Real Scientists disgusted at liberal scientists. Listen.
Scientists and students have had enough. Here are some of their words.
Why Viewpoint Diversity Also Matters in the Hard Sciences
Heterodox Academy was founded to encourage viewpoint diversity in the academy. It is clear that research on political hot button topics benefits from viewpoint diversity. What about the hard sciences? These are more objective — the mass of the Higgs boson is uncontroversial in a way that the Affordable Care Act is not.
For this reason, viewpoint diversity may not seem important in the hard sciences. If everyone agrees on the laws of nature, and there is no Republican Quantum Mechanics and Democrat Quantum Mechanics, why does it matter if around 90% of scientists are on the political left?
There are several reasons why the hard sciences also benefit from viewpoint diversity:
The first reason is that good science requires, above all, excellence, and excellence requires science to attract the best people from whatever background. Consider a fictional scenario Sam is a bright right-leaning undergraduate thinking of a career in astronomy. On a summer internship, Sam is having lunch with the astrophysics research group when a professor makes a comment about how Republicans — or Tories, or Brexit voters — are stupid and closet racists. Everyone else at the table laughs. Irrespective of the level of Sam’s intrinsic talent, the laughter around the table may end any desire to pursue astronomy as a career.
What does it matter if Sam leaves the subject? After all, there are many more aspirant scientists than there are tenured faculty positions — and this would still hold even with complete political homogeneity. However, brilliant scientists are brilliant in their own unique way. One of the great pleasures of science is the chance to collaborate with excellent scientists from all over the globe. The more scientists I have met, the more I appreciate the many unique ways there are to be world-leading. There is no one true model of the good scientist. Different problems require different skills. Leading a large collaboration is different from acute mathematical insight is different from insightful design of an experiment. A scientist perfect for one problem may be hopeless at another.
I am not a psychologist. But, our political differences surely come, in some part, from the many, varied and wonderful ways that our minds tick. The different ways our minds tick allow us to be creative in different ways. It is no longer a source of frustration to me that colleagues can intuit results I struggle with, as I know the same is also true in reverse.
Given the known diversity of ways to do great science, there are probably also many more that we cannot directly imagine. In that the culture of science is welcoming only to the Right Sort of People with the Right Sort of Opinions, it shuts the door to those who think differently — and in doing so reduces the number of keys that get tried in the apparently intractable locks of important and difficult problems.
The last reason is prosaic but important: big science requires money on a scale that can come only from national governments. The discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN and the discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO collaboration necessitated financial support of a size going beyond private philanthropy and over timescales reaching across several periods of the political cycle. Such science can only happen, and will only happen, if a successful funding case can be made over a period of time to governments of all political hues.
Politics is messy, hard-fought and partisan. At its best, science rises above this because it involves universal truths that are independent of views on how to arrange the polity. But, when the scientific community draws politically from only half of the population while communicating a vibe that the other half is not welcome, it obscures its universality and becomes vulnerable to partisan politics. In doing so, science suffers, as ambitious long-term projects are reduced to bargaining chips in a short-term political calculus.
HxA member Joseph Conlon is Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford and a tutorial Fellow at New College, Oxford.
 The Times Higher Education reported (with the caveat that the survey was self-selecting) that for the 2015 UK general election, between 10 and 15% of UK science academics planned to vote for a right-of-centre party (either Conservative or UKIP). This compares with a figure of around 20% for business and law, and between 2 and 5% for academics in humanities and social sciences.
Campus Speaker Disinvitations: Recent trends (Part 1 of 2)
It happened frequently in 2016- a college club or the school administration invites a speaker but due to pressures from student groups or day-of protests, the event is cancelled and the speaker forced to find alternative venues or issue an apology to disappointed audience members.
FIRE recently reported that 2016 featured a record number of disinvitations to speakers from colleges and universities, 46 in total. The previous record of 34 was set in 2013. Such a figure bolsters the case that free speech is being increasingly restricted on college campuses. Yet, a closer inspection reveals that 14 of the 46 disinvitation attempts in 2016 focused on a single target, Milo Yiannopoulos. This suggests that 2016’s record number of disinvitation attempts may not be indicative of an increased level of assault on free speech on college campuses, because the record-setting number may have been driven by one outlier.
