Are the Social Sciences Undergoing a Purity Spiral?

A couple of years ago, six social scientists published a paper describing a disquieting occurrence in academic psychology: the loss of almost all its political diversity. As Jonathan Haidt, one of the authors of the paper, wrote in a commentary:

Before the 1990s, academic psychology only LEANED left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field has become a political monoculture.

While the paper focuses on psychology, it briefly mentions that the rest of the social sciences are not far behind:

[R]ecent surveys find that 58–66 per cent of social science professors in the United States identify as liberals, while only 5–8 per cent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 8 to 1 (Gross & Simmons 2007; Klein & Stern 2009; Rothman & Lichter 2008).

As these studies are now approximately ten years old, it’s quite plausible that the gap has widened further over the past decade (as it has in psychology) meaning that these figures most likely underestimate the current left-to-right ratio across the social sciences.

In response to this problem, Haidt and others formed the Heterodox Academy, which is dedicated to arguing for a more intellectually diverse academy and now has almost 900 members.

*   *   *

One shouldn’t draw conclusions too hastily, of course, and there are many plausible explanations for this trend. For example, economist Paul Krugman argued on his blog that data suggests the Republican Party has moved rightwards over the past few decades, dragging with it the definition of a “conservative,” thus driving academics away from both the Republican Party and from conservative orientation.

Krugman suggests that this is especially true of scientists, even more so than non-scientist academics, due to a perceived hostility towards climate change data and evolutionary theory within the Republican Party. (He doesn’t distinguish social scientists from scientists in general. Although to be fair, the Heterodox Academy has marketed itself as addressing a general problem in academia.)

A more detailed examination by political scientist Sam Abrams doesn’t lend support to Krugman’s hypothesis. Abrams found that party and ideological affiliation has remained relatively constant among the American population over the past 25 years; while it has shifted markedly to the left among professors:

Professors were more liberal than the country in 1990, but only by about 11 percentage points. By 2013, the gap had tripled; it is now more than 30 points. It seems reasonable to conclude that it is academics who shifted, as there is no equivalent movement among the masses whatsoever.

What is particularly striking about this shift is that the number of moderates has dropped sharply among professors. This seems to be the strongest argument against Krugman’s hypothesis. If professors were driven away by a rightward shift in the Republican Party, one could reasonably expect a build-up of moderates. Yet, this has not happened at all.

In fact, Haidt recently reported on a remarkable survey that was conducted among the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, which, as Haidt notes, is:

… a professional society composed of the most active researchers in the field who are at least five years post-PhD. It’s very selective—you must be nominated by a current member and approved by a committee before you can join.

As part of the survey, members were asked to identify their political affiliation on an eleven-point scale, from ‘very liberal’ to ‘very conservative’. (One point in the centre and five on each side.) The results are telling. Only 2.5 per cent of respondents chose a conservative point, and only 8.3 per cent chose the centre-point, meaning that 89.3 per cent identified as left-of-centre.

Social psychologists’ self-ratings of their political orientation. Taken from Bill von Hippel and David Buss’s survey of the membership of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, 2016.

Intriguingly, the least popular point among the left-of-centre points was the most moderate one (5.8 per cent), and the second-least popular was the second-most moderate one (15.6 per cent). More than two thirds (67.8 per cent) chose one of the three points furthest to the left on an eleven-point scale, and more than a third (38 per cent) chose one of the two points furthest to the left. And 16 per cent chose the furthest possible point to the left on an eleven-point scale.

This means that there were almost as many people who chose the furthest possible point to the left as there were who chose all the conservative points, the centre-point and the most moderate left-of-centre point combined (16.6 per cent).

The members were also asked to rate themselves on nine specific political issues and mention who they voted for in the 2012 election, which also showed an overwhelmingly left-leaning attitude. I find the general political placement the most interesting, though, because it shows how these members think of themselves politically in the abstract.

People that freely self-identify as far-left in the abstract, in other words irrespective of specific political issues, seem to me to be signalling something: that they are committed to an ideology. The fact that such a large portion of the most influential people in academic social psychology do so suggests that this ideology is entrenched in their field.

*   *   *

And there are signs that point in that direction across the social sciences. Sociologist Carl Bankston paints a picture of a field that has institutionalised ‘social justice’ ideology on all levels over the past twenty years:

To attend a conference these days can feel like taking part in a rally of true believers. These associations are not government entities, one may argue, and they are entitled to become exclusive clubs of the committed. The problem is that the embedded ideologies of academic professional organizations are bound up with the embedded ideologies of universities. When we hire new faculty members or when we tenure or promote professors, one of the points we consider is whether the individuals concerned have been active in professional associations, especially the national association. Because the associations so strongly push political perspectives, universities implicitly encourage professors to hold and express the “correct” socio-political orientation.

From Bankston’s description, it seems clear that any non-leftist would find working in sociology almost unbearable. The research in the original paper suggests that the leftward shift in social science is likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination.

In Haidt’s commentary, referring to the hostile climate, he includes part of an email from a former graduate student in a top 10 Ph.D. program, which he says is representative of several he received:

I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it was for me in graduate school because I am not a liberal Democrat. As one example, following Bush’s defeat of Kerry, one of my professors would email me every time a soldier’s death in Iraq made the headlines; he would call me out, publicly blaming me for not supporting Kerry in the election. I was a reasonably successful graduate student, but the political ecology became too uncomfortable for me. Instead of seeking the professorship that I once worked toward, I am now leaving academia for a job in industry.

