The lack of conservatives in social sciences

I was reading an article about anti science positions of the left when a line caught my attention:


She did not give any numbers, but from my experience this is generally true.

So the questions for debate:
Is this a problem? And whose problem exactly?
Should this be addressed, and how?

To me, it seems a matter of self-selection. Most conservatives have no interest in pursuing social sciences. I have also heard it claimed that studying social science tends to convert conservatives to liberals.

The only real issue I see with it is the narrowing of view points. Any discipline benefits from a diversity of perspectives. But that does have limits. History departments would not benefit from including more Holocaust deniers and 9/11 truthers. Biology departments would not benefit from adding chiropractors to their faculty roster.

By American standards of “liberal” and “conservative” it probably does. Modern America conservatives are wrong factually on all sorts of issues, not just wrong as a matter of opinions, morals and goals; getting educated in the actual facts is going to be corrosive to their beliefs. It would be like a creationist getting a college education in biology; either the the creationism or the desire for an education in biology is going to be broken.

If you narrow your faculty (and, yes, that part is true based on my experience and based on various reviews of voter registration as a proxy) - then you narrow the overall perspective.

Jonathan Haidt has some good comments on this:](Progressive Mythology | Science-Based Medicine)


So by not having all perspectives, you lose out on a better understanding of what is going on.

As to WHY conservatives don’t show up, lots of hypotheses I can come up with:

  • Poor pay levels. Social science faculty members don’t make as much as an equivalently educated person can make in the private sector.
  • No mentoring. Tough to get a mentor as an undergrad when your professor does not like your perspective.
  • Those that ARE conservative, keep their mouth shut to make tenure. I have observed this (to the extent of people hiding prior military careers, or spouses in the military for example).

Do I think there should be some sort of quota system? Nope - that would be worse. But I have no problem pointing out that this is the current reality.

I suspect if you include economics as a social science, the numbers are a lot less skewed.

Also, if you are ideologically committed to the idea that individuals are entirely responsible for their own life situations, why would you want to study group effects like racism, sexism, class bias, etc?

To prove that individuals are entirely responsible for their own life situations.

Sorry. Should’ve thought of that.

If conservatives don’t go into the social sciences, they won’t be in the social sciences.

No worries. It was society’s fault that you didn’t think of it. :wink:

Certain professions attract certain types and it is based both on self-selection and a basic human desire to go where you most fit in. I consider myself a conservative but it is on the libertarian end of the scale. I also went to a prestigious grad school in a social sciences department. I focused on behavioral neuroscience which is pretty close to a hard science but it is typically based in psychology departments that have a whole range of sub-disciplines that are much closer to the true social sciences.

The people were attracted to the behavioral neuroscience part of psychology certainly aren’t typically paleo-conservatives but they aren’t that liberal either. They mainly fall in the moderate to “rationally conservative in some ways” category. However, I took classes in all of the different sub-disciplines and there was obviously a difference in political views and ideology even in that one field depending on which side you were coming from and each had its points (although some more than others). That was all based on self-selection.

I ended up doing Information Technology as a career. I have never met a hard-core liberal among any of my hundreds of coworkers in many companies over the years (and this is Massachusetts where liberalism runs naked and free). I have had coworkers that were as traditionally conservative as anyone as can be, a couple of neo-Nazi’s, many very religious people and a conspiracy theorist mixed in there. The vast majority of them however lean politically moderate and economically conservative with stronger libertarian views than typical.

Make of that what you will. I just take it to mean that certain types of personality types are good at or are attracted to certain professions.

…you’ve never met a hardcore liberal IT worker? Have you been locked in the server room for thirty years?

No, economics has a heavy liberal bias too, the study references below found a 3-1 democratic edge which makes economic professors as biased towards the democratic party as gays and bisexuals (who are also about 3-1 in favor of democrats). The mentality that the ‘soft’ sciences are full of airy liberals but the ‘hard’ sciences are full of conservatives isn’t true. Academia is heavily liberal across the board. The social sciences, natural sciences, arts, etc.

As far as why, I don’t know. Openness to experience is probably correlated to academia, and is also correlated to liberalism. Someone who chooses a career to contribute to the world (instead of make a higher income) is also likely a liberal. Plus a career heavy in academia probably implies someone willing to rethink and examine almost everything about themselves and life while conservatism is heavy on tradition, not on overturning tradition (again which is a form of Openness to experience. People lower on that trait tend to favor tradition over novelty).

No, I don’t do server rooms. I am a management analyst. I have honestly never met a hard-core liberal IT professional. Part of that is due to definition however. I would love to know what the real definitions of liberal and conservative are. There can’t be one as far as I know because it puts too many different viewpoints that don’t go together on one spectrum.

Is Bill Gates conservative or liberal? He is a multi-billionaire that founded a huge and now entrenched company that funds philanthropic projects. I don’t see much difference in him than I do with the Vanderbilt’s or Rockafeller’s in times past. Steve Jobs was as flaky as they come on some views and also a world-class business asshole who didn’t do much of anything for anyone personally outside of his narrow interests. Was he conservative or liberal? Most would say liberal because of the way he acted but look at the whole picture and do some comparisons with prior figures and try to figure out what really differentiates them.

