heterodox: the blog
Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science
Our article on the absence of political diversity has just been published and you can read the summary of it here (with links to download the whole thing).
Lone voices (Rich Redding, Phil Tetlock) in the wilderness have been raising alarms for decades about the distortions that happen when psychology is politicized, and when it becomes so uniformly left-leaning that people don’t even notice that it has become politicized. Those alarms have gone almost entirely unheeded – social psychology has marched on as if the political threats to its credibility and validity simply do not exist. (To be fair, we note that this is true about most of the rest of psychology, and most of the rest of the social sciences. That’s why we created Heterodox Academy). This, of course, makes sense for many reasons. First, for the overwhelming left-leaning (about 90%, maybe more*) majority of the field, bias against non-leftists will be completely invisible, just as racial discrimination is invisible to many Whites and sexism is invisible to many men.
Second, the political monoculture means that subjective opinions and values will be so universally shared (within that monoculture) that they will appear to be objective truths, and the idea that anyone might view something differently – and be justified in doing so – is alien and threatening.
Third, many social psychologists enter the field with the explicit purpose of advancing their preferred social action agendas – thus quite explicitly putting their politics above their science.
Fourth, once a scientist has staked out a politically biased claim – and especially if it is greeted with accolades from colleagues — all sorts of processes (e.g., cognitive dissonance, system justification, self-serving promotion of one’s “pet” theory) will conspire to motivate the scientist to defend it to the hilt.
In this context, it should not be surprising that social psychology is peppered with claims and conclusions that reflect the field’s political bent more than it reflects the actual data. (We’re not saying most of the research is influenced — but “peppered” is pretty bad.) The BBS article reviews several such examples, including:
- Claims that people who oppose environmental policies engage in “denial of environmental realities,” despite the failure to assess denial of any reality.
- Longstanding claims that stereotypes are inaccurate, in the face of an almost complete absence of data demonstrating inaccuracy. Indeed, stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most widely replicated effects in social psychology. One might think that a field plagued by a “replication crisis,” by tiny effect sizes, and by all sorts of threats to some of its most cherished conclusions would be singing to the world about one of the few large, robust, replicable findings in its vast literature. But if one keeps in mind the many ways in which political agendas influence and distort the field, one might not be surprised that many psychologists try to hush up, dismiss, or ignore such politically uncomfortable findings.
- Longstanding claims that prejudice is especially characteristic of conservatives. Here’s a shocker though – the field has almost exclusively examined prejudice against target groups who lean left or who the left deems “protected” (ethnic minorities, women, gays). Once one begins studying prejudice against target groups that lean right (e.g., evangelical Christians, Whites), the left looks just as prejudiced as the right.
Thus, our article lays out an action agenda for social psychologists to clean up their act – to actively combat professional political discrimination and to minimize the role of political biases in distorting scholarship. Some steps would be quite easy – such as having the major social psychological organizations expand anti-discrimination policies to include political discrimination. Others would involve more effort – such as conducting studies of the political climate in the field and developing strategies to attract, retain, and graduate nonliberal students.
As a field, social psychologists have a decision to make. Do we wish to remain a “club for liberals” in which we merely posture as “scientists” while elevating the progressive social agenda to be our highest priority? Or will we make the changes needed to live up to our field’s own values which emphasize the importance of diversity and scientific integrity?
Stay tuned. At Heterodox Academy we will monitor the field of social psychology (along with many other fields) and report back to you on the answer.
* An as yet unpublished survey of members of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology conducted by Bill von Hippel and David Buss found that, of over 300 respondents who voted in the American 2012 presidential election, a grand total of four, that’s right, four, voted for Romney. (Please note that we do not presume that all or even most of the disproportion results from discrimination. Our article also discusses the role of self-selection as a major contributor to the ideological skew. Regardless, any political discrimination is inappropriate.)
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