With regard to discrimination, a recent article in Quillette presents a sobering anecdote from someone (who considers himself on the left) going through the process of applying to prestigious graduate programmes, and how he was consistently steered toward the expression of far-left ideological views by well-meaning advisors who presumably know what review committees are looking for. Here he summarises the process:

As a brief disclaimer, none of what I say here should be interpreted as a criticism of my advisors – not of their job performance and especially of their personal predilections. If anything, I think they did their jobs well. Given what I perceive as the entrenched far-Left political ideology in the world of academia, I’m confident that their advice improved my applications in the eyes of review committees. I can honestly say that by the end of the process, I felt as if the only way to be considered a serious candidate – by the Rhodes Trust, Harvard Admissions, etc – was to present myself and my proposed research as conforming entirely to a far-Left political narrative.

It seems likely to me that there are self-reinforcing mechanisms at work. As the ratio of liberals to conservatives increased, a tipping-point was reached where conservatives were actively excluded from the social sciences, and as they have disappeared the more radical liberals are now outnumbering the moderates to the point where they too are being gradually excluded. In other words, it appears that social science is undergoing a purity spiral towards an increasingly radical left-wing ideology. The anecdote above suggests just this.

I suspect there is some truth to Krugman’s hypothesis, and the Pew Research data that Krugman links to does suggest there is a large group of politically unaffiliated scientists. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t separate natural scientists and social scientists. This suggests that Abrams’s data understates the extent to which both liberal and moderates have disappeared from the social sciences and supports the idea of a purity spiral in these fields.

If there has been a build-up of moderates among natural scientists, it means—since the number of moderates has decreased sharply among professors as a whole—that even more moderates must have disappeared from the other areas of academia. (It’s likely that the humanities have followed a similar development to the social sciences; a recent Quillette article by a classicist suggests as much, at least within their field.)

*   *   *

This is a much more serious problem than the number of conservatives in the field. If the social sciences were full of people who were moderate or apolitical, it wouldn’t be that much of a problem. But the fact that a specific ideology has become so entrenched, and is increasingly becoming more and more so as others—even moderate leftists like the graduate programme applicant above—are gradually disappearing from the field, is highly disturbing.

So, what is this ideology?

In the paper, it is labelled the liberal progress narrative, articulated by sociologist Christian Smith:

Once upon a time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism. . . . But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic… welfare societies. While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.

No doubt most social scientists would nod their heads to this. Unfortunately, it’s so simplistic, and so full of vague, emotionally charged words that it’s not very informative. To understand leftist ideology, we need it to be more specific. What actual things in the current world does it want to replace, and what specific things would it put in their place?

Haidt, appearing on author Sam Harris’s podcast, gave a somewhat more specific description when he described leftist ideology as the following (starting at 01:02:09, lightly edited for clarity):

So, I take part in a lot of discussions, I’m invited to all sorts of lefty meetings about a global society and… you know… the left usually wants global governance, they want more power vested in the U.N., I hear a lot of talk on the left about how countries and national borders are bad things, they’re arbitrary. So, the left tends to want more of a universal… I’m just thinking about the John Lennon song… this is what I always go back to, Imagine. Imagine there’s no religion, no countries, no private property, nothing to kill or die for, then it will all be peace and harmony. So that is sort of the far-leftist view of what the end state of social evolution could be.

This is more specific than Smith’s narrative, suggesting initiatives such as reducing national power and redistributing property. This, of course, is a much broader definition of fighting oppression than for example abolishing slavery.

One could argue that as slavery and feudalism have been eradicated, terms like oppression, exploitation, and inequality have increasingly become dysphemisms for power differences of any kind. In this view, the fact alone that one country, group, or person is wealthier or more influential than another is sufficient for the label oppressive.

This isn’t to say that everyone who subscribes to Smith’s liberal progress narrative agrees with Haidt’s extension. The point, rather, is that the liberal progress narrative is so vague and emotionally charged that it’s probably unclear even to most liberals themselves what these terms mean when referring to the specifics of the modern world.

(I should note that Haidt now considers himself a centrist rather than a liberal, so he’s not claiming to describe his own position.)

*   *   *

Why is it a problem that the liberal progress narrative is so vague, yet has come to dominate social science?

Well, the liberal progress narrative is not new. Nor is extrapolating it into the future. In fact, one of the most influential documents in recent history, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, does exactly this.

Their central argument is that human history is a succession of systems, each less oppressive than the previous, until it reaches its conclusion in communism, a system with no oppression because everyone is equal. Aside from the historical extrapolation, Marx and Engels use much of the same terminology as Smith. The words oppression and exploitation and their derivates feature prominently, and capitalism is referred to as slavery—notably similar to the dysphemism suggested above. Consider the following:

[The bourgeoisie] has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

Take away the specifics in The Communist Manifesto, such as the definition of classes, and it becomes almost indistinguishable from Smith’s liberal progress narrative. Compare for example Smith’s last sentence with what Marx and Engels write at the end of Chapter II:

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

The Communist Manifesto, along with Marx’s later works, played a key role in energising and coalescing communist revolutionaries, and several societies throughout the twentieth century declared themselves in accord with Marx’s theory. The results, however, have been consistently disastrous.

Very few social scientists are communists, I imagine. But why? If most social scientists subscribe to Smith’s liberal progress narrative, and communism is (arguably) the logical conclusion of the liberal progress narrative, then shouldn’t they subscribe to communism as the ideal human society?

