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Bias in Academia? Surely you jest.

Research and scientific data are supposed to be absolute. Data cannot lie. Data cannot tell you its own opinion. Data is how we base entire schools of thought on many, many different subjects and in many different fields. This data is researched and submitted to academic journals, for others within those subjects and fields to read and analyze, and perhaps put the results through their own tests to see if they can be replicated. Such an example is the popular theory of the “gay” gene, which one research group found evidence of. However, the research outcome could not be replicated (there are some who are going to try again), and it’s largely believed that the methodology in locating it was not up to contemporary scientific standards (newer processes exist than the ones that were used).

However, there has been for a while now, a growing political lean even in the data that is reported in some of these journals. Unsurprisingly, we see a leftward tilt in the research done and the conclusions drawn. It never fails that, particularly in the fields of social science and behavioral sciences, the bias will often obscure or even directly effect the outcome of the study. Over at Psychology Today, Dr. Lee Jussim pens a piece on a recent study of political bias in how research is interpreted by the more politically aware. The study took a look at who was more likely to reject research outcomes based on their political affiliation. The study found that, contrary to what the media and even academics will tell you, conservatives are far more likely to accept research, regardless of whether or not it agrees with their political ideology. Liberals, meanwhile, are more likely to reject a study if it does not conform to their world view.

What Dr. Jussim says about the submission process of his article on the subject is the real problem in academia today:

An early version of this paper was framed quite explicitly as examining whether political biases were symmetric (i.e., similar for conservatives or liberals) or asymmetric (larger for liberals or conservatives).  Clearly, we found they were larger for liberals.  We thought this result was incredibly important, because so much prior research had emphasized bias and distortion among conservatives and had reported that such biases were generally larger than those occurring among liberals.  As such, this should have been important “news” – even “counterintuitive news” given how much the received wisdom emphasized conservative bias (and, for better or worse, social psychology has long been enamored of such counterintuitive findings – although, as this story demonstrates, perhaps it is primarily counterintuitive findings that do not challenge the supposed moral or intellectual superiority of liberals that are so privileged).

We could not get this published.  It was rejected at two separate journals.  Finally, we decided to bag every mention of liberals being more biased than conservatives, and resubmitted it to another journal.  This time, it was accepted.  Now, even though the text does not mention finding that liberals were more biased than conservatives, the pattern is right there, in the data reported in tables and figures, for anyone to see.  The paper shows that liberals are more biased than conservatives, at least when and how we studied it.  Neither I nor Jarret would or did claim that such a pattern is always necessarily true.  But it was true in our data.  We were just not permitted to say so.

To be clear, no one said, “You cannot say liberals are more biased than conservatives.”  We just could not get the paper published when we did say that and we did get it published when we did not say that.

I don’t know the full details behind Jussim’s submissions (although I would very much love to read both the early draft and the one that was accepted for publication), but it does seem as though there is a little bit of an issue here, and one that academics should be taking a closer look at. It is very troublesome to have the most highly-educated in the research world rejecting data simply because it does not conform to their world view. But, everything is political, isn’t it?

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