01 November 2015

Academia & Groupthink: I Told You So

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How many times have I used the term "groupthink" on this blog when describing academia? Seventeen, based on my own search (I actually thought it was more). And I really love to have to tell you, I told you so.

From the New York Times, 10/30/15:
This year, a team of scholars from six universities studying ideological diversity in the behavioral sciences published a paper in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences that details a shocking level of political groupthink in academia. The authors show that for every politically conservative social psychologist in academia there are about 14 liberal social psychologists.
Why the imbalance? The researchers found evidence of discrimination and hostility within academia toward conservative researchers and their viewpoints. In one survey cited, 82 percent of social psychologists admitted they would be less likely to support hiring a conservative colleague than a liberal scholar with equivalent qualifications.
Of course, this blog is about history (mostly) and the quote above applies to psychology, specifically. But we know the same thing holds true in other disciplines - science, religion and, of course, history. The NYT article further noted:
One of the study’s authors, Philip E. Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania, put it to me more bluntly. Expecting trustworthy results on politically charged topics from an “ideologically incestuous community,” he explained, is “downright delusional.”
Contrast that with the statement by a popular Civil War blogger who recently suggested that those who hold this kind of opinion about academia are simply projecting "fantasies." But these academics are not the victims of "projected fantasies." Rather, I believe, the possibility exists (as Tetlock suggests), that these folks are, indeed, "downright delusional."

I also find Tetlock's use of the word "incestuous" in describing academia rather interesting; given it's the exact same term used by Professor Gordon S. Wood in characterizing many academic historians today:
. . . the general reading public that wants to learn about the whole of our nation’s past has had to turn to history books written by nonacademics who have no Ph.D.s and are not involved in the incestuous conversations of the academic scholars.
You can read the complete NYT opinion piece here.

But the bottom line is this: a number of respected historians and scholars, including Gordon Wood, David McCullough, Eugene Genevose and many others have diagnosed the problem discussed here, as it relates to academic historians as well as the teaching of American history.

This Groupthink leads many in the general public to distrust and question the credibility of the professional historian community. As more studies like this continue to come out, that problem will become more difficult to ignore and brush off as simply the "projected fantasies" of others.

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