The answer for many, presumably, is that they don’t subscribe to communism because it produced disastrous results. But if the main lesson social science has learned from the failures of communism is that eliminating private property is a bad idea, then it has learned far too narrow a lesson.

What it should have done is asked itself this: if communism is the logical conclusion of the liberal progress narrative, and communism has consistently failed disastrously, what does this tell us about the liberal progress narrative—or as Haidt calls it, Universalism?

What’s interesting about Haidt’s alternative interpretation of the liberal progress narrative is that he mentions two elements central to the narrative—private property and nations. And what has happened to a large extent is that as the failures of communism have become increasingly apparent many on the left—including social scientists—have shifted their activism away from opposing private property and towards other aspects, for example globalism.

But how do we know a similarly disastrous thing is not going to happen with globalism as happened with communism? What if some form of national and ethnic affiliation is a deep-seated part of human nature, and that trying to forcefully suppress it will eventually lead to a disastrous counter-reaction? What if nations don’t create conflict, but alleviate it? What if a decentralised structure is the best way for human society to function?

What if the type of mass-scale immigration currently occurring in Europe, containing relatively large amounts of people with different nationalities, cultures, and religions, is going against some of the core features of human nature? Maybe it isn’t, but if it is, do we have to wait until after the fact to say ‘well, globalism doesn’t work’, as we did with communism? Surely there is a better way.

*   *   *

Let’s set aside the liberal progress narrative for a while and consider a different narrative. Let’s call it the scientific progress narrative:

Once upon a time, human beliefs and practices were crude, steeped in superstition, and tightly regulated by central authority. Consequently, humans were at the mercy of not only an unpredictable and punishing environment, but also of each other. But the human aspiration for truth and stability eventually prevailed, as humans piece by piece began to assemble a model of not only their environments, but of human nature itself. With this understanding came the blueprint for establishing a robust, dynamic society that could withstand environmental pressures while effectively regulating human interaction. Thus, societies learned to harness human potential by working with human nature, not against it. Again and again, theories that were believed unquestionably true were replaced by better ones, often after heavy resistance. There is much still to be understood, but it’s clear that the struggle for a good society must be led by an uncompromising search for truth, however uncomfortable it might seem at the time. Any society that forces humans to behave against their nature is bound to eventually fail, and only truth can prevent this from happening.

Now, it’s not clear that this narrative contradicts the liberal progress narrative. In fact, for most of the past few centuries, the two—or some variants of them—have been held to be two sides of the same coin. Maybe they are. But it’s not obvious that they are, so it’s important not to conflate them. They both describe the past reasonably well. But what about the future?

Well, they appear to be diverging. The most important cause of the divergence is the advances in cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience, which has led to a model of human nature that many leftists find unacceptable because they perceive it to threaten the liberal progress narrative. As Steven Pinker wrote in The Blank Slate fifteen years ago (Kindle, loc. 92):

The taboo on human nature has not just put blinkers on researchers but turned any discussion of it into a heresy that must be stamped out. Many writers are so desperate to discredit any suggestion of an innate human constitution that they have thrown logic and civility out the window. Elementary distinctions—”some” versus “all,” “probable” versus “always,” “is” versus “ought”—are eagerly flouted to paint human nature as an extremist doctrine and thereby steer readers away from it. The analysis of ideas is commonly replaced by political smears and personal attacks. This poisoning of the intellectual atmosphere has left us unequipped to analyze pressing issues about human nature just as new scientific discoveries are making them acute.

The second point of divergence is when scientists uncover negative effects of programmes attempting to implement the liberal progress narrative. Consider Carl Bankston:

[I]n 1976 the president of the American Sociological Association, Alfred McClung Lee, led a movement to expel prominent researcher James S. Coleman from the association because Coleman had dared to draw the ideologically unacceptable conclusion from research data that busing and other means of forcible school desegregation were actually exacerbating segregation by intensifying white flight. To the ASA’s credit, the expulsion effort failed, but only after many attacks on Coleman’s character and motivations.

Now consider both these points in relation to, for instance, globalism. If the suggestion that national, or ethnic affinity (or more broadly, tribalism) is deeply rooted in human nature is considered taboo, and likewise any attempt to describe cultural clashes and lack of assimilation in, for example, Europe is forcefully attacked, this can accumulate to become a significant blind spot.

Add to that the practice within the social sciences of using dysphemisms like xenophobia to refer to non-Universalist attitudes towards globalism, and you have a situation where the pursuit of truth is being hampered in the quest to support the liberal progress narrative, and where there appears to be a disturbing lack of learning from the disasters of communism.

It is important that people stand up for science, even when it clashes with the liberal progress narrative – or Universalism, as Haidt calls it. Yet, as non-leftists and increasingly also moderate leftists are being excluded from the social sciences, there appear to be less and less people willing to do so. The consequences could be grave.


  1. Social science is to real science as astrology is to astronomy. As the field increasingly becomes a madhouse inhabited and run by Social Justice Warriors, it gets more and more difficult to justify paying any attention to it at all. I commend Qullette for trying to shed light into the darkness but fear your quest is hopeless. Perhaps the only remedy is to cut the field off from all funding for a generation, giving it a chance to recover.

