By Alan Bean
Two articles in recent editions of the New York Times caught my eye.
Although the scientific community is nearly unanimous in backing biological evolution, a new study shows that only 28% of high school biology teachers teach a strong version of evolutionary science, 13% teach straight creationism and the rest are noncommittal.
The second article highlighted (with apparent approval) University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s belief that his profession is riddled with liberal bias. While at least 80% of social scientists report being politically liberal, studies show that 40 percent of Americans report being conservative while only 20 percent are liberal.
Haidt says social psychologists comprise a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” (rooted in the civil rights movement) that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.
Maybe so, but if we follow Haidt’s logic, the working scientists who endorse biological evolution are similarly biased because high school teachers more accurately reflect the views of the average American.
I’m sure that social scientists have a liberal bias, just as biologists have an anti-religious bias. We are a biased species; I’m sure there is some evolutionary explanation. Nonetheless, when I want an informed opinion on the mating habits of the iguana I will take the opinion of a trained zoologist over that of your basic high school teacher any day. And if I want to understand the relationship between poverty and public policy I’ll ask a social scientist (or better, five or six of them).
Mr. Haidt has a problem with the legacy of the civil rights movement. According to the article (and it’s hard to tell if journalist John Tierney is paraphrasing Haidt or giving us his own take) “academics can be selective . . . as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.”
It is hardly surprising that Moynihan, or anyone else studying the black family in 1965, would find that folks were hurting. Jim Crow might have just ended at the voting booth and the drinking fountain, but it was still going strong in the public schools, in the workplace and in the real estate market. The big question was whether black families were struggling because of poverty, bigotry and gross discrimination or due to “pathologies” created by “black culture”. Did Moynihan have the slightest idea how hard it can be to keep a marriage together when the unemployed dad has to pretend he wasn’t married so a desperate mother could get a welfare check. No, he didn’t. So Daniel Patrick concluded that black families needed to get their act together and white conservatives loved him for it.
Social scientists rejected Moynihan’s thesis, Haidt suggests, because it conflicted with civil rights orthodoxy. “The fight for civil rights and against racism became the sacred cause unifying the left throughout American society, and within the academy,” a shared morality that “binds and blinds.” As a result, it was considered impolitic to blame the victims of racism.
After centuries of oppression, shouldn’t white Americans exercise caution when describing black social issues, especially in 1965? Of course they should, just as post holocaust Germans should have been inclined to caution when commenting on “the Jewish problem.”
Similarly, Haidt is aghast that anyone would criticize poor Larry Summers (president of Harvard University in 2005) for opining that women might not have as much aptitude as men in the fields of math and science. Again, the assumption was that women’s achievement in these fields fell short because they just didn’t have what it takes.
It should come as no surprise that social scientists are more liberal than the average citizen–they are attuned to the complexity of social relationships and have meticulously documented the harm caused by punitive and ill-advised public policies. Sure, some of them are arrogant, and professors do treat their conservative with a contempt they don’t deserve.
But in the end, the hard facts side with the evolutionists over the seven-day-creationists and with the social scientists over the small government conservatives. Only in politics do we pick the winner by counting the votes.