Academic bias

Academic bias is the bias or perceived bias of scholars allowing their beliefs to shape their research and the scientific community. It can refer to several types of scholastic prejudice i.e. logocentrism, phonocentrism[1], ethnocentrism or the belief that some sciences and disciplines rank higher than other. In United States of America in particular, claims of bias are often linked to claims by conservatives of pervasive bias against political conservatives and religious Christians.[2] This claim focuses on what conservatives such as David Horowitz say is discrimination against those who hold a conservative ideology and the argument that research has been corrupted by a desire to promote an progressive agenda. Barry Ames et al., John Lee and Henry Giroux have argued that these claims are based upon anecdotal evidence which would not reliably indicate systematic bias.[3][4][5] Russell Jacoby has argued that claims of academic bias have been used to push measures that infringe on academic freedom.[6]

According to Academic Questions, a quarterly journal with a conservative point of view, evidence for academic bias includes the disproportionate percentage of academics who are political progressives[7][8] and/or irreligious.[9][10][11] Conservative activists such as Horowitz have argued that this imbalance is due to academics creating an inhospitable atmosphere for conservatives.[12][13] Ames et al. and Neil Gross have suggested that this divide is due to self-selection. Instead of conservatives not participating in academia because of discrimination, this theory suggests that conservatives simply are more likely to choose not to pursue an academic career.[3][14]

Empirical support for academic bias

Some research supports the possibility of academic bias against political conservatives and the highly religious. An audit study suggests that entrance into a clinical psychology graduate program is negatively affected by whether the applicant is a conservative Protestant.[15] Examination of the comments made by members of the admission committees of medical schools also indicated religious candidates were more closely questioned because of their beliefs.[16] Other research indicates a willingness of academics to openly admit that they are less likely to hire a colleague, if they find out that the colleague is either religiously or politically conservative.[17][18] George Yancey's research is particularly notable since he finds that academics in a variety of disciplines are open to discriminating against fundamentalists, evangelicals and to a lesser extent Republicans. Research further suggests that certain types of conservatives are more likely to suffer from potential academic bias. Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter's analysis indicates that economic and foreign policy conservatives' academic careers do not appear to be shaped by their conservatism.[19] Yancey also argues that the label of Republican or Christian may not be enough to trigger bias, but those seen as strongly conservative in their political ideology or religious theology may garner discrimination and prejudice.[20] Furthermore, evidence of academic bias appears to be stronger in the social sciences and humanities than in the natural sciences.[8][17] According to George Yancey, such findings indicate that if academic bias exists, then it does so within a given cultural context.[20] One study of philosophy found that while half of respondents believed ideological discrimination as wrong, a significant minority believed discrimination against individuals with opposing ideologies was justified.[21] A 2017 paper argued that left-wing ideologies had taken over criminology in the 1960s and 1970s, observing a massive increase in research around fields such as radical, Marxist and feminist criminology. The paper's authors argued this resulted in bias, as the ideology of scientists within the field influenced both the acceptance of certain theories and the rejection of others; criminologists of this period came to regard criminology as being about criticising the social structure of society and those who supported the status quo. The authors also argue that even in the modern day, much of the writing in criminology remains primarily political in both origin and purpose.[22]

Empirical support for self-selection

However, reasons given for the unwillingness of conservatives to pursue an academic career may be because conservatives prefer higher paying jobs[3] and are not as tolerant of controversial ideas as progressives.[23] Empirical support for self-selection can be found in the work of Neil Gross.[14] Gross conducted an audit study whereby he sent emails to directors of graduate study programs. He varied the emails so that some of them indicated the student supported the presidential candidacy of Senator John McCain, some of them supported the presidential candidacy of then Senator Barack Obama and some of them were politically neutral. He found that the directors of graduate study programs did not significantly vary in their treatment of the senders of the letters regardless of the implied political advocacy of that sender. His work suggests an absence of systematic discrimination against political conservatives.[14]

Implications of academic discrimination

Brent D. Slife and Jeffrey S. Reber assert that an implicit bias against theism limits possible insights in the field of psychology.[24]

Research by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative group, argues that course curriculums betray a progressive bias.[25] However, John Lee argues that this research is not based on a probability sample and uses a research design that cannot rule out explanations other than political bias.[4] Furthermore, research suggests little or no leftward movement among college students while they are in college.[26]

Academic bias has also been argued as a problem due to discrimination against conservative students. Research has indicated that conservative Christians may experience discrimination on colleges and universities, but these studies are anecdotal and rely on self-reported perceptions of discrimination. For example, the Hyers' study includes "Belief Conflicts" and "Interaction Difficulties" as discriminatory events.[27][28] However, other work suggests that very few students experience discrimination based on political ideology.[29]

