[Paleopsych] Krugman: An Academic Question

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An Academic Question
Opinion column by Paul Krugman, New York Times, 5.4.5

    It's a fact, documented by two recent studies, that registered
    Republicans and self-proclaimed conservatives make up only a small
    minority of professors at elite universities. But what should we
    conclude from that?

    Conservatives see it as compelling evidence of liberal bias in
    university hiring and promotion. And they say that new "academic
    freedom" laws will simply mitigate the effects of that bias, promoting
    a diversity of views. But a closer look both at the universities and
    at the motives of those who would police them suggests a quite
    different story.

    Claims that liberal bias keeps conservatives off college faculties
    almost always focus on the humanities and social sciences, where
    judgments about what constitutes good scholarship can seem subjective
    to an outsider. But studies that find registered Republicans in the
    minority at elite universities show that Republicans are almost as
    rare in hard sciences like physics and in engineering departments as
    in softer fields. Why?

    One answer is self-selection - the same sort of self-selection that
    leads Republicans to outnumber Democrats four to one in the military.
    The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private
    sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in

    But there's also, crucially, a values issue. In the 1970's, even
    Democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan conceded that the Republican
    Party was the "party of ideas." Today, even Republicans like
    Representative Chris Shays concede that it has become the "party of

    Consider the statements of Dennis Baxley, a Florida legislator who has
    sponsored a bill that - like similar bills introduced in almost a
    dozen states - would give students who think that their conservative
    views aren't respected the right to sue their professors. Mr. Baxley
    says that he is taking on "leftists" struggling against "mainstream
    society," professors who act as "dictators" and turn the classroom
    into a "totalitarian niche." His prime example of academic
    totalitarianism? When professors say that evolution is a fact.

    In its April Fools' Day issue, Scientific American published a spoof
    editorial in which it apologized for endorsing the theory of evolution
    just because it's "the unifying concept for all of biology and one of
    the greatest scientific ideas of all time," saying that "as editors,
    we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence." And it
    conceded that it had succumbed "to the easy mistake of thinking that
    scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or
    best-selling novelists do."

    The editorial was titled "O.K., We Give Up." But it could just as well
    have been called "Why So Few Scientists Are Republicans These Days."
    Thirty years ago, attacks on science came mostly from the left; these
    days, they come overwhelmingly from the right, and have the backing of
    leading Republicans.

    Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains
    of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out."
    Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting
    the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax." And
    conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael
    Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.

    Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party -
    increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be
    determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or
    scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have
    returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.

    Conservatives should be worried by the alienation of the universities;
    they should at least wonder if some of the fault lies not in the
    professors, but in themselves. Instead, they're seeking a Lysenkoist
    solution that would have politics determine courses' content.

    And it wouldn't just be a matter of demanding that historians play
    down the role of slavery in early America, or that economists give the
    macroeconomic theories of Friedrich Hayek as much respect as those of
    John Maynard Keynes. Soon, biology professors who don't give
    creationism equal time with evolution and geology professors who
    dismiss the view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old might face

    If it got that far, universities would probably find ways to cope -
    by, say, requiring that all entering students sign waivers. But
    political pressure will nonetheless have a chilling effect on
    scholarship. And that, of course, is its purpose.

    E-mail: krugman at nytimes.com

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