Fortunately, FIRE maintains a database documenting speaker disinvitation attempts on college campuses starting in the year 2000, allowing for a deeper investigation into campus disinvitation attempts.
This is the first of a two-part series on FIRE’s disinvitation data. This post focuses on basic exploratory analyses. Part two focuses on the political motivations behind the disinvitation attempts.
FIRE’s disinvitation database documents the following information about each attempt:
- The speaker’s identity
- When applicable, the political motive for the disinvitation attempt, relative to the speaker’s politics (i.e., from the left of the speaker; from the right of the speaker)
- The topic of controversy (including abortion/contraception; civil liberties; criminal or other misconduct; evolution/scientific views; local politics; racial issues; speaker’s religious’ views on gender, immigration, Islam, Israel-Palestine conflict, sexual orientation)
- The type of school (i.e., public; private, secular; private religious).
- The type of speaking event (i.e., campus speech/debate; commencement; teaching; other)
- The source of the disinvitation attempt (i.e., on-campus; off-campus)
- Success of disinvitation attempt
Disinvitation attempt are categorized as successful or unsuccessful. Additionally, instances where a speaker is unable to finish speaking due to disruptions are classified as successful disinvitation attempts, although they are also labeled as substantial event disruptions.
Prior to analyzing the data, the success of disinvitation attempt variable was modified from its Yes/No format, with 2 additional categories:
- Substantial event disruptions were classified into their own category. Thus, they were no longer grouped with successful disinvitations. This was done because during these specific events, the speaker was not actually disinvited, they were however prevented from finishing their remarks.
- Events where significant attempts to prevent a speaker from finishing their remarks occurred were classified as moderate event disruptions. Examples of moderate event disruptions include loud protesting during the speaker’s remarks, pie-throwing (yes- pie throwing), and pulling a fire alarm while a speaker is speaking.
Have disinvitation attempts increased over time?
The number of disinvitation attempts from 2000 to 2016 has grown fairly steadily. The correlation of disinvitations with calendar year was r(15) = .81, p < .001.
There are at least two important caveats to note:
First, FIRE was founded in 1999 and the disinvitation database relies on individuals submitting case reports. Over time, awareness of the organization has likely increased. Thus, it is possible that the increase in reported disinvitation attempts is due to increased awareness of FIRE and the disinvitation database.
Second, the criteria employed by FIRE may have changed over time. Such changes could occur because of decisions made internally to change how certain events are categorized or because different individuals may have been tasked with assessing the submitted disinvitation reports. These caveats apply to all remaining analyses.
How successful were disinvitation attempts from 2000 to 2016?
From 2000 to 2016 almost half of all disinvitation attempts were unsuccessful. Of those unsuccessful attempts, roughly a third of them spurred a moderate event disruption or a substantial event disruption:
Result of Disinvitation AttemptFrequencyUnsuccessful disinvitation159Successful disinvitation120Moderate event disruption24Substantial event disruption30
Were disinvitation attempts more likely to occur for a certain type of speaking event?
The majority of disinvitation attempts from 2000 to 2016 (323 of 333) were for commencement speeches and campus speeches/debates, c2(3) = 303.36, p < .001:
Type of EventNumber of DisinvitationsCampus Speech/Debate181Commencement142Teaching4Other6
Which topics were most likely to spur disinvitation attempts?
The table below presents the number of disinvitations by type of controversy. Please note that in many cases disinvitation attempts were motivated by more than one controversial topic so the overall number of disinvitations presented in the table below exceeds 333:
Type of ControversyNumber of DisinvitationsAbortion/contraception29Civil liberties22Criminal/other misconduct30Evolution/scientific views4Views of gender32Views on immigration27Views on Islam36Views on Israeli-Palestine conflict42Local politics11Other34Other political views or positions139Racial issues50Speaker’s religion2Views on sexual orientation45
If the category of other political views or positions is set aside, then disinvitation attempts due to racial issues, views on sexual orientation, and views on the Israeli-Palestine conflict occurred most frequently from 2000 to 2016. A majority of the other controversial topics were also subjected to 20 or more disinvitation attempts.
