should sociology look like society? in which ways?

NYT article on the absence of ideological diversity in social psychology. Example quote:

“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among [social psychologists] by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

49 thoughts on “should sociology look like society? in which ways?”

  1. I have very little sympathy with [White] conservatives whining when they are in a minority, as if [White] conservatives should always be comfortable in all situations and they are the only ones who ever feel uncomfortable and out of place when in a minority, opinion or otherwise. If they think they are discriminated against, they need to present evidence and make a case. The fact that a lot of people people disagree with their opinions does not count. What are their hiring and tenure rates net of qualifications? Are they claiming that their conservatism has created educational disadvantage for them?

    I also have little patience with false equivalences. Defenses of affirmative action for minorities are on grounds of disadvantage and hierarchy. There was overt and explicit discrimination against women and minorities in the academy at least through 1970, and covert discrimination in some places for long after that. I do think there’s data that suggests that gender patterns have tipped and affirmative action may no longer be needed for White women in some fields and that lower level education has tipped in favor of girls. But the data seem to show that disadvantaged minorities are still clearly disadvantaged and still subject to the kind of stereotyping that produces unconscious discrimination. (Data that suggests AA is also needed for disadvantaged Whites does not invalidate this claim.)

    For better or worse, it is always a political issue to define group claims. I note that exactly the same statistical patterns I use in talking about racial disparities in criminal justice also show up for gender with very little comment. The assumption that the gender patterns reflect differential offending and not discrimination ought to be subject to the same kind of empirical testing as claims about the sources of the racial patterns.


  2. I find olderwoman and Phillip’s reactions to be troubling.

    1. OW adds race to the issue when it was not mentioned previously. I don’t see how it’s relevant (in any case, there is no doubt that even if conservative social psychologists are more likely to be liberal than are liberal social psychologists, the vast majority of white social psychologists are liberal). Are we really prepared to extend affirmative action to block ideologies that may or may not be correlated with being held by whites (I’m sure all of us know black conservatives)?
    2. OW’s response also makes Haidt’s point for him. Haidt’s point is that liberal social scientsts are quick to regard any inequality in outcome as indicating discrimination– but they do this only for the social differences that they are focused on remediating, and never point the finger at themselves. In interpreting aggregate patterns concerning the gender balance in education as an indicator of discrimination or the lack thereof, OW seems to be committing the exact error that Haidt is criticizing. Oddly, OW’s last paragraph seems to be consistent with Haidt– i.e., she acknowledges that some outcome-differences [racial differences in incarceration] are interpreted as discriminatory, while others [gender diffs in the same] are not. And she [somewhat sotto voce] draws a different implication– i.e., that perhaps men are being discriminated against on this dimension. Ok, but then why not conservative social psychologists or sociologists?
    3. Meanwhile, Philip says that there is indeed discrimination against conservatives, and it is justified because conservatism is incompatible with science. But even if we agree with Philip that there are some ideologies that are incompatible with science, there are two related problems with discrimination against such ideologies. First, there are plenty of liberals who espouse views that are also anti-science (e.g., STS). Will you banish them too? Second and more generally, a policy of discrimination like this should be adopted formally and publicly– in the same way that say, affirmative action has been– if it has any chance of being applied in a fair way. After all, those of us who have been charged with creating or applying affirmative action policies know how difficult they are to implement well, with all kinds of unintended consequences (the most obvious one being that highly qualified minorities are more likely to be regarded as being underserving of the position). So even if a policy of discrimination (guarding us against problematic beliefs, redressing historical wrongs, etc) is adopted, it needs to be adopted in a way that allows for much more accountability than does the informal discrimination against conservatives that is practiced by social psychology (according to Haidt) and sociology (according to, and as embraced by, OW and PC).

    FWIW, I happen to identify myself as a liberal (of the do-nothing, bleeding heart variety, of course) who supports affirmative action (when implemented carefully and with an eye to minimizing the unintended consequences), but I’m sure my post makes me very suspect as conservative (doesn’t help that I’m appointed in a bschool– and I guess even worse that I’m as pale as they come– does dark hair help?) who is an enemy of the people.


    1. Just to be clear, I didn’t say, and don’t believe, political conservatism is incompatible with science. However, high school biology teachers who don’t teach evolution are not qualified to do their jobs, and should be provided with other employment opportunities (such as collecting fossils).

      I just meant that as an example to show that sometimes it’s OK to discriminate based on ideology (or, actually, ideologically-driven work performance), as opposed to ascriptive qualities. Which means that the equivalence between underrepresentation of conservatives and that of gender/race doesn’t hold logically.


