Missing Link Friday – ‘Coming out of the closet’ edition

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt shares this story written by a young gay woman in 1985:

Until about a year ago, I was very quiet about my sexual orientation… I often didn’t understand the sexual jokes made by my colleagues… the people making the jokes thought that we all felt the same way, and I certainly wasn’t going to reveal that I disagreed. That would have been much too awkward.

JB was really the first person I talked to about my sexual identity. He made me feel more comfortable and seemed to want to hear other perspectives…. Since then, taking PT’s class opened up a dialog and others have shared more as well. Before I thought that I was completely alone and was afraid to say much because of it. Now I feel both somewhat obligated to speak up (don’t want others to feel as alone as I did) and also know that I have more support than I originally realized.

But Haidt is playing a trick here. This is actually a story by a social psychology student who felt out of place because she didn’t share her teachers’ liberal political views. Haidt changed just five words to transform a story about political beliefs into a story about sexuality

Almost all social psychologists are liberals says Jonathan Haidt. And he believes it’s a problem because it creates blind spots. As he writes in a post on the YourMorals blog: "when conservatives are entirely absent (as opposed to simply underrepresented), then there is NOBODY to speak up, nobody to challenge predominant ideas, and our science suffers." He goes on to suggest that the Society for Personality and Social Psychology should have affirmative targets for conservatives.

At the New York Times Paul Krugman accuses Haidt of treating ideological differences as equivalent to racial differences. "This is a really, really bad analogy" writes Krugman. Many academics research issues which define the political divide. Krugman continues:

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?

Haidt responded by repeating his argument that ideological groups have something in common with religious groups — a sense of the sacred. According to Haidt, when sacred values are threatened, people use their reasoning not to find the truth, but to defend what they hold sacred. Some fundamentalist Christians feel that the Biblical account of creation must be defended against biological theories of evolution. In a similar way, most social psychologists feel they must continue the fight against racism. And in practice this means rebutting claims they see as blaming the victim. When liberal social psychologists can’t evaluate the evidence without bias, they need conservative colleagues to point out what they can’t see.

At Catallaxy, Sinclair Davidson wonders whether bias in social science really matters. Some of his commenters think it does.

At the Atlantic, Megan McArdle writes:

Conservatives are usually reluctant to agree that women and minorities are still often victims of structural or personal bias–despite numerical underrepresentation and some fairly compelling studies showing that hiring is not race or gender blind. Yet when it comes to conservatives in academia, they suddenly sound like sociologists, discussing hostile work environment, the role of affinity networks in excluding out groups, unconscious bias, and the compelling evidence from statistical underrepresentation.

Libertarian psychologist and blogger Dr Helen remembers how tough it was as a student. She writes:

I can only imagine how the (rare) current crop of conservative or libertarian psychology grad students feel. My advice to those students: My advice to those students: Don’t let them run you out of the field. Stand your ground and try to make it to the other side of the PhD and get your ideas out there.

Another US blogger, Neo-Neocon writes: "There’s something ironically satisfying about such a group’s inability to understand its own prejudices and demands for conformity."

At The Lesbian Conservative, lesbianoutsider is amazed: "In the land of academic delusions there just might be a ray of intellectual light beginning to penetrate the dark psychology of political bias on college campuses."

More on Jonathan Haidt

The Five Moral Senses
Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic

The New Science of Morality
An Edge Seminar

Moral psychology and the misunderstanding of religion
Jonathan Haidt, The Edge

What makes people vote Republican
Jonathan Haidt, The Edge

Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?
Nicholas Wade, New York Times

The Moral Instinct
Steven Pinker, New York Times

Other interesting stuff …

Alcove no. 1

Intellectual breakthroughs are almost always the product of group deliberation, discussion, and debate. And the greatest breakthroughs may be more likely to come from people on the margins of mainstream intellectual thought – from people who have a clear vantage point to observe the dominant perspectives but who are sufficiently external that they are free to argue against that perspective and think creatively about possible alternatives. It’s a good hypothesis anyway.

Daniel Bell
Kieran Healy, Crooked Timber

I heard a story once about Bell being asked what he specialized in. “Generalizations”, he replied.

Naomi Wolf And The Danger Of Universal Genius
Thomas, Yes means yes (via: tigtog at Hoyden about town)

The world is full of smart people, but intelligence doesn’t help if they don’t know what they’re talking about.

A housing market whodunit
Oliver Marc Hartwich, Business Spectator

If Australians really cared for making housing more affordable in the long run, they should be studying the German and Swiss experiences more closely.

More shameless hate-mongering from some political ‘leaders’
Andrew Bartlett

Mr Andrews repeats the strange assertion that “we can’t have a discussion about (extreme Islam).” He must be failing to see the regular commentary and debate about this issue, most recently from a number of Muslim leaders in Australia.

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