Lack of Political Diversity: A Problem?

Lack of Political Diversity: A Problem?


In a recent paper, a group of social psychologists—Jonathan Haidt (NYU), José L. Duarte (ASU), Jarret T. Crawford (College of New Jersey), Charlotta Stern (Stockholm), Lee Jussim (Rutgers ), and  Philip E. Tetlock (UPenn)—argue that political diversity is lacking in academic psychology and that

this lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike.

Further:

The lack of political diversity is not a threat to the validity of specific studies in many and perhaps most areas of research in social psychology. The lack of diversity causes problems for the scientific process primarily in areas related to the political concerns of the left—areas such as race, gender, stereotyping, environmentalism, power, and inequality—as well as in areas where conservatives themselves are studied, such as in moral and political psychology. And even in those areas, we are not suggesting that most of the studies are flawed or erroneous. Rather, we argue that the collective efforts of researchers in politically charged areas may fail to converge upon the truth when there are few or no non-liberal researchers to raise questions and frame hypotheses in alternative ways.

The paper is entitled “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science.”

Is there a lack of political diversity in philosophy? I am not aware of a lot of data on this. The result of the PhilPapers survey isn’t much help:

Other 382 / 931 (41.0%)
Accept or lean toward: egalitarianism 324 / 931 (34.8%)
Accept or lean toward: communitarianism 133 / 931 (14.3%)
Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 92 / 931 (9.9%)

A more general survey of faculty (not just philosophers) in the U.S., conducted several years ago, showed the percentages of political  self-identification across the political spectrum:

Far left: 12.4%
Liberal: 50.3%
Middle of the road: 25.4%
Conservative: 15.2%
Far right: 0.4%

In my experience, philosophers’ political views might vary more issue-by-issue, and so not be all that well captured by these broad categories, but nonetheless, it does seem that philosophers in general are more left-wing than the general population (in the general U.S. population, around 38% identify as conservative, 34% as moderate, and 23% as liberal, according to a Gallup report). So let’s grant it. Then what?

One response to this has been to use it as part of an argument that purports to show that academia’s typical emphasis on other forms of diversity (race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.) is a mistake. Another kind of response is to say that “of course philosophers are more left-wing—they are smarter and so more likely to come to better answers about political questions, which are left-wing answers.”

We’ve gotten these two responses out of the way. No need to restate them. Seriously. Those kinds of claims have been done to death, and I don’t want this particular discussion to be about the merits of aiming for non-political forms of diversity, or just glib declarations about the superiority of left-wing political views.

What I am most interested in is whether an analog of the point that Haidt et al make for social psychology applies to philosophy. Is it the case in philosophy that “the collective efforts of researchers in politically charged areas may fail to converge upon the truth when there are few or no non-liberal researchers to raise questions and frame hypotheses in alternative ways”? (And by “may” here, I believe the authors have in mind “may be more likely to”, so let’s go with that interpretation.) In other words, do we have reason to think that political diversity would improve philosophy?

(art: detail of a photo of Splotch, a sculpture by Sol Lewitt)

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