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Political Exclusion and Discrimination in Social Psychology: Lived Experiences and Solutions
Sean T. Stevens1, Lee Jussim2, Stephanie M. Anglin3, Richard Contrada2,
Cheryl Alyssa Welch4, Jennifer S. Labrecque5, Matt Motyl6, José Duarte7, Sylvia Terbeck8,
Walter Sowden9, John Edlund10, and W. Keith Campbell11
1 = New York University - Stern School of Business
2 = Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick
3 = Carnegie Mellon University
4 = James Madison University
5 = University of Southern California
6 = University of Illinois - Chicago
7 = Arizona State University
9 = Plymouth University
8 = University of Oxford
9 = Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience
10 = Rochester Institute of Technology
11 = University of Georgia
Corresponding Author Information:
Sean T. Stevens, Ph.D.
Research Director - Heterodox Academy
Associate Research Scholar
New York University - Stern School of Business
Business and Society Program, KMC Suite 8-146
44 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10012
The primary goal of science is to better approximate the truth through a series of conjectures and
refutations (see Popper, 1959, 1963). When reliable means of self-correction are in place, ideas and
theories compete in a “marketplace of ideas” (see Williams, 2016) where successful theories withstand
numerous skeptical and critical attempts to disconfirm, falsify, or refute them (Meehl, 1967, 1990a,
1990b; Popper, 1959, 1963). Unfortunately, science is not always self-correcting (Ioannidis, 2012;
Jussim, Anglin, Stevens, & Duarte, 2016a). One source of failures to self-correct are political biases,
which can create support for ideologically appealing conclusions in the absence of scientific support
(Duarte, Crawford, Stern, Haidt, Jussim, & Tetlock, 2015; Pinker, 2002; Redding, 2001; Tetlock, 1994).
Because there are there are vanishingly few social psychologists who do not identify as progressive
within the field of social psychology, we suspect that political biases will almost exclusively manifest as
biases against scientists and ideas that are critical of progressivism.
To support these claims this chapter:
1. Reviews ways in which conservative politics have distorted and denied scientific
2. Reviews the social psychological literature on political prejudice and intolerance.
3. Reports the personal experiences of political bias as reported by social psychological
faculty and psychology graduate students.
4. Integrates the scientific literature on confirmation bias with research on political
prejudice and the burgeoning scholarship revealing political biases and distortions in
social psychology.
5. Identifies some ways to limit such biases.
Before proceeding further, we define progressivism and conservatism, the political ideologies
primarily discussed in this chapter. The term “progressive” refers to those who identify with the political
left and place a high value on increased egalitarianism. Importantly, this represents a departure from
much of the social psychological literature on the topic which typically refers to such individuals as
“liberal.” We have chosen to employ the term “progressive” instead of “liberal” because the latter term
has multiple and conflicting meanings which depend on the country being considered. For instance, in
the USA, “liberal” currently means support for the Democratic Party and implies that one is critical of
capitalism, while in the United Kingdom, “liberal” implies that one holds a positive view of capitalism.
The term “conservative” refers to those who identify with the political right and prioritize other values,
such as loyalty and respect for authority and tradition, over increased egalitarianism.
Conservative Distortion of Science: Brief Examples
The history of science is replete with examples of politics impeding the progress of knowledge.
Well-known historical examples include Copernicus, who, out of fear of retribution from the Church,
delayed publication of his theory of heliocentrism until just before his death out of fear of retribution from
the Church. And he was justified in doing so because Galileo was imprisoned by the Church for
advocating that theory. Darwin also delayed publishing his Origin of Species out of similar fears. Both
Copernicus and Darwin feared retribution from political and social conservatives. Furthermore, many
well-known distortions of science appear to have been motivated by politically conservative opposition to
scientific findings that produce social and technological changes. Thus, we begin with a brief review of
some well-known examples of how political conservatives have distorted science.
Creation “Science,” the Intelligent Design Movement, and the Religious Denial of Evolution
Evolution has long been controversial in some religious circles because it is routinely interpreted
as a threat to Biblical accounts of the origin of human life. Indeed, to this day, only one third of
Americans believe in evolution via natural selection (Masci, February 12, 2016). Primarily as an effort to
undermine the teaching of evolution in schools, the pseudo-science theories of “creation science” and
“intelligent design” were created (Forrest, 2004) to create a veneer of scientific-iness (to borrow Stephen
Colbert’s “truthiness” term). This was then used to argue that these “alternative theories” should be
presented along with evolution. Neither pseudo-science theory has produced a shred of empirical
evidence appearing in any peer-reviewed journal, neither has led to any discoveries of any new
phenomena, nor inspired any scientists, including religious ones, to search for evidence supporting it (see
Forrest, 2004; Gilchrist, 1997). This is because both theories are primarily transparent political attempts
to limit the teaching of evolution in schools, not bona fide scientific theories.
