William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Who Wants Viewpoint Diversity In The Academy?

A student meets the academy.

A student meets the academy.

Reader Gary Boden sent over a link to Heterodox Academy. Some friends of ours are part of this, like Judith Curry and Scott Lilienfeld. In their words:

We are social scientists and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines. We have all written about a particular problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” It’s what happens when everyone in a field shares the same political orientation and certain ideas become orthodoxy. We have come together to advocate for a more intellectually diverse and heterodox academy.

Their big move was a paper “Political diversity will improve social psychological science.” The Abstract:

Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity — particularly diversity of viewpoints — for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving….

Stop right there. Diversity is one of those words pleasing to the ear, it sings a seductive song, it tells of a golden destination, it…well, enough floweryness (this is for Will). Nobody in their right mind wants diversity in the academy, or, come to that, anywhere.

Diversity in viewpoint is a good thing, is it? The full range of thought possible by humans would be the most diverse, therefore we should seek infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Yet only the insane would demand true diversity of thought.

One guy holds the idea, and teaches and advocates for the same, that faculty should be split open and their carcasses put on a spit. Another guy has the same idea for the faculty’s children. Another has the same idea for you.

In the Department of Family Studies is a new fellow who thinks your mother is a puta and leads the class to her house to chant, some in support of your mother’s experiment in living, others opposed. Over in Logic is a professor who will try his utmost to convince his students, using all his powers of persuasion, that there is no such thing as cause or truth.

Oh, wait. We actually already have those guys.

But enough. You get the idea. Supply your own examples. Diversity of thought is dumb.

How about diversity of ability? Well, why not hire the severally encephalopathic to staff the myriad departments of Diversity? Surely they couldn’t do a worse job. But putting them in the Physics Department is not such a wise idea. I won’t give any more examples; they’re easy enough for you to generate.

Diversity of ability is dumb.

That leaves diversity of characteristics. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply—the implication being non-women, non-minorities are discouraged. Would hiring more black females pretending to be men but who self-identify as “gay” (did you think I made that one up?) improve the Mathematics faculty? If so, then by all means let’s have quotas. Otherwise, let’s not.

Diversity of characteristics is dumb.

Now what the Heterodox demonstrate is that the Academy, particularly in Sociology departments, are staffed almost entirely by lefties. Which is what everybody already knew. They also demonstrate what readers of this blog already knew, that ideology often masks for research (I’ve done hundreds of examples; they have others in their paper). And they make the obvious point that this ideology-as-research is harmful.

Their solution is to leak in some righties to mix with the lefties to temper their enthusiasm. They call this “viewpoint diversity.” And they want to increase diversity for diversity’s sake because they, like nearly all of us these days, see diversity as a good in and of itself.

Diversity isn’t an unconditional good; it is an unconditional evil.

What we really want are people devoted to the truth. Okay, easy to say, hard to do. After all, the current staff over in Sociology think they have the truth, which is why it’s so easy for them to miss their confirmation bias. Too, the lefties are increasingly coming to believe that their enemies are not just wrong, but immoral. Hiring a token neo-conservative isn’t likely to have much of an influence in that kind of atmosphere. Given budgetary and other constraints, forcing any department to be 50-50 on some disputed and disputable measure of politics will never fly.

Solution? Treat ideological departments as we would any other toxic waste site. Rope them off, keep the kids away, do your best to ignore the fumes seeping out. And rebuild somewhere else.

33 Comments

  1. Well, as you say, not all ideas and viewpoints are valuable or even desirable.

    The guys in Sociology don’t miss their confirmation bias because they are firmly holding on to it. It can’t escape. Hard to miss what you have at hand.

  2. While I understand your intense dislike of the word “diversity”, one is dealing with people who only speak one language—politics. When conversing with a politician (be it an academic with strong views, a political candidate, etc) one must often use language they can comprehend. It would be delightful if plain, straight-forward English worked but as we have observed, English is not even the second language of most of those in politics and academia. They have a language all their own and one must speak it if you want to have any chance of “sneaking in a few right wing ideas”. Perhaps in a decade or so, when the language is restored (when marriage meant two people, gender equaled biological sex, etc) we may be able to use fewer meaningless words in communication.

