Liberal Bias in Social Psychology: Personal Experience III

Hostility and apoplexy

Posted Nov 19, 2013

This blog documents some of the bizarre, insulting, and hostile comments I have received over the years from other, sometimes very accomplished, scholars, when I have had the unmitigated gall to point out:

1. That stereotypes are largely accurate

2. That people rely on stereotypes in a manner largely rational and reasonable

3. Social psychologists routinely discriminate against nonliberal scholars, ideas and scientific conclusions that contest liberal narratives of liberal moral superiority, and liberal narratives of oppression.

so that

4. Sometimes, received wisdom in social psychology is entirely disconnected from the data

(You can find much of this in my book, Social Perception and Social Reality, and some of it in many of my prior blog entries).

Unless otherwise stated, these are exact quotes.  Some are paraphrased from memory, and, when that is the case, I clearly state so.  Here goes:

Susan Fiske's 1998 Handbook chapter.  Referring to a chapter that I had written in 1995 on stereotype accuracy:

"Moreover, they differ from the present review in their conclusions, which do not follow from their premises:[i] If two resumes are otherwise equivalent, it is permissible to use stereotypes associated with group membership as a factor in hiring choice, if group membership has previously predicted success on the job.  (In this they evidently disagree with U.S. civil rights law)."

 This is a whammy.  1. She declares, without justifying, that we have some conclusion (which one? she never tells us) that does not follow from some premise (which one? she never tells us).  2. She refers to "permissibility" -- people in power make decisions about what is permissible, scientists, presumably, study natural phenomena; 3. And she declares our "disagreement with civil rights law" -- and who but a bigot disagrees with civil rights law?  I also note that our chapter (the concluding one in Lee, Jussim, & McCauley (eds), 1995, Stereotype Accuracy) did not even discuss legal issues at all.

Should our articles have titles like ‘Are blacks really stupid’ and ‘Are Jews really cheap’” (reviewer comment circa 1990 on paper declaring, “If social psychologists wish to keep claiming that ‘stereotypes are inaccurate’ it behooves them to actually collect data assessing the accuracy of people’s stereotypes”). 

"You really do not want to be accusing your colleagues of hypocrisy” (paraphrased, received TWICE, 1995, 2012; both times after I characterized social psychological perspectives on stereotypes as more distorted than laypeople’s stereotypes).

“I am glad Lee Jussim lives in a world where all stereotypes are accurate and no one ever relies on them anyway.” (2005, Susan Fiske’s introductory comment at Association for Psychological Science panel).

Nonsense!”  (2005, Lee Ross’s comment at Association for Psychological Science panel after I reviewed data showing that when people rely on an accurate stereotype their person perception judgments are more accurate than if they ignore their stereotype.)

“Extremist!” (2006, comment blurted out by a social psychology faculty member at Rutgers, during my talk titled “The unbearable accuracy of stereotypes”).

I'm not a fan of your efforts to publicly undermine social psychology…” (2013 email from a social psych colleague).

 “[Paraphrased:] I refuse to carry on this correspondence because you have been   [direct quote:] manic and insulting   [paraphrased:]AND I DO NOT agree to allow you to post the entire exchange.” (2011, email from a famous Ivy League social psychologist after:1) s/he emailed me asking, “What evidence do you have for liberal bias in social  psychology?” (paraphrased) 2) I sent a 1200 word response. After realizing I had nothing to hide, I asked if s/he would object to me posting the whole exchange, and this person’s  response is paraphrased above, with certain key words quoted exactly.

I gave a talk at Stanford's Social Psychology program in early November, 2013.  It was controversial stuff, for sure.  Stereotype accuracy, political biases in the field.  Of course, I knew to expect pushback, but that is fine, healthy even. Here is what I did not expect.  After getting a challenging question, I started to respond.  One of their most famous faculty, someone who has expressed concern that the field "eats its own," chimes in and says, "You have had your say, now let others have their say."  It then became a mob-bullying session -- where person after person stood up to dismiss and condemn my various points, while I just stood there.  In hindsight, I should have walked out when she said that, but I was so stunned, so taken aback having never been told, in essence, to "shut up," that I didn't. 

Here are a series of comments, paraphrased from memory, I received during that mobbing session:

In response to my review of the overwhelming evidence that social psychologists discriminate against conservative colleagues and against scientific conclusions that contest liberal narratives and values:"You are saying that discrimination against conservatives in social psych is a more severe problem than bias and discrimination in the wider world." 

In response to my review showing that the "received wisdom" of social psych is that stereotype bias effects are large and that it is very difficult to get people to judge individualson their merits, against the overwhelming meta-analytic evidence showing the exact opposite:that stereotype biases are small, and people judge others primarily on their merits:"Small bias effects are very important.  What you are calling large individuating info effects are not large enough and testify to ongoing injustice." 

In response to my review of the data showing that there has been a long slow reduction to near zero (purge? given the evidence of political discrimination?) in the number of conservatives in psychology:
"The problem is not the disappearance of conservatives, the real problem is the disappearance of Marxists; there is no serious Marxist critique in social psychology as there was 70 years ago." 

In response to my putting up data showing that people's beliefsabout African Americans pretty closely correspond to Census data on things like likelihood of having a high school degree, receiving welfare, being born out of wedlock, etc.:
"Those are are not really on stereotypes, those are beliefs." 

In response to the whole talk:
"Social psychologists should be studying how situations create disadvantage, not whether people are accurate in perceiving groups." 

Two things for the record:

1. I never get this type of bizarre hostility when I give talks on other topics, so it is not me.  Indeed, I do not take any of this personally.  A new and terrific review paper just came out showing that the conventional scholarly wisdom that conservatives are more "intolerant" than liberals is simply wrong -- liberals are just as intolerant.  It is just that conservatives are intolerant of liberal groups and liberals are intolerant of conservative groups (Brandt et al, in press), something that went long undiscovered because most social scientists are liberals and it never occurred to many of them to even study prejudice against conservative groups.

Why is this important?  It helps explain the extraordinary hostility my talks evoke on topics that contest liberal superiority and narratives of oppression.

2. I have learned over the years, mostly from viewing other people's talks, that when an audience

member reacts with this sort of visceral defensive hostility, the speaker is usually right, or, at least on to something.  This does not mean my claims are necessarily correct and I recognize that pointing this out is a bit self-serving.  I am certainly not right because the audience gets hostile.  But, usually, such hostility has, in the past with other speakers, meant the other speaker was pretty much on target.

References

Brandt, M.J., Reyna, C., Chambers, J.R., Crawford, J.T., Wetherell, G. (In press).  The ideological-conflict hypothesis: Intolerance among both liberals and conservatives.  Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Jussim, L. (2012).  Social perception and social reality: Why accuracy dominates bias and self-fulfilling prophecy.  New York: Oxford University Press.