Phillip Gray argues that ideological bias in political science risks creating "blind spots", whereby certain ideas and assumptions are just accepted as normal and not challenged. Gray argues that this could mean that issues that concern the ideology of the dominant majority could receive a lot of focus, while issues that concern less prominent ideologies could be seen as less worthy of investigation and thus be consequently understudied. This risks resulting in a fairly ideologically homogenous field whereby certain "givens" are just accepted and thus not examined. In addition, Gray argues that this means that certain studies are not given adequate examination if they confirm the dominant group's ideological priors, even if the studies are flawed. Gray further argues that ideological bias in academia risks portraying other political groups not as another group of actors with their own beliefs but rather as a threat (too ignorant or prejudiced to know what is good) or menace (inherently inclined towards destructive acts and policies). This results in these groups being portrayed as dysfunctional and requiring diagnosis rather than understanding; while Gray does not believe political science blatantly "otherizes" its ideological outgroups, he does argue that that there is an implicit "diagnostic" attitude towards groups that disagree with the majority's view.[30]

Bias in other dimensions

There is some evidence that academic bias can be based in non-political and non-religious dimensions. At least one study suggests that perception of classroom bias may be rooted in issues of sexuality, race, social class and sex as much or more than in religion.[31] However, according to Yancey's research willingness of academics to discriminate against colleagues indicate little appetite for such discrimination, unless the target is religiously or politically conservative.[17]


  1. Derrida, Jacques (1998). Of Grammatology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 11–12.
  2. Hibbing, John D (2014), "Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology", Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37 (3): 297–350, doi:10.1017/S0140525X13001192, hdl:1911/77132, ISSN 1939-1323, PMID 24970428
  3. Ames, Barry; Barker, David C; Bonneau, Chris W; Carman, Christopher J (2005), "Hide the Republicans, the Christians, and the Women: A Response to "Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty"", The Forum, 3 (2), doi:10.2202/1540-8884.1075, ISSN 1540-8884
  4. Lee, John (November 2006), The "Faculty Bias" Studies: Science or Propaganda (PDF), American Federation of Teachers, archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-17, retrieved 2014-01-24
  5. Giroux, Henry A. (2006), "Academic Freedom Under Fire: The Case for Critical Pedagogy", College Literature, 33 (4): 1–42, doi:10.1353/lit.2006.0051, ISSN 1542-4286
  6. Jacoby, Russell (2005), "So Universities Hire Liberal Faculty-This Is News?", The Nation, retrieved 2014-01-24
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  10. Larson, Edward J; Witham, Larry (1998), "Leading scientists still reject God", Nature, 394 (6691): 313–4, doi:10.1038/28478, ISSN 0028-0836, PMID 9690462
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  13. Horowitz, David (2009). One-Party Classroom. New York: Crown Forum. ISBN 978-0307452559.
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  19. Rothman, Stanley, and S. Robert Lichter. 2009. "The Vanishing Conservative--Is There a Glass Ceiling." In The Politically Correct University: Problem, Scope, and Reforms, edited by Robert Maranto, Richard E. Redding and Frederick M. Hess, 60-76. Washington, DC: The AEI Press.
  20. Yancey, George (2012), "Recalibrating Academic Bias", Academic Questions, 25 (2): 267–278, doi:10.1007/s12129-012-9282-y, ISSN 0895-4852
  21. Peters, Uwe, Nate Honeycutt, Andreas De Block, and Lee Jussim. "Ideological Diversity, Hostility, and Discrimination in Philosophy."
  22. Wright, John Paul, Kevin M. Beaver, Jamie M. Gajos, and Catherine Sacarellos. "Three Strikes and You’re Out: A Short but Modern History of Biosocial Criminology." The Handbook of the History and Philosophy of Criminology (2018): 237.
  23. Cohen, Patricia (18 January 2010), "Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left", The New York Times, New York, p. C1, retrieved 2014-01-24
  24. Slife, Brent D; Reber, Jeffrey S (2009), "Is There a Pervasive Implicit Bias Against Theism in Psychology?", Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 29 (2): 63–79, doi:10.1037/a0016985, ISSN 2151-3341
  25. American Council of Trustees and Alumni (May 2006), How Many Ward Churchills? (PDF)
  26. Mariani, Mack D.; Hewitt, Gordon J (2008), "Indoctrination U.? Faculty Ideology and Changes in Student Political Orientation", PS: Political Science & Politics, 41 (4): 773–783, doi:10.1017/S1049096508081031, ISSN 1049-0965
  27. Hyers, Lauri L; Hyers, Conrad (2008), "Everyday Discrimination Experienced by Conservative Christians at the Secular University", Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 8 (1): 113–137, doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2008.00162.x, ISSN 1529-7489
  28. Rosik, Christopher H; Smith, Linda L (2009), "Perceptions of religiously based discrimination among Christian students in secular and Christian university settings", Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 1 (4): 207–217, doi:10.1037/a0017076, ISSN 1943-1562
  29. Rothman, Stanley; Kelley-Woessner, April; Woessner, Matthew (16 December 2010), The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power, Politics, and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, ISBN 978-1-4422-0808-7, retrieved 2014-01-24
  30. Gray, Phillip W. (13 June 2019). "Diagnosis versus Ideological Diversity". PS: Political Science & Politics. 52 (4): 728–731. doi:10.1017/S1049096519000660.
  31. Boysen, Guy A; Vogel, David L; Cope, Marissa A; Hubbard, Asale (2009), "Incidents Of Bias in College Classrooms: Instructor and Student Perceptions", Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2 (4): 219–231, doi:10.1037/a0017538, ISSN 1938-8934
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