Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Who Needs Research (When You Know What the Answer Should Be)?


John’s post today about efforts to block Richard Sanders’ affirmative action research and Travis’s post Tuesday about the unbelievable campaign of fear and intimidation launched against a Professor Michael Bailey, a researcher who dared challenge activist orthodoxy on issues of sexuality should put to rest any notion that the left is somehow uniquely committed to the search for truth and dispassionate scientific inquiry.  Ideological agendas can warp true scientific and sociological research – by preventing questions from being asked, distorting the questions that are asked, and suppressing unfavorable results.  Nobody is immune from this impulse, not conservatives, not liberals, not Christians, not atheists.  One of the most ghastly sights for any true ideologue is the sight of their own sacred cow being butchered right before their eyes. 

If the stories above (and the litany of “Republican war on science” stories cited by the left) don’t argue for intellectual diversity in our important cultural institutions, I don’t know what does.  Intellectual diversity by definition prevents groupthink.  Intellectual diversity prevents any one point of view from dominating research agendas, shaping questions, and suppressing unfavorable answers.  In many ways, true intellectual diversity limits our insatiable quest to dominate the agenda in the same way that our constitutional separation of powers limits our insatiable quest for power.  The constitution doesn’t do away with the will to absolute power, it merely makes that power impossible (or nearly impossible) to achieve.  In the same way, intellectually diverse research institutions would not prevent activists from aspiring to mandate conventional wisdom, it would just make it impossible to enforce that mandate.  There would simply be too many people around ready (and even eager) to figure out a way to slaughter the sacred cow.

As things now stand, we are slowly learning to take almost any academic “research” – particularly research dealing with culturally explosive topics like race, gender, and sexuality – with a rather large grain of salt.  If the price of dissent is – as professor Bailey found – spurious allegations of personal misconduct and even veiled threats against your own children, then it stands to reason that dissent will be discouraged, with truth as the ultimate casualty.


Subscribe to National Review