Political diversity in social psychology – Our response to 33 critiques
Our article on how greater political diversity will improve psychological science was published last week (Duarte et al., 2015, see summary here). The journal that published it (Behavioral and Brain Sciences) also solicits commentaries from other scholars on each “target article.” In our case BBS obtained 33 commentaries from scholars across a number of academic fields, and then gave us the opportunity to write an essay in response. In this post, we summarize our response to those commentaries, and we list the 33 commentaries at the end, by title and author, with abstracts. The big surprise for us was that most of the commentaries were quite supportive — our colleagues largely agreed with our claims and concerns about the lack of political diversity, although they raised important points about the difficulties of changing the field.
Our target article: Crawford, J. T., Duarte, J., Haidt, J., Jussim, L., Stern, C., & Tetlock, P. E. (2015). It may be harder than we thought, but political diversity will (still) improve social psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, 45-51. (ungated version)
[The text below is copied and pasted directly from our response article, except for occasional comments in brackets]
In our target article, we made four claims:
- Social psychology is now politically homogeneous;
- This homogeneity sometimes harms the science;
- Increasing political diversity would reduce this damage; and
- Some portion of the homogeneity is due to a hostile climate and outright discrimination against non-liberals.
In this response, we review these claims in light of the arguments made by a diverse group of commentators. We were surprised to find near-universal agreement with our first two claims, and we note that few challenged our fourth claim. Most of the disagreements came in response to our claim that increasing political diversity would be beneficial. We agree with our critics that increasing political diversity may be harder than we had thought, but we explain why we still believe that it is possible and desirable to do so. We conclude with a revised list of 11 recommendations for improving political diversity in social psychology, as well as in other areas of the academy.
Claim 1: Social Psychology is Now Politically Homogenous
Almost all commentators accepted our contention that social psychology largely lacks political diversity, even the commentators who strongly disagreed with other claims (e.g., Eagly). This consensus is striking. In a field that typically touts the importance of diversity, it is valuable to discover that most of us recognize the extraordinary lack of political diversity in social psychology.
Claim #2: The Lack of Political Diversity Sometimes Harms Our Science
We were pleasantly surprised by the complete agreement with this claim. Not one commentator contested our claim that the lack of political diversity can in principle distort the field’s scientific conclusions. Even our harshest critics acknowledged that there was a potential problem. This claim was the centerpiece of our target article. An ideological monoculture is seen by all as a scientific problem, even by those who doubt that it is an ethical problem or that it is caused by discrimination. Taken together, the commentaries have significantly strengthened our conclusion that political homogeneity is a threat to the integrity of social psychology (and other social sciences; the problem is not unique to social psychology). Our target article and the many commentaries constitute the clearest documentation of specific domains in which political biases seem to be particularly problematic. Social psychology (like many other academic fields) has a motivated reasoning problem. This was our central point.
[Building on the issues we addressed in our target article, many commentators noted several other research areas or topics that may potentially suffer from ideological distortions, such as the power of the situation, personality and behavioral genetics, fundamental attribution error, and intelligence.]
Claim #3: Increasing Political Diversity Would Improve the Quality of Our Science
Given the near-universal acceptance of our claims that 1) social psychology is politically homogenous, and 2) this political homogeneity can harm our science, it is unsurprising that many commentators endorsed our third claim: increasing political diversity would improve the state of our science.
That said, our third claim elicited by far the most disagreement, which took five primary forms:
1) Conservatives are just not interested or capable of conducting social psychological science;
Our response: We acknowledged in our target article that self-selection likely explains at least a portion of the underrepresentation of non-liberals in the field. However, we note that this self-direction may be in part driven by research topics and areas that have a clear liberal viewpoint.
2) Calling for increased political diversity is premature and not data-driven;
Our response: Critics noted that more evidence may be needed of the negative impact of ideological homogeneity on psychological science before changes should be made. We noted that a) it is unlikely people would make the same argument when it comes to other forms of diversity, such as gender diversity; and b) noting that large-scale social interventions are often based on small-scale observations.
3) Increasing political diversity will cause unanticipated problems;
Our response: Some commentators worried about a splintered field, or a situation in which extreme conservatives simply “cancelled out” extreme liberals in the field. These are not our aims. Instead, we believe that the presence of non-liberals in social psychology will serve as a means for checks and balances against embedding of liberal values into research, which will ultimately improve the science.
