Monday, November 12, 2012

Diversity in academia

99 percent of donors from Princeton gave to Obama, reports the Daily Princetonian, 157 to 2.  Princeton's one-percenters are a visiting lecturer and a custodian.

As a colleague pointed out, it may be little wonder that Republican politicians distrust academic "studies," whether about the effects of taxes on growth or carbon on the climate.

The story talks about the reasons for current faculty's opinions. But that misses the issue, which is how faculty are hired. Certain Opinions need not apply.

The faculty opinions are interesting anyway.
Goldston, a former director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, ...said he believes the large divide between faculty who donate to Obama and to Romney can in part be attributed to Obama’s effectiveness in supporting higher education.
The ethanol farmers of Iowa cheer this patriotic attitude.
“A lot of my own work is on stereotyping and prejudice and diversity issues, and I think the Democrats are just hands-down better in that,” she [Psychology professor Susan Fiske] said.
You just can't make this stuff up. Diversity? Stereotyping? Prejudice?
“Now, this is a big generalization, so there are many educated conservatives, but on average, my understanding is that education tends to make people more progressive,” she added.
With an education like that, no wonder.

(BTW my rough guess is that the Booth school is about 2/3 Democrat, at least judging from lunchroom discussions.)  

Update: Commenter JB McMunn below pointed out the comments at the daily Princetonian website, which I had not seen. I thought I had an acid tongue! A critical spirit is alive and well among Princeton students, it seems.

Update 2: Many commenters, and many of the much more venemous comments that I've been deleting, are missing the point. It's perfectly ok to vote for democrats. I vote for democrats (and libertarians) often as well. I find the republican social conservatives' positions as noxious as much dirigiste democratic economic policy. Take your pick which is more dangerous to the country at a given moment.

The point is diversity. If you never hear from the other side, if nobody where you live and work has anything remotely like their views, you become insular, and your own opinions, never challenged, can harden on serious mistakes.

Academia especially profits when lots of widely different views contest, not when it becomes a claque of uniformity. The thing I enjoy most about being an academic is when I'm proven wrong, or at least challenged -- when Dick Thaler or Austan Goolsbee hammers me in the lunchroom, and I say, whoa, I need to think about that. Princeton, according to the Daily Princetonian, and most of the University of Chicago as well, never hears from religious conservatives, members of the armed forces, neoconservative hawks, or even middle of the road Bush I republicans, to say nothing of free market economists and libertarians. These people are not stupid, and an academic institution devoted to intellectual diversity needs to hear from them, and occasionally hire them.


  1. the Booth school is about 2/3 Democrat

    I think this says a lot about the relationship the large corporations most of your students will be working for have with the government.

    Not a healthy thing in my mind.

    1. I meant the faculty, and to counter expected comments that we must be a similarly uniform right wing place.

    2. I understood it to be the faculty.

      My complaint, as such, is that too many large corporations look at the government as a partner these days. And a good business school like Booth will align itself accordingly. It makes sense. I don't like it, but it makes sense.

  2. No confirmation bias there Dr. Fiske, nosiree.

  3. “A lot of my own work is on stereotyping and prejudice and diversity issues, and I think the Democrats are just hands-down better"

    Oh the irony of the student of stereotyping . . . stereotyping.

    Did you read the comments? They shredded the hypocrisy of a campus where 99% of the faculty share the same political philosophy.

  4. Selection bias (as Prof Cochrane implies) due to the hiring process, or endogeneity bias? Maybe those liberals with all their "learning" are onto something?

  5. What is the issue here? Most of the republican leaders think the evidence for evolution is not convincing. Sarah Palin is a thought leader for republicans. Don't even try to draw a false equivalence with democrats. Politicians aren't the brightest bunch, but the number of outright anti-science republican leaders is scores higher than the democrats.

