Groupthink Rife In British Academia: Growing Risk Of Systematic Bias In Science

  • Date: 02/03/17
  • Adam Smith Institute

Groupthink mentality is rife within academia, with 90% of British universities censoring speech on campus last year, a new report released today by the Adam Smith Institute reveals.

People with right-wing and conservative views are underrepresented in British universities, making up less than 12% of academics, even though 50% of the general public vote for right-wing parties, risking systematic biases in scholarship.

Image result for UK university bias cartoon

The paper offers a number of explanations for how the world of academia has become so homogenous, discrediting the notion that smarter people are uniformly more left wing—in fact, the top 5% of intelligence is split along roughly the same political lines as the population at large.

Studies from the US reveal that conservative academics are discriminated against in grant reviews and hiring decisions, and more than 80% of conservative academics feel that there is a hostile climate towards their beliefs at work.

The report warns that without more ideological diversity in academia, the rejection of left-liberal values will increasingly equate to denying objective facts. It may also cause a right-wing backlash, with right-leaning governments defunding universities they see as ideological opponents rather than apolitical scholars.

Further adverse consequence of ideological homogeneity include the curtailing of free speech on campus, with 90% of British universities censoring speech in some form last year; biased research with areas deemed politically unpalatable ignored, mischaracterized and angrily expostulated; and skewed teaching, with economic textbooks already giving market failure six times as much coverage as government failure and only half recognising its presence at all.

The report urges universities to commit to ideological diversity with the same fervour they commit to gender, class and race diversity, and asks that academics be alert to double standards and the risk of bias in their work, embracing adversarial collaborations within the field. An increasingly homogenous academy, it warns, will lose the trust of the public and the right wing governments funding its research.

Ben Southwood, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Conservatives have left the academy. You find a fair few libertarians—people with economically right-wing but socially liberal views—but hardly any who admit to being socially conservative.

“In principle, political views shouldn’t affect good scholarship, and it probably doesn’t matter if all our physicists are communists—unless they are passing nuclear secrets to foreign powers. But we should be less sanguine if all sociologists or anthropologists are, as they seem to be, there are obvious ways their views could infect their scholarship.

“No one is suggesting quotas, but we should be mindful of too much intellectual homogeneity. As John Stuart Mill pointed out, we need to air views in order to find out what’s true.”

Noah Carl, author of the report and researcher at Nuffield College, Oxford, said: “It cannot have escaped the notice of anyone who has spent time in British academia, especially in the social sciences and humanities, that there is a sizable left-liberal skew. One rarely encounters a fellow academic who supports the Conservatives, and I have never met one who supports UKIP.

“While differences in personality and interests appear to explain some of the left-liberal skew, discrimination may also be a factor. Moreover, growing evidence from the empirical literature indicates that the academy’s sizable left-liberal skew has had an adverse impact on scholarship.

“Universities are supposed to be places where perspectives are challenged, arguments are picked apart, and all ideas are up for discussion. This ideal is very difficult to achieve when the vast majority of scholars adhere to the same ideological precepts.”

Full paper



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