Friday, 13 May 2016

Academic bias against conservative ideas is bad for society


And it's not just because conservative-minded folk have got better things to do than be sociology professors. There's a real bias against conservatism:

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.

O.K., that’s a little harsh. But consider George Yancey, a sociologist who is black and evangelical.

“Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black,” he told me. “But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close.”

The heart of the problem is that, in a business entirely dominated by a left-wing - "progressive" - mindset, there is an inherent bias against any conservative outlook and especially a socially conservative outlook. As the article I quote above makes clear this is rationalised by those progressive academics belief in the wrongness of conservatism - “Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,” as we're told by one academic.

This ignorant outlook - and that is the only way to describe such a viewpoint - presents a huge problem by presenting students studying humanities, social sciences and arts subject with an ideologically one-eyed perspective. The result is a cohort of graduates who are unable to grasp that social conservatism is not simply gay-bashing, racism and making women clean behind the fridge. So when these students meet people who make choices to behave in a socially-conservative way they are bemused and muddled.

Just as importantly, the left wing domination of universities means that there is no real political discourse within academia, no argument and little challenge to the orthodoxies of socialism. The presentation of conservative, classical liberal or libertarian approaches to the study of society is done in the manner of a freak show - "here we have some people who are very strange and think some odd things, aren't they funny and don't we know better."

Even worse, the academics presenting a bias outlook simply don't consider that they are biased or ideological. Here's macroeconomist, Simon Wren-Lewis:

I think I’m like the majority of people in not having any fixed ideological position about whether the state should be large or small. The state is clearly good at doing some things, and bad at doing others. In between there is a large and diverse set of activities which may or may not be better achieved through state direction or control, and they really need to be looked at item by item on their merits.

What Wren-Lewis failed to spot was that his criticism of 'small state people' was entirely ideological - he is completely blind to this since he cannot encompass the idea that there is any intellectual credibility to conservative or liberal ideas. It is this bias that damages our intellectual discourse, leads to research that seeks out evidence to reinforce ideology, and results in lazy peer-review and junk science.

Our understanding of society is contested but much of academia seems unable to allow that contest to take place. It is pretty near impossible for someone writing from a right-of-centre perspective to get published in leading journals, unless they already have a secure position. It is equally impossible for that right-of-centre writer to secure the academic positions necessary to allow their view to be even considered worthy of examination or publication.

I don't see this as a threat to conservatism - most people discover conservative ideas when they get their first paycheck and see how much money the government has taken, when their children arrive at school to be faced with sand play and cuddles rather than reading, writing and arithmetic, or when they arrive home to face broken glass and gaps where electrical goods used to sit. Socialism may be lovely when we're young and want to change the world but life's realities are unremittingly conservative. It's a big shame that the people studying our lives seem not to think this.

The result is that a combination of bias, ignorance and ideological prescription results in policy proposals and strategies that miss entirely the real lived experience of the ordinary people those policies are aimed at. The 'experts' drawing up policies are unable to see that things such as personal responsibility and choice might be worth considering before we get to regulations, bans, taxes, controls and the creation of new agencies to 'address' whatever the latest problem might be. And those experts might like to forget the psychology of Heinz Kiosk and remember that we aren't all guilty.


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