The Denial of Global Warming
The denial of global warming and its associated risks provides another example of an active
attempt to undermine scientific consensus in the service of an ideological agenda. Climate scientists have
suspected that rising temperatures would present significant risks to people and population centers since
the 1950’s (Craig 1957; Revelle & Seuss, 1957). The fossil fuel industry appears to have been aware of
such risks by the late 1970’s (see e.g., Commoner, 1977; Longenecker, 1981; Oppenheimer, 1981), and
by the 1990’s, environmental concerns, particularly global warming, had become a prominent concern of
climate scientists and environmental policy-makers within the United States (see e.g., Chafee, 1989;
Davies, 1990; Gifford, 1990).
As these environmental issues rose to prominence, a coordinated movement opposing stricter
environmental regulations emerged. Increased regulatory action on fossil fuel usage was considered a
threat to capitalism in general and, more specifically, the profitability of the fossil fuel industry. In
response to this perceived threat, the fossil fuel industry has been joined by other business allies (e.g., the
auto industry) and conservative think tanks in promoting skepticism about global warming (Lahsen, 2005;
McCright, 2003; Mulvey, Shulman, Anderson, Cole, Piepenburg, & Sideris, 2015). Despite near-
unanimous consensus among climate scientists that the threats to people and the planet posed by global
warming require immediate attention (see e.g., Anderegg, 2010; Cook, Nuccitelli, Green, Richardson,
Winkler, Painter, et al., 2013; Doran & Zimmerman, 2009; Oreskes, 2004), the anti-environmental
movement has successfully prevented policy changes, in part, by sowing unjustified doubts about the
validity of the climate science.
The establishment of the Iron Curtain following World War II and the emergence of the Soviet
Union as a superpower, complete with nuclear capabilities, constituted a major threat to U.S. interests and
security. One result was an anti-communist frenzy in the U.S., complete with black-listings,
stigmatization, and ostracism of anyone with any links (including some that were quite tenuous) to any
communist organization or individual in the 1940s and 1950s. We gloss this here as “McCarthyism”
because McCarthy’s hearings are so infamous, but the “Second Red Scare” (the first taking place after the
Russian Revolution of 1917) began well before McCarthy’s hearings. Although much of this was well
beyond the scope of science, the Red Scare affected faculty and students, as illustrated by these next two
University of Michigan I: Faculty inquisition and firings. McCarthyism had a direct impact
on the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in the 1950’s (see Hollinger, 1988),
when the issue of whether a communist could possess intellectual integrity, a concept widely perceived as
a prerequisite to academic freedom, emerged. Harlan Hatcher, president of the University of Michigan,
was one of 37 university presidents to sign a statement establishing the Association of American
Universities, an organization that contended it was not possible for a communist to possess academic
integrity. Thus, communists could not be granted academic freedom or tenure, and known communists
could be stripped of tenure and fired.
In May of 1953, Hatcher asked the Faculty Senate of the University of Michigan to endorse the
Association of American Universities statement. E. Blythe Stason, the dean of the law school, contended
that the statement contained language implying that a professor could be fired if they invoked the Fifth
Amendment when asked about sympathies towards communism. The debate over endorsing the
statement was tabled, and the Faculty Senate instead endorsed the American Association of University
Professors’ more conventional definition of academic freedom, which did not discriminate against
communists. Despite this, Hatcher suspended three University of Michigan professors (Mark Nickerson,
Clement Markert, and Chandler Davis) and began an internal investigation a year later after each of those
faculty members invoked the Fifth Amendment when testifying in front of a Congressional subcommittee
about their support for communism and their membership in the Communist party.
The Special Advisory Committee appointed to conduct the investigation focused on academic
integrity as the central issue and made it clear that this meant a willingness to answer questions about
one’s political beliefs and sympathies. In the course of the University of Michigan’s investigation,
Markert was found to have integrity because he admitted that he had been a communist but left the party,
something that he invoked the Fifth Amendment on when questioned about by the Congressional
subcommittee. He retained his faculty position. Nickerson also admitted to being a member of the
Communist Party, but did report having left the party. Davis refused to answer any questions regarding
his politics and denied that his academic integrity hinged on whether he was a communist. Hatcher fired
both Nickerson and Davis. The Economics Department subsequently put on hold plans to hire Lawrence
Klein, a former communist who had repudiated the party in public.
University of Michigan II: A Personal reminiscence. In our request for stories of political
biases (see below), Eugene Burnstein, now emeritus at Michigan but who had been there since the 1950s
as a graduate student, related this story:
“During my first semester of grad school at UM -- in the glorious Doctoral Program in Social
Psychology -- I roomed with two older grad students, one in economics, the other in
philosophy. Both were quite left-wing and active; one ran for Senator on the Progressive Party
ticket (remember Henry Wallace?); the other gave talks and brought in speakers, some of whom
were well known members of the Communist Party (e.g., Gerhard Eisler). Both lost their
teaching assistantships as a result.”
Dr. Burnstein relayed this story from memory. After 60 years, it is possible that such memories are not
perfect. Nonetheless it is consistent with the spirit of the times.
