Popping the bubble of objectivity


Several leading liberal/progressive social psychologists have launched an initiative called Heterodox Academy to foster more political diversity in social science. A paper outlining their arguments has just been published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences (link to PDF). The spokesman for Heterodox Academy is Jonathan Haidt, of the Stern School of Business, New York University, an often-quoted psychologist of morality.

Over the past 20 years, a number of social psycholoigsts have pointed out that “everyone in the field is on the left, politically”. This is not healthy, as it turns the discipline into an echo chamber, undermining its credibility and validity. There is a surprising level on consensus on the existence of this bias, as the commentaries on their paper attest. Even Harvard's Steven Pinker says “Political bias has indeed been a distorter of psychology”.  Heterodox Academy wants to identify “how this situation came about, how it reduces the quality of science published in social psychology, and what can be done to improve the science.” It wants to keep track of bias not only in social psychology but in other fields as well.

One member of the team, Lee Jussim, of Rutgers University, explained the reasons for their concern.

“First, for the overwhelming left-leaning (about 90%, maybe more) majority of the field, bias against non-leftists will be completely invisible, just as racial discrimination is invisible to many Whites and sexism is invisible to many men.

“Second, the political monoculture means that subjective opinions and values will be so universally shared (within that monoculture) that they will appear to be objective truths, and the idea that anyone might view something differently – and be justified in doing so – is alien and threatening.

“Third, many social psychologists enter the field with the explicit purpose of advancing their preferred social action agendas – thus quite explicitly putting their politics above their science.

“Fourth, once a scientist has staked out a politically biased claim – and especially if it is greeted with accolades from colleagues — all sorts of processes (eg, cognitive dissonance, system justification, self-serving promotion of one’s ‘pet’ theory) will conspire to motivate the scientist to defend it to the hilt…

“As a field, social psychologists have a decision to make.  Do we wish to remain a ‘club for liberals’ in which we merely posture as ‘scientists’ while elevating the progressive social agenda to be our highest priority? Or will we make the changes needed to live up to our field’s own values which emphasize the importance of diversity and scientific integrity?”




MORE ON THESE TOPICS | bias, politicization of science, social psychology

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