  3. Ezra, let’s try to unpack.
    (1) I didn’t add race — Haidt did. Take another look at the initial quote. I added [White] to the “conservative” label because it is people who are accustomed to being in the majority and to being unconsciously dominant who, empirically, are the ones who complain about the discomfort of conservatives in the academy and who, empirically, deny the importance of their majority-ness on other dimensions.
    (2) That there was employment discrimination against women and minorities before 1970 is a fact, just like that there was slavery in the US before 1865 is a fact. Employment discrimination by race and sex was LEGAL before 1966 and nobody tried to disguise it before it became illegal. The reason people are “quick” to suspect discrimination with respect to categories that were the historical bases of overt discrimination is because they were the categories of overt historical discrimination. What is complicated, sinister or un-intellectual about that?
    (3) Social psychology also has a shortage of people who were art history or engineering majors, etc. Haidt is trying to imply that the “choice” argument that is obvious about art history & engineering and is the usual explanation about political views ought to be the first thing we consider when we see differential patterns by race or sex. It is the refusal to attend to a history of overt discrimination along some lines and not others that is infuriating in these types of arguments.
    (4) I tried to distinguish between gender patterns and race patterns precisely to say that data may well tell us that the axes of historical discrimination have shifted and that it is appropriate to pay attention to current data. It is especially important to separate gender from race/ethnicity, because the trends are quite different for the two dimensions in many areas. And I was trying explicitly to acknowledge that, yes, there may be axes of discrimination that have not been previously recognized as such.
    (5) Where is the data that political conservatives are more like racial minorities and less like art history or engineering majors with respect to social psychology? Is there evidence of greater downward mobility, lower rates of being hired or getting tenure, for political conservatives than political liberals? Have people done blind experiments with cvs to demonstrate an anti-conservative bias in evaluating credentials the way experiments have demonstrated anti-minority and anti-woman (or anti-mother) bias in evaluating credentials? What infuriates me is the attempt to dismiss data about categories of historical discrimination with specious arguments about political discomfort and preferences. The people who are attempting to redress historical discrimination are working with more evidence than just head counts, and implying otherwise is disingenuous or ignorant.


    1. PS Haidt didn’t adduce any data about discrimination against conservatives except that there are few of them in social psychology. He complained about why statistical under-representation was not taken as evidence of discrimination for conservatives the way it is for race & gender.


  4. I have little left to say, as OW’s defense is comprehensive and spot-on. The “discrimination against conservatives” line is idiotic because:

    1. conservativism is quite clearly an intellectual position, hence quite appropriately evaluated on intellectual bases, unlike race and sex which are quite clearly not;
    2. there is no demonstrated history of legal discrimination against conservatives; and
    3. there is no evidence of practiced discrimination.

    Add to this that the “jump to discrimination” line is demonstrably false too, since much sociology of inequality focuses on mechanisms of inequality that are not based in discrimination.


  5. This article was disappointing – both in the lack of careful thinking that Haidt uncharacteristically seemed to display (if his views are being represented correctly), and in the author going along with everything he said so uncritically.

    Would Haidt suggest that medical schools should have a 10% quota for people who believe that bloodletting is a good cure for diseases, or that geologists are obligated to make sure that climate change deniers are fairly represented in their field?

    One can be conservative and still do good social science, but often, many conservatives’ worldview is at odds with the most basic tenets and findings of science in general and social science in particular – which is why conservatives are often biased against social science. Given that, I don’t see why raising conservative representation in social science would necessarily make social science better rather than worse (apart from the practice it would give social scientists in engaging more often with people who disagree with them – I do see value in that – but that’s not worth much if it comes at the cost of assuming that the truth is always halfway between the supposed “liberal” and “conservative” POVs and rigging the field to divide social scientists down the middle).

    One other thing of note: the article focuses on social science. But overall, only 6% of scientists (of the “hard” kind, not the “really hard” kind) are Republicans – . That the “bias” against conservatives in natural science (where one’s political views are largely irrelevant to what’s being studied) is about as strong as it is in social science (where politics is closer to our research) suggests it’s wrong to think it’s social scientists who are biased against conservatives, rather than Republicans who are biased against science (of whatever kind).


  6. PC: As should be clear from my comment, I have no problem with discriminating on the basis of an ideology that prevents a hire to do the job for which they were hired. My worries pertained only to how such discrimination is carried out. You seemed to embrace discrimination against conservatism, even when done in an informal way and without clear guidelines (that might ensnare liberals with anti-scientific views) or accountability.


    1. You’re right that Haidt had mentioned something about “the fight against racism being a sacred cause.” Sorry for missing that. I still have no idea why the whiteness of conservatives is relevant though, or becomes the basis for conservatism with whiteness. Part of Haidt’s point is that you’d think that people who are battling discrimination would be more careful making crude generalizations.

    2. Sorry, but it is indeed unscientific (and unfair) to be quick to judge an institution as discriminatory just because it produces outcomes that are broadly consistent with historical pattern of racism in the society of that institution.

