Psychologist Proves System of “Believes” Trumps Actual Science.


This is a rare departure for this website.  This is a genuine New York Times article that I consider interesting and useful.  It is not directly related to climate in any way, but I believe it is very relevant to the issue of Climate Scientists.  I wrote previously about the problem of scientific bias that shows up in climate science.  The problem is real, but proving the issue is a challenge because many simply won’t acknowledge the reality.

One common argument presented to me is that the majority of climate scientists believe global warming is real.  If I say that doesn’t matter, the instant retort is that I must believe that it is a conspiracy and therefore I must be a conspiracy nut.  That approach is boring as it achieves nothing.  This article in the NYT shows that no conspiracy is needed to prevent dissenting views from being spoken or published.  I remain a little shocked that the NYT published an article that so clearly shows the fundamental problem with the academic circles.

I will reprint the entire article below, but I will discuss excerpts of the article and discuss how they relate to the specific topic of climate science.  The article is about psychologists attending a conference in San Antonio, Texas.  One of the main topics at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference was to discuss discrimination.  This is the type of group that comes out with studies attempting to explain why there are fewer women in IT than there are men.  Of course they don’t study why there are fewer male nurses than female nurses.  Such studies only work one way.    The typical study by this group is to show why racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities are the cause of pretty much all the problems associated with these groups.

It was at this conference that Dr. Jonathan Haidt started to ask some interesting questions while presenting to the conference.  His first question was:

Question #1:  How many consider themselves Democrats?  Approximately 80% raised there hands.  (800 of 1,000).

Question #2:  How many consider themselves centrists or libertarian?  Less than 36 people raised their hands.  < 3.6%

Question #3:  How many consider themselves Republicans?  3 people raised their hands.  A grand total of 0.3%

Even if there were more than 3 people out of 1,000 that were Republicans, only 3 were brave enough to raise their hands at this conference to admit in front of their peers that they were Republicans.  A group of people that studies discrimination as their profession was not aware of the horrendous level of inherent discrimination within their own peer group.

“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”

Dr. Haidt then stated (full presentation) that this was a “This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity” within the group.  Since 40% of Americans consider themselves conservative and only 20% consider themselves liberal, such an opposite result is impossible.  After that he discusses issues like “tribal-moral community” and “sacred values.”  The result of such issues is that it becomes difficult to impossible for people to oppose the “sacred values” of the community.

Then he presents several observed examples from his study on what it was like to be a conservative or Republican involved in modern psychology.  He had correspondence from non-liberal graduate students and the feelings they had were comparable to what gay students experienced in the 1980’s.  Jokes were told with the inherent assumption that all the other students were liberal.  The jokes of course were insulting or derogatory to conservatives or Republicans.  Here is an anonymous quote from a closet conservative.

“I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

Dr. Haidt proceeds to discuss the origins of the current situation of how the social sciences became a place where Republicans are typically outnumbered by a factor of 12 to 1.  That is a ratio that is 24x out of whack with the population as a whole.  It is a far worse ratio than women in IT or even worse than male nurses.  It might in fact be the single most inherently biased group that exists.  Only actively discriminatory groups could achieve a greater level of discrimination.

The “sacred believes” play an important part in such groups of people.

“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.” It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.

Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist,” Dr. Haidt said. “Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed. Only in the last few years have liberal sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along.”

Consider the idea that decades of beneficial research were lost that might have provided real solutions to the problems facing the black community, but this did not happen because the problem and the solution violated the “sacred value” of the group.  It was not acceptable to consider the problems of black families because it was seen as criticizing the victims of racism.  How can science be open when dissent is a violation of the groups “sacred-belief.”  This is groupthink in its worst form.  Dr. Haidt provides some more examples of people being ostracized for other violations.

Dr. Haidt challenged the Society for Personality and Social Psychology to commit to treating conservatives in the same manner as other minorities.  That will help pay for trips to the conferences and have a goal to increase conservative membership up to 10% by the year 2020.  That would only make the ratio 4x out of whack from the population as a whole.  Of course that might require that every conservative psychologist in the United States be a member.  Sadly the group declined to take that challenge and several at the conference indicated that group was not as skewed as Dr. Haidt indicated.  This shows that the group will likely continue their discriminatory behaviors.

There was no conspiracy to make all psychologists liberal, but circumstances made them more and more liberal over time until it the group cohesion made it uncomfortable for people to be conservative.

I fully believe that a comparable “tribal-moral community” exists within the climate science community.  It doesn’t matter if they doubt that the science is real, they are stuck believing it because it would be a violation of their “sacred-beliefs” to dissent.  This is exactly why there is a consensus within the climate science realm, it has little to do with science, but everything to do with their system of beliefs.

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Social Scientist Sees Bias Within
By JOHN TIERNEY
Published: February 7, 2011

SAN ANTONIO — Some of the world’s pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting.
Viktor Koen

How do your moral intuitions shape your political ideology?

You can get a personalized answer by filling out a short questionnaire at Your Morals, a research project of Jonathan Haidt, the subject of this Findings column, and six other social psychologists.
Related

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”

Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) told the audience that he had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s. He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal.

