Professor Bias and Student Perception

Do ideologically radical professors impose their biases on their students?

We’ve been on a higher education kick here at OTB the last couple of days. One theme that repeatedly comes up in the comments is that ideologically radical professors impose their biases on their students, thus turning them off from learning. A new study suggests an alternative explanation.

A new study in the journal College Teaching suggests that it’s possible that some students do perceive bias, but that the reasons may have to do more with their own identities than with anything taking place in the classroom. Notably, the author does not cite his findings simply to rebut the conservative critics, but to suggest that there may be classroom techniques that would lessen the perception of bias.

The study examined 148 female students and 123 male students at a land-grant university in the Southeast where political attitudes among students are fairly evenly split. The students were given two sets of questionnaires — one on how settled and resistant to change they were (in politics and the rest of their lives) and the other on their perceptions of bias from their faculty members.

The study found that students — even in the same classrooms — didn’t perceive bias in the same ways (or at all), and those who perceived bias were those who were resistant to changing any of their views. The finding extended to some who identified themselves as being far on the left and resistant to change, and who believed that they had some biased conservative professors. But among both left-leaning and right-leaning students who didn’t score high on resistance to new ideas, there was little perception of bias.

I was an undergraduate during the Reagan Administration and was an enthusiastic and outspoken admirer of the president and his policies. Most of my professors were products of the 1960s and, while there were conservatives among them, those who were political seemed quite liberal to me. And I was a political science major with a history minor, so my professors had  far more opportunity to inject their political views into the discussion.

After a stint in the Army, I returned to graduate school in 1992 and was teaching my own sections as early as 1994. Teaching as I was in the Deep South, most of my students were rather conservative. And a funny thing happened.

Many faculty members — himself included, [Darren] Linvill [the study’s author and director of basic courses in the department of communication studies at Clemson University] noted — play devil’s advocate to many students, expressing a range of views. This time-tested classroom technique, he said, may not work with students who arrive in class determined not to hear new ideas. Linvill said that there may be elite colleges and universities where students arrive as freshmen used to having their views challenged by teachers, and that might still be “an ideal.” But he said that the reality he sees from his research is that this is a foreign concept to many entering college students today.

This isn’t something unique to “today.” Young people who have never been exposed to ideas very different from their own–much less had to defend their ideas in a vigorous debate–resent it. And there’s an added problem, at least in the South, in that many students have been trained by churches and parents to actively resist liberal professors challenging their religious ideology. So, even basic science teaching–which is not intended to be infused with political ideology–comes across as anti-religious indoctrination.

While not as ideological as a young professor as I’d been a dozen years earlier, I was still quite conservative. But many students perceived me as quite liberal simply because of a teaching style designed to elicit thinking. Like Linville and many others, I played devil’s advocate, taking the temperature of the room on the issue and then weighing in on the side with the least support.

After a couple years of this, it dawned on me that my own professors had done the same thing. They probably weren’t as dogmatically liberal as I’d thought at the time. More importantly, they didn’t give a damn one way or the other what my political beliefs were, so long as I understood why I held them and subjected them to critical examination.

I know that was my approach.

None of this is to say that American professors aren’t, on the whole, more liberal than the population as a whole.  And some of them doubtless do hold conservative ideas in contempt and that spills over into the classroom. (The same is true of employers and supervisors in the workplace; some people in authority are jerks.) But much of what students perceive as ideological hostility is simply intellectual back-and-forth, the essence of higher education.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    “More importantly, they didn’t give a damn one way or the other what my political beliefs were, so long as I understood why I held them and subjected them to critical examination.”

    When I was teaching, I used to tell my students, “I don’t care what you think, I’m only really interested in how well you think about what you think.” They seemed to appreciate that.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I think, the issue is more pronounced at the graduate level than at the undergraduate and takes a somewhat different form than is being suggested. Graduate students whose thesis proposals don’t fall within acceptable lines don’t get their thesis proposals approved and never get their PhDs.

    So, for example (and somewhat after my time), there was a period in humanities departments in which if it wasn’t post-modern, it didn’t get approved. Academics are subject to fads and fancies as much as the rest of us are.

  3. Stan says:

    I got out of freshman English back in 1954 and was assigned to a great books course taught by a Mr. Stanton, who I now realize must have been a graduate student. Mr. Stanton loved Plato, particularly Plato’s Republic. I thought Plato was a fascist and that living in his Republic would be hell on earth, and I said so at great length on my final. It came back covered with impassioned rebuttals along with a grade of A+. I don’t remember much about the course, but I’ve never forgotten Mr. Stanton, and I’ve never lost the love for academic integrity I learned in his class.

  4. steve says:

    I think you are correct. I have judged high school speech and debate for a while. We, the wife and I, often drive students or we travel together in a bus. I have, over the years, seen students become more polarized. They quote fringe figures as authoritative sources and are sometimes unaware of the serious thinkers and policy being proposed on their side of political spectrum. I sometimes hear these kids quote totally made up history, stuff I have seen debunked in the blogosphere, as fact.

    Now, these are bright kids. I know this stuff is coming from their parents. What happens when they go to college and their ideas get challenged, as they should? If they talk this over with the parents who taught them their beliefs, they will assume this is liberal bias. They do not want their kid’s beliefs challenged, they want them confirmed. I think this is a shame, as any belief system worth embracing should be able to withstand challenge. I also think it more important to understand the other side’s beliefs, than it is to discount them.

    Steve

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler: I’m sure that happens. Part of it is small mindedness and turf protection. Some of it, though, is for the good of the student. That is, doing a dissertation that places you outside the mainstream of the field makes it hard to get hired.

