Education

To Be Scholars or Ideologues — That Is the Question

Numerous academic fields have become infected with groupthink — ideological conformity that prevents professors from viewing the world objectively. Some years ago, one professor (I can’t recall his name or academic association now), called out for his teaching, replied, “I revel in my biases.” Sadly, our educational system is chock full of people who think their mission is to advance their personal beliefs.

The good news is that at least a few academics have realized that it is a bad thing for their field to be overrun by ideology. Two social psychologists have recently edited a book about this problem and in this Martin Center article, I discuss their work.

The book is The Politics of Social Psychology, and the editors are Jarrett Crawford (College of New Jersey) and Lee Jussim (Rutgers). Here’s the big question they ask: “What happens when the tools of the scientific method are used, intentionally or not, to advance and confirm one’s political beliefs and values rather than to discover truth? What happens when one’s scientific hypotheses are enmeshed with one’s outlook on life, society, and politics?” The answer is that progress in discovering truth slows or stops.

Contributors to the volume give plenty of examples. Consider the way the idea that nearly all Americans act on the basis of “implicit bias.” Once a pair of psychologists announced that their test for implicit bias proved that more than 90 percent of us are affected by it, the concept rapidly gained acceptance — but it did so not because the evidence was overwhelming (in fact it’s remarkably flimsy) but because it fit so nicely with “progressive” notions about what is wrong with our society. The implicit-bias hypothesis was not met with much skepticism in academic ranks. It has spread like wildfire (James Comey relied on it in explaining police shootings) and a large industry of consultants and trainers who claim to combat all this bias has sprung up.

Also, in labor economics, the ideological grip of left-feminism keeps research from exploring the possibility that natural differences between men and women account for much if not all of the disparities we see in labor-market outcomes.

Summing up the problem, the editors write, “In general, our left-leaning colleagues subject politically unpalatable findings to far more skeptical scrutiny than they subject politically palatable findings to.”

They don’t have any quick fix for this problem, which is like a disease that has been worsening for years and years, but suggest that those who want to act like scholars need to take off their ideological blinders.

I applaud Crawford and Jussim for having the guts to put out a book that is sure to get them a lot of hostility from colleagues who’d rather revel in their biases.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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