Conclusions about Right Wing Distortions of Science
We suspect that this brief but sordid history of right-wing distortions and misuse of science is
familiar to many. These efforts were generally focused on advancing conservative policies and practices,
or contesting reasonable, progressive ones, far more than on the conduct of science. In most of these
cases, progressives have defended science from those who would misuse it or distort it. As such, many
of those on the left may have developed a false sense of immunity (Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002) to their
own intolerance of other ideas and their own propensities to distort science. Many may believe that the
left has generally been more tolerant than the right, and generally on the side advancing and defending
academic freedom and scientific progress. The next three sections present some evidence that contrasts
with such a belief.
Political Bias and Intolerance
Progressives and conservatives are often hostile to one another. The ICH argues that many people
across the political spectrum are prejudiced against ideologically dissimilar others (Brandt, Reyna,
Chambers, Crawford, and Wetherell, 2014). Conservatives tend to be hostile not just to progressives, but
to groups known to be progressive, such as blacks, feminists, pro-choice advocates, and student
protesters. Progressives tend to be hostile not just to conservatives, but to groups known to be
conservative, such as white men, evangelical Christians, business leaders, and those who are pro-life (see
Chambers, Schlenker, & Collisson, 2013; Crawford & Pilanski, 2013; Wetherell, Brandt, & Reyna,
2013). Before reviewing the evidence indicating that that social and personality psychologists are not
completely immune to such psychological processes, we need to briefly address an important tangent.
Why Political Bias in Social Psychology Will Manifest as Progressive Bias
If, as we have just argued, the evidence shows that conservatives are just as politically prejudiced
as progressives, how can it be that political prejudice within social psychology will almost exclusively
manifest as bias against scientists and ideas that are critical of progressivism? The answer is simple:
Most social psychologists identify as progressive (see Haidt, 2011; Inbar & Lammers, 2012; von Hippel
and Buss, this volume). For instance, in their survey of social psychologists, von Hippel and Buss found
that, in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, 305 voted for Obama and only four voted for Romney. At the
psychological level, we have no doubt that conservatives are at least as prone to political hostility and
distortions as are progressives. However, within social psychology, the number of psychologists whose
politics are right of center is so infinitesimal as to not warrant further discussion. What does warrant
further discussion, however, is the evidence regarding whether this ideological monoculture has led to a
hostile environment for scientific claims and evidence that contest left-wing values.
Political Prejudice in Social Psychology
Are progressive social psychologists prejudiced against (the rare) conservative colleagues and
(the perhaps less rare) ideas that contest progressive narratives and values? Accumulating evidence from
a variety of sources strongly suggests that at least some are. Inbar and Lammers (2012, Study 2) asked
social psychological respondents how reluctant they would be to invite a conservative colleague to
participate in a symposium, whether they would be reluctant to accept papers or fund grants taking a
conservative perspective, and if when choosing between equally qualified candidates, they would be
inclined to select the more liberal one over the more conservative one. Their scale ranged from 1 (not at
all) to 7 (very much). Using scores above 4 as the cutoff, they found 15% to 43% of liberal social
psychologists endorse (scores above the scale midpoint) discriminating against conservative colleagues in
publication, grants, symposia, and hiring decisions. Another view, however, is that any score above 1
(not at all) constitutes some willingness to discriminate. Using this criterion, willingness to discriminate
levels were 56%, 78%, 75%, and 78%, respectively, for the four questions (see also Honeycutt & Friberg,
Audit studies have yielded evidence that such discrimination actually occurs articles and
research proposals that advance liberal worldviews are more readily accepted than are those that contest
such views (Abramowitz et al., 1975; Ceci, Peters, & Plotkin, 1985). And a literature is rapidly
accumulating demonstrating that political biases have distorted social scientific claims about the role of
evolution in social psychological functioning (Pinker, 2002; von Hipple & Buss, this volume), the size
and nature of sex differences (Eagly, 1995, 2013), the accuracy of stereotypes (Jussim, 2012; Jussim et al,
2015), and the psychological characteristics of liberals and conservatives (Duarte et al., 2015).
Political prejudice may be quite powerful because it is not stigmatized in the way that other
prejudices (e.g., race/ethnicity, sex, etc.) are. People, most likely including social psychologists,
sometimes, and perhaps often, feel quite free to express those prejudices viewing them as reasonable,
rational, and justified (see Kristof, May 7, 2016; Kristof, May 28, 2016).
Living with Bias in Social Psychology
In this section, we relay personal stories of psychologists and students who believe they have had
experiences that were possible manifestations of political biases. These are stories anecdotal evidence
which, in some social science circles, are called “lived experience” (Tappan, 1997). These stories should
not be interpreted in the same manner as experiments or surveys (although the ongoing scientific integrity
and replicability crises suggest that caution is warranted in interpreting such research as well; Ioannidis,
2005, 2008, 2012; Jussim et al., 2016a; Open Science Collaboration, 2015). These stories, therefore, are
presented here to augment, but not replace, other forms of scientific analysis.
Another way to look at these stories, however, is as smoke as in, “where there is smoke, there is
usually fire.” When people have similar experiences, over and over, we think they are reasonable to
express concern about the functioning of social psychology as an academic and scientific discipline.