4) Other forms of diversity are as (or more) important than political diversity;
Our response: We agree that many forms of diversity are important, but we repeat that the epistemic benefits of diversity come more from viewpoint diversity than from demographic diversity (Menz, 2012; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). We have norms in our field that strongly encourage demographic diversity; yet, as we pointed out in our target article (and as Binning and Sears acknowledge), there are norms in our field that discourage political diversity, one of the most important forms of viewpoint diversity.
5) Political diversity is not necessary for protecting the field from political bias.
Our response: We agree that social psychologists may be capable of policing themselves and each other to avoid the biased blind spots and embedded assumptions we highlighted in our target article. Indeed, we noted many examples in our target article of ideologically balanced research that did not necessarily involve non-liberal social psychologists. Even if our target article does not end up leading to any increase in the political diversity of the field, an increased awareness of these issues (and scholars’ attempts to mitigate them) should help improve the science. However, as long as the field is so politically homogenous, and as long as some of its members are incapable of preventing such biases, the field will have a tendency to produce findings that support left-wing values and narratives. Thus, we still think that increasing the number of non-liberals in social psychology will improve theory and research. But we also recognize that this is just one way to protect our science from political bias.
Claim #4: Some Portion of Political Homogeneity is Due to a Hostile Climate and Outright Discrimination against Non-Liberals
Our target article presented several sources of evidence that there is a hostile climate for non-liberals—particularly conservatives—and that direct discrimination against non-liberals happens at several points in the career pipeline and publication process. Although most commentators did not explicitly address this claim, the majority of those who did agreed with it (e.g., Ainsle; Inbar & Lammers; Nisbett).
(Only two commentators disputed this claim, attributing political homogeneity solely to self-selection. We reviewed clear evidence of hostile climate, however.) Overall, therefore, there is clear consensus among our diverse set of commentators that hostile environment and outright discrimination exist, and constitute significant obstacles to the creation of a more politically balanced field. We see this as an extraordinary step forward.
Final (Revised and Augmented) Recommendations
So, what do we recommend for researchers interested in engaging in good faith attempts to protect themselves and their field from political biases? We summarize our original recommendations and now add the most constructive ones based on the commentaries:
- Acknowledge the problem and raise awareness about it.
- Seek feedback from nonliberals.
- Expand organizational diversity statements to include politics.
- Add a statement to your own academic website acknowledging that you encourage collaboration among people of diverse political views.
- Eliminate pejorative terms referring to nonliberals; criticize others’ scholarship when they uses those terms. As an editor or reviewer, do not permit such terms to pass without comment.
- Avoid “leakage” of political hostilities or presumptions (including jokes) when functioning in any teaching or research capacity, but especially around students and junior colleagues.
- Encourage young scholars who are not liberals to pursue careers in social psychology.
- Be alert to double standards. Use turnabout tests to reveal bias.
- Support adversarial collaborations that encourage competing ideological camps to explore the boundary conditions on each other’s claims, in joint data collection and model building efforts.
- Assign in classes, especially for graduate students, the growing scholarship taking social psychology and related disciplines to task for having a scientificproblem stemming from political bias (Brandt, Reyna, Chambers, Crawford, & Wetherell, 2014; Crawford, 2012; Eagly, 1995; 2013; Inbar & Lammers, 2012; Jussim, 2012a; Jussim, 2012b; Jussim et al., in press-a; Jussim et al., in press-b; Redding, 2001; Tetlock, 1994). Teach eliminating such biases as a core component of methods, validity and scientific integrity.
- Use Washburn et al.’s checklist in one’s own work, especially in politicized areas.
- Use Popperian falsification. If you are a liberal social psychologist, to guard against potential bias, seek to falsify rather than confirm your preferred prediction.
In his commentary, Funder suggests that the reactions to our target article will demonstrate just how difficult it will be to change the landscape of political diversity and to remove embedded values from the field. Although he made many excellent points in his commentary, this is one on which we have to disagree. The majority of the commentaries reflect agreement with arguments for increased political diversity that we laid out in our target article. Where there was disagreement, most of it was constructive. We do not believe increasing political diversity in social psychology will be easy; however, we are encouraged by this set of commentaries.
We also hope that these issues will be discussed in other social sciences, and in humanities departments as well. We are optimistic that academics in many disciplines will share our appreciation of the power of viewpoint diversity to improve the quality of thought. We hope that our arguments and solutions will be considered by those who practice not just social psychology, but the social sciences and humanities broadly, and who train future generations of scholars and citizens for life in a vibrant democracy.
