Wednesday, November 19, 2014

contempt for conservatism, religion, and history among social scientists.., |  The analysis in (Duarte et al. 2014) of the bias in the social sciences against conservatives and conservatism is important and timely. (I am not at all competent to evaluate either the effectiveness or the reasonableness of their proposed remedies, and therefore will not discuss them.)  

If anything, the article understates the blatant, explicit contempt shown to conservative views in the published scientific literature. For instance, Wilson, Ausman, and Mathews (1973) wrote: The “ideal” conservative is characterized as conventional, conforming, antihedonistic, authoritarian, punitive, ethnocentric, militaristic, dogmatic, superstitious, and antiscientific.

After that long stream of insults, the reader is quite prepared to be told that conservatives also smell funny. Obviously, most or all of those adjectives could be have been replaced with equally accurate adjectives of a neutral or positive valence e.g. respectful of tradition, uneccentric, abstemious, forceful, stern, patriotic, and so on. They proceed to characterize conservatism as a “syndrome” that has to be “explained” whereas, by implication, being liberal is just the way normal people are, and as such demands no particular explanation. (Stankov (2008) also refers to the “Conservative syndrome”.) This kind of language would be appropriate for an article in Mother Jones, but seems entirely out of place in a scientific paper in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Duarte et al. are primarily concerned with the damage that this kind of bias does to social science research. Equally or more important is the poisonous impact of these kinds of publications on the state of political discourse, particularly when echoed gleefully in articles in liberal publications such as (Mooney 2014). First, such claims obviously increase the dislike and distrust of scientists and science among conservatives, and the sense that the pronouncements of science are merely a liberal conspiracy. Second, the last thing that liberals in this country need at this time — and I write as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal — is more reasons to feel smugly superior. Third and most importantly, democracy is based on political discourse, and meaningful political discourse depends on, to some extent, taking what your opponent says seriously and engaging with it on that basis. If liberals believe that conservative opinions are atavistic remnants of attitudes that were adaptive when we were all living in caves or on the savannah, and can therefore be dismissed out of hand, then no serious discourse is possible.

If these negative views of conservatism were in fact entirely valid, then the scientific community would be in the difficult position of balancing the scientists’ commitment to truth against the good of society. However, since, as Duarte et al. demonstrate at length and in detail, they are certainly one-sided, often exaggerated, and sometimes false, there is no justification for it.

In this note, I want to add to the argument in Duarte et al. by making two further points. First, parallel to the contempt for conservatism, and related to it, is a pervasive contempt for religion in psychological studies of religious belief. This connection is explicit in works such as Kanazawa’s (2010) paper, “Why Liberals and Atheists are More Intelligent”. Second, the contemptuous views of both conservatism and religion are exacerbated by a lack of historical perspective and an uninterest in historical accuracy. I conclude with some general comments about the risks attendant in this kind of research and the caution that needs to be exercised.


Vic78 said...

It's funny to see people throwing the word smart around like this. Smart is a function of a given environment. Liberals can bullshit themselves as much as they like. Dumbass conservatives are out hustling them and all I've seen liberals do so far is complain. Politics is their field of engagement and they're consistently coming up short. If people are agreeing with you at a 60%+ clip, you should have little trouble meeting your objectives. That they keep losing to stupid ass God botherers is telling. Are conservatives really that stupid if they control the discourse and use it to win?

Lol@ peer reviewed research. They don't even realize the stupid conservatives are going after them and these smart asses don't know how to defend themselves. Calling them stupid tells me they aren't taking the threat seriously.

CNu said...

Is there a term any more ironic than social "scientists"?