Friday, January 22, 2016

Stop the presses. Faculty are political!

Students have no idea how they make me feel great via their comments in class or in their papers.  One noted in her paper that she did not care for the ideas when they were expressed by "an extremely conservative" professor but is apparently receptive to those same ideas when she hears them from me.  Another found that in my blog I criticize Obama and Faux News.

These two comments are not anything new.  Years ago, one student wrote in a long letter of appreciation that she really didn't know about my politics even after having known me throughout her undergraduate years.  Which is exactly how it ought to be; my political philosophy ought to be irrelevant and immaterial to students.  Right?

It is one thing when biologists have political preferences; after all, mitochondria are not influenced by political views.  But, in the humanities, the social sciences, business, and a gazillion other things that universities offer, well, it is pretty much all politics.  Rare will be a business faculty with uber-left leanings, and perhaps rarer will be a sociologist with ultra-right political views. Yet, we pretend that our "research" is all objective.  Ha!
In October Russell Roberts, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, tweeted that if told an economist’s view on one issue, he could confidently predict his or her position on any number of other questions.
The people rose in protest with tweets, blog-posts, and position papers!
As Mr Roberts suggested, economists tend to fall into rival camps defined by distinct beliefs. Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think-tank, and Jonathan Haidt of New York University recently asked a group of academic economists both moral questions (is it fairer to divide resources equally, or according to effort?) and questions about economics. They found a high correlation between the economists’ views on ethics and on economics. The correlation was not limited to matters of debate—how much governments should intervene to reduce inequality, say—but also encompassed more empirical questions, such as how fiscal austerity affects economies on the ropes. Another study found that, in supposedly empirical research, right-leaning economists discerned more economically damaging effects from increases in taxes than left-leaning ones.
That is worrying.
Seriously?  They needed to do research on this?  It shows what pretentious lives economists lead believing that their thinking is not political and is only--and nothing but--scientific!
 even if economics is not uniquely ideological, its biases are often more salient than those within chemistry. Economists advise politicians on all manner of important decisions. A reputation for impartiality could improve both perceptions of the field and the quality of economic policy.
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men

3 comments:

Ramesh said...

Why have you taken aim at economists only. Every branch of learning has the same issue - political biases. Beware of political biologists - they will influence the GMO debate, mitochondria or otherwise.

Having said that , I totally agree on economists. There is Paul Krugman as a shining example of what you decry.

Anne in Salem said...

Universities do not have a monopoly on teachers whose views affect their work. Students at the local high school know what topics to avoid or at least what stance to take on certain topics when writing papers for a certain English teacher given her political views. It is rumored she will mark down excellent papers that reflect views other than hers.

In a scene from "In the Heat of the Night" television series, a woman illustrates exactly this point. She says her father, a police officer, would look out the window and see danger and crime while her mother, who worked at the church, would look out the exact same window and see need and suffering. As we are not yet automatons, is it possible to be wholly impartial?

Sriram Khé said...

Your problem with Krugman is that he brings in a kind of bias to which you are opposed--you prefer a different kind of a bias ...

Is it possible to be impartial? I doubt it. But, as academics we can try to give that the best possible shot. What pisses me off is how we pretend to the world that we are impartial while fully knowing within that we are spinning our own stories ...

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