  3. I saw the Curry post

    Very disheartening…

  4. I think a helpful distinction might be to say that we are for the truth. Alternatively, we might say that diversity is a means, not an end. Diversity in thought is useful for finding the truth (a sort of breadth first search), but it is useless as an end in itself. Just having a bunch of people with different ideas buys you nothing in and of itself.

    The lack of political diversity in academia is a signal of the goal to converge on a desired ‘truth’. This is why, on top of any discussion of diversity, there must be an agreement to search for the truth (regardless of whether or not it gives us badfeels).

  5. James : well put

  6. I second James.

    Moreover, I feel a vague tongue-on-cheek “Let’s see if we can retort your own vocabulary on yourselves, lefties” from the piece.

  7. “Nobody in their right mind wants diversity in the academy, or, come to that, anywhere.”

    “Yet only the insane would demand true diversity of thought.”

    “Diversity isn’t an unconditional good; it is an unconditional evil.”

    “Solution? Treat ideological departments as we would any other toxic waste site. Rope them off, keep the kids away, do your best to ignore the fumes seeping out.”

    Religion is an “ideological department” …

    As R. Feynman [“insanely” we’ve just learned] put it: “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers which can’t be questioned.”

    It’s always easy to argue philosophically about a topic by presenting the extreme (usually unlikely, to for all practical purposes impossible to actually occur) as if they’re representative….

    Of course, in areas like “science” the whole structure is based on questioning, testing, experimenting and so forth to validate theories and their applicability, and when applicable, their limits. Diversity of though is crucial to furthering knowledge and progress.

    The opposite is the so-called “global warming echo chamber” — where acolytes all think the same, ignore the same, and chant the same… It’s one recurring topic on this blog where groupthink, nurtered by an absence of intellectual diversity, is in so many ways confronted — and now, that same lack of diversity that enables such nonsense is being presented as good. Interesting…

  8. May I ask why religion is an ideological department?
    I find that the three Abrahamic faiths , Jewish Christian and to an extent Islamic faiths, that is, claim that they base themselves on revelation by God to the founders. Buddhism is a philosophy I hear and there are many faiths among Hindus.
    Christianity for instance cannot be derived by exercise of intellect. Christ came into the world and was seen as a human being and the people who saw him reported this to other people and so on until now. It is unexpected and unlikely but reality is like that.
    Only in a college would teaching about this take place in a ‘department’ along with philosophy Is this what you mean?

  9. From an allied general:

    In World War Two the German Army was homogeneous and easy to command since everyone was the same. No special accommodations needed for anyone. The downside they were predictable. While the allied army was heterogenous. Command and logistics were harder since different religion were battling alongside. The upside they were unpredictable.

    This why diversity is good. It offers solutions different point of view. There is always to side to the truth. A glass can be half-full or half-empty, both are true.

  10. “Nobody in their right mind wants diversity in the academy, or, come to that, anywhere.”

    The reason why diversity is sought, or more simply, opposing points of view, is that most complex subject matters are uncertain. If we knew the perfect and correct way to do X, we could dispense with diversity. But we don’t. That’s why we want competition in our ideas, in the same sense we want competition in our industry.

    There is no diversity of thought in communist societies. Political correctness is about conformity of thought. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church tends towards non-diversity of thought as well. Which I’m guessing is why you’re attempting to defend something so indefensible.

    (Thanks for the special mention.)

  11. “Christianity for instance cannot be derived by exercise of intellect”

    In Catholic theology you can gain understanding of God though your use of Reason. At the very least, there is nothing inconsistent with Reason and Catholic Doctrine. Note, that doesn’t that is the only thing important, obviously.

  12. I love the idea that diversity is what won WWII for the Allies. Worth a chuckle. Never mind the massive sponge of oh-so-diverse Russians, or any other factor.

    “Unfortunately, the Catholic Church tends towards non-diversity of thought as well.”

    This is not unfortunate if the thought contains the truth. Who needs other ideas if they are wrong? I guess we could bring back phlogistons to improve diversity of thought in thermodynamics.

  13. It’s unfortunate in the sense that we don’t know what the Truth is for all things all the time. And it’s unfortunate because what is true today isn’t necessarily true tomorrow.

    We know that democracy is the best system of governance for Western societies. We know communism and socialism aren’t. We don’t know if anything better exists, either. All we know is that it’s worked best so far, and that is “our” truth at this time. This however, is not the “truth” for the peoples of the Middle East, at this time. Democracy has not led to stability for those peoples. But what is “true” for them may change in 20 years or 50 or at some other time.

