Political Bias as a Threat to Social Psychology
Intro to new series on how leftwing politics distorts social psychology
Posted May 28, 2014
Saying, “Someone was treated badly” (my first political bias series) is something very different than saying, “Social psychologists often get their own science wrong because leftwing politics pushes scientists to reach conclusions that are unjustified by their own data.” This will be the topic of the second series.
This is my first post in about 3 months. Sorry for my absence! The hiatus, however, was extremely valuable. First, I have been out and about among the World of Social Psychology (literally, because, in addition to basic U.S. talks, I have also spoken at conferences and universities in Australia, Holland, and Germany), giving talks at universities and conferences, almost always focusing on how leftwing political biases distorts the “received wisdom” of social psychological science. Over the last year or so, I have given more talks than I had ever done before, at universities and major conferences, including three foreign countries.
I tell you this not to brag – indeed, giving talks is not really much to brag about in my field. I preach the scientific equivalent of Hellfire and Damnation – essentially telling my own colleagues that:
- They are so dominated by liberals that, if I merely assumed they were ALL liberals, I would make very very few mistakes
- This leftist atmosphere has led to severe distortions in what is sometimes called conventional wisdom, received wisdom, or “settled” (sic) science in social psychology. Put differently, I am telling them that much of what they “know” about social psychology is wrong, that it is wrong because they allow their politics to get in their way, and that advocating the leftwing worldview many take for granted as the mission of science is, in fact, not the solution but the problem! (you can imagine that this is a bit of a hard sell...).
- This is especially true for some of the most cherished findings in social psychology, especially those that are used to support narratives of oppression.
- And this occurs because theoretical and political biases are intertwined and lead to a slew of errors, misinterpretations and misrepresentations of the bulk of the evidence in many subareas of social psychological research.
- I then walk them through specific concrete examples that include naming names.
In the past, when I have given such talks, they have often evoked more than a little hostility from some of my colleagues. However, with Stanford’s Social Psychology program as a notable exception, see
this round of talks has generally been greeted with interest and more than a little support.
Giving so many talks at so many places, I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of social psychology more than any time recently. This striking turnaround in my experience – where hostility seems to have morphed mostly into interest and support -- says something quite good about my field. It suggests to me that many researchers are fed up with many of the dysfunctions of “scientific business as usual” and are open to seeing not only the errors of their ways, but to ideas and practices offering some hope of improving the quality of our science.
I hope that is true, and urge you to keep this in mind if you read my next few posts. They are very critical of the field – but, I hope, constructively so. You may disagree with all or some, and that is fine, indeed, it is healthy. An earnest willingness to listen (or, in this case, read) and consider is all any of us can ask for.