This Just In: Social Psychologists Lean Hard Left

Inside Higher Ed reports today on a new study that finds—big surprise—academic social psychologists overwhelming lean to the Left.  But just as mainstream media journalists always assure us that their political leanings don’t affect their coverage of the news, liberal academics say their opinions don’t lead to discrimination in the classroom or, more crucially, in hiring and publishing decisions.  The new study, however, calls into question these ritual claims of objectivity or fairness:

Just over 37 percent of those surveyed said that, given equally qualified candidates for a job, they would support the hiring of a liberal candidate over a conservative candidate. Smaller percentages agreed that a “conservative perspective” would negatively influence their odds of supporting a paper for inclusion in a journal or a proposal for a grant. . .  The more liberal the survey respondents identified as being, the more likely they were to say that they would discriminate. . .

“The questions were pretty blatant. We didn’t expect people would give those answers,” said Yoel Inbar, a co-author, who is a visiting assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and an assistant professor of social psychology at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands.

He said that the findings should concern academics. Of the bias he and a co-author found, he said, “I don’t think it’s O.K.” . . .

If you are wondering about the political leanings of the social psychologists who conducted the study, they are on the left. Inbar said he describes himself as “a pretty doctrinaire liberal,” who volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 and who votes Democrat. His co-author, Joris Lammers of Tilburg, is to Inbar’s left, he said.

I’ll leave for a separate discussion some other day the reasons why social psychologists may be, as a sub-discipline in the social sciences, further to the left than most academics. In the meantime, don’t forget to add Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind to your reading list.  He’s perhaps the one and only social psychologist who gets it, as the Inside Higher Ed article explains:

At the 2011 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia polled the audience of some 1,000 in a convention center ballroom to ask how many were liberals (the vast majority of hands went up), how many were centrists or libertarians (he counted a couple dozen or so), and how many were conservatives (three hands went up). In his talk, he said that the conference reflected “a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” in a country where 40 percent of Americans are conservative and only 20 percent are liberal. He said he worried about the discipline becoming a “tribal-moral community” in ways that hurt the field’s credibility.

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