    Or let’s use a theological example. Jesus was not accepting of divorce. Given the context of his society that seemed a fair and just position to hold. That was the truth at that time. Women were essentially property, without independent means. Divorce was therefore potentially a death sentence. But what was the truth then, may not be the truth now.

  14. Does anybody know the origin of the academia’s passion for social diversity? Could it be spillover from the Biology department? Diversity is a distinct advantage for ecosystems and genomes, enhancing the chances of species survival subject to catastrophes.

  15. James,

    “Never mind the massive sponge of oh-so-diverse Russians, or any other factor.”

    I see that you have no understanding of what the USSR were at the time. If there was one country who had divertsity it was the USSR, they had diversity of both religion (Christianism, Jewish, Islamic population) and European, Slave, middle eastern and asian population.

  16. “Does anybody know the origin of the academia’s passion for social diversity?”

    If you want to trace the origins of this idea back as far as you reasonably can, then that would be the writings of Nietzsche. He was at least in certain respects, a pro-post modernist. (Although some of his philosophical ideas are directly opposed to what is considered ‘post modernism’ today). Post modernism has the tendency to argue that all claims to truth are relative. Since one idea is no better than another, diversity is fine, possibly necessary. In this perspective the opposite of diversity is conformity which has close links to other undesirable social movements such as fascism.

  17. Will: We think sex with 5 year olds is wrong, but as we become more enlighten and learn more about sexuality, we will find that 5 year olds can consent and sex with children will become the norm and it will represent the truth at that point. We will realize that it was only our negative attitude that did the damage, not the act itself.

    That is the beauty of subjective reality and truth–the truth can be anything and everything for everyone all the time. Hitler was good, Stalin was good, the Crusades were good at the time. It’s so liberating to have no rules and such a flexible outlook on life.

  18. Sheri, I think you’re confusing what post modernists think is true with what I think is true. Nobody was asking what I thought was true, which was why I explained what others thought was true.

  19. Will: Okay. Then my comment applies to anyone who thinks in the fashion you described.

  20. Gary: You may wish to read Peter Woods’ Book “Diversity”. He seemed to do a thorough study of the subject. I read the book so long ago I cannot recall the full title.

    Sylvain: The German Army was well trained and quite disciplined. The value of allied “diversity” is difficult to measure as the English were able to decipher German signals in nearly real-time. That was a terrible disadvantage to the Germans and very very great, i’d say unsurpassed, advantage to the allies. I do know there were some bumbling allied commanders and diversity would have kept them in command. As it was some of the worst such as Montgomery and MacArthur did retain command for reasons I cannot explain.

    Also, wasn’t the USSR officially an atheist society?

  21. That movie, Kiss Me Deadly, was low-budget, but actually a bit scary toward this near-end scene.

  22. K.Kilty,

    The USSR government was atheist, but still the people were still religious. The first countries to leave the URSS in 1989-91 were all the Muslim country that end by Stan to a few exceptions. Like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    Putin was once the leader of the KGB and he restored the Orthodox Church in Russia now.

  23. Mr Nitschke. I apologise for my lack of clarity. I usually get this blog in my mailbox early in the morning before breakfast. Of course the use of reason is necessary .
    However the idea that God would come into the world and take human form and having been killed rise again and walk with people, and then be seen by many people at once is not a thing anyone of sense would expect to happen it . It was utterly unlikely , is what I meant to say. It is unreasonable But reality is often not what we would expect.

    Those who saw it were astonished and passed down the their experience by word of mouth to others. John the Apostle saw this and when he was old he told Polycarp of Smyrna of it and he then told his pupil Irenaeus of Gaul. Some of the writings of Irenaeus are still around and are now available on the internet. so you can read that evidence. .
    Greek philosophers laughed at the thought of a God who was born human and thought that if they ,who were so clever could not see how it could happen ,it therefore didn’t happen. Philosophers do the same today. It’s human to do so. But
    reality is often not what we think it will be. — as a n example of a scientific theory which was not at all acceptable look at Continental Drift
    How ridiculous that was even when I was at University. What a fool idea! Couldn’t happen .