  6. jwest says:

    “…even basic science teaching–which is not intended to be infused with political ideology–comes across as anti-religious indoctrination.”

    The harmful effects of bias aren’t found in the blatant attempts of indoctrination to religion, be it Christianity or Environmentalism, but in the subtle inclusions and exclusions, inferences and acceptances that send the signals that certain topics are beyond debate. Professors at Bob Jones University are probably just as convinced that the world will end through fire and brimstone as their counterparts at UC Berkley are that AGW will flood the planet with melting arctic ice.

    Instructors who quote from the Bible or cite “An Inconvenient Truth” as fact are easy to classify and their statements are readily dismissed in that context. Those who take portions of either as accepted truths while weaving the assumptions into their subject matter are the problem.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @jwest: Stipulating that “An Inconvenient Truth” came out after my teaching days, I can guarantee you that the Bible is infinitely more influential on the college campus, even the mythical “faculty lounge,” than the film. There’s an almost universal consensus in the sciences that the climate is getting warmer but it predates Al Gore’s interest in the subject.

  8. hey norm says:

    “…Professors at Bob Jones University are probably just as convinced that the world will end through fire and brimstone as their counterparts at UC Berkley are that AGW will flood the planet with melting arctic ice…”
    superstition vs. science. heresay vs. research. fiction vs. fact. someone needs to look up and understand the concept of false equivilancies.

  9. Rob in CT says:

    Great post, James.

    Here’s what’s going to happen (and is already happening): the liberals who post here are going to praise it, perhaps pick a nit with this or that, but largely agree. The “conservatives” who post here will rip it and dub you a liberal. After all, the liberals are agreeing with you. QED.

    Stan – great story. That’s the ideal, alright. Like most ideals, it’s not always achieved… but when it is, it’s beautiful.

  10. jwest says:

    James,

    For centuries, there was an almost universal belief in the sciences that God played the major role in just about every physical phenomena on the planet. As we advance, we find that prior assumptions were misplaced.

    Science is ongoing. What passed for accepted conclusions just a few years ago are now shown to be wrong, as it will always be. To accept, let alone instruct, that theory is fact harms the whole concept of education.

  11. hey norm says:

    yes of course…gravity is only a theory, not a fact.
    as people like galeleo and copurnicus advanced their ongoing science people like j west called their ideas hoaxes, and in the case of galileo had him jailed.

  12. John Burgess says:

    When I was an undergrad at Georgetown in the late 60s, Vietnam was the polarizing issue. It was certainly my perception that the faculty was a polarized as the student body. It seemed that half of the professors would flunk you if you didn’t attend X anti-war rally while the other half would flunk you if you did. They certainly took note of who attended and who did not.

    As an older student who had lived and worked in SE Asia before enrolling, I had my own views about the reality of the situation, views that didn’t match those of either side of the argument. That led to uncomfortable situations both within and outside the classroom.

    I’m definitely open to new information and willing to change my understanding of issues given adequate new information. I did find my science classes to be generally free of politics and was grateful for them.

  13. Anon says:

    I suppose that in some courses it’s natural for politics to come up, but are there that many such courses? I teach computer science, and politics never comes up. I have absolutely no idea what the politics of my students are, nor do they have any idea of mine.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Anon: It’s unlikely to come up at all in purely technical courses and tangentially, if at all, in most courses. Then again, as noted in the post, teaching about evolution and climate change in appropriate science courses isn’t political either–except that it’s perceived that way.

  15. mattb says:

    @James — Great post and pretty much the current situation at a Research 1 Northeastern University. In general, we — both professors and graduate teaching assistants — are painfully aware of accusations of “liberal bias” and do a lot of work within the classroom to avoid the image of if whenever we can.(*) And the reason for that is not only because we’re “afraid” of being seen as bias — what I’m far more concerned about is giving those students who are not looking to have their views changed an excuse to “check out.”

    @Dave:

    Graduate students whose thesis proposals don’t fall within acceptable lines don’t get their thesis proposals approved and never get their PhDs. So, for example (and somewhat after my time), there was a period in humanities departments in which if it wasn’t post-modern, it didn’t get approved.

    While its gotten better, this is still largely true. James is right in that attempts to “push” the edges of the discipline are discouraged for the good of the student (most of the grad students who break new ground in Anthro typically have problems finding a job). I understand that. To be far, this seems to currently be a generational thing — younger professors are far less dogmatic than the older ones.

    What’s problematic is the second part of your complaint — i.e. it needs to be “post-modern” (i.e. written to sound like a bad translation of ideas that are actually in “normal language” in the original French). There are a lot of professors that are still demanding specific analytical styles (often the ones that they are the most familiar with) and take a lot of steps to stonewall the use of newer (or sometimes older) methods.

    (*) — btw, I’ve gotten to hear horror stories from one of my professor’s who, in their first year of teaching, had a young Ann Coulter in his classroom. She had already established herself as a crusading conservative on campus, and had already brought complaints against “biased” teachers. The thing is that concerns about how to interact with her extended beyond lecturing to grading as well.

    1
  16. hey norm says:

    I embarked on a career change in my late 30’s and returned to school to get my Master’s degree. My expectations, being somewhat naive about what I was getting myself into, were fairly vocational. I found, much to my dismay, a very theoretical environment full of classicists, modernists, post-modernists, and post-post-modernists – sprinkled with the odd technician. Let’s just say that years of illicit substances hadn’t expanded my mind like that three years would. Even though the faculty all had their own agendas, and their own research which we were enlisted in, we were never forced in any direction except to find our own direction. We were taught to question and to investigate and to synthesize our own thoughts and ideas. Frankly it changed my life…and while to this day I find a lot of fault with much of the faculties work I’ll never be able to thank them enough for challenging me to find my own way.