[Here are the titles, authors, and abstracts of the 33 commentaries on our target article, mostly from other social and political psychologists, but also from scholars in other fields. You can read the full commentaries on the BBS website (down at the bottom of that page). There is also an ungated version of them from a pre-print, before typesetting, available here.]
A cohesive moral community is already patrolling behavioral science
Authors of non-liberal proposals experience more collegial objections than others do. These objections are often couched as criticism of determinism, reductionism, or methodological individualism, but from a scientific viewpoint such criticism could be easily answered.
Underneath it is a wish to harness scientific belief in service of positive social values, at the cost of reducing objectivity.
Recognizing and coping with our own prejudices: Fighting liberal bias without conservative input
Roy F. Baumeister
This commentary summarizes my struggle to overcome liberal bias without conservative input. I generally assume I am biased and constantly try to build a good-quality argument for the opposite view. Trying to dispense with one’s liberal values can help, if one is willing. Frequent self-tests help. Liberal biases include race, gender, and poverty, but also dislike of business corporations and even Western civilization. Feminism is the single strongest and most powerful bias.
Method and matter in the social sciences: Umbilically tied to the Enlightenment
This commentary deals with the nonconformity of academics and the ethos of social science. Academics in all fields deviate from majority norms in politics and religion, and this deviance may be essential to the academic mind and to academic norms. The Enlightenment legacy inspires both methods and subject matter in academic work, and severing ties with it may be impossible.
Is liberal bias universal? An international perspective on social psychologists
Michal Bilewicz, Aleksandra Cichocka, Paulina Górska and Zsolt Péter Szabó
Based on our comparison of political orientation and research interests of social psychologists in capitalist Western countries versus post-Communist Eastern European countries, we suggest that Duarte and colleagues’ claim of liberal bias in the field seems American-centric. We propose an alternative account of political biases which focuses on the academic tendency to explain attitudes of lower status groups.
On the history of political diversity in social psychology
Kevin R. Binning and David O. Sears
We argue that the history of political diversity in social psychology may be better characterized by stability than by a large shift toward liberalism. The branch of social psychology that focuses on political issues has defined social problems from a liberal perspective since at least the 1930s. Although a lack of ideological diversity within the discipline can pose many of the problems noted by Duarte et al., we suggest that these problems (a) are less apparent when the insights of social psychology are pitted against the insights from other social science disciplines, and (b) are less pressing than the need for other types of diversity in the field, especially ethnic and racial diversity.
QTIPs: Questionable theoretical and interpretive practices in social psychology
Mark J. Brandt and Travis Proulx
One possible consequence of ideological homogeneity is the misinterpretation of data collected with otherwise solid methods. To help identify these issues outside of politically relevant research, we name and give broad descriptions to three questionable interpretive practices described by Duarte et al. and introduce three additional questionable theoretical practices that also reduce the theoretical power and paradigmatic scope of psychology.
The psychology of psychology: A thought experiment
Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams
In the target article, Duarte et al. allege that the lack of political diversity reduces research efficacy. We pose a thought experiment that could provide an empirical test by examining whether institutional review board (IRB) members, granting agencies, and journal reviewers filter scientific products based on political values, invoking scientific criteria (rigor, etc.) as their justification. When these same products are cast in terms highlighting opposite values, do these people shift their decisions?
Political homogeneity can nurture threats to research validity
John R. Chambers and Barry R. Schlenker
Political homogeneity within a scientific field nurtures threats to the validity of many research conclusions by allowing ideologically compatible values to influence interpretations, by minimizing skepticism, and by creating premature consensus. Although validity threats can crop in any research, the usual corrective activities in science are more likely to be minimized and delayed.
Liberal bias and the five-factor model
Duarte et al. draw attention to the “embedding of liberal values and methods” in social psychological research. They note how these biases are often invisible to the researchers themselves. The authors themselves fall prey to these “invisible biases” by utilizing the five-factor model of personality and the trait of openness to experience as one possible explanation for the under-representation of political conservatives in social psychology. I show that the manner in which the trait of openness to experience is conceptualized and measured is a particularly blatant example of the very liberal bias the authors decry.
Political bias is tenacious
Peter H. Ditto, Sean P. Wojcik, Eric Evan Chen, Rebecca Hofstein Grady and Megan M. Ringel
Duarte et al. are right to worry about political bias in social psychology but they underestimate the ease of correcting it. Both liberals and conservatives show partisan bias that often worsens with cognitive sophistication. More non-liberals in social psychology is unlikely to speed our convergence upon the truth, although it may broaden the questions we ask and the data we collect.