    • Jon Haidt says

      Bill: i think this is way too strong. As a social scientist I almost never encounter “social justice warriors” among the faculty. That’s more common among the students, and in a few fields such as the “studies” departments that are not social sciences at all. In the core social science fields almost everyone has a generally scientific outlook. the problem i’ve been writing about is that most of us share a small range of political outlooks and this causes a system-wide problem. The problem is not that social scientists are crazy ideologues. At Heterodox Academy we are trying to fix a systemic problem, not root out ideologues. The social sciences are too important these days to be cut off; they must be improved.
      –jon haidt

      • Dan says

        In light of the above articles’ examples of Liberalism rejecting basic science when ideologically convenient, I find it a blatant contradiction to suggest that the current social science faculty is both overwhelmingly ‘scientific’ and yet at the same time almost exclusively liberal.

        Also, those radical students will Become the faculty, just as the current faculty is predominantly made up of cultural revolution leftists and their ilk. Purity spiraling will intensify. ‘Moderates’ such as you and your peers will be the first to be purged when the students become faculty.

        • Uri Harris says

          Dan, if I my article gives the impression that social scientists are *deliberately* rejecting science to further their ideology, that wasn’t my intention. Maybe I could have articulated it better.

          The paper that Professor Haidt co-authored does suggest that science might be undermined, but that it is inadvertent, for example by embedding liberal values into the research.

          I suggest that this, along with oversensitivity towards issues that challenge core leftist issues, may accumulate into blind spots with regard to for example globalism, and that the consequences of these can be severe.

          My view is that most social scientists seem to underestimate the overlap between leftism and science (hence my contention that the two narratives are diverging), for example with regard to human nature, so they don’t realise that pursuing their ideological goals can have a negative effect on scientific inquiry.

          With regards to the purity spiral and moderates disappearing, Professor Haidt did a very good interview on The Rubin Report where he discusses these issues. He’s definitely aware of the problem:

  2. LukeReeshus says

    According to Christian Smith, liberal progress aims towards a “society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness.” As a liberal, I agree with this definition.

    Here’s the thing though: the far-left ideologues currently bending social science departments to their worldview are not liberals. Their definition of “equal” is radically different from that found in traditional liberalism. They want equality of outcome, not mere equality of opportunity.

    This is obvious once one tries to imagine the kind of utopia that would satisfy them: it is one without social hierarchies, where no one is above, in any relevant sense, anyone else—not even as a consequence of individual merit. That’s why their ideology should be, and has been previously, called, radical egalitarianism, and why they must explain all differences in outcome via differences in opportunity. To do otherwise would be to admit that their utopian dream is futile.

    • JcTee. says

      I took college Sociology 25 years ago.

      Socialism would be a more accurate description.

      It’s not exactly news the majority of professors are leftists. I’d say in social “science”, that’s 100%

  3. polistra says

    Hardly new. In 1920 sociologists and economists and psychologists were capable of observing reality objectively. By 1950 social “scientists” were pure Leftists, observing only their own private world of illusions. Hasn’t changed much since then.

  4. DiscoveredJoys says

    You could make a reasonable case that academe (Social Sciences in particular) is an example of an echo chamber spiralling (at academic pace) out of control. The disciplines leading this appear to be those where opinion and critical thought about other people’s critical thoughts dominate – and there is no ‘objective’ push-back to limit the spiral.

    In another world could the echo chamber have been created from the right wing views dominating? Yes, I rather think it could, and has done so in some wider societies elsewhen. Again you need *early* objective push-back (not just counter opinions) to collapse the spiral before it takes hold.

    • Chris Alexander says

      What the heck does political ideology have to do with the scientific method? If they are a science, they observe, hypothesize, and EXPERIMENT. Your political beliefs should have no bearing on the result of an experiment.

      • DiscoveredJoys says

        I agree wholeheartedly – but if political views bias expectations (people are blank slates, universal grammar, evolution has no room for cooperation, whatever) then your mind is primed to see what it expects to see and reject contrary evidence. Your expectations influence what experiments you consider undertaking. Your political views (or worldview, or religious views) can even affect the conclusions you draw from ‘unbiased’ data.

        And once the echo chamber kicks in most people are reluctant to rock the boat for fear of harming their career or funding.

  5. David Taylor, MD, PhD says

    At my university Psychology is grouped with the natural sciences, and since so much of that field has been reduced to physiology and brain science (as opposed to ‘mind’ science) it makes sense. Consequently, to extrapolate from psychology to social sciences in general might be slightly risky, though I suspect that that general conclusion about the political make-up of social science faculty is accurate.

    However, while Mr. Harris offers something of a extreme (and debatable) stereotype of liberal political philosophy, he doesn’t offer a comparable extreme (and debatable) stereotype of conservative philosophy. Since liberal/progressive political ideology has for many years focused on the role of government in providing direct assistance to individual members of a community (while conservative political ideology focuses on providing direct support and assistance to business, which, it is believed, will in turn support individuals), it should not be surprising that disciplines that focus on human beings as social animals might attract faculty who share that political ideology. The exception, of course, is economics, which, perhaps predictably, is oriented more toward business, and attracts more conservative faculty and students.

    I am also puzzled by Mr. Harris’s use of examples. A former graduate student complains that a faculty member taunts him with email about Bush — why would the faculty member do that unless the student had imposed his own political beliefs into their relationship? None of my students has a clue about my political beliefs, nor do I have a clue about theirs. A college applicant ‘perceives’ advice to be this or that? That’s not exactly a scientific study of political bias. The Coleman example seems to prove exactly the opposite of what Mr. Harris wants to show.