    3. (and re Andrew’s post): the failure to attend to the history is a red herring, pure and simple. People come up with new forms of discrimination all the time. Does that make them unworthy of our attention? (Sure, discrimination against conservatives should be low on the totem pole relative to discrimination against blacks. So what?)

    4. Right, so why is it impossible that there is discrimination towards conservatives?

    5. Fair enough. More serious research should be done. I didn’t hear that call for serious research in your and PC’s posts. What I heard was *acceptance* of discrimination against conservatives (PC) and dismissal of the issue bc conservatives are white men (OW).

    An irony in all this is that I actually *agree* that guys like Tierney (hadn’t realized it was he who wrote the nyt piece at first) and Brooks are overblown when they bewail how academia is biased against conservatism. Like you, I think most if not all conservative-driven (social) science sucks and is often dangerous. However, I also am willing to recognize that: (a) there is a lot of ideologically-driven liberal work that gets a free pass because it reports what sociologists want to hear, and (b) work that deviates from the party line has a much harder time. I actually don’t work in this area, so I’m not talking from personal experience. But… “some of my best friends are” (liberal yet) serious scientists who have gotten depressingly PC (as in “politically correct”) rejections of work that deviates from liberal orthodoxy.


    1. EZ[“I didn’t hear that call for serious research in your and PC’s posts. What I heard was…dismissal of the issue bc conservatives are white men (OW).”]

      OW in Comment 1: [“If they think they are discriminated against, they need to present evidence and make a case. The fact that a lot of people people disagree with their opinions does not count. What are their hiring and tenure rates net of qualifications? Are they claiming that their conservatism has created educational disadvantage for them?”]

      The call/need for research seemed quite obvious to me, but perhaps we’re all victims of confirmation bias.


  7. But if you have a thread in which there are concurrent arguments of “Why would anybody think we discriminate against conservatives? Until I see a smoking gun, they’re just whining.” and “Political conservatives have made an idiotic ideological choice akin to bloodletting. It’s appropriate to judge accordingly,” doesn’t it take a certain mental gymnastics not to read the latter as undermining the former a bit?

    I’m not sure if people really deny, for example, that the peer review system for publication in sociology is biased against saying things that might be construed as supporting a conservative stance. Maybe this is more evident in policy-related areas than others. One could believe this is all simply our following the evidence, but that’s harder to sustain if you believe there are any policy matters in the last forty years for which prevailing sociology/liberal view was proved incorrect.

    The mechanisms to encourage self-selection are pretty strong, so I doubt there is that much demonstrable bias in hiring or tenure decisions, esp. net of credentials.

    All that said, the discrimination quote from the story was probably not the one I should have linked to. My own belief is that there is considerable value in diverse viewpoints that has nothing to do with redressing discrimination. In that respect, I believe the ideological homogeneity is unfortunate for a social science enterprise because I think it undermines our credibility and encourages intellectual laziness. (Indeed, one can maybe point to the state of social psych within psych as an example.)


  8. Jeremy: Ah, you pose the question of whether folks are more critical of research that gets results they don’t like and less critical of research that gets results they do like. And that this bias plays out in peer reviews. This I suspect is true, although EZ’s icon of the “liberal orthodoxy” isn’t quite how I’d see it playing out. It’s more the challenge to what you think you know or the presumptions you bring to the table. I get a similar level of disbelief among sociologists when I argue that crime control can be analyzed as repression — some buy it, but many people, including many leftists, dismiss the argument out of hand.

    It ought to be fairly easy to test this kind of bias argument: prepare a research summary with exactly the same methodology, only varying the results to either conform to or dispute whatever you think is the “orthodoxy” people buy into, and have them say how reliable, sound etc the results are. But you’d have to strip off all the introductory and concluding material about theoretical & substantive implications, which always give away one’s priors.

    EZ: Unlike you, I do not find it offensive to refer to White people by race and believe that it is important to do so, rather than treating the dominant group as unmarked. Just as, a generation ago, we worked to suppress assumptions that led to unfortunate constructions such as “professors and their wives.” In any event, I would hope that my use of majority-ness in that context should have made it clear that it is people’s majority-ness and the implications of that majority-ness that I’m talking about. It is your own baggage you are importing to suggest that I’m dismissive of an issue because it involves White men. I agree that nobody likes being in a minority or being surrounded by people who think they are wrong, but some people’s life experiences have given them less practice with this than others have had. The last time I looked, conservatives were on average richer and more powerful than liberals, so I doubt that you are saying that conservative social disadvantage is being overlooked. Similarly, residential segregation patterns lead most people who are White to spend most of their time surrounded by other White people, so Whites are less used to being treated as odd. This last statement is just as true of liberals or radical leftists as conservatives.