    I'm happy to do my fair share of mocking soft discipline professors, but that quote you put isn't that unreasonable. Education promotes tolerance and greater acceptance of unfamiliar thoughts. Being a researcher/intellectual for a living requires this.

    1. "Education promotes tolerance and greater acceptance of unfamiliar thoughts."

      Exactly. And yet we don't see that on campuses. The 'tolerance' you're talking about is towards one very narrow set of attitudes and beliefs, and anything outside that narrow range is not tolerated.

      "Being a researcher/intellectual for a living requires this."

      No, being a researcher requires extreme specialization, being a relative expert on a very, very small set of issues.

      My explanation for the lack of diversity on campuses is precisely this extreme specialization - people who know more than most about one tiny area tend to think that they know more than most about most things. Liberalism naturally caters towards self-described 'intellectuals', since it's based on the idea that a small elite should dictate to all.

      Moreover, these elite who consider themselves superior have to face the reality that the market often places a higher value on other skills beyond just narrow specialization and intellect - often hard work, risk-taking, innovation or the ability to manage people end up leading to greater rewards than sheer, isolated brain power.

      It's only natural that people who consider themselves elite tend to favor a philosophy based on dictatorship by the elite, rather than one in which everyone is allowed to choose and the market favors whatever is in short supply.

    2. "My explanation for the lack of diversity on campuses is precisely this extreme specialization - people who know more than most about one tiny area tend to think that they know more than most about most things."

      Because generally, we do, At least more than the general populace. We are a bunch that I) are smarter than average, II) relatively have more free time (than 9 to 5 workers). III) curious and enjoy learning and discovering. Yes, we won't know everything about everything but I bet the general level of knowledge is far higher in academia compare to anywhere else.

      And we don't care about markets because our job market is different and we don't care about money because we wouldn't be in academia if we would and preferring any kind of dictatorship by is just silly talk.

      And then there is a thing about diversity. We in hard sciences don't care about diversity. When a theory does not match the data, we just toss is away and we won't waste our time on it. This means that presented with theory in soft sciences, we reject the false equivalence that both side should be discussed equally in perpetuity. We listen to arguments but sometime one side is so wrong that they don't deserve a second hearing and we move on.

  6. The lack of collegiality here is simply immense. You are basically saying that your colleagues at Princeton (and I assume Berkeley as well) got their jobs based on politics. This is remarkably offensive. Curious, would that also be the case in Minnesota? Or Chicago Econ, where it is still a lot more conservative than Booth?

    1. Interesting perspective. I didn't have such a slur in mind. The numbers are about all of Princeton, not economics, and many universities are similarly uniform. The political uniformity is most prominent in humanities and social science, and Chicago is not much different than other universities. How do we talk about this without seeming to offend? The numbers are the numbers. Or is this one of those topics that you're just not allowed to talk about anymore?

    2. One way of 'talking about this without seeming to offend', would be to leave out remarks like "You just can't make this stuff up" or "With an education like that, no wonder."

  7. "As a colleague pointed out, it may be little wonder that Republican politicians distrust academic "studies," whether about the effects of taxes on growth or carbon on the climate."

    Ok, so would it be acceptable for Democrats to disregard information coming out of the military since around 70-75 percent of officers vote Democratic?

    I wouldn't think so, and they don't.

    Btw, and I think as for the quoted comment, that you get the causation wrong. It's more like Republcans attack scientists and academic professionals, and then those people become more likely to vote Democratic.

    Does anyone really except an evolutionary biologist to vote for Republcians who say "evolution is just a theory like creationism" and that the "jury is still out on evolution" The latter quote comes from George W. Bush. It probably doesn't help when Republican demagogue NSF grants with juvenile comments like "why are we studying chimpanzee testes?!"

    As the election this time provided, Republicans live in an alternative universe and tend to attack people who provide information that is contrary to their beliefs. A good example would be Republicans attacking pollsters or statiscians like Nate Silver who said Obama was a favorite.

