by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Cristian Rodriguez writes for the Martin Center about a potential problem for the social sciences.
The social sciences have a problem: If their scholars think too much alike, they will be blinded to the flaws and gaps in their research. Rather than explaining how individuals in society act and think, academics can sometimes slip blinders on themselves and the public.
Polling shows broad agreement within some disciplines. For instance, recent data from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s Diversity and Climate Survey revealed that almost 90 percent of their members who took the survey self-identify as liberals—but fewer than 5 percent identify as conservatives. This imbalance seems to affect how welcome conservative academics feel in scientific environments: They report feeling excluded more, they feel less free to express their ideas at SPSP events, and they do not believe that SPSP lives up to its diversity values.
And a study by Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers of Tilburg University in the Netherlands showed that more than a third of the American scholars surveyed would be willing to discriminate against hiring a conservative job candidate, all else being equal.
In theory, the lack of political diversity shouldn’t affect research quality. Western civilization developed scientific methodologies to make sure that knowledge is universal and shareable. If the methods and analyses are adequate, the data openly available, and the conclusions justified, then any qualified investigator could evaluate the merits of a study. Ideally, scientific validity does not depend on the political or moral values of the scientist, but on the reasonability of the research process.
However, personal values and biases can affect researchers in multiple ways. They can affect how scientific ideas are conceived, developed, and tested. One of the biggest effects is in how values determine research questions.