    I alluded in my original comment to recent evidence that working class Whites (who are, by the way, likely to be politically and religiously conservative) may be discriminated against in college admissions. I’m not unsympathetic to arguments about groups of White men and women who may experience disadvantage and discrimination, but I am unsympathetic to false equivalencies, which i what was going on in the quotation Jeremy gave us to bounce off of.


  9. OW: Your crusade is against false equivalences. Wonderful. Mine is against crude generalizations and the failure to appreciate subtlety in an argument. Do you honestly think that Haidt was equating discrimination against blacks or women with discrimination against conservatives? Gimme a break. All he was doing was trying to get a liberal-minded group of people to recognize that they might have their biases too.

    I’d like to see that study (doesn’t seem feasible). I know which way I’d be betting.


  10. P.S. Putting aside whether I find it offensive to refer to whites by race (I don’t believe I said that), I’d hope you recognize that it is a very respectable intellectual position (consistent with labeling theory) that regards social science (and the government’s) use of racial categories (when they might otherwise not be used) to be problematic, in that such usage has the potential of reinforcing differences that might otherwise lose their salience. (Of course, there is a good counter to this– insofar as life-chances continue to be structured by race, we still need to use the categories to measure and meliorate. I’m just reminding us that it is by no means an unproblematic thing to do– and that as a result, we should introduce the “race card” carefully.)


  11. EZ1: Do you honestly think that Haidt was equating discrimination against blacks or women with discrimination against conservatives? Gimme a break. All he was doing was trying to get a liberal-minded group of people to recognize that they might have their biases too.

    EZ2: … such usage [of racial categories] has the potential of reinforcing differences that might otherwise lose their salience … I’m just reminding us that it is by no means an unproblematic thing to do– and that as a result, we should introduce the “race card” carefully

    Applying EZ2 to EZ1 brings us directly back to comment 1, no? Viz, Haidt was being deliberately inflammatory by “trying to get a liberal-minded group of people to recognize they might have their prejudices” by saying things like social psychologists think “the fight against racism [is] a sacred cause”, and Bravely Suggesting in Today’s America that Republicans are the Negros of Academia is quite deliberately poking people in the eye with a stick.


    1. Keiran: The reader can decide for themselves whether Haidt’s provocation can be described as “Bravely Suggesting in Today’s America that Republicans are the Negros of Academia.” As I originally said, I didn’t even read the original article as having anything about race at all. And upon a reread, it is barely there, and certainly not in the way you characterize. Putting that aside, I think it’s useful to consider the possibility that there is discrimination against conservatives even while remembering that such discrimination– if it exists– cannot be compared to the torturous, murderous discrimination that other groups have faced. And I don’t read Haidt as suggesting that.

      I’m interested though: if you agree with OW that Haidt’s provocation was about deliberately and provocatively setting up false equivalences, what do you think of OW’s use of the word “repression” to refer to US “crime control”? How is that similar or different from what you and she accuse Haidt of doing?


  12. Of course there’s a bias against conservatives in sociology! There are historical cases of overt discrimination like the controversies around James Coleman and Daniel Patrick Moynihan while some of it is more implicit. Does anyone really think that Michael Burawoy or Erik Olin Wright’s visions for sociology make conservatives feel welcome in the discipline?

    I’m curious as to people’s actual thoughts as to why there aren’t any conservatives in sociology?


    1. I’ve been following discussions of this perennial question since you were in short pants and the most popular answers seem to be:

      I dispute the premise of the question — we’re interested in political ideology and you can’t learn anything about that from a voter registration study
      I dispute the premise of the question — we’re interested in partisan identification and you can’t learn anything about that from a political ideology survey
      I dispute the premise of the question — we’re interested in multi-dimensional attitudes on specific issues and you can’t learn anything about that from a simple Likert scale of ideology
      Because they are stupid
      Because they don’t care about social problems
      Because they are more interested in:
      -making money in the private sector
      -making money in think tanks set up by wealthy conservative donors
      -joining the military
      -having lots of babies, which precludes spending their 20s in grad school
      Because by definition they don’t reject the idea of science and/or open inquiry
      Because fuck them, that’s why

      Did I miss anything?


    2. Leaving aside the question of whether there is actually discrimination against particular well-demonstrated findings (unarguably really bad), or against investigations of particular questions (arguably bad but disputable since de gustibus applies to what counts as important) — since, as some have noted, we don’t have an actual analysis but just our (educated) surmisings — I’m curious as how exactly James Coleman and DP Moynihan are evidence that conservatives are the victims of prejudice in sociology — except as “ma he’s looking at me funny” kind of victims.

