November 18, 2004

Liberal Academia and Hiring Bias

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at November 18, 2004 10:30 PM

Now that I have more time, I want to follow up on one of the links from this morning's post, the survey of faculty party identification at Berkeley and Stanford. The New York Times article on this study points out that some (e.g. David Horowitz) see this as evidence of hiring bias in academia. I don't buy it—maybe in the humanities, where a person's political views are more evident in their work, but I have a hard time believing that the physics department has information about applicants' party affiliation, or for that matter even cares. (Anyone who's applied for a tenure-track physics job would be better able to confirm or disconfirm this.) The D/R ratio observed was as bad or worse in physics than in other fields, but there are a number of non-malicious factors that would explain this:

  • Democrats are more likely to come to Berkeley in the first place than Republicans.
  • Merely by residing in Berkeley one is more exposed to liberal arguments than conservative ones. (The fact that the liberal arguments around here are frequently really, really dumb may offset this.)
  • I am obviously less than neutral here, but the Democratic platform is much more attractive to scientists in particular. I've talked about all the reasons for this before; to give just one example, when one party's leadership denies that evolution is true, it should be no surprise that scientists support the other.

Again, this doesn't rule out a hiring bias in the humanities; the anti-science elements of Republicanism aren't going to be as much of an issue there. But it shows that a large imbalance isn't by itself evidence of such a bias.


This post makes me think of two of my favorite profs at Southwestern. One of them was a hard-core Republican and the other was a Democrat. I don't mean just a Democrat, either. He was kicked out of the Socialist Party at The University of Texas for being too liberal. I didn't know you could be too liberal for the Socialists. Interesting. Anyway these two men were very powerful influences for me; I learned an enormous amount from both. And I think their political views had a lot to do with that. I was never allowed to be uninformed about anything...I knew both sides of everything. The other thing that I really liked was that I never felt force-fed, by either of them. Man, those guys were kick-ass teachers. There should be more like them.

Posted by: Tracy | November 19, 2004 12:17 PM

P.S. I would also like to add that just as there are stupid Democrats out there, there are also some incredibly smart Republicans...who believe in my dad, for instance.

Posted by: Tracy | November 19, 2004 12:23 PM

I would never claim that there aren't smart Republicans, or even smart Republican scientists (I know a few). All I'm saying is that many scientists are likely to be disturbed by the anti-science rhetoric and policies of the Republican party.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | November 19, 2004 12:41 PM

Well, there is a pretty strong correlation between scientific training and tending towards the liberal side of things. If you compare the Left-Right spectrum of science faculty in conservative parts of the country versus the spectrum of their surrounding locals, you'll find stark differences. (I don't have precise numbers. Sorry. I do have a lot of empirical evidence, but one should be able to construct the numbers approximately, and perhaps someone already has) My comment is also about research institutions, not teaching ones (the next comment will illustrate perhaps a big part of the reason for this).

Another thing that contributes is that science faculty at research institutions tend to be foreign born, and on the scale of things, even the US Democrat party is to the Right (often significantly so) to scientists from Europe, etc. I think that spectral differences between research and teaching institutions (especially that relative to surrounding area of the country) may be partly due to that and also partly due to the fact that at local, teaching institutions, many of the faculty are people who are from that rough area of the country. They're less likely to have moved across the country to find the job they want.

Also, even with the correlation between going to the Left (on the US scale) and science education among US-born folk, I'm guessing that that is _not_ the predominant factor here.

It would be very interesting to have precise data here. I'd like to compare the Berkeley results to those at research institutions in more conservative areas of the country. I'm not convinced it has much to do with Berkeley.

Posted by: Mason | November 19, 2004 7:41 PM
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