These experiences constitute examples of scientific dysfunction and integrity failures typically
involving obstacles to publication, admissions, hiring, funding, and the like.
Stories of Bias
Funding. This chapter’s second and third authors (Jussim and Anglin) have worked together on
developing a questionnaire to assess people's explicit willingness to compromise the principles of the
scientific method to advance one’s political goals. As part of this project, a promising undergraduate
submitted a grant proposal to an internal source at Rutgers. Jussim has advised over 20 of these
undergraduate proposals and nearly all of them have been fully or partially funded. This proposal,
however, was not funded. There was not a hint of political bias in the review, which stated:
“I encourage the student researcher to dedicate more effort to explaining why this
research question is meaningful to the field and how it fits into the broader body of
knowledge. Meaningful research must emanate from previous work and in some way
address a gap in the literature or offer a new perspective on understanding a problem.
Moreover, I encourage the researcher to pay close attention to clearly defining the
behavior (dependent variable) the research seeks to explain. It was unclear whether the
research question dealt with the effect of ideology on psychologists' research methods or
on their professionalism in dealing with colleagues.”
Nonetheless, upon further reflection, Jussim began to suspect the proposal was not funded for
political reasons. His judgment was that none of these criticisms were actually valid, and that it was, in
fact, an excellent proposal, except for one thing. The funding proposal led off with the following
“The field of psychology is dominated by liberals (Redding, 2001), and this political
homogeneity can be problematic… In fact, content analysis of all the articles published in
American Psychologist during the 1990s revealed that 97% had liberal themes (Redding,
2001). Furthermore, recent research suggests many social psychologists would blatantly
discriminate based on politics. About 37% admitted that, given equally qualified
conservative and liberal job applicants, the liberal candidate should be hired over the
conservative candidate (Inbar & Lammers, 2012).”
This paragraph provided exactly what the reviewer called for (explaining how the work meaningfully
linked to prior scholarship), and is an excellent review of the research conducted by Redding (2001) and
Inbar and Lammers (2012). However, it frames the topic of political bias in science as a problem that
exists predominantly among progressives. Jussim suspected that this framing was potentially problematic
1. Most faculty in the social sciences and humanities are progressive (see e.g., Honeycutt &
Freberg, 2016; Inbar & Lammers, 2012; Langbert, Quain, & Klein, 2016).
2. The proposal was reviewed by faculty in the social sciences or humanities
3. And therefore, “research shows you are biased by your own politics” may have evoked
Jussim, Anglin, and the student then decided to perform an anecdotal experiment. The proposal was left
intact and resubmitted with one and only one change. The opening paragraph on liberal bias was deleted
and replaced with this:
“Conservatives are often more skeptical of scientific research than are liberals, and they
are often more willing to sacrifice science to achieve political goals (Anglin & Jussim,
in preparation). Furthermore, science has a long and checkered history of periodically
being used and exploited as a tool to advance nefarious right-wing political agendas
(e.g., social Darwinism; Nazi eliminationist practices; Herrnstein & Murray's (1994)
claims about genetic bases of race differences in intelligence).”
Although Jussim and Anglin were concerned that this was so blatantly and transparently “vamping for the
camera” and would again be rejected, those concerns were not justified. The proposal was funded.
Apparently, all those reasons the first proposal was supposedly “unclear,” “failed to offer some new
understanding” and failed to “fit into the broader field” (see the rejecting reviewer's comments) suddenly
evaporated. Simply adding some trashing of Nazis, social Darwinists, and Herrnstein and Murray was,
apparently, enough to render the resubmitted proposal interesting and important enough to fund.
Publication. Crawford, Jussim, Cain, and Cohen (2013) had a similar experience with the peer-
review process. They performed a study showing that progressives were more biased than conservatives
in their evaluations of scientific articles, and submitted it for publication. The initial submissions were
framed explicitly as examining whether political biases were symmetric (i.e., similar for conservatives or
progressives) or asymmetric (larger for progressives or conservatives) and submitted for peer-review.
Because so much prior research emphasized bias and distortion among conservatives, the finding that
biases were larger for progressives was seen by Crawford and colleagues as important “news” or even
“counterintuitive news.” Yet, the paper was rejected by two separate journals.
Crawford et al. (2013) then performed a variation on the anecdotal experiment described above
regarding funding. Although the pattern that progressives were more biased than conservatives was still
reported in the tables and figures, they removed all text stating that progressives were more biased than
conservatives, and resubmitted it to another journal. The paper was accepted and is now published. It
was, apparently, possible to find that progressives were more biased than conservatives and get published;
it was, however, not possible for them to say so and get the paper published at the first two journals to
which the paper was submitted.
More Bias Stories
Given these personal experiences, Jussim and this chapter’s first author, Stevens, sent an email,
titled Call for personal experiences of political bias” to the listserv for the Society for Personality and
Social Psychology (SPSP; email address:; full email text
available on request).