“I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

The politics of the professoriate has been studied by the economists Christopher Cardiff and Daniel Klein and the sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons. They’ve independently found that Democrats typically outnumber Republicans at elite universities by at least six to one among the general faculty, and by higher ratios in the humanities and social sciences. In a 2007 study of both elite and non-elite universities, Dr. Gross and Dr. Simmons reported that nearly 80 percent of psychology professors are Democrats, outnumbering Republicans by nearly 12 to 1.

The fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology have long attracted liberals, but they became more exclusive after the 1960s, according to Dr. Haidt. “The fight for civil rights and against racism became the sacred cause unifying the left throughout American society, and within the academy,” he said, arguing that this shared morality both “binds and blinds.”

“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.” It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.

“Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist,” Dr. Haidt said. “Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed. Only in the last few years have liberal sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along.”

Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publicly whether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). “This was not a permissible hypothesis,” Dr. Haidt said. “It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely.”

Instead, the taboo against discussing sex differences was reinforced, so universities and the National Science Foundation went on spending tens of millions of dollars on research and programs based on the assumption that female scientists faced discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias. But that assumption has been repeatedly contradicted, most recently in a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by two Cornell psychologists, Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams. After reviewing two decades of research, they report that a woman in academic science typically fares as well as, if not better than, a comparable man when it comes to being interviewed, hired, promoted, financed and published.

“Thus,” they conclude, “the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort. Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past.” Instead of presuming discrimination in science or expecting the sexes to show equal interest in every discipline, the Cornell researchers say, universities should make it easier for women in any field to combine scholarship with family responsibilities.

Can social scientists open up to outsiders’ ideas? Dr. Haidt was optimistic enough to title his speech “The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology,” urging his colleagues to focus on shared science rather than shared moral values. To overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions.”

For a tribal-moral community, the social psychologists in Dr. Haidt’s audience seemed refreshingly receptive to his argument. Some said he overstated how liberal the field is, but many agreed it should welcome more ideological diversity. A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020. The society’s executive committee didn’t endorse Dr. Haidt’s numerical goal, but it did vote to put a statement on the group’s home page welcoming psychologists with “diverse perspectives.” It also made a change on the “Diversity Initiatives” page — a two-letter correction of what it called a grammatical glitch, although others might see it as more of a Freudian slip.

In the old version, the society announced that special funds to pay for travel to the annual meeting were available to students belonging to “underrepresented groups (i.e., ethnic or racial minorities, first-generation college students, individuals with a physical disability, and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered students).”

As Dr. Haidt noted in his speech, the “i.e.” implied that this was the exclusive, sacred list of “underrepresented groups.” The society took his suggestion to substitute “e.g.” — a change that leaves it open to other groups, too. Maybe, someday, even to conservatives.

Posted in Politics and Global Warming and Skeptic and Unintended Consequences by inconvenientskeptic on February 9th, 2011 at 4:45 am.

4 comments

This post has 4 comments

  1. T.G.Watkins Feb 10th 2011

    Good article. Looking in a mirror can be scary!

  2. While I think that opening their doors to people who think differently is a good idea, I don’t think it will happen. It is interesting that when Dr. Haidt brought up his point that no one, apparently, laughed or hooted him off stage. Maybe it IS something they will think about.

    For one, I don’t believe that the group will change its behaviour to allow the “out groups” equal participation. I think the “holders of the sacred values” would have to see it as being massively in their own interest to allow conservatives to participate and that would go against everything they believe in. Perhaps enough of them are real scientists that I’m wrong here.

    Next, I get the feeling that conservatives/libertarians generally aren’t interested in phychology/sociology or related fields. For much the same reasons that girls, generally, don’t play with guns and that boys, generally, don’t want to become nurses.

    Even if they were interested in participating the massive social pressure against them is daunting. It takes a brave soul to enter into that hostile area when there are other options available that are more attractive.

    Thank goodness for the one’s who are willing to brave the gauntlet, but I really don’t see much changing in the near future. I hope I’m wrong.

    As a last point, consider how much more interest the “holders of the sacred values” have in keeping to those values when there is massive money and political power to be had by keeping those values. EG: Climate doctrine.

    If skeptics are allowing into the “club” with equal rights then there will likely be a massive drop in climate funding, a massive drop in NGO (eg: WWF) funding and potential funding, a massive drop in government climate interest, a massive loss of government justification for increasing its own power, and the Gores and Pachauris of the world will lose a whole lot of money.

  3. JWDougherty Feb 10th 2011

    I don’t see that the observation is very original. The problem is that we tend to see the behavior more readily in others than in ourselves. There are very few “personalities” that have not been flung by both sides. I have not seen AGW supporters characterized as arch-conservatives nor “deniers” accused of being leftists, but other than that, “frauds,” “cherry picking,” “unfair moderation,” “censoring,” and on and on, all show up in both columns. Politics doesn’t smell good regardless of which hand wipes it.

  4. inconvenientskeptic Feb 10th 2011

    JW,

    I agree that this isn’t a new idea, but that it was a psychologist demonstrating the discrimination within his peer group was unique. That the NYT published an article along this line was also interesting.

    Like many things people recognize this intuitively, but having a scientist prove it is useful.

    It caught my attention because I am so often accused of believing in a global conspiracy because I state that the consensus is meaningless. This article fits with my reasons of why no conspiracy is needed. It is simply peer pressure at the academic level.

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