Were disinvitation attempts more likely to occur at a certain type of school?
From 2000 to 2016 the majority of disinvitation attempts have occurred at public colleges and universities, c2(2) = 11.15, p < .004:
Type of SchoolNumber of DisinvitationsPublic138Private, Secular106Private, Religious89
In the United States, the number of private non-profit colleges and universities (1,555 as of 2013) is more than double the number of public colleges and universities (689 as of 2013). Yet, public colleges and universities have higher overall enrollment. Thus, the increased number of disinvitations at public schools may be a result of their higher enrollment — the more people on a campus the more likely it is that someone may oppose a given speaker.
Many of the disinvitation attempts at public colleges and universities were not successful, and this is noticeable when also comparing the success rate of disinvitation attempts at private colleges and universities. It is also interesting to note that following an unsuccessful disinvitation attempt, moderate and substantial event disruptions occurred more frequently at public colleges and universities.
Result of Disinvitation AttemptPublicPrivate SecularPrivate Religious
Unsuccessful disinvitation attempt 674943
Successful disinvitation attempt 374449
Moderate event disruption 2145
Substantial event disruption 1392
Much of the discrepancy in disinvitation attempts at public colleges and universities compared to private colleges and universities appears to have been driven by a greater number of attempts to disinvite speakers from campus speeches or debates:
Type of Speaking Event:PublicPrivate SecularPrivate ReligiousCampus speech/debate915040Commencement464947Teaching031Other141
Finally, given that private colleges and universities are not bound by the first amendment, and in the case of religious colleges and universities explicitly promoting a specific value system, it is possible that different topics spurred disinvitation attempts at different types of schools.
Thus, for most controversial speakers, public colleges and universities led the way in number of disinvitation attempts. However, disinvitation attempts over abortion/contraception from 2000 to 2016 primarily occurred at religious colleges and universities; and disinvitation attempts because of a speaker’s views on the Israeli-Palestine conflict occurred more often at colleges and universities in the private, secular category.
This basic exploration of FIRE’s disinvitation revealed that:
- Total disinvitation attempts per year increased from 2000 to 2016.
- An unsuccessful disinvitation of a speaker was the most common outcome of a disinvitation attempt.
- Disinvitation attempts occurred primarily for campus speeches/debates or commencement addresses.
- The catchall category of “other political views or positions” spurred the most disinvitation attempts. Racial issues, views on sexual orientation, and views on the Israeli-Palestine conflict all produced over 40 disinvitation attempts.
- Public colleges and universities experienced more disinvitation attempts than private secular and private religious colleges and universities, largely driven by more attempts to disinvite speakers from making campus speeches or participating in campus debates.
- The success rate of disinvitation attempts was higher at private secular and private religious colleges and universities compared to public ones.
For viewpoint diversity to succeed there must be opportunities for students to hear and expose themselves to people and ideas that run counter to their current beliefs. Stifling the ability for students to make their own choice about who- and what- to hear only serves to strengthen orthodoxy and deepen echo chambers that do little to advance quality research and empathy for others.
Part 2 explores the political motivations, relative to the speaker, for the 333 disinvitation attempts that occurred from 2000 to 2016. Stay tuned.
From the Washington Post:
“Here’s what I tell them: First, the Democratic Party needs moderates, so if you can stomach it, stick with the party and fight to move the conversation away from extremism and towards the center. America needs two sane options, so long as we’re in a two-party republic, with neither drifting so far away from the center that no compromise may ever be brokered.
Second, putting it plainly, you do not want to be a conservative on today’s college campus. You will likely be ostracized to some extent, assuming your institution of higher learning is the norm. You will almost certainly lose friends, face bullying and need to develop thick skin. I’ve experienced this, and I only came out as an Independent. Others I’ve spoken to have horror stories worse than mine, attacked by fellow students, treated poorly by professors and administrators, accused publicly of racism, misogyny or “unintelligence.” And we have all received threats at one point or another. All things considered, perhaps I had it pretty good as a moderate Democrat. But my personal convictions prevented me from continuing to reside in the party that it has become, let alone the one that is to come.”
Liberals have squandered their political and moral capital, and change is needed. Change will happen with or without them. Wisdom was never a strong point for liberals.