    1. Sean - I agree that Professor Cochrane too easily excuses the Republican refusal to accept evidence, reason and objectivity and their embrace of faith, emotion and subjectivity. The attacks on Nate Silver were a remarkably clear illustration but so was the Republicans having the report from the Congressional Research Service on the effects of marginal tax rates pulled.

      I have some sympathy with Professor Cochrane's call that we should engage with other points of view. It is just that when the other point of view opens with a preposterous position as a central tenet I am not going to wade through all the manure hoping to find a pony. Life is short - why waste any of it on a Libertarian?

      An example of a position that I consider so preposterous as to warrant a closing of the ears and the mind would be Romney's tax plan where he refused to identify the loopholes he wanted to close. Once he refused to identify the loopholes there was nothing to engage with. Further, the refusal was strong evidence that he was in fact just peddling nonsense. For trial lawyers, the inability or refusal of a witness to provide details is a clear indicator of lying.

    2. It sounds to me like you're talking to too many democrats only. You repeat campaign propaganda, like "won't tell us which loopholes he will close," and ignore little missing details like how President Obama's proposal to raise taxes by $80 billion a year is going to close a $1 trillion deficit and also fund "new investments."
      You already wasted some time on a libertarian. Perhaps you should waste some more.

    3. A lot of these discussions are quasi religious
      For example, what does empirical research say is the effect of a 50% marginal income tax rate on growth ? I've never heard any Republican give me a coherent answer, including on this blog.

    4. I have to agree with Sean, here. Which way does the causation flow? Is the distrust of conservatives due to the academic support for democrats or is the academic support for the democrats caused by the total abandonment of science by conservatives? I think the latter is the case. This is not so much an argument in favor of Obama and the democrats as it is an argument that the republicans are anti-science.

      Ben Wheeler
      Sensational Sonnets
      From Now Until Muhammad Mahdi's War

    5. Professor Cochrane I think there is a difference between Romney and Obama. Romney said that his tax plan would work and did not provide specifics when asked. That the Democrats seized on what he said does not change the fact that he did in fact say it. Obama on the other hand has never said that raising taxes on the rich would balance the budget by itself.

      I am a middle aged, male, white (blue eyed), protestant, self employed, self made millionaire. I believe in individual freedom and responsibility but I also believe in the ability and the responsibility of the state to act for the good of all. I picked the screen name "Absalon" because he established law and order through state sanctioned violence and as a result founded a city that became known as "Merchants' Harbor" (and its current name is a corruption of that original name).

    6. "the total abandonment of science by conservatives"

      What? Based on some fiction that most conservatives/libertarians totally reject the theory of evolution? That's a convenient fiction. Meanwhile, a much larger proportion of liberals believe in communism than the proportion of conservatives who 'reject' evolution, and there's an incredible amount of evidence against communism.

      I wish that the self-described reality-based community that supposedly believes in science would apply the scientific method to support for communism. Communism doesn't work in theory (in any model with a reaonable set of assumptions) and it hasn't worked in practice, so true believers in 'science' would have totally rejected it long ago.

    7. Ann - I don't know what your definition of "communism" is but I haven't met a self identified communist since I was a university student in the 1970s.

      Polls show that something over 60% of Republicans do not believe in evolution (a disappointingly large number of Democrats also do not accept evolution.) You cannot say that 60% of liberals believe in communism unless you think that believing in a progressive tax system, social security and medicare makes one a communist.

  8. John, have you considered that this skewness has to do with the fact that educated people tend to be socially liberal ? 70% of religiously unaffiliated people voted for Obama in this election. Sociallly liberal fiscally libertarian Republicans have a coalition for whatever reason with hard core religious socially conservative right, but why is it surprising that a lot of UofC or Princeton professors are strongly turned off by that ?

