It is only recently that science academia followed suit and has become far out of the American mainstream politically. As that shift to the left happened, and science policies issues became part of mainstream discourse, concerns rose that academic science was politically or financially motivated rather than being in the public interest.
Does the political party of someone matter when it comes to science?
Probably not, at least to those of us on the sane side of critical thinking, but social authoritarianism does, and it just so happens that academia contains an alarming number of those, and they hold positions of power. If there are two of them on a hiring committee and they think you are not 'like them', you are not getting that job.
And so that may be impacting the quality of the science we get, at least with taxpayer funding. We know there is no disparity in the majority of American science, that done outside Federal government control, but academic science is what the government and academics and increasingly the public regard as 'real' science and that brings with it a mandate to look as non-partisan as possible.
When it comes to looking non-partisan, academia gets a failing grade.
Scientific American blogs recently imploded and the one thing that bloggers consistently noted in their departing columns was a hostile response to any deviation from cultural groupthink mandated by the militants in their ranks. Those wielding the cultural SuperWeapons of Mass Destruction were so imposing that even people on their political side were afraid of retaliation and kept quiet, though they knew the cultural cancer was there.
Imagine what the career prospects of a Republican in academia - or at Scientific American - must look like.
Yet if you want to see dizzying instances of denial, rationalization, false equivalence and insistence that the same stereotype threat and self-selecting bias that left-wing people invoke in every other area of culture don't apply to right-wing people, mention that a conservative will have a hard time getting tenure at a school.
It just isn't happening, they say. That's simply choice.
Perception of bias is not the same thing as bias - except to the minority that feels slighted. In science, though I have often noted the disparities, I have also defended academia from the charges that having a lack of a specific demographic is intentional or even harmful. What has been odd is that so many people insist we are doing shoddy science if a field does not have the proper number of females or ethnicities, but that it makes no difference if others' viewpoints are not included. That requires us to accept that a vagina or a skin color matters in creating good science but that blocking out anyone among the 47% of the public who happened to have voted for Mitt Romney is not holding science back at all.
Why not? Implicitly, or explicitly, it is said because conservatives must be too stupid to do science or they wouldn't be conservatives. And maybe they don't want to go into academia.
John McCumber, a philosophy professor at UCLA, once said what a whole lot of humanities people were thinking (and likely a few in science too), that "a successful career in academia, after all, requires willingness to be critical of yourself and to learn from experience" and conservatives are not capable of that.(1)
An old white male is wise enough not to put 'women' or 'blacks' in that statement, though everyone in the Science 2.0 audience sees how it could easily have been done in the past.
SUNY-Albany's Ron McClamrock put it more bluntly "Lefties are overrepresented in academia because on average, we're just f-ing smarter."
Imagine that. If you don't vote the same way as McClamrock, you are stupid. Yet how could any minority or a woman not wonder how impartial he can be about anyone else 'different' from him, namely someone who is not an old white lefty? If he is surrounded only by old white male liberals, it is easy to claim that only old white male liberals are any good at philosophy - there are almost 3X as many men as women in the SUNY Albany Philosophy department and not a single minority, so if he declares that old left-wing white guys are "just f-ing smarter" than everyone else he is validated by looking around the people on the floor of his building.
Scientists may bristle at that idea, especially the idea that a philosopher thinks they are smarter than anyone else. He is, however, smart enough to not want anyone linking to his quote, since he took that column down and anyone who searches for it now gets:
His hate-mongering is still available in archive sites and I could tell Ron how to remove them but I don't because I only vote for Democrats 66% of the time, and therefore he is already so much smarter than me that he probably doesn't need my help.
The lack of representation is there, but how did it happen?
When I was a young fellow, the difference between liberals and conservatives in academia was a negligible 5 percent. Then by the turn of this century it was 5-1, despite the fact that being a university faculty member was no longer a starvation field, it was a fantastic living. Heck, the 18th highest person in just one department at one public school makes 100 grand, and he was sitting in an Argentinian jail while collecting it.
Somehow we are to believe greedy Republicans no longer want those jobs?
Yet that is exactly we see when people inside academic lack of representation is a choice or that people left out are stupid; blaming the victim when it comes to the politics of exclusion.