    Finally, I’ll repeat the common criticism of Haidt: there’s no exploration of any real effect of the political bias among university faculty. We know that students do not change their political views because of interaction with faculty (they’re more influenced by other students), and the examples of political bias in research are fairly weak.

    • Girard Fisher says

      You say, “We know that students do not change their political views because of interaction with faculty (they’re more influenced by other students) . . .” I think there is a lot of mischief lurking in your use of the word “more” here. And even if faculty does not influence students in some direct way, one has to ask: From what source do student attitudes derive, if not from the theories, research and writings of liberal faculty, all received in a campus environment that does nothing to challenge those theories, research and writings?

      • David Taylor, MD, PhD says

        College and university students bring fairly robust political views with them when they matriculate, and those views are influenced to a great extent by fellow students, and almost not at all by faculty, at least according to the research I have seen. The fantasy of the college student as tabula rasa is one that faculty (and faculty critics) like to embrace, but it appears to be more wishful thinking than reality. You ask from what source do student attitudes derive: probably from 18 years of parents and other family; popular media; k-12 education; perhaps even a genetic component. Over the years I have occasionally taught undergraduates (my primary appointment is in my medical school) and my impression has always been that a new freshman is eager to learn about cardiovascular physiology from me, but is already unshakeable in his or her views of larger political issues.

        • Solar Plexus says

          They can’t both bring fairly robust views with them when they matriculate only to be subsequently influenced by fellow students.

    • r w israel says

      “At my university Psychology is grouped with the natural sciences”. That’s the whole story, right there.

    • jimfrommaine says

      David, I heard your stock reply a thousand times when I was suffering under my own “re-education regime” in grad school, just a few years ago: “it makes sense that we’re all leftists because leftists are nice, and kind, and into learning and helping………………which is the entire goal of learning and the academy. So it’s just a hand-in-glove situation” (or slight variations). This is just facile rationalization, of course. But it helps leftist indoctrinators to sleep at night, I guess.

      • David Taylor, MD, PhD says

        Sorry not to have a more insightful answer for you — I don’t think anyone has a really satisfyingly comprehensive perspective on the political makeup of social science faculty. However, to characterize my comment as “leftists are nice, and kind, and into learning and helping…” is bizarre. I believe I suggested simply that a core value of leftist politics concerns the role of government vis-a-vis individual members of society, and that core value might be assumed to attract leftists into social sciences. I have never found leftists to be any more nice or kind than anyone else.

    • honestly, you gotta kidding me, if you don’t see that 99 percent of Sociology, Economics, et al Professors are pushing the liberal viewpoint. Can you name one conservative Political Economics professor teaching at a mainstream college?

      • Chris Alexander says

        Sowell at Cornell and Mankiw at Harvard. They aren’t Trump style Conservatives and may even be more Libertarian, but they identify as Conservative. Google is your friend.

        • Mike says

          Sowell left Cornell in 1969. He left full-time teaching in 1980. Hardly relevant to the state of the American university in 2017

    • “examples of political bias in research are fairly weak”.

      Politically biased researchers coming to the conclusion that they have no political bias. How scientific!

      • David Taylor, MD, PhD says

        Ah, time for a reading lesson. “Fairly weak” is not the same as “no political bias” — and that was my conclusion, not the conclusion of “politically biased researchers.” There are plenty of examples of politically biased research, as you know. One well-known example was the study of children of parents who at any point in their lives had had a same-sex relationship, by Mark Regnerus. His article in Social Science Research was quickly challenged, suggesting that the self-correcting possibilities of research sometimes do kick in. Dave

    • woke says

      > A former graduate student complains that a faculty member taunts him with email about Bush — why would the faculty member do that unless the student had imposed his own political beliefs into their relationship?

      “imposed”? How about inadvertently exposed?

      In any event, students and professors are not on equal footing, power-wise.

      Also, professors are supposed to behave better than students. Remember civility?

    • Uri Harris says

      Thanks for the comment David.

      My alternative is not a conservative social science, but an apolitical one. I don’t think sacred beliefs and taboos on exploration should exist in science.

      Regarding the examples, I don’t see any reasonable argument for it being appropriate for a professor to send hostile emails to a student when a soldier is killed in combat, regardless of how the professor came to know of the student’s political beliefs. (I assume they had a political discussion in class.)

      And the linked anecdote from the graduate programme applicant, which is quite long and detailed, suggests a lot more than mere perception, in my view.

      With regards to the influence on research, Pinker’s The Blank Slate provides several examples. There are also several articles on The Heterodox Academy’s website, for example:

    • Uri Harris says

      Thanks for the comment David.

      My alternative is not a conservative social science, but an apolitical one. I don’t think sacred beliefs and taboos on exploration should exist in science.

      Regarding the examples, I don’t see any reasonable argument for it being appropriate for a professor to send hostile emails to a student when a soldier is killed in combat, regardless of how the professor came to know of the student’s political beliefs. (I assume they had a political discussion in class.)

      And the linked anecdote from the graduate programme applicant, which is quite long and detailed, suggests a lot more than mere perception, in my view.

      With regards to the influence on research, Pinker’s The Blank Slate provides several examples. There are also several articles on The Heterodox Academy’s website, for example:

  6. jj2105 says

    The intellectual race to the bottom. Drive off the heretics until you achieve ideological purity. Way to go.

  7. Tomas Pajaros says

    We are on the cusp of a revolution in higher ed, as the consumers refuse to take on crippling debt to be brainwashed by the loony left, while receiving no marketsble skills. The Ivys, Berkely et al will continue unchanged, but the directional southwest local state U will be required to shift to more practical offerings, or die.