Mischaracterizing social psychology to support the laudable goal of increasing its political diversity
Alice H. Eagly
Duarte et al.’s arguments for increasing political diversity in social psychology are based on mischaracterizations of social psychology as fundamentally flawed in understanding stereotype accuracy and the effects of attitudes on information processing. I correct their misunderstandings while agreeing with their view that political diversity, along with other forms of diversity, stands to benefit social psychology.
Wait, You’re a conservative? Political diversity and the dilemma of disclosure
Jim A. C. Everett
Many of the proposed recommendations for remedying the harmful effects of political homogeneity for psychology depend upon conservatives disclosing their political identity. Yet how likely is this, when disclosure is so harmful to the individual? Considering this issue as a social dilemma clarifies the pernicious nature of the problem, as well as suggesting how the dilemma can be resolved.
Towards a de-biased social psychology: The effects of ideological perspective go beyond politics
David C. Funder
Reasonable conservatives are in short supply and will not arrive to save social psychology any time soon. The field needs to save itself through de-biasing. The effects of a liberal worldview permeate and distort discussion of many topics that are not overtly political, including behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology, the fundamental attribution error, and the remarkably persistent consistency controversy.
Political attitudes in social environments
Andrew Gelman and Neil Gross
We agree with Duarte et al. that it is worthwhile to study professions’ political alignments. But we have seen no evidence to support the idea that social science fields with more politically diverse workforces generally produce better research. We also think that when considering ideological balance, it is useful to place social psychology within a larger context of the prevailing ideologies of other influential groups within society, such as military officers, journalists, and business executives.
Liberals and conservatives: Non-convertible currencies
John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith and John R. Alford
Duarte et al. are correct that the social science enterprise would improve on several fronts if the number of politically conservative researchers were to increase; however, because they misunderstand the degree to which liberals and conservatives are dispositionally different, they fail to appreciate the full range of reasons that conservatives are reluctant to enter the modern social sciences.
A predominance of self-identified Democrats is no evidence of a leftward bias
Benjamin E. Hilbig and Morten Moshagen
The reasoning of Duarte et al. hinges on the basic premise that a positive ratio of Democrats versus Republicans implies a political bias. However, when placed in a global and historical context, it is evident that U.S. Democrats currently represent a moderate position on the political left–right spectrum. Thus, Duarte et al. provide no evidence of a leftward bias in the scientific community.
Increasing ideological tolerance in social psychology
Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers
We argue that recognizing current ideological diversity in social psychology and promoting tolerance of minority views is just as important as increasing the number of non-liberal researchers. Increasing tolerance will allow individuals in the minority to express dissenting views, which will improve psychological science by reducing bias. We present four recommendations for increasing tolerance.
Political diversity versus stimuli diversity: Alternative ways to improve social psychological science
Thomas Kessler, Jutta Proch, Stefanie Hechler and Larissa A. NÃ¤gler
Instead of enhancing diversity in research groups, we suggest that in order to reduce biases in social psychological research a more basic formulation and systematic testing of theories is required. Following the important but often neglected ecological research approach would lead to systematic variation of stimuli and sometimes representative sampling of stimuli for specific environments.
Lack of political diversity and the framing of findings in personality and clinical psychology
Scott O. Lilienfeld
I extend the arguments of Duarte et al. by examining the implications of political uniformity for the framing of findings in personality and clinical psychology. I argue that the one-sided framing of psychological research on political ideology has limited our understanding of the personality correlates of liberalism and conservatism.
A conservative’s social psychology
I suggest that social psychologists should stick to studying positive and negative attitudes and give up stigmatizing some attitudes as “prejudice.” I recommend that we avoid assuming that race and ethnicity have no biological foundations, in order to avoid a collision course with modern biology. And I wonder how much difference the target article recommendations can make in the context of hiring a social psychologist for an academic position.
Diverse crowds using diverse methods improves the scientific dialectic
Matt Motyl and Ravi Iyer
In science, diversity is vital to the development of new knowledge. We agree with Duarte et al. that we need more political diversity in social psychology, but contend that we need more religious diversity and methodological diversity as well. If some diversity is good, more is better (especially in science).
Welcoming conservatives to the field
More conservatives would provide advantages, and social psychologists may not be as opposed to increasing the number of conservatives as Duarte et al. think. Recruitment problems concern primarily self-selection and biases in undergraduate instruction. Social psychologists should welcome having conservatives in the field to serve as a conduit for our theories and methods to conservative intellectuals and policy makers.
