Monday, April 18, 2005

"Academic bias" wingnuttery, Canadian-style.

Apparently, I should apologize for concentrating so intensely on the current lunacy of alleged anti-conservative, pro-liberal academic bias in the United States since, as it turns out, we have enough of the same raving stupidity this side of the border. As Exhibit A, I give you one Damian Brooks, whose writings on the topic hold their own with any of the gibbering idiocy you'll find coming out of David Horowitz or his adoring disciples, the Little Green Academic Fascists. Where to even begin dissecting Brooks' nonsense, as there is so much of it.

Brooks opens his thoroughly illogical piece by quoting approvingly from a Washington Post article to the effect that:

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.

So let's deal with this once and for all, shall we?

Is it really true that liberals are horrendously over-represented in higher education? For the sake of argument, let's accept this. So what should we conclude from that? Simply, that liberals are smart and conservatives are stupid. Happy now?

Naturally, that generalization is unfair. Or is it? Actually, there is some undeniable basis to that notion, as you can read from one of my recent pieces, in which a really depressing number of posters to the pro-evolution TalkOrigins web site are -- how shall I put this as inoffensively as possible? -- unbelievably fucking dense. How else can you describe this poster:

i'm a high school student, and in one of my science courses we are disgussing [sic] scientic [sic] evolution. i dont [sic] really believe in this. i see it as more of the religious view on this topic. i believe in that god created man and women. the whole bible theory is whats my viewpoint.

Now, it's quite possible that this individual may go on to college, and may even do well. But it's safe to say that this same person is almost certainly not going to major in biology.

If you totally reject the notion of evolution, it's not going out on a limb to conclude that biology just isn't the field for you. Ergo (which is Latin for "Try to keep up here."), given the disturbing percentage of Christian fundamentalists who are devoted, unshakeable Young Earth creationist, Biblical literalists, should it come as any surprise that liberals will represent a larger percentage of post-secondary biology students and their faculty than will conservatives?

By the same token, you can make the same argument for some of the other natural sciences. If you're a strict creationist, then you probably reject the entire notion of radiocarbon and radiometric dating techniques, so it's no surprise that you won't be all that comfortable in physics, chemistry, geology, cosmology or any related fields there either. So it's pretty hard to take seriously the petulant whining of conservatives bitching that they're under-represented in the academic sciences when a significant percentage of them don't even believe in those same sciences. It's sort of like listening to an atheist grouse about how atheists are under-represented in the Catholic Church. Well, duh. Hello?

And what about the social sciences? As a number of folks have suggested, there seems to be a disporportionate percentage of left wingers there as well. And why might this be? Well, since the social sciences might include such fields of study as, oh, family planning and reproductive health and other areas of social services (which normally require that you have some compassion and empathy for the less well off), it's no surprise to find a paucity of conservatives there either since, in large part, most hard core conservatives really don't give a shit about other people.

The above is in no way a controversial statement. One need only look south of the border to find the self-proclaimed "compassionate conservatives" being the very same people slashing social services left, right and center, while using the money they save to give obscene tax cuts to the obscenely rich, while it's those nasty, left-wing liberals who are fighting to keep those same services for those folks who desperately need them. Should anyone be surprised that the left wing, liberal viewpoint might dominate in academia in these areas? Why on earth would conservatives complain about not having a greater voice and influence in academia in areas related to the poor when they don't even like the poor? But that's not even the best part of Brooks' stupefying idiocy.

In the very next paragraph of the WaPo piece, we read the ultimately revealing truth:

"What's most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field," said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. "There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It's a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you'd expect to be dominated by liberals."

Well, how about that? Apparently, that nasty liberal perspective dominates in all areas of academia, even in places that have nothing to do with ideological propaganda. Areas like, say, architecture, or civil engineering. So what are we supposed to conclude from this? That there is some nefarious, secretive, pro-liberal, anti-conservative cabal determined to quash any hint of right wing philosophy from the discussion of reinforced concrete and its use in building bridges?

Surely the right wing wankers aren't suggesting that it's their conservative ideology that is keeping them from participating in the higher education discussions on, say, the tensile strength of materials. Or the intricacies of compiler design in computer science. Or the properties of superconductors at room temperature. What does any of this have to do with political ideology? And yet, as the WaPo article suggests, even these areas are dominated by self-proclaimed liberals.

And it's this last point that leads to a fairly inescapable observation -- apparently, liberals are just more drawn to the atmosphere of academia than conservatives, for whatever reason, regardless of the field of study, which suggests that ideology has little to do with it. One doesn't become a left wing professor in computer science to indoctrinate students in the liberal ideology of designing efficient relational databases. If the professor of database design just happens to be liberal, well, that's life.

But none of this seems to hold much sway with Mr. Brooks, who makes a tremendous leap of logic when he writes:

It's obvious to even a no-degree dunderhead like me that the next study that needs to be commissioned is an impact study: how does the established liberal bias of university faculties affect the way they admit, teach, and evaluate students?

You see here how Brooks takes an observation about relative percentages of political affiliations in academia, and extrapolates to the "established liberal bias of university faculties". In the business, this is what we call "making shit up." Brooks takes some data that he doesn't even begin to understand, and generates a conclusion he can't begin to defend. Colour me shocked that a right-wing wanker could do something this intellectually dishonest with a totally straight face. More than anything, Brooks' piece represents the danger of "no-degree dunderheads" pontificating on higher education when they know nothing about it.

And just when you think Brooks can't become any more of a loon, he finishes with a flourish:

Conservatives shouldn't create specious legislative remedies with this sort of an issue. They should simply create an alternative structure to promote conservative thought. Easier said than done, I know, but it's the right way nonetheless.

So ... Brooks babbles on about the evil that is left-wing propaganda in academia which promotes liberal thought (a subject of which he knows absolutely nothing), then proposes that the obvious solution is to (you guessed it) create an alternative structure to promote conservative thought. Note to Mr. Brooks: Those structures already exist. They're called Bible colleges, and you're welcome to them. If you're that offended by the prevalence of liberals in higher education, then find yourself a nice, quiet seminary where liberal propaganda is unlikely to intrude, and leave the heavy, intellectual lifting to those who seem actually interested in doing it.

We'll all be happier that way. Trust me.

1 comment:

Mark Francis said...

Clearly, with so many conservatives around, the higher education liberal brainwashing isn't working.

When in university and in college, I was quite conservative, and wasn't assailed by any prof or TA, despite their often clear left-leaning beliefs. I had a couple of Marxists profs too.

Shockingly, it did me good to be exposed to varied viewpoints.

The whole thing's a canard.