Ideology and Academia - Liberal Dominance Only in Those Fields Where it Matters:

The recent study of academics' political ideologies by sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons has been touted by the authors and by Inside Higher Education as showing that liberal dominance in academia is much less great than many believe.

However, this interpetation of the data is questionable. Gross and Simmons' Table 2 (pg. 28) shows that liberal dominance is overwhelming in the humanities and social sciences, the only two categories they list where ideology is actually likely to matter in influencing research agendas and classroom instruction:

Table 2
Field Liberal Moderate Conservative
Phys/bio sciences 45.2 47.0 7.8
Social sciences 58.2 36.9 4.9
Humanities 52.2 44.3 3.6
Comp sci/engineering 10.7 78.0 11.3
Health sciences 20.5 59.0 20.5
Other 53.4 35.9 10.7
Business 21.3 54.3 24.5
Total 43.5 47.1 9.4

Thus, Gross and Simmons' findings indicate that liberals outnumber conservatives by 11-1 among social scientists and 13-1 among humanities professors, with liberals forming a clear absolute majority in both fields. The somewhat less lopsided overall figure (about 4-1 liberal-conservative ratio) is reached only because of the relatively balanced nature of "health sciences," physical/bio sciences, comp sci/engineering, and business faculties. With the possible exception of business, all of the latter are fields where ideology makes little or no difference in either research or teaching. There are few meaningful professional differences between liberal computer scientists and conservative ones, or between liberal and conservative physicists. Moreover, Gross and Simmons' Table 12 (pg. 41) shows the results of a different survey question on which 24% of social scientists and 19% of humanities professors self-identified as "radical." This indicates that self-identified radicals (to say nothing of the left side of the political spectrum more generally) actually significantly outnumber conservatives in both fields.

Even in business classes, where ideology perhaps matters more than in the hard sciences, it probably matters less than in the social sciences and humanities. As I understand it (based admittedly on limited knowledge - I welcome correction from experts) a high percentage of business class instruction and business school professors' research focuses on relatively nonideological issues such as techniques for running a company, developing products, and marketing; only a minority of business courses focus on public policy issues with an ideological valence. Be that as it may, business professors surely have much less aggregate influence on both academic research and classroom instruction on politically charged issues than do humanities and social science scholars.

UPDATE: To avoid confusion, I should emphasize that this post takes Gross and Simmons' definition of "conservative," "liberal," and "moderate" as given. In the next post I challenge their analysis of moderation. There is therefore no contradiction between this post and the next one, although I admit I should have made the distinction between the two clear earlier.

UPDATE #2: Some commenters note that there is a large preponderance of liberals over conservatives in biological and physical sciences as well (almost 6-1). This is true. However, by Gross and Simmons' methodology, liberals in these fields are still outnumbered by moderates and conservatives (about 55-45). Thus, liberal dominance in these fields is not as clear as it is in the social sciences and humanities, where liberals outnumber conservatives by even larger margins and also constitute a clear absolute majority of the total.