  17. hey norm, yes, gravity is a fact, but it is also a fact that we don’t understand it. We can model the effects of gravity fairly well as long as things don’t get too extreme, but there is no theory that adequately explains how the force of gravity works. The other three fundamental forces in the universe have been combined into several workable Grand Unified Theories, but gravity is still an outlier.

  18. Anon says:

    Hm…I guess if I had to teach evolution in a course where I knew it could potentially be an issue, I would try to depoliticize it by saying up front that I don’t care what you really believe, and I don’t care whether you think of it as a law or a theory or whatever. Nonetheless, you need to know the material. If you don’t believe in evolution, just think of it as “opposition research”.

    Most likely, though, I would try to avoid teaching such a course. 🙂

  19. jwest says:

    I don’t believe that political bias in teaching would ever be recognized by the person doing the teaching. The liberal bias conservatives complain about is rarely the outright preaching of leftist dogma, but the subtleties of accepting liberal prejudices into subjects like economics, history, literature, etc.

  20. hey norm says:

    austin – not completely understanding something does not make it a hoax, or excuse not acting if the possibility exists.
    i know people like you and j west are afraid of the unknown, much like the church was afraid of galileo. but don’t be scared – it will be ok.

  21. hey norm says:

    we should never let “…liberal prejudices into subjects like economics, history, literature, etc…”
    but we should definitely teach creationism as science. that would be different.
    to steal from austin…sigh.

  22. jwest says:

    Norm,

    Do you ever read what we write?

    I’m certain that somewhere on the internet there is someone that meets your stereotype image of a conservative, but I doubt they would be commenting here. If there is someone at OTB who advocates teaching creationism as fact or who doesn’t believe in science, you might be able to win an argument against him, but please don’t project your fantasy on us.

  23. Tano says:

    The liberal bias conservatives complain about is rarely the outright preaching of leftist dogma, but the subtleties of accepting liberal prejudices into subjects like economics, history, literature, etc.

    I think James alluded to the truth of the matter – the problem is that conservatism is inherently dogmatic, whereas liberalism is inherently anti-dogmatic. The roots of this go very deep – if your core mission is to help defend and maintain the great wisdom and traditions of our culture, then you are going to be rather hostile to attempts to overthrow those traditions and to forge new understandings. If, on the other hand, you see your core mission as advancing our knowledge base, of finding new and better understandings and having no great respect for doing things the way they have always been done, then you will be a great thorn in the side of the traditionalists.

    The academy is an inherently liberal institution. Research is inherently a liberal undertaking = its underlying premise is that the status quo in any field is not good enough, and we should be determined to learn more. The mission of the academic researcher is to learn new things, to overthrow older and less accurate understandings, not to defend them.

    The “liberal prejudice” amounts to the attitude of advancing knowledge rather than protecting older knowledge. That is why academics tend to overwhelmingly be liberal, in the sciences as well as in the humanities. There is nothing wrong with that. Military officers tend, on average, to be more conservative than the general population, and I don;t think it would be too hard to find certain aspects of their jobs which select for, or attract, more conservative individuals. I find it quite bizarre to think that there should be some enforced equality of worldview in these professions. The nature of the professions themselves strongly influence the type of people who inhabit them.

  24. mattb says:

    I don’t believe that all of ones political biases in teaching life would ever be recognized by the person doing the teaching. taking action.

    There @Jwest, fixed that for you.

    This is a somewhat valid point — we all are infusing everything we do with our personal ideologies. This is true in science, teaching, politics, cooking, making love… you name it.

    The issue becomes controlling for it. A good teacher should be able to control this to a degree that it isn’t an issue. Ditto a good scientist.

    And, btw, the best way to deal with this is to acknowledge the fact that its happening, and explicitly discuss it with students (or in the discussion section of a paper). For all of their faults, when done right, this is something that Philosophy, Anthropology and areas like Science and Technology Studies do quite well. I also know a number of “Hard Science” professors that discuss this.

    The problem is when people pretend that type of transmission doesn’t take place.

    But if we start worrying that the issue of unconscious transmission cannot be controlled in one area, then we need to worry about that in all areas. But if that recognition leads to damning the whole system — that falls into the worst excesses of things like second wave feminism. And if someone thinks that one specific field (typically theirs) can avoid doing this, then they are just fooling themselves.

  25. mattb says:

    @tano:

    Research is inherently a liberal undertaking = its underlying premise is that the status quo in any field is not good enough, and we should be determined to learn more.

    I disagree — research is inherently a hybrid undertaking.

    It may be liberal in terms that it attempts to move beyond a status quo, but it is inherently conservative in the techniques and foundations it uses. If you cannot build a foundation for your research within an overarching, existing framework, then it’s bad research — even if you come to the right answer.

    In fact, it is in embracing that very tensions — between looking forward and looking backwards — that the best research happens. Hence, at least in research, “liberalism” and “conservatism” don’t stand in opposition — rather they are symmetrical: rather than cancelling each other out, both necessary in more or less equal parts.

  26. Tano says:

    , but it is inherently conservative in the techniques and foundations it uses.

    I disagree rather strongly. There is nothing “conservative” about the scientific method – rather the contrary. It is based on proposing new hyotheses (nothing conservative there – in fact at odds with the conservative program), and then testing those hypotheses empirically (once again, a notion at odds with the core conservative vision for establishing knowledge – which tends more toward revelation or deductions from authoritative texts).

    If you cannot build a foundation for your research within an overarching, existing framework, then it’s bad research — even if you come to the right answer.