  24. This is what The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary have to say on this subject:

    “The mysteries of our holy Faith are beyond reason, but they are not unreasonable. They can be defended, not proven, by arguments based on reason. Even the holy sacrifice of the Mass, which is so sublime a mystery, is called a “reasonable” sacrifice in the Roman liturgy. It is in this sense that philosophy is called “the handmaid of theology.” Terms such as “principle,” “matter,” “form,” “substance,” “accident,” “transubstantiation,” are a few of those which theology makes use of to defend the reasonableness of the mysteries of our Faith.”

    A little off topic but hopefully that clarifies the point being made.

  25. “Does anybody know the origin of the academia’s passion for social diversity?”

    According to Ravi Zacharias, the word “university” comes from the concept of “unity in diversity” … e pluribus unum (from the many, one) … there the four essences: air, fire, water and earth but what is the fifth essence that brings the four together? what is the quintessence? what is the fifth element?

  26. Writing from the belly of the beast, I assure you that diversity in the university means exactly what you all know it means. It means there are too many white and Asian males in the STEM disciplines that lead to good jobs. It cannot be described in these bald terms, and the euphemisms administrators employ are a testament to their mendacious creativity, but that’s reality.

    Conservatives’ “diversity of viewpoint” line is, as Briggs explains, rather dumb. Actually its another example of mendacious creativity, since it actually means set-asides for token conservatives. Productive intellectual exchange occurs when there is broad agreement on fundamentals. If you think the premises of my argument are wrong, you certainly will not think my conclusions are right.

  27. Group think is a real psychological phenomenon. Academic social science suffers from it only slightly less than Peoples’ Temple did, and probably less than Scientology currently does. Ideological diversity is a great way to avoid group think. Of course, it is best to seek the truth, but where it isn’t known or knowable, or where entrenched powers refuse to do so, diversity is at least a safeguard against the stupidity of group think.

  28. Also Diversity of Ability is only dumb if you’re looking on one simple axis. But if you’re trying to staff a team to say win a football game or put some guys on the moon, you’re going to need diversity of abilities. Obviously, you’d like to get the best you can in each diverse specialty.

  29. Briggs

    September 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Nick,

    Trying to staff a football team is trying to staff various positions. And inside each position, diversity of ability is dumb. A sociology department is like a football team because there are positions that require staffing. And diversity of ability inside these positions is dumb. Though, of course, positions, on football teams or in sociology departments, are somewhat “fuzzy.”

    It seems when people say “diversity”, they do not mean “diversity” but something else. They mean, it seems, “range of abilities etc. which are acceptable.” But then we come to what is acceptable. And then we’re right back to the main question. We don’t want true diversity, but true ability.

  30. Every University in America is united upon many propositions. Here are two: 1) the earth is an oblate spheroid; and 2) departments of African American Studies deserve funding. We expect no diversity of opinion on the first question, because truth. But we should see some on the second, because debatable. The fact that we see zero diversity on either question suggests a less than optimal amount of diversity in academia.

  31. Yes. Diversity is fuzzy, and may not, especially in view of its sordid history, be the right word to describe optimality in social systems such as academic research. Nevertheless, one can show (and Haidt does show) how a lack of diversity (of the ideological sort) can lead to groups of researchers designing incredibly stupid studies in the social sciences. Stupid studies which this Very Blog lampoons routinely. Yes, it is not lack of diversity per se that causes stupid studies, but it is easy to see how more ideological diversity (say greater representation of red-staters or religious conservatives) might lead to a better study design and interpretation of results.

    Haidt may not be exactly on our side here, but he’s making a valuable contribution nevertheless by holding Enlightenment Rationalism’s feet to its own misguided fire.

  32. I am reminded of Pauline Kael’s (apparently apocryphal) 1972 quip: “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.”

  33. Briggs

    September 21, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Nick,

    Oh, we agree for the most part. Yet I think Haidt shows that stacking departments with progressives and progressive ideologues produces bad work. Lack of “diversity”, which is a code-phrase meaning lack of conservatives and reactionaries, is a consequence of the stacking.

    Don’t say we “want more diversity”, which only amplifies the false idea that diversity is a good. The word is too apt to be misunderstood. Rather say, “It’s time to hire people with such and such a view.”

    Anyway, moot points. It’s not going to happen. Universities? Nuke ’em From Orbit. It’s The Only Way To Be Sure.

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