The request generated 22 separate stories here provided by 13 separate individuals1. These
responses described a variety of experiences involving ideological hostility and discrimination and fell
into two categories: (1) Experiences that describe a general climate of hostility towards non-progressive
ideas, particularly politically conservative ideas, and (2) direct experiences of hostility, derogation, or
ostracism towards non-progressives, and again particularly political conservatives. We have altered
1 We have removed identifying information for the stories, but otherwise they are presented as submitted. Thus, in
some places the term “liberal” appears where we (Stevens and Jussim) would use the term “progressive.”
possible identifying information to keep these lived experiences anonymous and have eliminated typos,
but have otherwise presented these stories unaltered from the original text sent to us.
Finally, one of the stories presented here is from a social psychologist who was originally an
author of the chapter. However, just before we were ready to submit the chapter to the publisher, this
social psychologist requested that his/her name be removed. The reason given was that s/he was working
on some controversial topics and "I am beginning to worry [that] these upcoming papers may put my
political commitments into question and anything that suggests my political commitments deviate from
the norm (e.g., this paper) may distract from what is most important: the scientific evidence."
Climate of Hostility Stories
Many of the experiences we present suggest that a good number of social psychologists assume
that their colleagues and students are progressive, or that the validity of progressive ideas and values is so
obvious that open derogation of political conservatives is acceptable. Some suggest that ideas that contest
progressive narratives, which include but are not restricted to conservative narratives, warrant rejection
without serious consideration. Each boldface subheader marks the beginning of a different story, with
one exception. There is a single subsection at the end (Additional short comments) that is a collection
of short stories from different sources.
“Justification” for downgrading an undergraduate. “I was a graduate teaching
assistant (TA) for one of the most overtly liberal professors in the psychology department at my
university. She was hesitant about needing a TA because as she told me, past TAs ‘did not fit
well’ and ‘just didn’t get it.’ I was confused when hearing this because my position simply
required me to grade a bunch of papers for two sections of an abnormal psychology course. I was
not sure how a graduate psychology student would not “get” how to grade right or wrong answers
on assignments in a class that basically just covers what is in the DSM. It felt pretty straight-
forward to me, however, it did not take long to see what the issue was.
When this professor found out that I conducted diversity research, she instantly
categorized me as a strong progressive and brought up topics accordingly. From environmental
issues to the apparent disgrace of the delayed progress of progressive-minded changes to our
university, it seemed like I became her best friend simply because I mentioned desiring a career
researching effective methods for promoting diversity. I did not dare mention that I was not the
liberal Democrat that she assumed me to be. Upon receiving the first assignment to grade I
started to gain a sense of why this professor was known for her political views.
Despite being a TA for an abnormal psychology class, all of the assignments I graded
were about diversity and equality. While I am passionate about these topics, I did not see how
they were appropriate for an abnormal psychology class. I was expecting to receive assignments
on disorders, yet only one of the assignments assigned contained information relevant to the
course topic. In a class that already has more information packed into it than can be taught in a
single semester, I was surprised to see that so many assignments were completely unrelated to the
course topic assigned. The questions in the written assignments (apart from the one previously
mentioned) did not even make connections to information in the textbook.
Notably, in one assignment, a diversity paper, students were asked to read and write a
response on two articles; one on racial equality and another on feminist research. I was instructed
to grade the assignments based on effort. One question inquired about what the student would
need to do in order to get their research ethics up to standards proposed by the article. One
student did not agree with the article and simply put that they did not feel like they needed to
meet those standards. I took off points on this particular response because the question did not
ask an opinion on if they should meet those standards or if they agreed with them, the question
simply asked what they would need to do in order to meet those proposed standards. This student
made no effort to respond to the question that was asked.
I found out the next week via email that the student complained about the grade
deduction. The professor emailed me with her response to the student which left me
speechless. I thought that she would have explained to the student the reason I had taken points
off was for the student’s answer. Yet, instead of explaining that the student did not attempt to
answer the question, she explained that my response did not match the department’s goal of
promoting sociocultural awareness and producing enlightened students. There is no better
description of my response to reading this email than flabbergasted. I had every right to deduct
points from that assignment due to a lack of effort. Discovering that lowering a grade based on
responses not being liberal enough was perfectly acceptable to her was not only baffling to me,
but worrisome. It made me wonder how many other professors are basing grades on such
Insulting review. “Personally, I know I have had manuscripts run into a bit of a liberal
bias specifically when I publish my work in evolutionary psychology (and more specially, in
the sex difference in jealousy). In fact, when I proposed doing a Registered Replication Report, a
reviewer suggested that evolutionary psychologists could not be trusted to do a proper data
collection the reviewer said she had no way to assure that I would not go to an evolutionary
psychology conference and collect all of my data from there and not report that fact.”
Hostile review. My co-authors and I have had our share of negative reviews, but none
so memorable as those of two manuscripts reporting studies of the relationship between religion
and health. Attributing negative reviews to bias is self-serving, and motives, in particular, can be
very difficult to discern. So, while I came away from these experiences strongly suspecting that
anti-religious attitudes were at work, I am not certain. I should point out that I am otherwise a
stranger to anti-religious bias, as I myself am not at all religious. And I am not aware of the
religious views of my co-authors, as those were never something we discussed. So, I do not think
I am particularly sensitive to the occurrence of anti-religion bias, accurately or not.