    Either I am completely unable to grasp your point here, or your point is just ridiculous. Or both.
    The most exciting scientific breakthroughs come when a new proposal blasts through the existing framework and then survives rigorous testing. Having the right answer means that you win.

  27. jwest says:

    This has been an enlightening thread.

    I’ve always known that liberals tend to manufacture straw men in order to justify their views, but I had no idea to what lengths and depths their fantasies extended.

    Tano is a liberal because he’s for open-minded thinking, scientific advancement and the exploration of new and unique ideas. He probably also thinks that blacks should have the same rights as whites, women should be taught to read and people shouldn’t starve in the street.

    Because he believes these things, he projects the opposite characteristics on his political foes, for if they believed as he does, they would be liberals too. To entertain the thought that the other side was just as forward thinking, scientifically inclined and intellectually open would be to diminish the vision of superiority he’s constructed for himself.

    Geometric logic locked in a closed loop.

  28. Tano says:

    Huh?

    What was that lame rant all about jwest?

    I am old enough to have argued against conservatives who felt that blacks should not have the same rights as whites, and who continued to enforce that vision through laws. I didn’t know anyone who felt that women shouldn’t be taught to read, but it was extremely common, during my youth, for conservatives to argue vehemently that women should not be in the workforce. Conservatives have never, in my experience, advocated that people should starve on the street, but they very consistently oppose doing things to prevent that from happening.

    There is no projecting here. This is my experience. I also recognize that our society has made a lot of progress in my lifetime – the liberal values of the sixties have largely triumphed, and most conservatives today take positions that would have labeled them as radical leftists in 1965. Just as the conservatives of 2050 will bristle at the notion that conservatives ever discriminated against gays, or opposed national health insurance.

    To entertain the thought that the other side was just as forward thinking, scientifically inclined and intellectually open would be to diminish the vision of superiority he’s constructed for himself.

    Actually I find the though extremely entertaining. There may be some conservatives who are forward thinking, but not about many things – its true, they would not be conservatives if they were. That is a matter of definition.

    I have known a few scientists who are conservative, but it is a separate part of their lives. When they do their science, they are not conservative at all. Some people can compartmentalize like that, but it is not common.

    I am not arguing superiority here. Everyone has their role to play in society, and conservative minded people certainly play crucial roles. I would not feel very secure in a nation that filled its officer corps with recruits from the Daily Kos.Nor would our society be in good shape if our scientists emerged from the Christian right. Its not a question of existential superiority, rather matching individual’s skill sets with specific jobs.

  29. mattb says:

    @Tano,

    When I say that research is inherently both Liberal and Conservative at once, I’m going back to the philosophical definitions of each.

    You argument only works if you are using the modern, popular American expression of talk-radio conservatism — which is really reactionary, jingoistic traditionalism. So if you are talking about *that* form of conservatism, then I largely agree that it isn’t at play in research.

    But to make that move then you can’t use liberal in it’s tradtional philisophical sense, and also have to turn to the modern, popular American expression of it. And while there arguably is more of that “liberalism” in research, its a mistake to imagine research as inherently “modern American Liberal.” In fact, the naive relativism that often accompanies that version of liberalism is fundamentally unscientific (or rather undercuts scientific progress).

    Which get’s to your writing:

    There is nothing “conservative” about the scientific method – rather the contrary. It is based on proposing new hyotheses (nothing conservative there – in fact at odds with the conservative program), and then testing those hypotheses empirically (once again, a notion at odds with the core conservative vision for establishing knowledge – which tends more toward revelation or deductions from authoritative texts).

    I fully acknowledge that proposing a new hypothesis is largely a liberal function, but you miss the point that embracing the surrounding framework — even the idea that “good research” requires a hyphothesis — is fundamentally conservative. The system itself, full of expectations and traditions that must be followed if one wants to create good science, is a conservative system.

    A liberal method, taken to the extreme, would completely reinvent the method each time it is used. It would — as was seen in the worst excesses of second-wave feminism and the science wars — completely subvert claims to an objective, knowable reality.

    The ways in which science comes to be accepted — for example Peer Review — are also fundamentally conservative. In fact, the general “doubting” aspect of good scientific inquiry (or skepticism) is as much a conservative philosophical value as it is a liberal value. On one side the liberal aspects cause us to dream that cold fusion may be possible, but the conservative aspects of science cause us to question whether or not it is possible,

    Finally, for new science to be accepted, said science needs to be explained in conservative language — and that’s a critical part of the process, for better or worse. It wasn’t enough for Snow to correctly theorize the existence of germs in order for the miasmatic theory of disease to be overturned. The existence of germs had to be proven.

    Likewise, it’s entirely possible to reach the right results for the wrong reason. And the conservative aspects of science are focused on ensuring that the right reason is always driven towards.

  30. Franklin says:

    The other three fundamental forces in the universe have been combined into several workable Grand Unified Theories, but gravity is still an outlier.

    Naw, gravity is just a difference in entropy. Duhhhhh …

    /yes, I’m kidding, although there is such a theory, supposedly disproven at the moment

  31. Tano says:

    You argument only works if you are using the modern, popular American expression of talk-radio conservatism — which is really reactionary, jingoistic traditionalism.

    I think modern American conservatism is actually quite an improvement on older versions of conservatism. You do not go on to explain your point, but I sense you believe that “traditional conservatism” was somehow better, more amenable to reason and science? I think the opposite is true. Modern conservatism has incorporated a lot of liberal innovations (this is the way the world works). In fact, many modern conservatives identify themselves as “classical liberals”; meaning that they have to some extent embraced the values of the Enlightenment – one of the most radical liberal movements in our culture’s history.

    you can’t use liberal in it’s tradtional philisophical sense, and also have to turn to the modern, popular American expression of it.

