What Is It With Social Scientists and Conservatives?

There seems to be flurry of efforts right now in the social science and pseudo-social science community (is that a distinction without a difference?—stay tuned till the end of this post) to provide evidence that conservatives are stupid, mentally ill, genetically disfavored, hopelessly irrational, and overweight.  (Okay, I made the last one up, but I’m sure we’ll see a study any day now.)

Start with the study that says drunk people are more conservative: “Do you feel more conservative when you are drinking? If so, that’s because you are ‘cognitively impaired’ according to a new study by psychologist Scott Eidelman at the University of Arkansas.”  Yeah, that’s sure my experience with drunk chicks in bars—they’re always much more conservative and inhibited.  Ditto for frat boys: I know I’ve seen lots of frat boys head out to walk precincts for Rick Santorum after every kegger.

Then there’s this study reported in the Puffington Host, saying conservatives display “low effort” thinking, whatever that is.  Perhaps it means we switch the channel when CNN is on?  That takes low effort from me.  Or this one in Time magazine, claiming conservatives and liberals can’t feel each other’s pain.  I think it was written by Bill Clinton writing under a pseudonym.

Would you trust this man?

Then there’s the survey showing that trust for science among conservatives has plummeted over the last couple of decades.  As Useless News and World Distort US News and World Report puts it “Just 35 percent of conservatives said they had a “great deal of trust in science” in 2010, a 28 percent decline since 1974, when 48 percent of conservatives—about the same percentage as liberals—trusted science.”   See, we told ‘ya conservatives were itching to stage Scopes trials all over again.   One The author of the study, Gordon Gauchat, blames—I’m not making this up—Fox News.  Really.

As Glenn Reynolds pointed out, the reporting on this study ain’t exactly accurate:

Gauchat’s paper was based on annual responses in the General Social Survey, which asks people: “I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?” One institution mentioned was “the scientific community.”

So when fewer people answered “a great deal” and more answered “hardly any” with regard to “the scientific community,” they were demonstrating more skepticism not toward science but toward the people running scientific institutions.

Now why would anybody come to that conclusion?  Maybe the scientific community has allowed itself to become too politicized?  And where would anyone get such an idea?  Maybe from Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin, who wrote in the New York Review of Books in 2004: “Most scientists are, at a minimum, liberals, although it is by no means obvious why this should be so. Despite the fact that all of the molecular biologists of my acquaintance are shareholders in or advisers to biotechnology firms, the chief political controversy in the scientific community seems to be whether it is wise to vote for Ralph Nader this time.”

The scientific establishment might have broader trust if it didn’t make itself an adjunct to the power-grabbing left.  They might want to heed the warning of MIT’s Kerry Emanuel, a global warming believer who, incidentally, came out of the closet as a Republican a couple years back:

Scientists are most effective when they provide sound, impartial advice, but their reputation for impartiality is severely compromised by the shocking lack of political diversity among American academics, who suffer from the kind of group-think that develops in cloistered cultures. Until this profound and well-documented intellectual homogeneity changes, scientists will be suspected of constituting a leftist think tank.

Now, in case you’re wondering—yes, I shall get around to a fulsome evaluation of Jonathan Haidt’s challenging new book, The Righteous Mind, in due course.  I’m going to be commenting on a panel with Haidt on May 11 in Washington. In the meantime, I’ll just direct your attention to a good recent article in the New York Times that comments on the problem of “physics envy” in the social sciences, and how it debilitates social science:

Unfortunately, the belief that every theory must have its empirical support (and vice versa) now constrains the kinds of social science projects that are undertaken, alters the trajectory of academic careers and drives graduate training. Rather than attempt to imitate the hard sciences, social scientists would be better off doing what they do best: thinking deeply about what prompts human beings to behave the way they do.

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