There is no denying there is bias in academia, there is just no bias in hiring (just like there is no bias in hiring women) so academia can deny any bias at all. In reality, anyone conservative is chased out long before it is time to get a tenure-track job. Though it is recognizable to anyone with a brain that cat-calling women and putting up posters of half-naked models would discourage women in a lab, there is no thought at all given to the idea that vilifying the intelligence of anyone who did not vote for Obama would create a hostile culture for someone who did not vote for Obama. If anyone speaks up against being stereotyped, they will not get hired because a Principal Investigator does not 'want the drama'.
Has that culture of exclusion harmed science?
I have argued that physics has not been held back if more women go into biology instead. Nor is biology harmed by having fewer men. Math is not harmed if it has more Asian people than black people. Smart people have their own interests and whether or not they go into biology or math makes no difference, just like it makes no difference if they go into academia or not - what matters is that smart people in America do something somewhere that leverages their intelligence.
What is important is that no one is prevented from entering a field - sorry, if walking into a class and not seeing enough people like you makes you decide not go go into math, you were going to fail anyway. Bring on the hate speech for saying the obvious, it is nothing people wouldn't have gotten from Scientific American anyway.
The composition of the class does not matter. Trust me, I went into classes because there were lots of women and I ended up with a psychology degree and that hasn't helped me at all, but it didn't hurt my career.
So I doubt that not having many conservatives or native Americans or handicapped people or anyone else in tenured jobs is making a difference - we have to accept that if one group chose not to get those jobs, they all did. We can't allow bias to be invoked for one group and not another simply because we don't like their stance on the Inheritance Tax.
America has led the world in science output, in Nobel prizes, and leads the world in adult science literacy - all without equal numbers of women or black people or Republicans in science.
If there is bias, is it intentional?
If someone blocks out a person because of a differing viewpoint rather than competence, that is obviously a bad thing. And it happens in every aspect of life but I have never seen any evidence it is happening chronically in science academia, even though the bias is overwhelming.
And I doubt it happens because most science academics are classic liberals - they are as sick of insufferable progressives at universities declaring a culture war over everything as the rest of society is - but like those Scientific American bloggers, they don't want their careers torpedoed by taking a stand for ethics or truth. So they keep quiet.
Should there be a quota?
At one start-up I was at in the 1990s, we applied for various federal science programs but we always had a difficult time filling out the diversity forms. The company was overwhelmingly minorities but it was the wrong minorities - Asians. Not a big surprise in physics. But even though a lot of the Asians were women it didn't count.
So we had to start thinking about discrimination. At a start-up every head counts but we had to wonder if we should forget finding the best candidate and instead hire someone who matched the right demographic. We didn't do it, instead we just stopped trying to do anything with government science funding - the company went on to an IPO and then got bought out for $800 million and neither DARPA nor anyone else gets any of the credit for the technology we built. In the meantime, we watched giant companies get DARP
If lacking diversity in one aspect doesn't matter, how can it make a difference in gender or ethnicity?
This is the problem. If you accept it in one area, but deny it in others, it looks arbitrary. And arbitrary is the kiss of death for credibility, which may one reason why the social sciences have so little credibility.
A paper written by a number of social psychologists, led by self-professed liberal Jonathan Haidt, who calls his one belief Moral Foundations Theory (without realizing just because you use Theory in a proper name does not make it a scientific theory) attacks the lack of political diversity in their field and warns that a lack of fix is going to send their domain farther into irrelevance than fraud and replication scandals have done.
A field with political diversity won't be able to repeatedly and without criticism trot out papers claiming how much more spectacular liberals are. Yes, those are not science, but they get media coverage from journalists who want to believe, which makes them seem to the public like science.
Yet there is no easy fix in sight. When it comes to hiring, "82 percent admitted that they would be at least a little bit prejudiced against a conservative candidate."
Social psychologists may want to believe in Implicit Bias but they steadfastly deny their own overt kind.
Yes, science academia is well out of mainstream thinking with their political skew, but they are not at the edge of the solar system the way psychology is.
(1) KC Johnson, 'Proving the Critics' Case', Inside Higher Ed August 26, 2005
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