Case 1. With the first manuscript, one of three referees gave us the distinct impression
that something other than the study itself was behind the critique. This impression was conveyed
by selective attention, and selective inattention, to analyses, findings, and interpretations of
findings that involved positive health correlates benefits of religion predictors, to the neglect of
other aspects of our manuscript. It also was based on comments implying that we had made
stronger claims for the positive effects of religion on physical health that we were, in fact,
making. I had the impression that the reviewer was fighting a battle with something other than
our paper.
As an example of selective attention, consider that we had examined a set of psychosocial
factors, of which religion was only one. Despite this, the Reviewer focused exclusively on the
findings that pertained to religion. Literally all of the criticisms that were aimed at the religion
predictors could have been aimed at others. For example, the Reviewer appeared to be convinced
that unmeasured medical factors confounded the relationship linking a religion predictor to health
outcomes. But this criticism would have been equally or even more appropriate for another
psychosocial predictor, depressive symptoms. Depression has a somatic aspect that, at the
measurement level, might reflect physical health status. Religious beliefs do not have this
somatic aspect.
Another example of what seemed an undue focus on possible positive health correlates of
religion concerns the Reviewer’s efforts to reject the proposition that, in the reviewer’s words,
religion is a “major protective factor,” and an “effective shield” against health problems, and the
idea that religion would be “joining the ranks” of established biomedical predictors. We had
never used those phrases and made no such claims in the manuscript. In fact, we had reported
findings for three religion predictors, only one of which was in the direction suggesting that
greater religiousness predicted better outcomes. A second religion variable suggested the
opposite, that is, it indicated that greater religiousness predicted worse outcomes and, for a third,
there was no significant relationship. There was hardly a clear, consistent pattern of positive
health correlates, so we did not make all that much of them, especially given there were other
findings to report including some involving non-religion-related predictors.
An example of selective inattention that also suggested the Reviewer was reacting to
something other than the manuscript itself concerns analyses he/she suggested we should have
reported, and the possible interpretations that he/she said we should have discussed: We had, in
fact, reported and discussed these analyses and interpretations. The proposed analyses involved
using certain variables as covariates, which analyses we had included/reported, and the suggested
interpretation was that religion might not, in fact, be related to better health outcomes, a
possibility that we had discussed. While reviewers can miss certain parts of a manuscript and the
authors must take responsibility for clarity of expression, in this case the fact that they were
missed was surprising since these “proposed” analyses (which we had already performed and
reported!) and conclusions (which we had already offered!) formed the backbone of the
Reviewer’s critique.
Normally, when referees seem unaware of portions of a manuscript, it might be attributed
to a less than thorough effort on their part. But this was not generally the case here. This
Reviewer provided lots of detail, pointed to particular pages and tables in the manuscript, and
made over a dozen citations of previously published papers on the health problems we had
examined. In this regard, his/her review of the second/revised version of the manuscript was
lengthier, more detailed, and contained more citations than the reviews of the initial version. It
was also more negative. By contrast, the comments provided by the other two refereeswho
were of course privy to the first Reviewer’s commentsbecame briefer, had less details, and
more positive/complimentary.
Another part of the critique that aroused our curiosity was where the Reviewer asked in
what appeared to be a mocking manner, “Who can write a prescription for religious
involvement?” This was in a set of comments concerning what was in his/her view the
impossibility of implementing an intervention based on our religion findings. We were not sure
why this was an issue. Research on psychology and health examines all manner of non-
modifiable predictors, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, marital status, and socioeconomic
status. And, in fact, components involving non-denominational religion/spirituality had been
incorporated into psychosocial interventions for medical patients at the time our manuscript was
reviewed. But there was nothing in what we wrote to indicate we were proposing that our study
supported doing such interventions. Moreover, we reported significant effects involving age and
participant gender, two factors no more amenable to intervention than religion, that did not draw
this criticism.
Some of the other comments made by this Reviewer felt like “piling on.” For example,
the focus of the literature cited in the review was on covariates that he/she felt we should have
included but had not. What was interesting about this was that many of the specific variables
reflect very rare events that had not occurred in our sample and therefore were irrelevant.
Another comment that felt the same way was the Reviewer’s assertion that, if anything,
religion was a distal predictor whose impact on health outcomes had to be mediated by more
proximal, biomedical factors. This was exactly what we were saying. The Reviewer commented
specifically on a hypothetical scenario in which religion might have effects on a health outcome
through its influence on a biomedical mediator. He/she said that this type of process may have
been going on in our data and referred to it as “confounding.” It is important to note that this was
not a discussion at a statistical level about the similarities in data patterns involving mediation
and confounding; it was an account of what the Reviewer thought might have really been going
on in the study patients. In our response to this comment, we could only agree.
