Saturday, December 26, 2015

Leftwing bias in social science

Advice Goddess Blog

Claire Lehmann has an excellent piece (cached here) at Quillette on a largely ignored researcher, Lee Jussim, and the tendency to ignore all but left-wing narratives in social science -- to the point where it's practically heresy to even consider questions that violate these narratives. Jussim's point in a presentation he gave:
The field had become a community in which political values and moral aims were shared, leading to an asymmetry in which studies that reinforced left-wing narratives had come to be disproportionately represented in the literature. And this was not, to quote Stephen Colbert, because "reality had a liberal bias". It was because social psychology had a liberal bias.
Jussim explained that within the field, those on the left outnumbered those on the right by a ratio of about 10:1. So it meant that even if left-leaning and right-leaning scientists were equal in their bias, there would be at least ten times more research biased towards validating left-wing narratives than conservative narratives. Adding in the apparent double standards in the peer review process (where studies validating left-wing narratives seemed to be easier to publish) then the bias within the field could vastly exceed the ratio of 10:1. In other words, research was becoming an exercise in groupthink.
Jussim's research on stereotypes:
Very early in his career, Jussim faced a crisis of sorts. An early mentor, Jacquelynne Eccles, handed him some large datasets gathered from school children and teachers in educational settings. He tried testing the social psychology theories he had studied, but consistently found that his data contradicted them.
Instead of finding that the teachers' expectations influenced the students' performances, he found that the students' performances influenced the teachers' expectations. This data "misbehaved". It did not show that stereotypes created, or even had much influence on the real world. The data did not show that teachers' expectations strongly limited students' performances. It did not show that stereotypes became self-fulfilling prophecies. But instead of filing his results away into a desk drawer, Jussim kept investigating - for three more decades.
More from his findings:
Jussim and his co-authors have found that stereotypes accurately predict demographic criteria, academic achievement, personality and behaviour. This picture becomes more complex, however, when considering nationality or political affiliation. One area of stereotyping which is consistently found to be inaccurate are the stereotypes concerning political affiliation; right-wingers and left wingers tend to caricature each others personalities, most often negatively so.
Lest one thinks that these results paint a bleak picture of human nature, Jussim and his colleagues have also found that people tend to switch off some of their stereotypes - especially the descriptive ones - when they interact with individuals. It appears that descriptive stereotypes are a crutch to lean on when we have no other information about a person. When we gain additional insights into people, these stereotypes are no longer useful. And there is now a body of evidence to suggest that stereotypes are not as fixed, unchangeable and inflexible as they've historically been portrayed to be.
The response from social psychologists:
Reactions to Jussim's findings about the accuracy of stereotypes have varied on the scale between lukewarm and ice cold. At Stanford this year after giving a talk, an audience member articulated a position reflected by many within his field:
"Social psychologists should not be studying whether people are accurate in perceiving groups! They should be studying how situations create disadvantage."
Jussim has heard this position over and over again. Not just from students, but also colleagues. One might find it surprising that psychology researchers would become so invested in shutting down research they find politically unbearable. But one shouldn't be.
It is not uncommon for social psychologists to list "the promotion of social justice" as a research topic on their CVs, or on their university homepages.
This is not science, and "not science" has become way too accepted in social science.

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