      I mean, I can see why conservatives might feel unwelcome with Erik Olin Wright as president of ASA. Liberals in the 1990s, when poor James Coleman became president of the ASA, jumped for joy at their victory, since in their hearts they knew his work was so super-duper-awesome that he deserved to be Senator, and Moynihan deserved to be president (of the USA).

      p.s. Don’t give me e.g. the Coleman got yelled at in the 1970s defense. Yeah, people tried to kick JC out of the ASA. So what? People not liking your work is not “discrimination.” It’s people not liking your work and trying to use power to get at you — but, uh, they lost. If the discipline was oh-so-discriminatory, he’d have lost, no?

      p.p.s. DPM – yeah, people were hot and bothered and got all political about a work that had the apolitical subtitle: “The case for national action” and used value-neutral language like “tangle of pathology.” Yeah, no call to bring in politics there. Let the data speak.


      1. So what? I find it pretty ridiculous that anyone even thought it would be a good idea to try to expell another member of their professional organization simply because they themselves had an ideological-driven opinion that differed. They wouldn’t have even tried in the first place unless they thought they had a good chance of succeeding, right? Here’s another thought experiment for you. Let’s say a sizable portion of some professional organization tried to strip a Muslim or a Communist of their membership but failed by some margin. Would you not see that as evidence of hostility toward those groups within the organization? Of course, we could also look at the multiple resolutions that the ASA has passed which have little to do with the discipline aslwell. Perhaps you just have much lower expectations for the ASA than I do.


    3. Gabriel’s reply is about right, if inflammatory. Neither Coleman nor Moynihan constitutes “overt discrimination.” They constitute *debate*. And “feeling welcome” is the wrong standard for an intellectual category. Possibilities:

      – People who are drawn to sociology tend not to be conservative (selection);
      – People who are drawn to advanced academic study (as opposed to military or business careers) tend not to be conservative (identity/selection);
      – People who study sociology become less conservative through that study (intellectual growth);
      – People who are smart study sociology, and people who are smart tend not to be conservative (confounding variable);
      – Conservative people who begin to study sociology leave the field because of (real or perceived) hostility to their values;
      – Intellectually successful conservative people are forced out through discrimination.

      IMHO 1-4 are more plausible than 5 and 6.


      1. First, this is a nice summary by Andrew.

        But, I also want to point out that this study should not necessarily be taken as a strong indicator of the population parameters for political values in any specific discipline or subdiscipline. If we could believe this social psychology number (or any of them in the study) a more interesting question is why political or cultural values vary across disciplinary fields. Is social psych more attractive to people who believe in social influences on choices? And, then the disciplinary socialization issue is also key, and would require longitudinal data to assess.


      2. andrew,

        I think this is basically a useful framework though perhaps with a few modifications.

        First, I wouldn’t phrase it in terms of which ones are plausible but how much variance explained each contributes since some of them probably have some explanatory power but are dwarfed by others. (My hunch is that #1 explains at least half of what’s going on).

        Second, the issues are not cleanly separable as there can be feedbacks between them. For instance, issue #1 (selection) is partly informed by issues like interest in social problems but also the social sciences having a (deserved or undeserved) reputation for #5 and #6. Similarly what you’re calling “intellectual growth” could be a result of actual learning (for instance, with research on racism) or it could be mere assimilation and this is a function of the current ideological proportions.

        Third, I think #5 and #6 are a lot more important than you’re giving them credit for, especially when you factor in the second-order effects, (but also a lot less important than many conservatives tend to think). A friend of mine with a very strong record (1 top-tier pub, half a dozen second-tier pubs, a book from a major academic press, some large grants) was voted down by his/her department despite having the strongest record of any recent tenure case because his/her colleagues disliked his/her conservative political views and the related political cast of his/her research findings. This was so blatant that the provost reversed the decision and granted tenure anyway. I apologize for not giving more details on this, but this friend has not discussed the incident publicly and I want to respect that. (I should also add that I am well aware that tenure cases are often messy for reasons that don’t involve politics in any normal sense and also that I know people who have been harassed by Republican politicians).


  13. – People who study sociology become less conservative through that study (intellectual growth);
    – People who are smart study sociology, and people who are smart tend not to be conservative (confounding variable);

    You honestly think these two are more “plausible” than the others? This has veered into the absurd.


    1. Can you explain why you think these absurd? I do in fact think they are perfectly reasonable, plausible approaches. The first is about learning, and it is eminently plausible that learning how social systems work may alter one’s political preferences for these systems. The second may well explain the fact that less-ideological disciplines (yes, even economics) have far more liberals in them than do nonacademic fields.


  14. Josh M

    — First of all, Muslim equivalent to conservative? What? Category error. Communist I’ll grant you. And I’ll just make the point I made. When that guy then becomes President of the organization, I’ll take that as some evidence that it did not significantly impede his ability to win respect for his work in his profession. One can perhaps make a case that it’s hard to be a conservative in the ASA — but JC, on balance, is evidence against you, not for you. Who cares if he had enemies. It’s not material to the point.

    — Secondly: you brought in EOW’s presidency as a datapoint to talk about how unwelcoming a place the ASA is for conservatives right after bringing up JC — president 1992 — as evidence of bias against them. Goose and gander.