    I was referring to the underlying attitudes of the liberal mind. Some of the specific proposals advocated by modern liberals are obviously useless. That is the nature of operating on the edge of the unknown – the liberal mission. As in all creative endeavors (arts, science, entrepreneurship) , most of what is proposed is garbage. Only a small fraction is of lasting value, and gets incorporated into the knowledge base. But that is the only way anything does get incorporated.

    completely subvert claims to an objective, knowable reality.

    Well that is certainly an interesting issue. Science is certainly grounded by the notion that there is a “there” there – a reality that is independent of the mind. But there is also the understanding that the reality is not “knowable’ in any absolute sense, but rather the best we can hope for is to discover a coherent set of repeatable regularities. We cannot transcend our minds, so our knowledge is limited to what we can collectively agree seems to be the case.

    Peer Review — are also fundamentally conservative. In fact, the general “doubting” aspect of good scientific inquiry (or skepticism) is as much a conservative philosophical value as it is a liberal value.

    You will need to do more than just assert that. I do not see how peer review can be considered conservative. To the contrary – this can be caricatured as establishing a standard based on popular opinion (albeit a limited, expert population). Conservative epistemic values tend to rely more on appeals to authority.

    And skepticism as conservative??? I don’t know where you get that, unless you really are equating conservatism with classical liberalism, and are dumping all the rest of the conservative tradition. Skepticism has been the great liberal weapon against conservative dogma, throughout the history of our culture.

    the liberal aspects cause us to dream that cold fusion may be possible, but the conservative aspects of science cause us to question whether or not it is possible,

    Cold fusion has been slayed by a lack of empirical corroboration, not by conservative questions regarding its feasibility.

    Finally, for new science to be accepted, said science needs to be explained in conservative language

    That may be true, but it is a question for the task of public education, not for science itself.

    Likewise, it’s entirely possible to reach the right results for the wrong reason. And the conservative aspects of science are focused on ensuring that the right reason is always driven towards.

    Now this I continue not to get. Getting the right answer is the goal, I don’t give a dam who we get there. Most big innovations happen precisely because the “right way’ was not taken. Adhering to a predefined “right way” was probably why the insight was not arrived at earlier.

  32. jwest says:

    Tano,

    Because of your limited vision, you believe that you’ve been on the enlightened side of history and those who opposed your views were necessarily against the goals instead of your methods.

    “I am old enough to have argued against conservatives who felt that blacks should not have the same rights as whites…”

    You probably fought hard for affirmative action. Because of the way you process information in your mind, you believed that the people opposing it were against seeing more blacks obtain coveted spots in colleges. What you couldn’t comprehend was that the goal was never in question, but the way in which it was obtained.

    People like you who are steeped in racism believe blacks are genetically inferior and incapable of achieving at the same level as whites. The only way that made sense to you to reach the goal of more blacks in college was to lower the entrance standards. This caused immeasurable harm to generations of African Americans and continues to this day.

    The alternative was to identify promising black youths in high school, give them the additional help they needed to make up for the socio-economic differences with their white counterparts and have them enter college with the knowledge and dignity that they were on a equal footing, having passed the same tests as everyone else. Same goal, different methods to arrive at the goal. One “liberal” and the other “conservative”.

    No one who set out to commit evil acts could possibly bring as much pain, misery and poverty as liberals who believed deeply that they were virtuously helping people. This world would be a much better place if people like you had the ability to think through your ideas before placing them in action.

  33. Tano says:

    jwest,

    It is certainly odd having a discussion with you. You seem more interested in making bizarre, and totally uninformed characterizations of my motivations and the workings of my mind, than actually addressing the issues at hand.

    “I am old enough to have argued against conservatives who felt that blacks should not have the same rights as whites…”

    You probably fought hard for affirmative action.

    Actually, I was referring to the civil rights era. You could have asked, y’know.

    blacks obtain coveted spots in colleges. What you couldn’t comprehend was that the goal was never in question

    Actually, the goal was very much in question. Blacks were not allowed to attend certain universities – by law. And that is not even considering the background racism that persisted even when the law was changed.

    People like you who are steeped in racism believe blacks are genetically inferior and incapable of achieving at the same level as whites.

    Are you some sort of a clown or something?

    No one who set out to commit evil acts could possibly bring as much pain, misery and poverty as liberals who believed deeply that they were virtuously helping people.

    I suggest that you run your hypothesis by some of the people who have suffered pain and misery and poverty, and see what they think.

  34. jwest says:

    There is nothing as sad as an old liberal.

    Wandering about, oblivious to the wreckage around them and their role in creating it, smug in their delusion that they helped society.

    If they had a moment of clarity, they would weep uncontrollably at the damage they have done.

  35. mattb says:

    @Tano,

    Two questions that might help:
    1. What is your definition of “classical/philosophical conservatism”? Burke? Hume?
    2. What’s your academic background/profession

    The reason I ask is that we may be having a total failure in terms of vocabulary and ontologies here. (I’m working from what I understand as more or less a modified Burkian perspective — but more looking at his framework than necessarily the specific expression of that framework. So I’m defining Conservatism as an “ideology denoting a preference for institutions and practices that have evolved historically and are thus manifestations of continuity and stability.” – http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/133435/conservatism).

    I do agree that some of what I’m describing is “classical liberalism” but the very fact that we must append “classical” to it suggests adherence to a tradition and that move towards conservatism. That’s the thing, these are somewhat fluid categories.

    To the points you raised:

    As in all [liberal] creative endeavors (arts, science, entrepreneurship) , most of what is proposed is garbage. Only a small fraction is of lasting value, and gets incorporated into the knowledge base. But that is the only way anything does get incorporated.

