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Political Diversity Will Improve Psychological Science

Our new paper is a clarion call for social psychologists to end political bias

Our article on political diversity has just been published and can be accessed here. It identifies the need for change in social psychology by saying, in essence, “You advocate for diversity and yet you are a political monoculture. Vanishingly few of your members identify with any ideological perspective to the right of American liberal or European social democrats (conservative, libertarian, moderate). You have created a hostile environment for nonliberals. Many of you endorse and justify discriminating against conservatives. The few nonliberals in your midst feel beleaguered by your hostility. Too much of your science is riddled with confirmation biases and distortions that create the appearance, but not the reality, of “scientific support” for the moral and intellectual superiority of liberals, and for liberal values and narratives. It is time that you took proactive steps to make your field less hostile and more inviting to nonliberals, and to upgrade the quality of your science in order to limit the role of political biases in distorting your conclusions.”

Lone voices (Redding, Tetlock) in the wilderness have been raising alarms for decades about the distorted nature of what passes for “science” in the politicized topics of psychology. Those alarms have gone almost entirely unheeded – social psychology in particular has marched on as if the political threats to its credibility and validity simply do not exist. This, of course, makes sense for many reasons. First, for the overwhelming liberal (about 90%, maybe more**) majority of the field, bias against nonliberals 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 anathema. 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 one’s colleagues -- all sorts of processes, e.g., cognitive dissonance, system justification, self-serving promotion of one’s “pet” theory, will conspire to motivate them 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. The BBS article reviews several such examples, including:

1. Claims that people who oppose environmental policies engage in “denial of environmental realities,” despite the utter failure to assess denial of any reality.

2. 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. Of course, one might think that only if one was thinking that the field functions entirely as an objective science. If one keeps in mind the many ways in which political agendas influence and distort the field, one might not be surprised at all that many psychologists try to hush up, dismiss, or ignore such findings.

Stephen Harper
Source: Stephen Harper

3. 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, the article lays out an action agenda for social psychologists – to actively combat professional political discrimination and to take the steps needed to minimize the role of political biases in distorting its scholarship. Some steps would be quite easy – such as having the major social psychological organizations adopt anti-political discrimination policies. 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 ourselves as “scientists” in order to make us feel good about our subjective values and to secure an appearance of objectivity and expertise that primarily serves to advance leftwing politics? Or will we make the changes needed to fulfill the field’s own values and emphases on diversity and on scientific objectivity? The choice should be obvious.

** 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, a grand total of four, that’s right, count ‘em, four, voted for Romney. We also do not presume that all or most of the disproportion results from discrimination; as the article points out, self-selection also contributes to the ideological skew. Regardless, any political discrimination in academia is inappropriate.

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