Nicholas Kristof is very worried about discrimination in academia … against conservatives…. (More)

“So long as they aren’t conservatives”

In his New York Times column on Saturday, Kristof warned that progressives in academia are very intolerant of conservatives:

We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table – er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

Framing that in terms of “diversity” is a clever bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand, and to reinforce it Kristof immediately dismisses the obvious rebuttal:

I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.

“Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,” said Carmi.

“The truth has a liberal slant,” wrote Michelle.

“Why stop there?” asked Steven. “How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?”

To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance – the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

Okay then.

“An ‘ideologically incestuous community,’”

Kristof cites a column from free-market fundamentalist Arthur Brooks, who argued that academia’s lack of “diversity” undermines scholarship:

Scholarly studies have piled up showing that race and gender diversity in the workplace can increase creative thinking and improve performance. Meanwhile, excessive homogeneity can lead to stagnation and poor problem-solving.
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The researchers found evidence of discrimination and hostility within academia toward conservative researchers and their viewpoints. In one survey cited, 79 percent of social psychologists admitted they would be less likely to support hiring a conservative colleague than a liberal scholar with equivalent qualifications.

This has consequences well beyond fairness. It damages accuracy and quality. As the authors write, “Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking.”

One of the study’s authors, Philip E. Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania, put it to me more bluntly. Expecting trustworthy results on politically charged topics from an “ideologically incestuous community,” he explained, is “downright delusional.”

In other words, universities discriminate against conservative scholars, and that explains why the academic consensus of climate science and biology and even economics is ‘biased’ toward liberalism. Or maybe, just maybe …

“The emergence of the new right”

… the problem is that, as a 2012 analysis by University of North Carolina sociologist Gordon Gauchat found, modern conservatism is biased against scientific rigor and empirical evidence:

To summarize, [Chris] Mooney proposes that in the first two decades after World War II, political parties and ideologies were largely neutral and even deferential toward the scientific community. According to this account, the political neutrality of science began to unravel in the 1970s with the emergence of the new right (NR) – a group skeptical of organized science and the intellectual establishment in colleges and universities[.] The NR is often closely aligned with the religious right and promotes limited government, strong national defense, and protection of traditional values against what they view as encroachments of a permissive and often chaotic modern society[.]
[…]
To summarize the findings, changes in confidence in science are not uniform across all groups. Moreover, conservatives clearly experienced group-specific declines in trust in science over the period. These declines appear to be long-term rather than abrupt. These results provide strong evidence for a key claim of the politicization thesis.

No, we don’t need “diversity” between climate change professors who teach the evidence amassed by the hundreds of scientists who participate in IPCC working groups … and industry-funded crackpots who believe climate change is a hoax.

No, we don’t need “diversity” between the 98% of scientists who accept the evidence on evolution and religious fundamentalists who cherry-pick the evidence to ‘prove’ evolution is a fraud.

And no, we don’t need “diversity” between the majorities of economists who support anti-discrimination laws, environmental and workplace safety regulations, and public schooling and the 2.7% of economists who believe unregulated markets will fully address every public interest.

This isn’t about “discrimination.” It’s about scientific rigor and a commitment to empirical evidence. Universities exist to promote education and research … not to provide fact-free forums where any opinion – no matter how bigoted and/or divorced from evidence – is treated as having equal value, all in the name of “diversity” and “tolerance.”

Kristof should know that.

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Photo Credit: Monika Flueckiger (World Economic Forum)

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Good day and good nuts