    But the recognition of that lasting value (which also can shift over time — see differing opinions over the arts) is tied into its reception within a “conservative” space. Critique and review are again generally conservative — as both are dealing with comparing what has been done with what is, drawing upon established and traditional/foundational schools of thought. Hence the sad story of the genus not recognized in her time. The ideas were there, but society wasn’t ready.

    We cannot transcend our minds, so our knowledge is limited to what we can collectively agree seems to be the case.

    Correct, and again, collective agreement – reality – is a fundamentally conservative state. It doesn’t change quickly, it cannot change quickly, it resists change – in other words its stable.

    I do not see how peer review can be considered conservative. To the contrary – this can be caricatured as establishing a standard based on popular opinion (albeit a limited, expert population). Conservative epistemic values tend to rely more on appeals to authority.

    Your final sentence makes my point. Peer review is a system of authority that names good research and throws out bad. It is so fundamentally a structure of conservative authority. It’s just that “god” or the “king” has been replaced by that board — which may function, in theory — on classical liberal values, but is, from a birds eye view — fundamentally conservative.

    Whose work can and cannot be reviewed (even before the review process begins) is inherently recognized through an appeal to authority.

    As a general rule, the moment anything is institutionalized it has taken a huge step to becoming a conservative force. That’s the amazing and production tension in research (and what ultimately keeps it grounded).

    So here I think is where our thought diverge — it seems to me you are thinking about “Science” as something that exists outside of human processes. I see science, even in its idealized form, as the product of human action in the world (its cultural and subject to culture). That doesn’t mean that facts don’t exist and there isn’t a knowable world out there. But the ways in which we come to know it and, even more importantly, interpret it are fundamentally bound in culture in extremely complex ways. And the overall processes and institutions that oversee the production of science are necessarily — following the definition I gave above — conservative. The system stops working if they are not.

    @tano: Getting the right answer is the goal, I don’t give a dam who we get there.

    In that the “right answer” typically includes “getting there the correct way” these two things are seemingly (and theoretically) inseparable.

    But in practice that isn’t always the case. For example, during the Crimean war, Florence Nightingale save the lives of hundreds (if not thousands) by advocating for clean hospital conditions. At the time, this was largely based on miasmatic theories of disease — thus the “right” action ways taken and a good goal was accomplished — however the underlying rational for the action was incorrect.

    Now, over the long term, we got to a better understand of why keeping clean medical facilities is “good science” and not just “good practice.” And someday, our current understanding of germs may be overturned. But that’s taking the trans-historical view, rather than thinking about how things work in day to day, lived practice. When you get to the “on the street” level, a things are amazingly contradictory (or rather what seem like opposing forces become symmetrical parts of the greater whole).

  36. Tano says:

    smug in their delusion that they helped society.

    Do you mean that you think that the civil rights movement was actually detrimental to our society?

    weep uncontrollably at the damage they have done.

    Well, there is no question that we see the world differently. I actually rejoice in the fact that the civil rights movement fundamentally changed the political status of blacks. I think it was a good thing. I also am very glad that women are now free to play any role in society that they wish, that gays are able to live their lives freely and openly. These too I think were good, not destructive.
    I am glad that even conservatives today are opposed to the dumping of raw waste into our air and water – that was quite a battle back then And I am glad that America so thoroughly rejected the advice of people like Reagan, and actually implemented a Medicare system for our elderly.
    All this and so much more that liberalism has accomplished – I take great pride in. Sorry that it all makes you weep.

  37. mattb says:

    @jwest, I know you are trolling, but I can’t let this pass:

    People like you who are steeped in racism believe blacks are genetically inferior and incapable of achieving at the same level as whites. The only way that made sense to you to reach the goal of more blacks in college was to lower the entrance standards. This caused immeasurable harm to generations of African Americans and continues to this day.

    Eugenics (be it genetically based or phrenology), though called “progressive,” was a favorite theory of people across the political spectrum. And there’s more than engough documentation of that going back to Las Casas and debates over potential of Central and South American indians) to damn people on both sides.

    The argument for Affirmative Action, was, and always has been based in the very “socio-economic differences” you mention in your next comment.

    The alternative was to identify promising black youths in high school, give them the additional help they needed to make up for the socio-economic differences with their white counterparts and have them enter college with the knowledge and dignity that they were on a equal footing, having passed the same tests as everyone else. Same goal, different methods to arrive at the goal. One “liberal” and the other “conservative”.

    In order to be an “alternative” something has to be seriously proposed. Please remind me of any major conservative attempts to attempt what you just described. Preferably on a city-wide, state-wide, or national level. Last time I checked — at least following Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators — there was still a general feeling that all public education is equal. And where it wasn’t equal it had to b the fault of the students, their families, and the teachers.

    Basically that all of these individuals were weak and immoral — incapable of lifting themselves out of their circumstances.

    The conservative position never acknowledge the extent to which multi-generational discrimination (on social and economics levels) has taken its toll on specific communities and various geographic regions.

    This is not to say individual responsibility can be ignored. The problem is that conservatives in general put way too much empahsis on the individual and liberals often put way too much emphasis on society.

    You’d be a rich man if you could figure out how to convince people it’s somewhere between the two.

  38. jwest says:

    Mattb,

    The alternative to lowering entrance standards was (as I remember it) something that Phil Gramm and Jack Kemp were working on in the early ‘80s. It was being proposed as a way for colleges to establish “scouts”, much like in sports, to identify and recruit minorities and for the colleges to provide through adjunct operations the extra supported needed for their recruits to hit the requisite score on the tests.