Political orientations do not cancel out, and politics is not about truth
Hans-Rüdiger Pfistera and Gisela Böhma
Duarte et al. propose that divergent political biases cancel each other out such that increasing political diversity will improve scientific validity. We argue that this idea is misguided. Their recommendations for improving political diversity in academia bear the danger of imposing political interests on science. Scientific scrutiny and criticism are the only viable remedies for bad science.
Political bias, explanatory depth, and narratives of progress
Political bias has indeed been a distorter of psychology, not just in particular research areas but in an aversion to the explanatory depth available from politically fraught fields like evolution. I add two friendly amendments to the target article: (1) The leftist moral narrative may be based on zero-sum competition among identity groups rather than continuous progress; and (2) ideological bias should be dealt with not just via diversity of ideological factions but by minimizing the influence of ideology altogether.
Sociopolitical insularity is psychology’s Achilles heel
Richard E. Redding
Academic psychology has become increasingly non-diverse politically, which skews and impedes social psychological science (as Duarte et al. argue). We should embrace viewpoint diversity, especially since the arguments favoring sociopolitical diversity are identical to those for demographic and cultural diversity. Doing so will produce a more robust, open, and creative psychological science that is informed and tested by a multiplicity of sociopolitical paradigms.
What kinds of conservatives does social psychology lack, and why?
Although Duarte et al.’s claims about the potential benefits of greater political diversity in the ranks of social psychology are apt, their discussion of the decline in such diversity, the role played by selfselection, and the specific domains they cite in discussing an anticonservative bias raise issues that merit closer examination. The claim that sound research and analysis challenging liberal orthodoxies fails to receive a fair hearing in our journals and professional discourse is also disputed.
Conservatism is not the missing viewpoint for true diversity
Beate Seibt, Sven Waldzus, Thomas W. Schubert and Rodrigo Brito
The target article diagnoses a dominance of liberal viewpoints with little evidence, promotes a conservative viewpoint without defining it, and wrongly projects the U.S. liberal-conservative spectrum to the whole field of social psychology. Instead, we propose to anticipate and reduce mixing of theorizing and ideology by using definitions that acknowledge divergence in perspective, and promote representative sampling and observation of the field, as well as dialogical publication.
Should social psychologists create a disciplinary affirmative action program for political conservatives?
Richard A. Shweder
Freely staying on the move between alternative points of view is the best antidote to dogmatism. Robert Merton’s ideals for an epistemic community are sufficient to correct pseudo-empirical studies designed to confirm beliefs that liberals (or conservatives) think deserve to be true. Institutionalizing the self-proclaimed political identities of social psychologists may make things worse.
When theory trumps ideology: Lessons from evolutionary psychology
Joshua M. Tybur and Carlos David Navarrete
Evolutionary psychologists are personally liberal, just as social psychologists are. Yet their research has rarely been perceived as liberally biased – if anything, it has been erroneously perceived as motivated by conservative political agendas. Taking a closer look at evolutionary psychologists might offer the broader social psychology community guidance in neutralizing some of the biases Duarte et al. discuss.
Diversity of depoliticization?
Bas van der Vossen
An ideologically homogeneous discipline of political psychology is a serious problem. But undoing the field’s homogeneity may not suffice to address this problem. Instead, we should consider undoing the politicization.
A checklist to facilitate objective hypothesis testing in social psychology research
Anthony N. Washburn, G. Scott Morgan and Linda J. Skitka
Social psychology is not a very politically diverse area of inquiry, something that could negatively affect the objectivity of social psychological theory and research, as Duarte et al. argue in the target article. This commentary offers a number of checks to help researchers uncover possible biases and identify when they are engaging in hypothesis confirmation and advocacy instead of hypothesis testing.
Too paranoid to see progress: Social psychology is probably liberal, but it doesn’t believe in progress
Bo Winegard, Benjamin Winegard and David C. Geary
We agree with Duarte et al. that bias in social psychology is a serious problem that researchers should confront. However, we are skeptical that most social psychologists adhere to a liberal progress narrative. We suggest, instead, that most social psychologists are paranoid egalitarian meliorists (PEMs). We explain the term and suggest possible remedies to bias in social psychology.
Meta-ethical pluralism: A cautionary tale about cohesive moral communities
Jennifer Cole Wright
Meta-ethical pluralism gives us additional insight into how moral communities become cohesive and why this can be problematic (even dangerous) – and in this way provides support for the worries raised by the target article. At the same time, it offers several reasons to be concerned about the proposed initiative, the most important of which is that it could seriously backfire.
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