What Bias Looks Like

Megan McArdle explores the causes and consequences of academia’s liberal skew.  In her concluding section, she notes that one problem with excluding conservatives from academia is that it “makes scholarship worse.”

Unless we assume what to many liberals is “proven” by their predominance in academia–that conservative ideas have no merit–leaving conservatives out means that important viewpoints are excluded.  We are never the best interrogators of our ideas.  It requires motivated critics to lay bare our hidden assumptions, our misreading of the data, our factual inaccuracies.  No matter how scrupulously honest you try to be, you are no substitute for an irritated opponent thinking, “That can’t possibly be right!”

If you build a group with the same assumptions, you can all too easily go wrong.

. . . it’s healthier if different groups, with different taboos, all have a place in the quest for truth. Monoculture is as unhealthy for ideas as it is for agriculture.

This is an important point. I am regularly astounded by the number of otherwise-intelligent academics I encounter who are completely ignorant of alternative views.  It’s not that they’ve considered and rejected conservative or libertarian arguments.  It’s that they fail to understand them, if they are familiar with them at all.  This post by Mark Kleiman is a good example, in that it puts forward a laughable caricature of libertarian and originalist constitutional thought that would have been discredited with but a moment’s investigation into the question (as I noted here, and Pejman Yousefzadeh discussed here).  To Prof. Kleiman’s credit, he backed off (a little) when other took the time to respond, but that a prominent, thoughtful academic would post something like this as an ostensibly thoughtful critique of right-leaning ideas says quite a bit about the state of much academic discourse.

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