Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On Academe and Discrimination

In a post yesterday commenting on a recent survey on ideological attitudes in academe, Paul Krugman writes:
Every once in a while you get stories like this one, about the underrepresentation of conservatives in academics, that treat ideological divides as being somehow equivalent to racial differences. This is a really, really bad analogy.
He goes on to describe how there is self-selection and the like in the different areas of work, and how that differs from racial discrimination. To a point, that is true. There is self-selection, and being a faculty member at a university where the political and social attitudes of the faculty as a whole pretty much fit the caricature one might have of higher education, I can attest to what Krugman is saying.

However, there is much, much more that Krugman is not saying, or pretending does not exist. First, the area of bias does apply in self-selection, but sometimes in a different way than what Krugman claims. Take the field of labor economics, for example.

It used to be that a lot of people took a field in labor while in graduate school, but today, that division is dominated by women and minorities. Why? Because the issue often under discussion is discrimination on behalf of race, sexual orientation, and sex, and people who go into the field are motivated such discussions.

Over time, as more and more women and minorities go into labor economics, that field becomes dominated by them. When economics departments have job openings, they always are under pressure to hire women and minorities, so labor becomes an easy way to meet the affirmative action goals. Thus, we see how the pattern grows, until one can expect almost any department to have its labor "experts" being women or minorities, or both.

This is not due to any nefarious plot, but rather is a rational approach taken by all parties. Likewise, over time we see the same thing happening in the area of English. Once upon a time, English departments had both liberals and conservatives, but through the years, people who are politically liberal have come to dominate, push out the older conservatives, and then make it clear that they will hire only people who agree with them.

We share space with the university's political science department, and everyone in the department is on the left and, of course, always votes Democratic. I happen to like most of them and get along with them, and at times do things socially with them, so while there might be political disagreements, they tend not to bleed into the area of friendship.

Furthermore, while people at Frostburg know I am politically libertarian and a Christian, nonetheless they had no objection to my heading the university's Promotions/Tenure Subcommittee, and in our discussions of applicants, political views simply are regarded as irrelevant, since we look at the performance and achievement records, not what someone thinks. (However, I did not publicize my appearance on Judge Andrew Napolitano's show in order to avoid any possibility of retaliation by disgruntled faculty members or administrators who foam at the mouth when they hear the word "Fox.")

This kind of tolerance is not always the norm, however. My involvement in the Duke University lacrosse case showed me that at Duke, at least, ideology matters in many ways. Students told me that many classes they took were little more than sessions of political harangues by hard-left profs, and the way that the hard left was able to dominate the campus discussion during that case tells me a lot about the place.

People like Krugman don't seem to mind what happened at Duke. The New York Times played an active role in trying to keep Mike Nifong's case alive, even when the evidence pointed the other way. The newspaper that trumpets how DNA has freed wrongly-convicted minorities suddenly decided that in the Duke case, DNA really did not matter.

So, while Krugman is partially correct, it never occurs to him that self-selection may also apply in the workplace to both race and sex, along with other factors. To do so would upset his view of the world.

Of course, Krugman cannot write a post without smearing someone who might agree with him and his own ideology. He writes:
It’s particularly troubling to apply some test of equal representation when you’re looking at academics who do research on the very subjects that define the political divide. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?
Interestingly, it is Krugman who denies historical climate change, for he still insists upon the discredited "hockey stick" that was created in order to conveniently do away with the well-documented Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. You see, Krugman decides that it is OK to deny science when the truth is inconvenient. (By the way, the last warming notion on the graph came from the very people who tried at first to deny that there even was a Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age.)


Daniel Hewitt said...

I'm glad I studied engineering - we never had to worry about this stuff.

Anonymous said...

And I am glad I am in the Third World, where educated people stay the hell out of politics and never discuss it; not even in the classroom.

Dan said...

I did my undergrad in computer science so I can't speak much for most of the social sciences...however I'm in an MBA program right now and my economics and finance teachers are about the most opinionated and arrogant bunch of old bastards thats I've ever seen.

My experience has shown me that they are more politicized ideologues than actual scientists.

mcfrandy said...

What Anderson neglects to mention is that -- ever-increasingly since the New Deal -- academic scientists and scholars receive their research grants and other career-advancing benefits from the government, especially the federal government. Moreover, even if these academics manage to find another source of financing, the people who approve their scholarly articles for academic publications or hire and tenure are apt to be in bed with the government and what it wants.

And what does the federal government want? For people to believe in global warming (nowadays euphemistically known as "change," since warming isn't even happening anyway) or in benefits of central banking (the Federal reserve itself helps by putting out a lot of funds to economics professors for pro-Fed research) or looking the other way regarding U.S. imperialism (note the huge number of political science professors at prestigious universities who "consult" with the CIA, State Department, ad nauseum).