How to Encourage Non-Liberal Students in Psychology
The real reasons why there are so few conservatives in psychology
Posted Feb 23, 2015
Over the last few years, I have been arguing that left-wing political biases seriously distort social psychology and other social sciences. I have argued that this is both a cause and consequence of both the dramatic disproportion of liberals in social psychology (and elsewhere). I have presented a ton of evidence, both scientific and personal experience, that my liberal colleagues have created a hostile environment for conservatives and advocate outright discrimination against conservatives. These sorts of prejudices, I have argued, are damaging to the careers of non-liberals who dare to enter these fields.
Even worse, I argue, is that these processes undermine the validity and credibility of the science. I won’t recap those arguments and evidence here, just look at my last year’s worth of blogs on this topic.
One form of pushback has been that conservatives select out of social sciences. They are, supposedly, not interested. The social sciences are “progressive” and conservatives are “regressive.” Conservatives are “anti-science.”
This is actually delicious. In social psychology, denial of discrimination is one of the most common measures of prejudice! Apparently, however, it never occurs to many of my colleagues that if denial of sex or race discrimination constitutes sexism or racism, then denial of political discrimination probably constitutes political prejudice (double standards and blind spots ride again!).
But let’s get back to non-liberals “not being interested” in social psychology. This is, in part, a chicken and egg problem. Non-liberals undoubtedly do select out of the social sciences. One possible reason is that they have no interest in human relationships, how people perceive each other, political attitudes, public policy, explanations for success and failure, group differences, and inequality.
Anyone with half a brain will now realize how silly such a claim is.
This raises the question, then, “Why do they select out?” If, for example, conservatives (only one of many types of non-liberals) are really uninterested, then, even if social psychologists took proactive steps to ensure a safe environment for conservative students to conduct their work, if they made it clear that conservatives were welcome to the field, if they studied topics that were not thinly-veiled leftwing orthodoxies masquerading as science, then, EVEN THEN, there should be no conservatives entering the field—because, according to this view, they are just “not interested.”
Anyone familiar with the Chicago school of economics knows how silly this argument is (if you are not familiar with it just google it, it pops right up on Wikipedia).
But what about social psychology? I have worked for years, in my small way, to carve out a space that is clearly welcoming to anyone, regardless of their personal politics. Although I have conducted research that validates some liberal narratives (I am one of few social psychologists to have actually conducted empirical studies showing powerful self-fulfilling prophecies and inaccurate stereotypes), I also have conducted research that contests those narratives.
I do not use sneering snarl terms to refer to Republicans or conservatives (even when I disagree with them) or to refer to Democrats or liberals (even when I disagree with them). I have written a slew of papers on how left-wing politics distorts the conduct of social science, and, lo and behold, students who are not liberal find this type of research very, very interesting (and, indeed, so do some who are liberal).
Indeed, over the last 10 years or so, despite all the factors likely to discourage conservatives from entering the field, I have had two honors students who are Republicans (one of whom went on to a Ph.D. in social psychology at an Ivy League university; the other still working with me1). I have had a religious, right of center student who not only completed her Ph.D. with me but has gone on to a terrific research career and to chair her department. My grad students have included a politically inactive liberal (who nonetheless find studying political biases interesting and important) and a libertarian (also studying political biases).
What a shock. If you make it clear that you are providing a safe intellectual environment for non-liberal students, they do not always “self-select out.” At least, all those of you who have made the arguments that “conservatives are not capable or not interested” must be shocked. Competent, capable, motivated, non-liberal students interested in social psychology don’t exist, right?
1 She is working with me on a project testing for biases in the published literatures on two social psychology topics that border on sacred to some of my professional colleagues – the supposed power of unconscious prejudices to produce discrimination and the supposed power of stereotype threat to undermine the achievement of people from stigmatized groups. What a shock – a project that critically examines the science underlying leftwing narratives of oppression is appealing to a right of center student. Shocking, completely shocking.