Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Academic Bias Towards Facts

Paul Krugman takes on the issue of liberal bias in academia. I have written about this here, and I still think that post takes into account everything that it really needs to include. Self-selectivity, as Krugman acknowledges, is a key factor. As I argued (in agreement with Juan Cole), the point is that
universities tend to attract and maintain liberal candidates for their positions because the alternatives in the market economy, in conservative (and wealthy) think tanks, or in the officer corps of the military are not available to them for the most part. That is to say, liberal intellectuals with the skills to succeed in corporate business, right-wing non-governmental organizations, or the upper echelons of the military are in effect pushed out of those professions by the prevailing attitude and mores adopted by them. Conversely, conservative intellectuals are pulled by the lucrative offers of those very same institutions.
Krugman adds a piece to the puzzle.
In its April Fools' Day issue, Scientific American published a spoof editorial in which it apologized for endorsing the theory of evolution just because it's "the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time," saying that "as editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence." And it conceded that it had succumbed "to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do."

The editorial was titled "O.K., We Give Up." But it could just as well have been called "Why So Few Scientists Are Republicans These Days." Thirty years ago, attacks on science came mostly from the left; these days, they come overwhelmingly from the right, and have the backing of leading Republicans.

Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out." Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax."
This has to do with what readers of this blog will be familiar with as the War on Facts. I am reminded of a segment from the Daily Show on this theme:
Corddry: How does one report the facts in an unbiased way when the facts themselves are biased?

Stewart: I'm sorry, Rob, did you say the facts are biased?

Corddry: That's right, Jon. From the names of our fallen soldiers to the gradual withdrawal of our allies to the growing insurgency, it's become all too clear that facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda.
It is no surprise that academics--that is, those who respect science and value objective research as a method of deriving truth--should be alienated from the political party that has openly declared a war on facts.


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