Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Bias among psychologists

Music to my ears:

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”
It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three. 
“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.
“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”


  1. Anonymous8:51 AM

    I'm glad you mentioned this. I was at the SPSP conference, and the talk was quite refreshing. It was also well-received by the liberal audience, though liberals have a history of inviting large groups without considering the consequences for them!

  2. Even if they acknowledge conservative are underrepresented, who is to say conservatives even want to go into the field in the first place? Bias may be present, but it probably doesn't explain the overwhelming presence of liberals in the field.

    Just as fewer women go into the STEM fields, I'd guess that fewer conservatives are interested in social science in the first place.

    You have some evo psych guys like Kanazawa that are conservative, but not too many outside of that area. Coincidentally (or not) some lay people have made theoretical contributions to evo psych who are engineers. Engineers are a comparatively conservative bunch going by Razib's lib/con table.

  3. pzed, you're missing his point. Haidt is arguing that the field is at a disadvantage because its lack of intellectual diversity will tend to produce groupthink and tribal identifications that hinder its goals.


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