Viewpoint Diversity

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Concept description

The founders of Heterodox Academy (reference below) claim that scholarship in the social sciences and related fields such as law and public policy would be better served if there was a greater diversity of viewpoints among researchers.

They claim that in American universities from 1995 to 2010, as the “Greatest Generation” retired and were replaced by the Baby Boom generation, “the academy went from leaning left to being almost entirely on the left” such that the “percent conservative for the major humanities and social science departments is closer to 5%.”

They write:

“Sometimes (to paraphrase the evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould), ideas become accepted because there is so much evidence in support of them that it would be perverse to believe otherwise (e.g., the Earth is round; modern living species are descended from earlier ones). Other times, however, ideas become widely accepted, even entrenched, without any real evidence. Such entrenched beliefs often arise because they support particular political or moral agendas; if the beliefs are falsified, the moral agenda will be threatened.

“Examples of entrenched yet questionable orthodoxies include:

  • Humans are a blank slate, and “human nature” does not exist.
  • All differences between human groups are caused by differential treatment of those groups, or by differential media portrayals of group members.
  • Social stereotypes do not correspond to any real differences.
  • Affirmative action is highly effective at advancing the interests, success, and status of oppressed or underrepresented groups,

“However, if academics were predominantly conservative or libertarian, a very different set of equally unjustified orthodoxies would likely be prevalent. Such orthodoxies forestall scholarly inquiry. There is a strong consensus in the academic world that diversity is important because bringing diverse viewpoints to bear on social, intellectual, philosophical, legal, and moral problems is likely to enhance the quality of the scholarship that bears on those issues. We enthusiastically embrace this view. The academic world must have viewpoint diversity if it is to function properly and produce reliable research.

“The dangers of orthodoxy to the academy are many:

  1. We do our colleagues students a disservice by not challenging their cherished beliefs. We fail as colleagues and as scholars when we allow unjustified dogmas or simply insufficiently justified claims go unchallenged.
  2. We fail as teachers to teach students the most important skill – how to think. When we shield them from strong counter-arguments on the issues they care most about, we set them up for confusion and anger when they later encounter people who think differently.
  3. By failing to contest inadequately justified dogmas, we risk advancing solutions that have no effect. For example, if a particular inequality does not result primarily from prejudice, and we engage in prejudice reduction efforts, we will fail to reduce that inequality.
  4. Promoters of these orthodoxies often create an environment of intolerance for diversity of ideas and dissent in the very institution in which free exchange of ideas is its raison d’etre. Free speech and the exploration of unsettling ideas is threatened on many campuses…”

Writing in Scientific American (reference below), social psychologist Clay Routledge says:

“The study of prejudice in social psychology (my field) illustrates why this lack of viewpoint diversity is problematic. Considering how harmful prejudice can be, most people would agree that it is a worthy topic of research. The problem isn’t the topic. The problem is how the personal ideologies of social psychologists can influence how the topic is studied. For example, social psychologists have long been interested in a possible link between political ideology and prejudice. To study prejudice one has to pick a target group. And guess what? Liberal social psychologists tend to pick target groups that are generally viewed as political allies (e.g., gay men and lesbians, atheists). The research then reveals that conservatives, compared to liberals, are less tolerant of members of these groups. And the liberal social psychologists proclaim that the finding supports the broader notion that conservatives are more prejudiced, less tolerant than liberals.

“Social psychologists have now produced a rather large literature promoting this idea. However, when researchers have bothered to examine attitudes about target groups that tend to be conservative (e.g., evangelical Christians, members of the military), the opposite pattern is observed. It is liberals, not conservatives, who display intolerance. But there are far fewer studies that focus on such target groups, probably because there are very few conservative social psychologists.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Diversity, Identity, and Rights (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Sources

Lee Jussim, Jonathan Haidt, and Chris Martin (2016), Heterodox Academy, at http://heterodoxacademy.org/problems/, accessed 15 November 2016.

Clay Routledge (2016), We Champion Racial, Gender and Cultural Diversity – Why Not Viewpoint Diversity? Scientific American, 24 October 2016, at https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/we-champion-racial-gender-and-cultural-diversity-why-not-viewpoint-diversity/, accessed 15 November 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 23 April 2017.

Image: Gerard Alexander, Political Science Needs More Viewpoint Diversity, at https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2016/09/political-science-needs-viewpoint-diversity/, accessed 23 April 2017.