    1. Ah yes, just like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Obama presidency means racism isn’t a problem anymore, right? Oh what a simple world we live in! Really, you’re starting to sound just as naive as some of the white people I know.


      1. You’re the one who offered a presidency (EOW/MB) as evidence of the dangers of partisan mob rule for those opposed. If an ASA presidency is evidence in that direction once, it’s evidence in that direction twice. Give me a direction. I’ll run with it.

        Like I said, there are plenty of arguments to be made that there might be unfair bias against conservatives. Some of those arguments are even testable. There is extant data we can gather, etc. The case of James Coleman is an impressively wrong-headed bit of evidence for the argument you want to make.

        And again, category error: Black/conservative? What?

        But I’ll bite anyway. If I’m getting into it with Sarah Palin, I’d probably not offer the fact that O is President as evidence that racism is alive and well. I’ve got some better arrows in my quiver.


  15. Josh M – also: “They wouldn’t have even tried in the first place unless they thought they had a good chance of succeeding, right?”

    You have apparently read way too much Coleman/Rat Choice Theory, spent too little time around the left, or both.


  16. Since I seem to have started this with taking offense at the original post (not with Jeremy, but with what he quoted and with the underlying article, which I also read before writing), I should say that:

    (1) I stand by my negative reaction to flip lines like “quick to claim discrimination” which I feel pursue an overt political agenda that I feel honor-bound to oppose. Nothing in the linked-to article gives me any basis for changing that opinion.

    (2) The discussion/debate about whether ideologically or theoretically marginalized positions get pushed out of the discipline is useful and instructive. It seems entirely plausible to me that tenure committees sometimes make decisions that are influenced by people’s ideological or other tastes for the work. I think I’ve seen this happen in a variety of cases. But I’ve seen it hurt racial minorities and various stripes of leftists. It often hurts people who do qualitative work in some departments, and it can hurt mathematical sociologists in others. I’m not denying that it can also happen to conservatives — it seems likely that it does — but I am denying that it happens only to conservatives. There is a lot of social psychological and sociological theory that would explain why this happens. And I think it is a useful discussion to have.

    If folks can just refrain from comparing the situation to slavery or rape and suchlike, we might even be able to be constructive about it.

    There seem to be two balls in play. One is a rehash of the politics of the mid-1970s and the anti-Coleman campaign. I was just finishing grad school then and, honestly, don’t have any first-hand memories of the event, although I attended ASA meetings those years, so I have nothing useful to say on the subject, except that it is my impression that the pro-Coleman wagon-circling was a lot stronger at the time as well as after than the anti-Coleman folks, whatever their exact agenda was. I gather one line of argument is that the ASA was permanently scarred by the event and/or that what happened 35 years ago is emblematic of the permanent character of sociology as a profession.

    The other ball, which seems to me to be the more interesting one to pursue, is about “ideological” effects on how research is evaluated and (thus) on people’s career success. My hypothesis is that it is a real issue and that the character of this effect varies between departments/institutions. As noted above, I find it entirely plausible that conservatives are sometimes discriminated against in this way, but have personally seen what I considered to be examples of intellectual discrimination along other axes, and hypothesize that (on average) conservatives are no more discriminated against than other subgroups in the discipline.

    What complicates the problem is that these “ideological” effects are almost always confounded with methodological disputes and strong claims about policy implications that (in many instances) seem to outstrip the data.


  17. OW: “If folks can just refrain from comparing the situation to slavery or rape and suchlike, we might even be able to be constructive about it.” Good idea. I assume this is a note to self? (do a search of the comments and see where the word “slavery” shows up. (This is the first mention of the word “rape”)


      1. OW: Here is the situation. You are involved in a debate. By making a call of “if folks can just refrain from [action x], we might even be able to be constructive about it” you are implying that it is the other side of the debate that has committed the action that you are calling into question. But then it turns out that in fact *if anyone* committed this action, it was you. You excuse this by saying “it [the call?] was ‘flip’ remark– and hey, who can be faulted for that? But: (a) the reader can judge for themselves (I know what your judgment will be) whether you would be willing to extend the same patience for flip remarks to people like Haidt (or to me); and (b) even if it was flip, why make a call for people to refrain from such actions without clarifying that no one had actually taken such an action– especially when the implication of your call is that it was the other side who made it. You can hardly blame me for wanting to correct the record (or for my annoyance with your implied accusation).