    Hence the push by lefties for “free” college.

  8. “Ideological insularity” is thy name and “confirmation bias” is what you will get from your future research findings.

  9. Gary wW.Lee says

    You can try to call a dog a duck; but it’s still a dog. You can call the marxist/communist philosophies and ideologies something else – to presumably fool the American people and to make these ideas more palatable – but they’re still Marxist/communist philosophies and ideologies……. “The oppressed always learned from and copied the oppressor. When the tables were turned, the stage was set for another round of revenge and violence — roles reversed. And reversed and reversed ad nauseam.
    FRANK HERBERT, Chapterhouse: Dune”

  10. Trussman65 says

    The 1960’s activists never left the campuses. They remained and received their advanced degrees in the Social Sciences and many remain to this good day as tenured professors. They have passed their world views on to sycophantic students who have likewise pursued advanced degrees and professorships and have, themselves, never left the university environments they inhabit. These individuals have no idea what actually goes on in the real world beyond their insular cocoons. In animal husbandry this is known as inbreeding and anyone with an elementary knowledge of biology knows what the end results of this practice leads to. The same thing is at play in the Social Science Departments of the universities.

  11. Darby says

    It is little surprise these fields find themselves in a research reproducibility crisis. They left any scientific approaches long ago and are now departments of political thought. The only solution is to defund these efforts. They are not serving the purpose they are set up for. These folks are too ideologically extreme to ever fix the problem. Hiring a token conservative (who will never be granted tenure do to incorrect political thinking in their view) is not sufficient. I am in the hard sciences. The hard sciences is “science”. Social sciences are not science at all and should not be described as such. The department names should be changed to something more appropriate like the Department of Leftist Ideology or something similar. If they were actually doing science, their findings would be reproducible. It is not, therefore no science is being done, thus we are wasting money on these departments. Those funds should be cutoff, plain and simple.

  12. jimfrommaine says

    I returned to grad school a few years ago (as a 38 year old). I knew that things were going to be leftist, but the level of it was ridiculous. I could not believe the oppression (which ironically was being carried out by professors and administrators who regularly railed against oppression). When I tried to get the very few conservative profs on campus to help us lobby for the Academic Bill of Rights, to address the situation, almost all of them expressed sympathy but said that they had to stay “under the radar” in order to keep their positions and/or advance. This isn’t rocket science: the left set out 100 years ago to capture all of our institutions, and with the coming-of-age of the hippies and leftists of the 1960s, they succeeded in fully capturing academia. They have NO intention of ever surrendering it.

  13. post_human says

    The defining characteristic of scientific thought is falsifiability. Science is not a search for the truth, it is the elimination of the demonstrably false. It cannot be normative. There is no scientific philosophy or politics, and there cannot be. Any attempt to hide ideology behind ‘science’ is deception.

  14. I’ve always been in the hard science. I do enjoy discussing philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc. but would never refer to them as ‘sciences’ and would not give them a place in academia. They are more along the line of ‘what’s your favourite colour? Or, ‘name the top 10 best rock bands’. I really dont give extra weight to the opinion of Marx or Plato or Vlad Lenin or John Lenon.

    Science is too fascinating to get mixed up in agenda driven drivel.

    • joelammers says

      Tom, I think you are exactly right. The “social sciences” may not be useless (although being driven by ideology is making them more useless) but they aren’t science. It is time for society, and more importantly academia, to quit considering them sciences.

    • Unfortunately, the 500,000 Humanities and Social Science Professors disagree with you. They all teach the same knowledge or philosophy and they call it a Science.

  15. Michael Schaefer says

    Did social sciences introduce the usage of “convenience sampling?”

  16. Max Dugan says

    these guys are doing a ghost dance for a dead socialist narrative that melted in thirties. And they are not even close to being as intellectually acute as that generation of socialists. They have nothing to say. They are a cargo cult now.

  17. Conservatives don’t take social science classes much in the first place. It isn’t that they are being excluded because they don’t try going. Instead, they are off doing courses that will make them more money.

  18. Chris Alexander says

    A science follows the experimental method. Your political leanings have no bearing on the result of that experiment. Arguably, Economics and Political science are far removed from being “sciences.” (I do Math and Statistics, so even Physics lacks rigor from my Ivory Tower. Were do you draw the line?)

    Maybe it is the rightward and “party of stupid” (Bobby Jindal-R) problem? Maybe it is the fact that education in and of itself makes one less Conservative? (Especially socially) I’ve noticed a trend about Atheism and Biologists, but I suspect it isn’t a vast conspiracy of satanists influencing Biology.

    Maybe, your hyper-partisanship and tilting at windmills is the problem….

  19. Duane J. Truitt says

    Very interesting review and analysis by the author.

    I would submit that, however, it misses the really cogent point in any discussion of ideology and scholarship, to wit:

    Scholarship, and science, are the search for truth. Ideology, is the search to convince others of a truth already known. The two are entirely antithetical and in complete opposition. One cannot be ideological and also search for the truth. One cannot be ideological and fairly or honestly test any search for truth or any theories or data that purport to model the truth.

    That is why, for instance, “climate science” as practiced today has devolved into a racket that is 99% ideology and 1% search for truth, or some similar ratio. Today climate science consists of so-called scientists attempting to persuade the masses and the decision makers that they alone possess the “truth”, which they characterize as the “scientific consensus”, which is just a mildly clever way of saying they flog their ideology masquerading as truth.

