Social psychology has lost its balance

Images by DeviantArt user bakablue08. Click for source.The New Yorker has an interesting article about a lack of political diversity in social psychology and how that may be leading to a climate of bias against conservative researchers, ideas and the evidence that might support them.

Some of the evidence for a bias against conservative thinking in social psychology goes back some years, and the article gives a good account of the empirical work as well as the debate.

However, the issue was recently raised again by morality researcher Jonathan Haidt leading to a renewed reflection on the extent of the problem.

There is a case to be made that, despite the imbalance, no formal changes need to be made, and that, on the whole, despite its problems, social psychology continues to function remarkably well and regularly produces high-quality research. Controversial work gets done. Even studies that directly challenge the field—like Haidt’s—are publicized and inspire healthy debate…

And yet the evidence for more substantial bias, against both individuals and research topics and directions, is hard to dismiss—and the hostility that some social psychologists have expressed toward the data suggests that self-correction may not be an adequate remedy.

A timely reminder of the eternal truth that bias is entirely non-partisan, and if you’ve not heard it before, a pointer to a great BBC Radio documentary that outlines how it works equally across people of every political stripe.

Link to ‘Is Social Psychology Biased Against Republicans?’

16 thoughts on “Social psychology has lost its balance”

  1. But isn’t there also some research indicating a steady increase among conservatives since the late 70’s, of distrust in science, now surprisingly most prevalent among better educated conservatives?! And if so, then how does one properly “represent” such an ideological POV, let alone within science?

    This issue kinda reminds me of the right wing complaint that liberals should be more tolerant of ‘intolerance’!

    1. If a “distrust in science” is getting more common among better-educated conservatives, could it… possibly… just maybe… be that it’s not a distrust in science, but a frustration at a lack of rigor in left-biased science reporting?

  2. The article mixes some valid points with some, well, less valid points.

    The idea of political ideology undercutting objective peer review and biasing design experiment and results is a real one, and a major issue. I somehow like the “Purples and Oranges” idea towards the end… someone should try it out.

    But the fact that fewer psychology researchers hold conservative views on its own doesn’t mean anything, not any more than the fact that fewer evolutionary biologists hold creationist views. There simply might be independent reasons for that. Daniel Gilbert (and ming on mongo) have a point here.

  3. Anyone who tries to do research who has a fundamental bias based upon the belief in unsubstantiated fantasy cannot possibly produce research worth reading much less funding. I would offer that most American conservatives are guilty of this psychopathology unfortunately which informs everything they do. The teleological reasoning they engage in prevents true intellectual debate and inquiry.

  4. When life experience and an increased capacity to see through fallacies led me to become inexorably more conservative every year from 1992 to 2010, and my old, leftist, friends literally jumped into my path as I walked down the street screaming straw man arguments at me and misquoting me wildly whenever I tried to reason with them, and then I noticed how often conservative thought is automatically pathologized in pop science writing, I began to lose interest in pop science writing — not in science itself. I would venture a guess that many conservative scientists and social scientists have detached from “mainstream” scientific discourse for the same reason. When a spittle-spraying, red-faced liberal in the grocery store is lumping everyone who questions him in with Fred Phelps, one wonders how the room-service psychology pundits who leisurely ask themselves what brain damage causes conservatism would feel suddenly lumped in with Valerie Solanis. But no one I know would ever be so ingracious.

    1. I just wanted to say it’s good to see your point of view on the issue.

      Out of curiosity, could you provide any examples of what you’d consider ‘leftist’ biases in pop science reporting, which made you lose interest?