    Again drawing only from memory, the push-back came from the left because of the anticipated drop in enrollment in the first few years of the program and the absence of guaranteed slots for minorities under this compromise.

  39. Liberty60 says:

    Re: “Conservative” and “liberal”;

    These words have fluid meaning, depending on who wants to prove what point. I have mixed feelings, since my background is as a Reagan conservative, who is now horrified at what is happening under that banner.

    “Conservative” often means people who see value in stability and tradition, who are skeptical of change and radical proposals.

    “Liberal” often means those who see value in change and radical new proposals.

    Obviously, we can find all sorts of examples where one or the other has led to disaster or welcome progress.

    What caused me to leave the conservative fold, somewhere in the 90’s,was the evolution of the American Conservative movement towards radicalism, where today they have embraced a form of political fundamentalism as radical (and in my view dangerous) as anything proposed by their archenemy, the soshulists.

    Examples?
    The open embrace of Randian Libertarianism, the notion that the private sector is always and everywhere superior to government- from the social safety net to public utilities, the current Conservative movement demands privatization. Reference Michigan, Wisconsin, and others.

    There is not, and never has been a civililzation that didn’t have some form of public utility, some form of government action to benefit the commonweal- the vision of the Conservative movement is a complete radicalism-

    A person of (small c) conservative mind might ask- Where has this vision been tried, so we can study it and see if it works?

    Well, it hasn’t.
    Anywhere.

    In this sense it is as much a radical fantasy as the New Soshulist Order proudly proclaimed by the Leftists in the 1930’s- and (again in my view) every bit as dangerous.

  40. Tano says:

    mattb,

    I am a biologist, trained in comparative anatomy, genetics and evolutionary biology, and now working in the field of biomedical informatics.

    By traditional conservatism I mean the tradition that was grounded in the Church, that stood in opposition to the Enlightenment, and did all it could to suppress Western science in its infancy. Hume? A liberal hero, as far as I am concerned.

    Burke, it seems to me, is a classic example of someone who works at incorporating liberal innovations into the conservative tradition. Those who do so must necessarily work from the conservative perspective themselves, but they are “liberal conservatives’ if you will – updating what it means to be a conservative for the time they live in, by reconciling the conservatism they were born into with the innovations that have gained currency in their time.

    If liberals are the engines that drive society forward, and “true” conservatives are the anchors which hold it back, then figures like Burke are the anchor chain, keeping the two connected, and helping to drag the anchor along.

    I agree that the categories are fluid. That is why I tried to focus on the underlying attitudes. Society advances because of liberal innovations, some of which become incorporated into the knowledge base. Once they are incorporated, they become part of the tradition that conservatives seek to defend. So yes, “classical liberalism’ is now almost conservative dogma. Modern liberals continue to move forward.

    But the recognition of that lasting value (which also can shift over time … is tied into its reception within a “conservative” space.

    I see your point. It is a complex process. Some conservatives will recognize valuable innovations and work to incorporate them. They play the role that you describe, I imagine. Other conservatives just oppose everything, and then they die. Innovations often become incorporated as much because the opposition dies off, rather than providing a functional gatekeeping service.

    collective agreement – reality – is a fundamentally conservative state.

    I was referring more to collective agreement within a scientific field. The acceptance, by a consensus of conservative society, that the earth revolves around the sun, or that life evolved, lags centuries behind the consensus amongst scientists. (a cause for pessimism re. AGW!)

    Peer review is a system of authority that names good research and throws out bad. It is so fundamentally a structure of conservative authority.

    I do not equate peer review with the king or the church. Peer review is carried out by fellow scientists. Their “authority’ stems from their work as scientists, not the fact that they control the police and military.

    it seems to me you are thinking about “Science” as something that exists outside of human processes. I see science, even in its idealized form, as the product of human action in the world

    ???? I assure you that I firmly believe that science is carried out by human beings.

    t

    he ways in which we come to know it and, even more importantly, interpret it are fundamentally bound in culture in extremely complex ways.

    I don’t disagree with that,

    In that the “right answer” typically includes “getting there the correct way” these two things are seemingly (and theoretically) inseparable.

    I still don’t see that as necessary. Ideas come from who knows where. You can put together a hypothesis on a ouija board, and if you then test it and find corroboration, then it is as valid as any other corroborated hypothesis.

    But in practice that isn’t always the case.

    I think that what you see an exceptions are actually closer to the rule.

  41. mattb says:

    Again drawing only from memory, the push-back came from the left because of the anticipated drop in enrollment in the first few years of the program and the absence of guaranteed slots for minorities under this compromise.

    Interesting…

    One question and one point…

    Question: anticipated drop in enrollment in the first few years of the program? Why?

    BTW – it sounds like the pushback on this was coming from the colleges — which I can understand — as the system would place all the responsibility on them to develop these new types of agents. And while scounting for sports is a relatively easy task, trying to scout TaG students across a metropolitan area seems far, far larger (and I wonder how economically feasible).

    Point:

    the absence of guaranteed slots for minorities under this compromise.

    Here’s the bitter pill — without those guaranteed slots — at least in the short term — it would be a useless program. Like it or not — and I know for a fact that while in the corporate world, I would have moved much faster up the ladder if I had been a minority or woman — these measures need to be in place at the beginning of this sort of a program.

    That same corporation was still full of discrimination while I was there. In fact they lost a few lawsuits over it during that time. The only way to ensure a “cultural” change was to force it.

    The same has been true at colleges and with Affirmative Action programs.

    The bigger question is when and how does on fairly phase out the quotas AND how does one ensure that the changes they helped bring about persist?

    As you said, its compromise — and neither side currently likes that word because it means that, more often than not, no one can claim a satisfying victory.

