Unchecked

In 2011, Jon Haidt, speaking to an audience of 1,000 social psychologists, noted the lack of viewpoint diversity in their field. He reported that he could identify only one conservative social psychologist with any degree of field-wide recognition. Surveys of sociologists’ professional organizations have found that 85%–96% of members responding self-identified as left of center, voted for Obama in 2012, or scored left of center on a questionnaire of political views. (Most of the remaining 4%–15% identified as centrist or moderate rather than conservative.) The trend has a long tail, but it has been accelerating. In the 1990s, liberals among social psychologists outnumbered conservatives 4-to-1. More recent surveys show that the ratio has grown to greater than 10-to-1, sometimes far greater. A tendency to hire for a conforming worldview combined with the discouraging aspects of being so decisively outnumbered ideologically suggests that, unchecked, this situation won’t get better. According to the surveys establishing this trend toward homogeneity, about 10% of faculty respondents identified as conservative, compared with just 2% of grad students and postdoctoral candidates.

“Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke

I will admit that when I first read this quote, my instinct was that something was wrong–that it was a problem that there isn’t a more even distribution of political views in the sociology field.

Stopping to think about it more, I started to question if that was actually the case. (And apologies now if this post isn’t completely coherent–I intended to spend more time blogging tonight, but I spent my time elsewhere instead and now I’m writing this up quick before bed.)

Maybe it’s the case that sociological truth just happens to align more with leftist viewpoints, and thus people with rightist viewpoints choose to exit the field? Perhaps more conservative people chose a field based on their values and interests, similar to more liberal people, but their values and interests did not lead them to pursue sociology?

I don’t think that it is necessarily problematic that the political diversity in sociology does not represent the political diversity in the greater population.

I am very curious where this intuition comes from, though.

Could this a be case of the is-ought fallacy? (We see this distribution of political diversity in the general population, so there ought to be this distribution of political diversity in the field of sociology.)

Or is there something else at work here?

I find the intuition very similar to that which many people seem to have about the gender gap in the software engineering field–that it’s a problem that we don’t see close to a 50/50 male/female ratio of developers.

At present, I don’t currently see this as a problem. I do see it as potentially symptomatic of a problem, though.

For instance, if a male and female candidate presented identical resumes and performed equally well during the interview process, and we didn’t see a 50/50 male/female ratio of people getting the job, then there could be a problem. But the problem would not be the lack of the 50/50 male/female ratio–the problem would be that there is something in the interview process biasing towards male candidates.

But it is odd that we have these judgements of things. I wonder how much of it is purely self-preservative as opposed to being rooted in truth at all.

For instance, a couple weeks ago, I was on the bus and it was running super behind schedule. I noticed that the bus driver was taking their time and waiting for people who flagged the bus from across the street to run to the bus stop. I thought the bus driver was doing something bad because they were putting everyone else on the bus behind schedule in their choosing to drive this way.

But then this morning, I was running for a bus when it started to pull away. But then it seemed to stop when it realized I was running for the bus. The bus driver continued to wait for people at other stops who appeared to be running for the bus, even if it wasn’t always the case and sometimes they were just running past the bus stop. But this morning, I thought the bus driver was being kind to people, probably because it had benefited me at the beginning.

I wonder if this all comes down to distinguishing observations from the story/meaning/thoughts we have about those observations.

The human condition is weird.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s