I posted this comment in reply to Andrew Gelman's post on his website. Neil Gross and Gelman have submitted a Comment to our upcoming BBS paper. I'll have a lot more to say about our paper in the coming months, especially when it's officially published:
Thanks for your Comment. A few thoughts:
1) We don’t see political or intellectual diversity as a portable, acontextual value to be shopped around for application to any field. This is not about simply taking fields that are politically homogeneous and making them better through political heterogeneity.
Rather, it’s about social science. Political homogeneity is a threat to the validity of social science because modern political ideologies and philosophies carry with them all sorts of assumptions and tenets regarding human nature, free will, the force of social contexts, the force of innate differences, the validity and accuracy of stereotyping, and so forth.
More deeply and broadly, modern scholars might have any number of assumptions about what counts as ethical behavior, or what counts as rational behavior (e.g. Lord, Ross, and Lepper (1978 or so) assuming that people should change their positions on capital punishment simply because they were given purported data on its deterrent effects by someone in a lab coat, completely missing the fact that such views are heavily driven by principles of justice and deontological concerns.) This can be a problem if they tend to have the same assumptions, the same philosophy.
An apolitical example is how we’ve somehow gotten away with measuring a purported personality trait of “openness to experience” by asking people to certify that they are “sophisticated in the arts” and “like to play with ideas.” This is an obvious and profound cultural bias. The field is dominated by white urban liberals, and not surprisingly the field has defined “openness to experience” as one’s congruence with white urban liberal tastes.
A credible and valid social science is extremely unlikely to arise from such a narrow cultural firmament. It would be miraculous if white urban liberals were able to expunge themselves of all their cultural and political biases in the conduct of their research. It would require remarkable training, training which does not exist, and may not be theoretically feasible.
In the paper, we gave a few examples of politically biased research (different from above.) I’m curious if you agree with those as examples of bias (e.g. treating environmentalist tenets, analogies, and prophecies as “realities” and calling it denial of reality if participants disagree with them, which is to say, if they disagree with environmentalist ideology. There, researchers conflated ideological tenets and values for descriptive reality, which is a radical deterioration of social science.)
2. The evidence you’ve requested – showing that greater intellectual diversity in other social sciences pays off on the outcome variables of interest – is not possible as far as I know. There are very few social sciences (six?). They’re all dominated by urban white liberals. There isn’t enough variance to detect an effect, and any such effect would require a decades-long induction of some kind. It would require the entry of large numbers of non-leftist researchers, be they conservative, libertarian, or some other heterodox perspectives (or even lots of apolitical people, but such people would be less effective at detecting left-wing bias than libertarians, conservatives, et al.) Without the entry of large numbers of non-leftists, your test would be impossible (and also, people from rural backgrounds and blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans – we’ve made essentially no progress on diversity on those fronts either.) But the entry of large numbers of fresh minds is exactly what we are proposing, so your preferred evidence logically requires your adoption of our proposals, yes?
(Economics is not as dominated by leftists as the other social sciences, but I still think there are structural leftist biases even there. Their strange brand of utilitarianism, their social welfare functions which they routinely seek to maximize by the massive use of state coercion to control and manipulate individuals, take their money, outlaw their preferences, etc. is deeply, deeply statist, almost psychopathic in how cavalier they are about using the coercive machinery of the state. Their core assumption that anyone’s “welfare” can be deduced and managed by distant strangers, by anointed economists and state agents, is quite radical and its ambition is not matched by its empirical support or coherence. We may come to find that economists are biased toward a central government role in economic life simply because it gives economists more to do, more power, more recognition, more stature…)
3. Doubling back to point 1, we didn’t talk about the military because we’re not in the military — we’re social psychologists focused on a problem and opportunity we see in our field. Perhaps the military would benefit from more intellectual diversity. They’re certainly extremely inefficient and are sometimes plagued by terrible leadership (see the Beirut Marine barracks bombing and their rules of engagement, and Mogadishu and the quality of the Army’s officers’ decisions in that debacle. The military seems to suffer from profoundly unintelligent decisionmaking at times. I don’t know if political diversity is the answer there, but some other kind of intellectual diversity might be. Some of their issues might be the general problems of large organizations, especially non-market organizations (I consulted at a nuclear power plant last year, and electric utilities have some of the same monopoly, non-market dynamics that breed complacency and bad decisions.)
Journalism has a well-documented leftist bias, which is to be expected given their demographic political homogeneity. I think some of the things we’re saying about social psychology could fruitfully apply to journalism.