  42. mattb says:

    @Tano,

    Thanks… to a degree I think we’re playing out the “Science Wars” again — and in general we’re in agreement on a lot of this stuff…

    You are correct in using your definition of conservatism. Personally, I see that as a useful definition for doing analysis — that said I’m working with it from a more philisophical/anthropological sort of way.

    Apologies on putting words in your mouth as far as a “pure” science.

    I understand your take on the authority of Peer Review — that said, I think the truth lies between our two points of view. While in theory (and that’s important) a boards authority comes from a commitment to scientific values, there are still a lot of politics and other cultural factors involved in the expression and exercise of that authority — and a lot of that has to do with maintaining control over that authority.

    I suspect that currently still being in the Ivory Tower is one of the reasons I’m so keenly aware of the politics.

    I still don’t see that [the “right answer” typically includes “getting there the correct way”] as necessary. Ideas come from who knows where. You can put together a hypothesis on a ouija board, and if you then test it and find corroboration, then it is as valid as any other corroborated hypothesis.

    I think we’re talking past each other here. My point was simply there is “result” and then the explanation/understanding of “why” result happened. You are completely correct that many innovations came out of hunches and dumb luck.

    But it seems to me — based on discussion with scientists — that much of the work of science is really at getting at the “why.” That’s where the “proof” comes into play. The goal is to get away from the “and Magic happens here” step.

    Anyway, this has been a good discussion, but I think we’ve talked our way through it to some point of general agreement.

  43. jwest says:

    Mattb,

    Concerning affirmative action, the alternative would have taken more time to implement, cost more and undoubtedly would have resulted in a lower number of black college entrants, however, the results would have been worth it in terms of how the students and graduates were perceived and accepted by society.

    Just as with K – 12 education, conservatives don’t oppose the cost so much as the lack of value. Washington D.C. schools have an average cost per pupil of approximately $25,000 per year, but only 1 in 5 leave the system with the ability to read at grade level. Conservatives would (and have tried desperately for years) to throw this system open to innovation through the use of vouchers, only to be stopped at every attempt by a phalanx of liberals bent on maintaining the status quo.

    Modern conservatives trying to implement progress through new, innovative methods – modern liberals assuming the role of pre-enlightenment church officials preaching “as it was, so it always will be”.

    Today’s liberals argue that the schools can improve by making changes around the edges, while maintaining the rotting corpse of a body that exists now. By contrast, is the conservative approach radical? Of course. But conservatives know that each year that goes by without a wholesale change condemns thousands of kids to a life of ignorance and poverty.

    What party would you rather be associated with?

  44. ken says:

    These words have fluid meaning, depending on who wants to prove what point. I have mixed feelings, since my background is as a Reagan conservative, who is now horrified at what is happening under that banner.

    It was clear to me at the time of his Presidency that the ideas he planted were noxious weeds that would crowd out anything of worth in the GOP.

    I am therefore not shocked at all by what is happening in the GOP today.

    I remember a friend of mine who got a political appointment to work in the Reagan administration in a low level Washington job. When he came home one Christmas I asked him how he liked it and what his job was. He loved it. Washington was full of crazy right wing ideologues like himself. His job – he saw his job to help destroy the agency he worked at. He worked at HUD. The goal for the appointees was to frustrate the professional staff into doing nothing or to quit and leave the agency without any institutional memory of how to achieve its objectives.

    Much of the problem in Washington is because we have too many conservatives throughout the government. They will take the paycheck but do not believe in doing the job they are getting paid to do.

  45. jwest says:

    Ken,

    What a shame it is that your friend didn’t accomplish the goal of destroying the ghetto producing behemoth that was HUD.

    But, on the other hand, if you’re going to allow liberals to manufacture unemployable illiterates in bulk, you need ghettos to house them on their transition from dropout to convict.

  46. george says:

    I have to admit that as a physicist I have no clue to what is meant by conservative or liberal science. If people mean politically conservative or liberal, its so muted that I know the politics of perhaps a couple percent of all my colleagues … it just doesn’t come up, perhaps because almost none trust politicians of any stripe. Or perhaps because its just seen as a distraction from research.

    If what is meant is the approach to new theories, I think just about every scientist goes through the spectrum with each discovery – often several times in each day. Some evidence looks hopeful, other evidence doubtful, the excitement of new knowledge alternating with doubts over procedure and repeatability.

    Perhaps the only generality I’ve noticed is that most of us are more liberal with our own new theories (we tend to believe in them), and more conservative with someone else’s new theory (show me the money, if you will).

    I don’t think the terms map usefully to science.

  47. Wayne says:

    I for one rather enjoy playing devil’s advocate. I had this one professor that was great at it. Unfortunately I had many professors that thought they were just playing devil’s advocate but it fact were not. Their advocacy almost always felled on the liberal side.

    I also had many who claimed that “it didn’t matter what you thought as long as you could support it and it wouldn’t hurt your grade if you disagree with them”. Unfortunately it wasn’t true. In fact once another student and I switch perspective and switch papers. It ended as I predicted. Yes I know switching papers is a no no but my friend learned a good lesson from it and it didn’t affect our grades on the papers on our final score.

    The deal is when one agrees with a speaker they are less likely to think they are bias. Also one is more likely to think another’s supporting facts and argument are flawed or wrong if they disagree with them.

    The link to the study only would give me the abstract without buying it. The fact that someone who is highly committed in their beliefs wither they are religious, political or scientific, will being more likely to consider others to be bias isn’t surprising. I suspect that with age, people are more likely to consider those who disagree with them as bias.

    How many here considers those who disagree with them as being bias?