  18. Interesting (if a bit heated) debate.
    I have 2 minor comments to make about (a) why the skew?;(b) so what the skew?
    (a) Why the skew? Let’s bracket the “we’re smarter than conservatives” kind of argument. Economics requires a lot of “smarts” and it has a lot of conservatives. The number 1 reason is certainly some sort of selection, which probably fed on itself as the discipline got more and more leftish. (There used to be more conservatives in sociology, back in the ’50s, for example.) But does some sort of subtle, perhaps unconscious discrimination ever happen? Sure, it probably happens occasionally, even if it doesn’t explain much of the variance.
    (b) So what? Whatever the reason, we do need to wonder if sociology is being handicapped by the extent of the leftish skew. Much of the rationale for diversity is the claim that ethnic, racial, gender diversities bring in new, different perspectives. Well, what would bring in more diversity of perspective than more conservative views? At minimum, we’d be pushed a bit to justify our conventional views. Does that mean affirmative action for conservatives? I dunno.


  19. Hi Ezra,

    The reader can decide for themselves whether Haidt’s provocation can be described as “Bravely Suggesting in Today’s America that Republicans are the Negros of Academia.”

    To be honest, I think this is just what it is. At least as presented in Tierney’s lazy article, it’s a completely conventional example of its type.

    I think it’s useful to consider the possibility that there is discrimination against conservatives even while remembering that such discrimination– if it exists– cannot be compared to the torturous, murderous discrimination that other groups have faced. And I don’t read Haidt as suggesting that.

    Of course it’s worth thinking about and trying to explain. Seeing as Haidt is in a position to stand up in front of about a thousand social psychologists, muse about the possibility, and get written up in the Times, I’m not fearful that a time is coming when the problems of American Conservatives aren’t going to get enough air time. Developing actual theory and data isn’t so easy, but some people are trying.

    if you agree with OW that Haidt’s provocation was about deliberately and provocatively setting up false equivalences, what do you think of OW’s use of the word “repression” to refer to US “crime control”? How is that similar or different from what you and she accuse Haidt of doing?

    Jon Elster says somewhere that the first law of pseudoscience is that everything is a bit like everything else. The social sciences are chock full of “x as y” type arguments (see my CV for some examples). So, markets as politics, interaction as performance, children as a commodity, the family as a sort of firm, the prison system as a labor market institution, and so on. There’s no sense in ruling this heuristic out of order ex ante, because sometimes the equivalence is illuminating, or even the best available explanation, all things considered. “Crime control as repression” is likely to get up people’s noses, and not just those of police officers — on OW’s own testimony, this is in fact what happens. If she’s going to keep insisting on the point, then I’d expect at least some decent research to back up the characterization, and perhaps some qualifications about just what sort of repression it is as compared to, say, political repression or whatever. Her own remarks suggest this is what she tries to do, and she routinely has to argue the point as people resist or rebut it.

    Is it worth it? Is it wrong in some sense? That’ll surely depend on who the target of the rhetoric is, how serious the issue being highlighted is, how well-defended the case seems on closer inspection, and what is being borrowed for the purposes of comparison. These are judgment calls and (in different measures) the meat and potatoes of both scholarly and political argument. Maybe she’d should tone it down and argue “Crime Control as Compulsory Order”, but perhaps then no-one would pay attention. Maybe she should ratchet it up and say “Crime Control as American Fascism”, but perhaps then no-one would take her seriously. Maybe she believes that the evidence of her own research fully justifies the label she’s chosen, and that’s reason enough to use it. You have to argue it out case-by-case. I wouldn’t have thought you could really sell the idea of “Prison is a Labor Market Institution” until I read Bruce Western’s work and he convinced me of it. I think it’s prime facie ridiculous to treat children as kind of family-produced partically-consumable commodity, but Gary Becker has gotten a lot of mileage out of it over the years—with plenty of épater-ing of la bourgeoisie to go along with the serious parts.

    Some comparison classes have a lot more punch than others, and most people know it. There’s an old episode of Sports Center where one of the (white) characters suffers a small workplace injustice, stands up in response, and succeeds in rectifying it. Then, flush with his righteous success, he compares himself to Rosa Parks. Later, an older black guy on the staff pulls him aside and politely tells him not to do that again. The message is, “Well-off, successful White Guys like you don’t get to compare themselves to Rosa Freaking Parks, and if you have to ask why you don’t understand anything about America”. I agree with a lot of what you and Jeremy have said in this thread about ideological diversity and its connection to the intellectual health of sociology. We’ve all been at some ASA panel where we’ve squirmed at some of the cant coming out of people’s mouths. (It’s not like we’re alone in that, except maybe for the squirming — “Can social scientists open up to outsiders’ ideas?” Tierney asks. I dunno, John. Try asking an Economist.) And believe me, I know how much fun it is to annoy a room full of self-satisfied, tenured-liberal professors. But someone like Haidt is just not getting any sympathy from me for taking a standard move from the playbook and implicitly comparing the plight of Conservatives in Academia with the goddamn Civil Rights Movement.


