Virtual Voices

Psychology's liberal bias

Politics

At the most recent conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the most talked-about speech was one that essentially accused the attendees of bias.

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist from the University of Virginia, started his presentation by polling the audience of approximately 1,000 psychologists. When he asked how many considered themselves to be politically liberal, about 80 percent of the hands went up. Centrists and libertarians? Dr. Haidt estimated that fewer than three-dozen hands were raised. When he asked how many were conservatives, precisely three hands went up.

As The New York Times reported, Haidt called that "a statistically impossible lack of diversity," citing polls showing that 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative and 20 percent as liberal.

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He went on to call social psychologists a "tribal-moral community" whose "sacred values" impede unbiased research. "If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community. They'll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they'll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value."

Haidt cited the reaction to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's warning in 1965 about rising unmarried pregnancy rates among blacks: "Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist. Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed."

In his speech (see below), Haidt suggested that his colleagues read conservative publications and books. He even went so far as to recommend a kind of affirmative action for conservatives, calling on the organization to strive for 10 percent of its members to be conservatives by 2020.

Haidt deserves credit for the courage it took to raise the issue of liberal bias in his field and address it head on with his colleagues.

I wonder how many hands would have gone up if Haidt had asked how many in the audience were believing Christians.

Marcia Segelstein
Marcia Segelstein

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