    The truth is, when it comes to climate, is that we don’t know what causes the the climate to vary more than in simply a random manner, as it has ever since this planet acquired an atmosphere and a climate. We know many of the factors, but we don’t have a good model for how all those factors interact to produce a climate that has continually changed. Yet the “climate scientists” continue to pose and preen and pretend that they’ve got it all figured out down to the decimal degree what the average world-wide planetary temperature will be 100 years from now. Despite the fact that their models have gotten it completely wrong the last 20 years (yes, the “pause” is real, and all of their manipulations of the data to try to massage them to say the pause didn’t happen, it simply did. Data don’t lie – only data manipulators lie).

    You cannot be ideological and scientific at the same time. Period. One precludes and excludes the other.

    • Duane J. Truitt says

      Eric Hoffer, the late great philosopher, explained the inevitable arc of ideology as follows:

      “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

      It does not matter what ideology is involved, left, right, religious, political, sociological, whatever … they all follow Hoffer’s model. It is inevitable … and explains the incompatibility of ideology with science and the search for truth. Truth can never degenerate into a racket .. it just is.

      • Lewin W. Wickes says

        Smart man. Social scientists are indeed racketeers riding on the backs of working folk. I have seen Hoffer’s model playing out in many areas. I first observed it for myself about 40 years ago when I was a probation officer. I would enroll “clients” in residential drug treatment programs. The staff in those places are totally infested with social work types. They had no vested interest in curing anybody. What they wanted was a steady supply of reasonably well behaved “clients” of their own to fill all available slots.

      • Lewin W. Wickes says

        Oh, and all that “progressive” caring and compassion is nothing more than moral masturbation in public.

      • anovalogic says

        There seems to be a lot of throwing the sociological baby out with the bathwater here.

        Hoffer’s observation is fundamentally a conclusion based upon evidence of a social phenomenon, that is, it is socio-logical.

        I’d point out that the Bible and perhaps other religious texts also have sociological principles derived from observation: “You cannot worship both the Lord and mammon” as an example.

        I took several sociological courses in the 1990’s, and there was indeed truth there, but I could already see the slant and skew to the left.

        Sociology, social psychology, and the “mind” arena of psychology all seem to have taken a hard ideological turn. Now, they seem little more than motivated reasoning and confirmation bias promulgated by argument-by-authority (see Al Gore) and jumping-on-the-bandwagon effect (see climate change, the theory ALL-the-cool-kids believe in)!

        Something about the power of mob-psychology seems to apply here. Seems like it requires study….

  20. Santoculto says

    I thought you’re want to say:

    “Liberals are on avg incompetent to understand social reality, please more ideological/psycho-cognitive diversity.”

    Even the enormous pressure for more illibs among them also it’s very likely to have role as well have happened among teachers, I think seems there is a strong correlation between verbal “”intelligence”” and leftist feelings anyway. Based on a study I saw in Razzib blog, “Gene expression”, cons and moderates tend to be a minority among people who was analyzed and who score higher in the verbal department.

  21. JWJ says

    I just want say that I found this piece very interesting and well written.

  22. Hopley Yeaton says

    Of course academics are predominantly liberal. Conservatives are in the real world actually doing things and making stuff.

  23. TBlakely says

    After decades of observation, leftists prefer professions that are parasitic rather than productive.

    • Lewin W. Wickes says

      Yes, they made out rather well under communism as well.

  24. NAP says

    35 years ago at a conservative private college, the leftward turn puzzled me as a deliberate rejection of truth, and I am sure my practical realism puzzled my professors, as I had much more in common with my professors in biology and genetics. The tight curve of the current iteration, as it relates to terminal inbreeding, is further exacerbated by the fact that the conservative/reality group p is fully outproducing the liberals, and the future belongs to those who show up. Nature abhors a vacuum and the pendulum is swinging back, hard. Going back to grad school over 50 has been a tremendous eye opener!

    • Santoculto says

      If conservatards become dominant again western world will be other spiral of pillages and/or irrealigious regress…

  25. Pingback: Funding Politically Malignant “Science” | Virtual Militia

  26. Micha Elyi says

    Defund the Left. Separation of School from State is a good first step.

  27. Alec Rawls says

    Wherever people are told that it is wrong to look, you can be guaranteed that that is where the truth lies, along with all solutions to the ills that make the subject sensitive.

  28. Pingback: Slay the Monsters, Save the Future: Part I | al fin next level

  29. “Social science” is a curious term. It’s clear that sociology, anthropology, and psychology are politicized fields where advancing the Cause matters, not truth. (Well, that’s perhaps unfair– but the scholars are intimidated by the ideologues, and it does seem fair to say that conservatives or moderates are shut out if they expose their beliefs.) Economics is not that way at research universities, though, and political science is not corrupted either. Econ is a different story, but how is that poli sci escaped being politicized?

  30. Eamon says

    “What if nations don’t create conflict, but alleviate it? What if a decentralised structure is the best way for human society to function?”

    You know, not all communism is state-oriented and authoritarian. Think of Spain with its anarcho-syndicalist communes, or the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico. Similarly for socialism, where there are libertarian kinds. Same goes for the right actually.

  31. Mike in SC says

    It’s even worse, even the not-so-soft and hard sciences are being infected by do-gooders using questionable methods to acquire scarce research funds and squander them on fraudulent results. In the cases cited below, their methods were robust, but the analyses and conclusions were corrupt.