    1. I have hesitate to get more involved. However, I cannot sit by while Kieran refers to that show as “Sports Center.” The exchange, from “Sports Night,” was:

      Isaac: Danny?
      Dan Rydell: Yeah?
      Isaac: You know I love you, don’t you?
      Dan Rydell: Yeah.
      Isaac: And because I love you I can say this: no rich young white guy has ever gotten anywhere with me comparing himself to Rosa Parks. Got it?
      Dan Rydell: Yes sir.
      Isaac: Good.


  20. Thanks Kieran. Very reasonable and thoughtful (in short, one man’s “false equivalence” is another woman’s “productive but limited– mutatis mutandis– analogy”). That was essentially my point in bringing up the analogy (!!) of OW invoking the term “repression.” Otherwise, I still respectfully disagree that he was doing what you describe in your last line. Also, note that what set me off was not my appreciation for what Haidt but the reaction it got from a couple of my fellow sociologists. (And now that I see that Tierney is the author, hardly surprising that Haidt got publicity for this. We should all take whatever Tierney reports on such an issue with a dollop of salt)


  21. I think there’s something odd about this. Anecdotally, I decided to go into academia in part because I felt that as a progressive (and actually, when making the decision at 21 as a fairly radical leftist), academia was a place I could belong. In my view, conservatives dominated other spaces I might enter. They dominated business and the law.

    I agree with others that the accounts here are sloppy. But I also think it’s important to note that some of liberal academics enter academia in part because of the conservative domination of other areas of social life. And it’s hard for the pangs of oppression and discrimination to be felt very deeply, given that academia is a relatively powerless arena of social life compared to those that the conservatives control.

    Or, put differently, to ask, “why no conservatives in academia” seems to ask, “why so many liberals” and the answer might require that we look beyond the academy. My claim here is not that liberals are more oppressed than conservatives, because they are given power over a relatively small and inconsequential piece of American life. Instead it’s that this question is so poorly specified as to make the debate seem rather fruitless to me.


    1. Still another (and more general) way to put it is this:
      We have a general phenomena of ideological sorting amongst different types of elites. This sorting involves both push (I wouldn’t feel comfortable and may not be treated fairly amongst people I disagree with) and pull (I would feel comfortable amongst people I agree with).


  22. I’m not sure how familiar the Scatterplot readership is with Jonathan Haidt, so it may be worth adding a little context that the Tierney piece failed to deliver.

    Haidt’s research has demonstrated that conservatives express a more robust set of what he sees as the five innate moral values than liberals do. Liberals care about “harm” and “fairness”, less so about “authority”, “in-group”, and “purity”. Conservatives care more equally about all five values, but still value “harm” above all others, like liberals. A link to the table is here:

    I deduce from this that Haidt believes that students who are taught overwhelming by liberals are therefore receiving an education that is less in-tune with an innate moral mind than if they were taught either by conservatives or some kind of a post-partisan person who was more explicit about the innate moral values themselves, rather than the political symbols of those values. I don’t profess to agree with any of this at all, but thought it may be worth putting it out there as a point of information. I don’t think Haidt was trying to be provocative for the sake of it.

    I suspect that all of the attendees at the meeting were aware of Haidt’s work in moral psychology before the talk. (See the TED talk I linked to earlier.)Haidt was one of three featured speakers, all of whom were directed to speculate on the future direction of social psychology. The title of Haidt’s talk – “The Bright Future of Post Partisan Social Psychology” – would have been a dead giveaway to its content and conclusion.

    BTW, the SPSP keynote was delivered by Malcolm Gladwell. It was titled “The magical year 1975: Modern wealth and the social relation paradigm”. Too bad it wasn’t one of these:


  23. Back to Claude Fischer’s second point (@19 – I know, I’m late to the party). The other reasons for affirmative action on race and gender might also apply: keeping us on our toes (as Claude said); widening our knowledge (and not just of things academic); providing students, especially conservative (or con-curious) students, with a sense of inclusion; showing we really mean what we say about openness, academic freedom, diversity, and other good stuff.

    The irony on our side is obvious. The irony on the other side hasn’t gotten much mention. Aren’t the people over there the ones who defend employers right to hire – and fire – whoever they wish and for whatever reason or no reason? Surely, they would not want some organization or (God forbid) the government dictating hiring policy to employers. But given the scarcity of conservatives, the solution wouldn’t have to be some form of affirmative action?

    Would I like to be in a department with a several of Haidtian? Or several? I don’t know. Their more “robust” morality (eischwartz @24) includes values like loyalty, authority, and purity, and I once referred to it as “Mafia morality” (but only because I was trying my damnedest to avoid Godwin’s law). But in the interests of diversity, I’d willingly agree that we could all can the trash talk and civility reign.


  24. Really? Before naming my department left wing or right wing I would name it apolitical. Where is this ostensible need for political diversity coming from? Where is the political bent of departments getting expressed, exactly? In their voting patterns?


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