Similarly, there was the argument that apparent effects of religion were not and could not
be “independent”. Again, we agreed, since we suggested that effects of religion were likely
mediated by biomedical factors. Overall, the Reviewer went on at great length to provide a
critique that looked like it had been a response to a paper other than the one we had submitted, in
which religion was touted as a major, health-protective factor that operated independently of
behavior and biology and could readily be modified by interventions.
I should point out that our sense that many of the Reviewer’s comments were
inappropriate and might have reflected anti-religion bias is not a sour grapes response; the paper
was ultimately published in the originally targeted journal.
Case 2. That was not the case in the second instance of a paper concerning religion and
health seemingly arousing anti-religion bias, which was eventually published in a different
journal. At the first journal, however, I again got an immediate sense that something was “off”
about the Reviewers’ comments and, in this case, about the Editor’s comments as well. The
paper was criticized for focusing on physical symptomsthis in a manuscript submitted to a
journal that regularly publishes such research, as well it should, given the importance of
symptoms in the lives of individuals, as an indicator of underlying disease, and as a driver of
health-care utilization and associated costs.
The paper also was criticized for not discussing its adherence to the standards for clinical
trials; another odd criticism because this was a laboratory study examining a method for stress
reduction in initially healthy participants. It also was criticized for being “sloppy” in treating the
same variable as both an outcome and a predictor, which is in fact precisely the appropriate
treatment of a mediator in a statistical mediation analysis such as we reported.
Overall, though, the main thrust of the Reviewers’ comments indicated that they required
clarification of aspects of our methods and analysis, clarifications we could easily have provided.
But the Editor rejected the manuscript outright.
As a result of these experiences I moved away from the study of religion. I felt there was
a bias against it in certain quarters and that I did not want to put up with an additional obstacle to
publishing and the added aggravation. Although this certainly was a compromise, I cannot
complain too much as I did have an option that would allow me to avoid the problem, whereas
others are not so fortunate.
A curious experience serving on a university diversity committee. I was asked to join
a university diversity committee in the early 2000s and I accepted the assignment. I was one of
very few Euro Americans on the committee. I believe, though I do not know, that I was selected
because my surname is sometimes mistakenly taken to be Latino; for example, it was on this
basis that I once was invited to give a colloquium in a talk series at another university that was
dedicated to diversity-related themes. Awkward.
As I recall the committee discussions, they were rather free-wheeling and not very well
organized or systematic. I wondered about this, finding it a bit surprising since the committee
chair was a well-respected academic dean. Also, attendance was highly variable; some well-
known, distinguished faculty would attend a single meeting, make a comment or two during the
discussion, and not be seen again at subsequent meetings. On the other hand, I had been on other
university committees that also operated like this, so I was not shocked.
But I also found it curious that we were asked to convey any comments or suggestions
following meetings by emailing the committee chair, rather than the committee as a whole. I
remember sending one such an email asking whether we should be discussing the value of
promoting diversity of ideas in addition to that associated with social group memberships, the
latter having dominated discussion during the meetings.
The university president joined the committee at one of the meetings. During the course
of his comments he addressed the way in which interest in “affirmative action” was being
supplanted by that involving “diversity,” in part as a response to the possibility of court decisions
not favorable to the former. He conveyed the view that this was tactical, a matter of relabeling
rather than reconceptualization. In doing so he very explicitly said that we, the university, would
not let legal considerations get in the way of our diversity-related goals.
At a subsequent meeting, the committee chair approached me before committee
discussion began. She said she wanted to acknowledge and thank me for the emailed suggestions
I had sent her. She seemed earnest but at the same time I thought I detected something else,
possibly an apologetic tone.
That was the last meeting of that particular committee. I was informed that it had been
replaced by the formation of a new committee. I was not invited to join that second committee.
In retrospect, I inferred that the first committee had been part of a preliminary screening process,
intended to identify the most suitable individuals to serve on the actual committee. As far as I
could tell, beyond the emails to the committee chair and whatever notes she took at meetings,
there was no other concrete product of the first committee’s activity. No report or
recommendations of any kind. Of course, I cannot be sure of what actually happened.
Hostile work environment. “One of the other PhD students in the lab is terribly hostile
and often makes comments in person and on social media about evil conservatives, maintaining a
firm ‘moral highroad,’ despite themselves vocally supporting left-wing leaders (e.g. Jeremy
Corbyn; see Gilligan, July 18, 2015) who face frequent charges of anti-Semitism. The supervisor
knows, I’m sure, that I don’t attend any lab events because of this hostility - but doesn’t say
anything, maybe because he shares those political views.”
Anticipation of political hostility leads to dropping a research topic. “Most of my
experiences in this realm have been at the research idea selection stage. There have been several
occasions where I've stopped brainstorming or pursuing a research idea because I expected it
would face too much unnecessary pushback at the review stage. The most vivid example of this
was early in grad school when I came to a faculty member with an idea about studying the
possibility of unintended psychological costs of affirmative action policies for intergroup
relations. We mutually agreed it's the kind of program that is better pursued when one has the
comfort of tenure.”
