Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ That Old Canard

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Half an Hour, Nov 01, 2015

In yesterday's New York Times the Arthur C. Brooks argues that there is systemic bias against conservatives in academia. This is my response. 

It must be coming around to election time again, as this old canard (complete with a 1975 study) makes the rounds again.

First of all, it should be no surprise to find more left-leaning people in a public service industry, just as it is no surprise to find that the boardrooms of banks and corporations are staffed almost entirely by people from the right wing.

It should also be no surprise to see people from the left in occupations with a focus on reason and intellect, as generally the more educated a person is, the more left wing they tend to become.

Third, it should be no surprise to see people in academia adopting aa more liberal stance because, as they say, "reality leans left." The right is known for its support for creationism, climate change denialism, anti-vaxxing, an apocalyptic would view, and a host of non-reality-dfriendly positions.

Finally, it's not even clear that the data brought forward by the right actually supports the contention that there is a right wing bias in academic. The cases are carefully selected, picking from research in sociology rather than, say, schools of business or medicine. And they compare apples and oranges; the same data set might *not* lead to the same conclusion when studying poverty and skin rashes, as these are very different phenomena.

This sort of reasoning is reflective of differences in the way the left and the right regard science, just as we saw here in Canada under ten years of conservative rule. On the right, science follows policy. It follows politics. It is manageed to show support for conclusions (and for industries) that have already won political support. But on the left, policy is derived from science. The political positions supported are those, typically, which are supported by evidence and research in the field.

Indeed, the idea that diversity is a virtue in society is a left-wing idea, not typically supported by conservatives. The great movements that created and shaped a more inclusive society - from feminism to anti-racism to aboriginal rights to GLBTQ-friendly policy - are left-wing movements.

It is typical of the right that it would view diversity not as a policy end in itself, but a piece of 'science' that can be taken out of context and used to prop up and rationalize the unsubstantiated conclusion that academia is out to get them. Why would they reason the left would work this way? Because that's what they, the right, would do in a similar position.

I have no objection to the existence of academics and professionals who can articulate and advance the right-wing argument. I personally do not believe such arguments can be sustained. But I don't think that 'diversity' means that we should promote conservatives to positions of academic responsibility simply on the ground that they are conservative. That's not how diversity works. And if the right were concerned with *understanding* diversity, rather than using it to promote their own self-interests, they would understand this.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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