This a guest post by Bo Winegard, doctoral student at Florida State University, and Ben Winegard, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Carroll College.
In our first blog post, we summarized the first half of our essay about bias in social psychology (and the social sciences more broadly). In it, we forwarded the paranoid egalitarian meliorist model of bias. We argued that many social scientists are paranoid egalitarian meliorists, and that this gives rise to cosmic egalitarianism, or the belief that all sexes, social classes, and ethnic groups are equal on all desirable traits. This belief then becomes a sacred value that is zealously protected by social scientists, who often assail other researchers who contradict the basic tenets of cosmic egalitarianism. Here, we will finish summarizing the essay.
According to our perspective, cosmic egalitarianism is a major cause of bias in the social sciences, and is probably more important than political ideology per se. If true, this would suggest that researchers who are concerned about bias in the social sciences should focus more on cosmic egalitarianism than on political ideology (although we do not doubt that political ideology also matters).
Empirically, if the PEM model is correct, then we would expect:
- that scholars who violate cosmic egalitarianism but otherwise uphold the tenets of liberalism should be treated as heretics and dismissed from the realm of respectful discourse; and
- that scholars who violate the tenets of liberalism but who uphold cosmic egalitarianism might be attacked and criticized but not dismissed from the realm of respectful discourse.
Although more research is required here, we believe that current history supports these predictions. And some systematic evidence is suggestive. For example, Woessner, Kelly-Woessner, and Rothman found that fewer than 2 percent of right-leaning professors reported having “been treated unfairly because of their political views,” which was almost the same as the number reported by left-leaning professors. We doubt that one would find figures this low for those professors who contradict the basic tenets of cosmic egalitarianism.
Another important point we made in our essay is that the bias against ideas and data that violate cosmic egalitarianism is not merely confined the academy, but also infects the mainstream media. The majority of the intelligentsia–media pundits and public intellectuals–appear to adhere to some variety of cosmic egalitarianism and have castigated scholars who challenge it. This is at least as damaging as academic bias because it deters heterodox scholars from presenting such views, and motivates media outlets to distort views that challenge cosmic egalitarianism, making them appear dangerous and derogatory to ethnic minorities or women. This feeds back to universities and colleges because administrators are understandably afraid of bad press that might besmirch the reputation of their respective universities.
Consider the contrast between Nicholas Wade and Gary Kleck. Nicholas Wade wrote the book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History about race differences and their consequences for civilizations; and Gary Kleck has published numerous articles and books about the ineffectiveness of most gun control policies and about the high number of defensive uses of guns. Kleck explicitly rejects at least some policies favored by liberals, whereas Wade, so far as we know, has never explicitly rejected any policies preferred by liberals. However, Wade contradicted cosmic egalitarianism. How were they treated by the mostly liberal media and academy?
In 2014, Nicholas Wade published A Troublesome Inheritance, in which he argued (1) that race is biologically real and useful category; (2) that human races are different from each other in small, but nontrivial ways; and (3) that some racial differences may explain variations in human societies and civilizations.
Reaction to his book was immediate and furious. Reviews poured out condemning the book for peddling third-rate scientific racism. Eric Michael Johnson, an evolutionary anthropologists writing at Scientific American, penned a review provocatively entitled On the Origin of White Power, in which he strongly suggested that Wade is a racist, associating Wade with unsavory political thinkers and attitudes. The review was published with a picture of the Ku Klux Klan, in case readers missed the point.
There were many similar reviews, and eventually 139 geneticists and evolutionary scientists published an open letter in the New York Times that denounced A Troublesome Inheritance. These scholars accused Wade of using their research to “substantiate” his own “guesswork” and chide him for arguing that recent natural selection may have “led to world-wide differences in I.Q. test results, political institutions, and economic development.”
Two things are disconcerting about this letter. The first is that the letter somewhat inaccurate, imputing arguments to Wade that he never made. Wade did not argue strongly about differences in I.Q. scores, maintaining a generally agnostic attitude throughout his book about the importance (and existence) of intelligence differences among races (save for the high intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews, which he does seem to accept). An open letter denouncing a book should be accurate about what it is denouncing.
The second is that such a letter is remarkably unusual and is not used to point out and correct errors Wade may have made, but rather to completely invalidate his work for “misappropriating” modern genetics and evolutionary science–in other words, for explicitly violating cosmic egalitarianism. (In the many reviews of Wade’s book, some errors were pointed out, but it is not at all clear that he made any large errors when reviewing the genetics literature.)
All in all, Wade was turned into an effigy and publicly bludgeoned, sending a strong warning to others who might openly violate the basic tenets of cosmic egalitarianism.
Gary Kleck, on the other hand, has spent many years writing about the ineffectiveness of most gun-control policies and about the large number of defensive gun uses, earning the ire of many liberals. We just conducted a Google search on Kleck and found “Gun lobby liars, Gary Kleck..”. Such attacks on Kleck are not unusual. And many of his articles have instigated furious debates. However, to our knowledge, he is still considered a respectable academic, and he has not been shunned by the intelligentsia.
Of course, these are just two case studies, and so should not be thoughtlessly exaggerated. But, they do appear consistent with theory, evidence, and other historical cases. A reasonable objection is that Nicholas Wade is not an academic so his treatment may not be comparable. However, the treatment of Wade by academics and pundits (1) illustrates the role that the mainstream plays in perpetuating cosmic egalitarianism, and (2) is very similar to the experience of scholars within academia—such as Linda Gottfredson, J.P. Rushton, and Arthur Jensen, among others.
So, how can we mitigate bias in the social sciences and in the media more broadly? Well, inside the social sciences, we believe that universities should require a class for undergraduates that explicitly focuses on critical thinking and biases, teaching students how to separate values from facts. It is surprising to us that such classes are not widely available given how difficult it is to make that separation. There is no reason an egalitarian meliorist can’t disinterestedly assess data about sex, race, and social class differences. In especially sensitive cases such as race, it is vital that scholars use careful, measured language and that they teach students (and other professors!) about the hazards of using aggregate data to make individual level decisions—in hiring, policing, or otherwise. Liberal democracies have made progress precisely by eschewing tribal notions of justice and fairness and by emphasizing the centrality of the individual. This is a message that cannot be emphasized enough.
We suspect addressing bias in the media more generally will be more difficult. One important thing, though, is to discuss it. And we are thankful that a number of scholars, including many at this website, have begun to do just that. If enough self-conscious academics and scholars draw attention to the problem, there will be pressure to do something about it. And there will be incentives for those who do.