Bias In Science
By Paul Homewood
Quillette, the self described platform for free thought, has an interview with Clay Routledge, a social psychologist and Professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University
It covers a number of topics, but two particular sections took my eye.
Q. Let’s turn to another topic, post-modernism. Do you think that critical theory or postmodernism will ever go away? There have been attempts to discredit postmodernism before (e.g. the Sokal Affair) but nothing seems to work. What should empirically minded academics do to counter the effects of these ideas?
“I am not sure it will ever go away. The basic idea has been around in different forms for a long time. Plus, part of the appeal of this kind of scholarship is that it approaches an important point. It just makes a dramatic turn in the wrong direction before it gets there. The important point is that people are biased and this influences scientific work. I and others have written about the problem of ideological bias in the empirical sciences. However, postmodernists horribly misdiagnose the problem. Science isn’t the problem. People are the problem. Scientists are people, so they can be biased. And this undercuts our ability to develop an objective understanding of the world. This means we need to increase our efforts to remove human bias. Postmodernists oddly go the opposite direction. They increase potential bias by rejecting the methods that help reduce bias. They put their faith, and I use the term faith purposely, in subjective human experiences instead of trying to remove subjectivity from research.”
Q. You’re outspoken about left-leaning bias on campus and even in psychology. Why do you think that it is important to draw attention to this issue? And have you suffered any blowback at all for talking about it?
“As I previously noted, ideological bias can influence research and most academics, especially in the social sciences and humanities, are on the political left. This leads to groupthink and reduces the amount of scrutiny certain research receives and the debate it inspires. And it can bias every step of the research process. It can influence the choice of research questions, the way scales or questionnaires are worded, the specific outcomes measured, the decision to publish or not publish results, the amount of criticism the research receives in the peer-review process, the topics of selected research symposia at conferences, what projects receive grant funding, and so on.
Viewpoint diversity helps because we rely on peers to challenge us, to debate our ideas and point out the biases and flaws in our research. In research that does not touch on social or political issues, we often see considerable debate, people offering alternative hypotheses or questioning particulars of the research design and statistical tests. This always improves the quality of the work and helps us get closer to the objective truth. But people seem to go a little or a lot easier on research that touches on sensitive social or political topics, or supports leftist ideology. I have seen this firsthand. I have been at talks where people present very poorly conducted research related to ideas that failed to replicate or were never well-supported to begin with and watched as hardly anyone in the audience offered even the slightest challenge. It is very strange to see well-trained scientists so blatantly ignore fundamental research flaws because they find the conclusion ideologically affirming. This is precisely why we need to make our methods more rigorous, fight for an academic culture that challenges groupthink and prioritizes the pursuit of truth over tribal loyalty, and encourage diversity of thought.”
He could have been talking about climate science.