    “In just the past week: Duke University admitted that its researchers had falsified or fabricated data that were used to get $113 million in EPA grants – and advance the agency’s air pollution and “environmental justice” programs. A New England Journal of Medicine (NJEM) article and editorial claimed the same pollutants kill people – but blatantly ignored multiple studies demonstrating that there is no significant, evidence-based relationship between fine particulates and human illness or mortality.

    “In an even more outrageous case, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science’s journal Science published an article whose authors violated multiple guidelines for scientific integrity. The article claimed two years of field studies in three countries show exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides reduces the ability of honeybees and wild bees to survive winters and establish new populations and hives the following year. Not only did the authors’ own data contradict that assertion – they kept extensive data out of their analysis and incorporated only what supported their (predetermined?) conclusions.”

    Details here:

  32. Larry says

    Nice that Europe is running the globalism/nationalism experiment for everybody else. As those results come in, they will inform the debate about how blank the slate really is. So far, not so blank.

  33. Zack Wilson says

    The hard-core religious zealot mentality never went away. It lives and is called egalitarian leftism. Even the cleansing bath of secularism, which washed away the dirt of the zealots’ former enthusiams, such as burning “witches” at the stake, did not wash away the core mentality of the zealots. They remain enthusiasts for burning dissenters at the stake in the name of the holy cause, er, make that the “scientific” cause. It’s science largely without reproducibility (that is to say, it isn’t science), but they don’t care – the word “science” is merely part of the catechism they chant. Other such words are “social justice,” “racism,” and “oppression.” The new Cotton Mather is a hard-left LGBT with a buzz-cut, and to be quite frank, the new boss doesn’t even look very different from the old boss.

  34. The social sciences have been left of center for decades but this does not mean that they need an influx of conservatives or Republicans. It means they should be more open to non-collectivist points of view. For example, they should be more open to the arguments in favor of a capitalist socio-economic system and to the concept of individual rights. Republicans and conservatives pay lip-service to such ideas but don’t understand the concepts, cannot rationally defend them and seldom advocate for them.

  35. Pingback: Are the Social Sciences Undergoing a Purity Spiral? - Amicki's Tech Store

  36. Santoculto says

    What I already said because fordistic division of academic departments all them started to become in wrong way self-sufficient. So instead a integrated and or common answer we have a sociological truth, (historical truth, philosophical truth, biological truth) it’s not totally wrong but as always happen with stupidity, it’s incomplete.

  37. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all live in our own social experiments, like people who attend different churches and join different social clubs? In a way, it happens in Israel, where on the kibbutz there is no personal property and everything is held in common, while the more-or-less free market recognizes property rights outside (not interested in going into the greater debate on the Palestinians). People who agree to be socialists could own the means of production in common and various private property regimes could exist in parallel, with only the interfaces between these experiments being the only problem. John Stuart Mill called for “experiments of living,” and there were a number of utopian experiments in the 19th century. It’s time to let people live as they choose and let them suffer the consequences.

  38. Uri,
    I don’t think this analysis gets to the bottom of the problem. It is not that the Communist “ideological” narrative is supplanting the Enlightenment “scientific” narrative. Nor is it that sociology is too “soft” compared to math and physics. Nor even that manners have degenerated over the past century.
    I think what you are seeing is the inevitable result of positive feedback. Put a microphone in front of a speaker and the sound is uncontrollable. Have the National Academy elect new fellows to the National Academy and bingo–93+% conformity. Have faculty members elect new faculty and unavoidably as the sparks fly upward, the faculty will become a monoculture. It is almost random whether it goes liberal or conservative, 400 years ago it was Conformist and non-Conformist. It doesn’t matter where it ends up–the system is unstable.
    Why does Communism fail wherever it is tried? Hayek explained it very well–positive feedback. No amount of education, good manners, management training is going to keep the ship of state on an even keel if the bilge pumps are hooked up backward. When enough power is concentrated in one place, not only does it attract the power-hungry, but it permits even more power to be acquired.
    This is by no means restricted to sociology, but from my colleagues in academia, it affects physics, biology, engineering, and theology as well. There just is no cure except the drastic one. Reorganize the faculty so that they have no say in faculty hires. That’s how we elect new Presidents. Perhaps we should apply it to academia.

    • Uri Harris says

      Thanks for the comment Rob.

      I’m not sure exactly where we disagree. Isn’t the positive feedback loop you describe just another way of saying purity spiral? After all, the paper I base my initial analysis on claims that there are three factors causing this: self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination, with the last two being a consequence of left-leaning faculty preferring to work with and hire like-minded people, as you suggest.

      And the extent that left-leaning ideology is suppressing certain areas of scientific inquiry is surely the result of there being fewer people to insist on uncomfortable scientific positions, not vice versa. (As well as there being fewer people to identify blind spots in the science of their left-leaning colleagues.)

      With regards to the faculty no longer doing the hiring, who do you suggest instead?

  39. Why is the author hesitant to take on Krugman? The simple fact is that the academy has gone far, far Left, and Krugman says it hasn’t. Either Krugman is a hack of he is lying.

    • Uri Harris says

      He pointed to some data that appeared to show that it was the Republican Party that had moved to the right instead. Closer analysis showed otherwise. Not sure what more I should have said.

  40. Pingback: News of the Week (July 16th, 2017) | The Political Hat

  41. Pingback: What Good is Going to University Anyway? - Bombs and Dollars

Comments are closed.