Three. That's the result of an informal poll taken by University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt at the beginning his presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. As New York Times' reporter John Tierney reports:
Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology's conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year's meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new "outgroup."
It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.
"This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity," Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a "tribal-moral community" united by "sacred values" that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they've created for non-liberals.
"Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation," said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. "But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations."
Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) told the audience that he had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s. He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal.
"I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work," one student wrote. "Given what I've read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not."
Haidt has given me a look at a good bit of the manuscript of his new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (January, 2012), and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about it.
I earlier wrote about some of the recent research that Haidt and his colleagues have done on The Science of Libertarian Morality. If interested, see how liberal social science bias works when it comes to demonizing conservatives in my 2004 column, Pathologizing Conservatism.
One more story, I was invited to speak at a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship seminar at MIT a few years ago. After I gave my spiel, we got to talking about for whom the 12 or so journalists were planning to vote in the upcoming 2000 election. As I remember it, the vote split 9 for Gore and 3 for Nader. I joked that perhaps the Knight program should invite me to join it for reasons of diversity. The puzzled head of program blurted out, "But you're a white male!" I gently explained that I meant ideological diversity. He (also a white male) had the grace to look chagrined.
The whole excellent Tierney article is well worth reading.