      (I’ve never had a political discussion at a grocery store, but then again, I assume customs may be slightly different over in the US…)

      1. For one thing, though I am basically still a moderate environmentalist, I have noticed that when two sets of data conflict on an environmental question, the pop science presents the more alarmist set as “the voice of science” and the more reassuring set as “dangerous extremist opinion” without regard to which set was really collected and analyzed more rigorously. Even if the alarmists turn out to be correct, which is far from determined, yet, it is they who are being dangerously opinionated, by trying to take shortcuts for emotional reasons.
        The liberal terminology is absorbed as if it were neutral on social, health and bioethical questions, while the meanings of words change so fast that it becomes hard to tell what writers are talking about at times. “Marriage equality”, for example, is not the issue. Of course everyone is equal; the issue is and always will be, what constitutes marriage, and why? How does marriage differ from a mere contract between friends? It’s circular and absurd to claim that family is at once “a construct of the state” and “just love”; if there is anything that cannot possibly be a construct of the state, it is love. So then, what is marriage, what is family, this central thing that is more than emotion and more than law and deep in biology and history? But few “mainstream” pop-sci pubs even allow room for such discussion; they drown it in contrived bathos instead. Bioethics is basically ethical questions informed by biological knowledge, yet pop media present it as logistical issues informed by convenience. That’s simply Orwellian. But in pop-sci media, it is those who try to bring ethics and knowledge back into the debate arena who are branded as “hateful extremists”. Recently, a PT article (IIRC) mentioned “conservative” and “authoritarian” personality types as if the terms were synonymous. However, almost all conservatives feel that it is the left that is authoritarian these days. Now and then, a pop article theorizes about the psychological (read: pathological) “causes of right-wing thinking”. I cannot remember the last time an ostensibly neutral pub asked itself the psychological “causes of left-wing thinking.” When we present evidence for our views, we are accused of being hard and unfeeling. When we express grief, or share personal stories, we are accused of being irrational and anti-evidence. When we point out the opposition’s fallacies and errors, we are called hateful. All this from “mainstream” pop media, and all of it the inevitable result of their having blocked out the possibility of our ever being correct. Thus we often just talk among ourselves. Then we are accused of choosing “isolation” for some apparently suspicious purpose.

      2. The article is about the Science of Social Psychology, not “pop media”. So if there really is so much “leftist bias” in Science, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to present a few examples (you know, to “scientifically” back up such claims).

        BTW, this whole notion of proper “representation” is silly even on its face, considering that Science, by definition, quits being Science, as soon as we try to “represent” ANY ideology (Right or Left)!

      3. Then do the “scientific” thing and cite some real evidence, besides just your long-winded ‘opinions’ of ‘pop media’.
        Otherwise conservative complaints about ‘liberal bias’ are little different than Pope Paul V claiming that Galileo’s work didn’t properly “represent” the Church’s world view.

      4. How in the world do you come up with that? I commented that it is not science — this is not hard to follow, really — repeat, it is NOT SCIENCE itself — that we grow weary of, but popular media distortions of it that turn some us off the public discourse. I have no reason to dig up examples of the evidence of bias I mentioned. My own blog and hundreds of thousands of others, and voices outside the blogosphere as well, are already bursting daily with such examples and I know that you have seen them. Just as I don’t have to arrest and bring forward every man who has catcalled me, because everyone has witnessed catcalling, not just me, and because I have better things to do than to track them all down, and there are always more. I am fresh out of troll food. Good day.

      5. Then you’re obviously just here to rant, since the article isn’t even about “popular media” to begin with…. and you can’t even present any evidence to support THAT (lol)!

        And they wonder why conservatives can’t get no respect in Science (let alone any “representation”). ;-p

    2. I see you will have a fine career in science. You have all the elements: hysterical antagonism towards liberals, a pretend access to the truth, and phony anecdotes. Certainly social psychology could use a man such as yourself, to balance out all that data-driven nonsense.

      I’m sure you can get Tom’s support.

  5. I find the idea strange that any conservative under-representation in the field should be remedied through affirmative action. No true conservative would accept that, it is an outright liberal solution. Perhaps that says much.

    1. BTW, how ironic that a political and social POV so based on enforcing traditional hierarchies and the status quo, should itself become such a culture of perennial “victimhood”…. now always complaining about ‘media bias’, cultural “intolerance” and a perceived “lack of diversity”!

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