Friday, February 11, 2011

A Possible Scientific Explanation for Anti-Christian Witch Hunts

A story in the New York Times (!) describes the liberal (actually leftist) bias which exists in the contemporary university in a story entitled: "Social Scientist Sees Bias Within."

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.”

Read the rest here.

I propose that here we have a perfectly scientific, empirical explanation of why the staff of CAUT could go on a McCarthy-style witch hunt against small, Christian universities and not feel that it was being biased or illiberal. A significant blind spot obviously exists (to put it with the utmost in charity) in such a group when it thinks that stamping out diversity of opinion is the way to protect academic freedom or when it gratuitously conflates religiosity with narrow-mindedness. The problem is "leftist group think."

The fact that the Society of Personality and Social Psychology is so in-grown is no accident. It is the result of systematic bias and discrimination. But it would be utterly irresponsible to assume that this one particular learned society is somehow an aberration or unique. I propose that similar studies of other disciplinary bodies would yield similar results. I invite anyone who disputes that claim to test it empirically and let me know the results, which I would be happy to publish here on this blog.

So, the problem is group think, which is caused by systematically excluding certain views from the academy. The most obvious solution is not Professor Heidt's call for affirmative action, but rather simply academic freedom for religiously-inspired universities which spring up from the grass roots. What is needed is openness to civil society and less, rather than more, social engineering from above.

The lesson to be learned from all of this for the CAUT is that if they are reallly serious about increasing academic freedom and encouraging diversity, they have no better allies in the cause than small, Christian universities and their unique perspective on old debates.

HT to Al Mohler's blog, where I found the link to this story.

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