumption that female scientists faced discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias. But that assumption has been repeatedly contradicted, most recently in a study published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by two Cornellpsychologists, Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams. After reviewing two decades of research, they report that a woman in academic science typically fares as well as, if not better than, a comparable man when it comes to being interviewed, hired, promoted, financed and published.
“Thus,” they conclude, “the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort. Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past.” Instead of presuming discrimination in science or expecting the sexes to show equal interest in every discipline, the Cornell researchers say, universities should make it easier for women in any field to combine scholarship with family responsibilities.
Dr. Haidt says his research has been welcomed by his colleagues, which is good news. In an interesting (and somewhat droll) twist, Dr. Haidt has urged his colleagues to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions.”
In an even more amusing aside, some of Dr. Haidt’s colleagues agreed that the field is underrepresented by conservatives and some have endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020.
An affirmative-action program for conservatives! I can’t make this stuff up.