Sunday, April 10, 2011

Confirmation Bias

My friend the Ambivalent Obama Supporter posted a headline from Fark on Facebook, as he often does: "Evangelicals, conservatives, and NRA members are shunned from academia, reports a study by the Wedgie Institute for Nerd Studies." I found the link on Fark, to a blog post by Peter Wood at the Chronicle of Higher Education. It purports to be a review of Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education (Baylor, 2011), a recent book by George Yancey, "a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas." Wood crows:
A new study presents evidence that more than a quarter of sociologists (27.8 percent) would “weigh favorably” membership in the Democratic Party by a candidate for academic appointment, and nearly 30 percent would weigh favorably a prospective candidate’s membership in the ACLU. More than a quarter (28.7 percent) would disfavor hiring a Republican, and 41.2 percent would weigh negatively a candidate’s membership in the National Rifle Association.
I'm not an academic and a fortiori not on a hiring committee for academics, but I'm not sure I'd hire Peter Wood for anything. Notice how he chooses his numbers in the paragraph above. How many sociologists would "disfavor" hiring a Democrat, for example, and how many would weigh positively a candidate's membership in the NRA? If Democratic Party membership would please 27.8 percent, it's a reasonable conclusion that the other 72.2 percent includes some nay-sayers. If academia is as overwhelmingly liberal as Wood believes, shouldn't the pro-Dem bias be higher than 27.8? I suppose I'd have to look at Yancey's book to find out, and I don't really have much interest in doing that.

Wood mentions some other recent research by "Neil Gross and his colleagues" which indicates that there is no liberal bias in academia. I'm not particularly interested in reading Gross et al.'s work either. But under the circumstances, Yancey's work doesn't settle the question, though Wood seems to think that one conflicting study, by an evidently interested if credentialed party, not only must be taken into consideration but proves that the Libs and the Leftists control the Academy. No, I wouldn't hire him to help me wash dishes.

The discussion in comments under Wood's post is marginally better, and certainly better spelled, than much Internet discussion. It's the Chronicle of Higher Education, after all. Unfortunately there are no permalinks to the comments (that I could find, anyway), but this one, by one tsb2010, stood out for me.
and is this book any news to us (closeted) conservative professors? While people are coming out of the closet left and right, we are shoved right in...
What I find interesting here is the writer's apparent assumption that "coming out of the closet" doesn't encounter any resistance. "We are shoved right in ..." Gay people also encountered plenty of efforts to shove us right back in; we fought back. Conservative professors like tsb2010 evidently want everything given to them without any work on their part; typical.

Speaking of which, there was this comment at Fark, 2011-04-08 04:33:00 PM (Leslie, how do I find permalinks for comments on Fark?):
I talked with an educated, 22 year -old kid fresh out of college who was both a tea party conservative and openly gay. It was a interesting conversation, but the one thing that lept out at me was how he was going on about what a great president TR was, and in the same breath how we needed more leaders that weren't "Harvard and Yale educated liberals."

It was only later that I made the connection between Roosevelt and Harvard. And this from a kid who had just finished his own higher education about three weeks prior.
Ah yes, liberal leaders like the Yale-educated George W. Bush...