‘Conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are lazy intellectual tags to attach to people in the American political landscape and they don’t mean much on their own. Conservatives can fight for change just as liberals can set the anchors down to maintain the status quo. You have to break it down in a much more nuanced way to even begin to understand what those terms mean. I just call myself conservative because I have little interest in social issues and I am economically conservative. Someone else could hear my views on social issues and label me a liberal but I didn’t change, only the perception of those vague terms themselves shifted in someone else’s mind.

The article in the OP references the book Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left, Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell, it does report that the left has bad apples regarding science too, but it seems to reach for false equivalence most of the time.

He was surprised that you’d never met any liberal IT people, not that you’d never met any liberal billionaire industrial captains.

The true left has a horrific track record on the social sciences on a grand scale. Communism is a true leftist belief after all and almost every rational person agrees that it failed in the most catastrophic ways possible and still does to this day in places like North Korea, Cuba and everywhere else it has been tried.

I know that most modern leftists try to distance themselves from those failures saying that they are a different breed but they don’t grant the same concessions to conservatives.

Look, there are crackpots in every bunch. I personally believe that economic responsibility is the absolute key to long-term stability. That is the reason I am an economic conservative. The left sees immediate problems and jumps to reactionary measures. Some of them have some measure of success and but a few of the massive failures like housing projects in the inner cities of the 1950’s - 1970’s in the U.S. bring on unmitigated disasters with unintended consequences that all of us have to deal with to this day. The fact of the matter is that leftists of the time were not as mart as they thought they were and I see no reason to believe why the ones today are any different. Conservative have a huge advantage on most things because they know at least that the ideas they are fighting for work to some degree even if there are problems with them.

The biggest difference between me being an economic conservative and you being a liberal is that I won’t force you into into a crackpot idea just because it is the cause of the day. It is all about personal choice and letting natural systems take over rather using artificial powers to control people. Granted, our definitions of natural systems may be quite different.

Saying communism is a true leftist belief is like saying fascism and military juntas are a true right wing belief. Both are extreme ends of the spectrum. Democratic socialism on the other hand does have many merits, if it didn’t it wouldn’t be such a popular political and economic system across the world.

Social engineering by the left can have unwanted consequences, you are right. Roe V Wade energized the evangelical base to enter politics. Desegregation resulted in white flight. Prohibition was/is a failure. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt social engineering, but yes there can be unforseen consequences.

I still haven’t. I have a few of my former coworkers on this board. They are pretty conservative in my mind but may be considered Yankee liberals in the small town I grew up in. I guess it depends on where you draw the line. I lived in New Orleans for a while and had lots of gay friends who partied harder than you ever imagined every night and ran businesses during the day. They all considered themselves conservative especially because we had an Army Colonel in the bunch before that was allowed. The lines got really blurred to me.

I draw my personal lines at crystal healing and homeopathic medicine on one side and global warming deniers and creationists on the other. They are just metaphoric twins separated at birth who just don’t know it. I love them all and get entertainment from it. There is absolutely no liberal/conservative line to ignorance and I suspect most people here know that. It just depends on how you were brought up and how many friends that you have on either side to determine how you describe your rudimentary self-identity on that piss poor descriptive axis.

That would work, if the point was referring to what is going on now.

Currently, following what amounts of defending a continuous failure of the commons is not a good way to preserve for the future the current conservative mindset on very important items.

That does not work either, I did live the history of a country forced to follow economic conservatism at the point of a gun. (This could apply to many Latin American nations for many decades) Not a recommended idea either.

But I’m over that as I learned that indeed, no extreme position is good, Many liberals I know are not the caricature you are implying here. And currently the levels of the rejection of science are too painful that even the few conservative scientists left can not continue to support the current path.

Of course if I would see the same levels of liberals listening and continuously **voting **now for the rights of Cristal healers I would oppose them just the same, but until the left listen to those crackpots to the same levels as the current conservatives see climate change denial, as a mainstream position, I would worry.

I have a different explanation. I don’t think there is any shortage of traditionalist personality types in academia; there are plenty of self-styled defenders against the barbarians at the gates, and plenty of people ready to argue against any given set of changes. But this rarely translates into political conservatism because conservative politicians, at least in the US, seldom make any attempt to court academics and often seem to be actively trying to alienate them. It’s pretty hard to get people to vote for a party that uses them as a punching bag in its political rhetoric, let alone one that is constantly threatening to defund things that academics generally value, such as educational institutions and public funding for the arts, humanities, and sciences.

In short, I kind of suspect that conservatives created the monolithically liberal university by railing against it :slight_smile:

Haidt does beg the question of how important all five of those values should be. Is it better to rate purity equal to fairness? Should In Group loyalty be as valued as not doing harm? Not all view points should be given equal weight and to me it is an open question whether more conservatives would be good or bad for social sciences.

I thought about opening a topic on this. It is hard to argue angainst the overwhelming anti-science bias in conservative circles, but liberals are in the forefront of pushing medical woo in Congress (every bill funding NCCAM that I looked at was sponsored by a Dem). That has to weigh as heavy in the mind of a doctor as Republican denial of AGW does to a climate scientist. And it can be argued that AGW will have more global and devastating effects, woo is already killing people.