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politics

Martin Robbins has a great new post up at the Guardian where he asks if liberal bias is science writing’s elephant in the room.

At the conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Texas last week, Professor Jon Haidt caused a stir when he asked the thousand-strong audience of academics a simple question: how many identified as politically conservative?

In a nation where 40% of the population describe themselves as conservative, just three people out of a thousand raised their hands.

It’s a good jumping off point for discussion, but might be overstating the case, as self reported labelling of political views tends to overstate the majority view. Social scientists would not normally ask a question like that, especially in public, because people are very influenced by prevailing culture in how they describe their beliefs and practises. This is why sexual behaviour studies talk about men who have sex with men rather than self identified gay or bisexual men, as those populations are not the same.

With that out of the way, it’s easy to see why there might be an over-representation of left wing voices.
Blogging and science writing are an offshoot of public education, a progressive endeavour in the tradition of the left. Right wing scientists, more comfortable with a hierarchy, might not see the need to engage publicly

The bigger factor to me seems to be how far the public debate has shifted such that the standards used to judge ideas are generally those of the left, which extends far beyond science writing and stifles debate elsewhere. Schools policy is now generally judged by how successfully it meets the needs of the lowest performing children rather than increases excellence at the other end of the scale. Improvements in national health across the board are scrutinised for evidence of the inequalities of interest to the left (ie the difference in life expectancy between social classes) rather than inequalities in general, like that between the sexes, or indeed praise for the improvements in health that have benefited everyone, if unequally distributed.

Writers interested in applying an evidence based approach to these social policies or hot button topics like genetics come in for a lot of ad hominem, which is probably why they keep it to the journals.

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