  9. I agree that one of the problems in the academy is a lack of dialogue with social conservatives, of which I count myself a member. But why even try as a social conservative given the attitudes represented by the comments on this blog post? The presumption is that we are social bumpkins who are stuck in a pre-scientific mode of thinking. Rarely is respect given to worldviews that start from very different presuppositions, such as the truth of the Bible. My experience is that the liberal, non-religious part of the academy is much more intolerant of "diverse" views than those coming from a religious perspective.

  10. Prof.Cochrane,
    are you proposing a sort of "affirmative action", specifically a Republican quota, for hiring at Princeton? If that is so, do you have a number in mind, for say the proportion of Republican mathematicians of physicists a healthy university should have?

  11. The biggest problem is that living in an echo chamber "dumbs you down" - and it happens on both sides. I can say this as a graduate of both the U of C GSB (pre-Booth) and the Univ. of Minnesota (DVM). I am a fiscal and social conservative and will tell you that it is far more interesting for me to discuss issues will someone who does more than roll their eyes and sigh when one espouses an opinion for which they've never been challenged. And more productive, as well. Even the comments here show the bias that indicates that many of you have never met and honestly talked with a real live conservative. Get out a little more! You'll find out that lots of us think evolution is a very reasonable theory and are willing to discuss the implications of global climate change.

    1. of course there are some of you, perhaps many, but not the leaders of the republican party, not the people you support to lead this country

  12. And ~100% of donors Princeton are round-earthers. Oh, the humanity.

  13. Imagine voting restricted only to persons who scored over 130 on the IQ test. Who do you think would win? Anyone has any poll data to answer?

  14. Evolution seems to be the only issue liberals are thinking about when they say conservatives are anti-science. It seems to me that the left is more anti-science on politically important issues ranging from organic food's health value to global warming to differences between the sexes to the importance and heritability of IQ. In any case, here is a recent study of interest:

    Who Fears Science?
    What sorts of people fear scientific and technological development? This paper tests the common theory in political and social psychology that conservatives fear scientific change. Using data from 25 national cross-sectional studies of the adult population with 32,756 subjects, I find that conservatives and liberals both are more positive to scientific change than political moderates. Thus the results are inconsistent with one of the main pillars supporting the field of conservatism research. James Lindgren,

    General Social Survey data could be used to get correlations between conservatism or being a Republican and education or a rough measure of IQ. I think Lindgren may have done that in some paper too.

  15. Yea this republican are anti-science meme is bizarre- considering the left is heavily invested in anti-vaccination, retarded naturalistic fallacies, anti-GMO, pro-"grow local", pro-alternative medicine, anti-nuclear power. I will not even get into the utopianism that causes faith in central planning, so long as they have the "right people" in charge (their "philosopher kings"). In other words- there is plenty of anti-scientific bias on both sides. This pretense that these moonbats on the left are the bastions of scientific adherence is beyond laughable.

    1. I think the difference is, the craziness on the left is not part of the official party program or the establishment policy

    2. There is a distinction in believing something with no evidence (like the things you mention- alternative medicine, etc..) and not believing something with strong evidence.

      The right wing is worse on both. They are more religious (the ultimate believing something with no evidence) and they think the evidence for evolution isn't all that convincing.

      Based on how you're drawing a false equivalency, I would guess you work for CNN or ABC News?

  16. I hope that we can see that voting behavior in a two party system is hardly a good proxy for intellectual diversity - particularly when one party (the GOP) has been moving dramatically and swiftly to the right according to all the systematically collected data while the other has moved slight to the center (albeit with purging its own diversity as well). If anything it suggests conservatism (traditionally defined) in institutions with slow turnover - hardly surprising. Moreover there is plenty of evidence that the bounds of policy discourse by non-specialists (read - citizens who may teach behavioral economics and have little interest in health policy) may simply reflect the choices available in political life. So we can probably leave specifics aside in this case.

    I have yet to meet a human who is able to be open minded and critically minded across all domains. Even the academic brain is bandwidth limited.


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