When I posted this originally (here and here) I quoted a much longer excerpt from the cited Chronicle article than what is deemed appropriate, so this time I urge you to actually go and read it first and then come back to read my response.
From Dr.Munger’s blog, an interesting article: Liberal Groupthink Is Anti-Intellectual By MARK BAUERLEIN, The Chronicle Review Volume 51, Issue 12, Page B6 (that link is now dead, but you can find a copy here):
Hmmmm, why was the poll conducted only in social science departments (e.g., sociology, psychology, philosophy, history, anthropology, perhaps English…)? What was the point of the poll? To show that excessive pseudo-liberal post-modern straw-man actually exists? Sure it does, and it is excessive, pseudo-liberal, and post-modern, in other words it is not representative of liberalism in its pure form. Even in these departments, only an occasional member is really that far out.
How about business, accounting, economics and religion departments? Who says there are no conservatives in the academia? Hey, the Head of the political science department at Duke is a conservative – Dr.Munger himself!
So, one can argue that some fields of inquiry attract liberals, and others attract conservatives. Some areas are built on liberal foundations, others on conservatives foundations. So far, so good.
But, let’s look at apolitical departments. How about math, natural sciences, engineering, agriculture, medicine? One’s political views are not aired during the job interview, exposed in faculty meetings, do not show up in classroom teaching, do not get published in peer-reviewed journals. So, how come 90% of those faculty are also liberals/Democrats/Greens? Why are conservatives shunning these areas, or being shunned (if even recognized) by these departments? Is there something deeper going on here?
A couple of years ago I was talking to a post-doc in our department. We were talking about our research in general. I said that only about a quarter of my experiments work. She said: “You are a genius! That is a fantastic record”. I said something about having a good advisor who doesn’t let me do foolish stuff. Still, this shows what kind of person can survive in science: one with very thick skin, able to shrug, wash the dishes, go have a beer, and come back to the lab in the morning.
Academic life is extremely competitive (wouldn’t that make it inherently more attractive to conservatives?). Landing a tenure-track position is very difficult. It is reserved for the best of the best. One has to be the super-expert in one’s field. How does one become such a person?
Success in an academic field, especially in sciences, requires an exceptional clarity of thinking, sharpness of logic, and ability to see through the BS. One needs to be able to swiftly discard one’s most cherished pet hypothesis at moment’s notice when faced by the damned data that disprove it, data of one’s own making at 4am. This happens every day, every week, throughout one’s career, starting in grad school. It takes quite a high dose of honesty and ability for self-criticism to do so on a regular basis without getting frustrated enough to quit. A sense of humor is almost a requirement (as opposed to the common stereotype of a dour professor). Self-deprecation is a great survival tactic in such an endeavor.
So, why do people who survive such a painful training happen to be overwhelmingly liberal? Can it be, perhaps, because they employ the same brutal honesty and sharply-honed skills of critical analysis to politics? Can it be that their well-trained baloney-detection kit detects baloney in conservative ideology? Can it be that conservative thinking is just pure bad? Or at least out-dated? Can it be because conservative worldview is not based on empirical information, but on one’s own bias inherited from one’s parents, molded by one’s early childhood environment? Can it be that liberal model passes these tests?
There is no equivalence between Creationism and Evolutionary biology. So, why is it assumed that there is equivalence between the conservative and liberal outlook? It is the same kind of comparison. One view is out-dated and based on faith, the other is modern and based on empirical information about the way this world works. Perhaps there are very few conservatives in the academia for the same reason there are very few Creationists in the academia. Universities want to teach students the best available scholarship, so why hire the sub-standard thinkers?
As far as diversity of opinion in the clasroom, there is always a bunch of young unthinking loudmouth Republicans among the students. There needs to be someone in the position of authority to put them straight, teach them how to think clearly, and show them the way out of their medieval mindsets. Conservative writings need to be studied at the University in order to understand the anti-elite forces in order to learn how to defeat them (or isolate and leave behind to die out a natural death). People like von Hayek, Russell Kirk, Leo Strauss, Thomas Sowell, Robert Nozick, or Gertrude Himmelfarb need to be read by students in order to learn how to see through the deceptive rhetoric and destroy the argument, just like they need to know how to destroy arguments of Creationists.
How can we make sure that conservatives mis-educating our students in business, poli-sci, and economics departments get replaced by someone more up-to-date? Can the GOP tax-cutting madness, the Enron scandals, and the Bush electoral win be traced to the mis-education going on these departments?
That is what the University is for – the focal point of societal progress, the place where outdated ideas of the parent generation are replaced by modern fact-supported ideas of the intellectual elites. The modern University is the engine of progress. If it was not liberal, we might as well just have seminaries and take the country back to the Middle Ages and keep it there for centuries.
Am I an elitist to think this way? Sure I am, and proud of it. Elites are the avante-garde of society, the cutting edge of progress – why should one be ashamed of belonging to the elite or even of trying to join the elite? Why is this country so anti-elitist and anti-intellectual? It does not seem to be that way in Europe. What can we do to change that here? Perhaps the tragedy of the second Bush term will be a rude awakening for the country and the cause of final disgraceful downfall of the so-called “conservative” ideology.