Professor creates politically hostile climate in class and then doubles down. “During
several classes, President Bush was constantly demonized, made the villain, or was the butt of
jokes. In one class, the comments and innuendos were so disrespectful, I felt compelled to
approach the professor after class and asked him to consider how those jokes might be offensive.
Not taking me seriously, he made another joke and dismissed my comment as ridiculous. I think
his attitude was “who in their right mind would ever support President Bush.” If this would have
been any other topic raised by a student under the auspice of "offensive” I'm sure the professor
would have taken my point more seriously.”
Mocking among colleagues. “It was not uncommon in my meetings, especially during
election cycles when political issues and candidates were particularly hot topics, for my more
liberal colleagues to freely and frequently berate conservative politicians and the stances they
supported. This was often manifested in a discussion of FOX News, which was a constant source
of entertainment. There was a mutual understanding that the people on the network and the
issues they spoke about were ridiculous and just ripe for jokes. As colleagues laughed together
casually over these issues, it occurred to me how little they must realize how awkward it was to
be present while holding a different viewpoint. Even though I’ve never been a big FOX News
fan, it was difficult for me to listen to colleagues who I respect unintentionally belittle issues that
I genuinely care about. Given the sociable tone of these comments (most were jokes) and my
junior status in the department, I was hesitant to reveal my affiliation, fearing that I would appear
overly-sensitive and would be excluded in the future. However, I also struggled with how my
lack of active participation in these conversations could have negative implications for my status
in the department. In the best case, perhaps I appeared uninformed or too timid to speak about
politics. If I had spoken up, however, actively alerting the group that there was one (or perhaps
more!) among them who disagreed, it would have drastically changed the group dynamic in a
way that was clearly unwelcome.”
Social/political pressure to create the appearance of more support that progressive
positions are “settled science” than really existed. These next two stories were provided by a
former member of the Council of the American Psychological Association:
“There was a vote about saying that APA thinks gay couples are good parents. I thought the evidence was
weak, especially given the idea of having a major society support that view as fact. I am all in favor of
gay marriage and parenting, but did not think the evidence was at all compelling. I decided to abstain
from the vote, but people all around me shouted at me to raise my hand so there would be a unanimous
vote, and I am ashamed to say that I did so.”
“Second vote was very similar, but on the damage done by Indian American school mascots.
Again, I thought the evidence was thin-- in fact, very thin in this case. But again, I voted that these
mascots are harmful to students because they wanted an overwhelming vote on this issue.”
Additional short comments on various forms of hostility. A grad student came by
my office to complain about a recent string of stalls in the subway system, scoffing 'stupid
Republican lawmakers' (the city is run by Democrats and the stalls were due to construction).”
“At a recent colloquium about moral decision-making, a professor joked about how we
ought to study (Donald) Trump as a case of moral depravity.”
“Any time the topics of narcissism, psychopathy, entitlement, or stupidity comes up,
(Donald) Trump or (George W.) Bush are used as examples.”
Direct Hostility, Derogation, or Ostracism
These next personal experiences document specific examples of hostility, derogation, or
ostracism directed towards social psychologists who do not consider themselves progressives.
Outcast for admitting to having voted Republican. “I learned quickly upon starting
graduate school that in the world of psychology you are either liberal and fully agree with those
around you, or you are outcast as a Republican. This concept became clear to me when I was
working amongst a group of fellow graduate students. It all started with someone saying ‘I
can’t believe how people say they are pro-gay marriage yet vote Republican… that is so
backwards.’ At first, one side of my lips curled up in a sly smile at the joke. However, when I
looked up, I realized that it was not a joke at all.
For a second I hesitated saying anything, first because I was shocked that the statement
was an actual belief, and second because I realized that opening my mouth could be social
suicide in my department. After a deep breath and a quick thought of how I would probably
regret my statement later, I opened my mouth and responded with, ‘Well some people value
other issues more than social issues. For instance, I am pro-gay marriage and pro-choice, yet I
did not vote Democrat last election. To me, issues such as national security and international
relations are more important when it comes to elections. I do not believe that the government
should have control over those social issues anyways.’ After what felt like two full minutes of
stares and blank faces, one of my classmates mumbled under his breath, ‘I still just don’t get it.’
From that night on, I was no longer invited to study sessions, was essentially casted out
amongst my colleagues in the office, and had various conversations that ended with my
classmate (who was present that night) alluding to skepticism of my education, logic,
sympathy, and intellect due to not agreeing on the same methods to attain true equality in the
academic realm.
A few months later, I was talking with that same graduate student I had been studying
with that night about how she was shocked to find out that her boyfriend did not consider
himself to be a Democrat because he was so big on diversity. She quickly apologized to me
after saying that. When I asked why she was apologizing, she quickly uttered that she thought I
was a Republican. I was shocked because I had never claimed to be one around her. When I
told her that I was more of a libertarian than anything else, she looked confused. I realized that
she did not know what that meant. I explained that I was ‘fiscally conservative but socially
liberal’ to which she replied, ‘Well, that’s all that really matters anyways.’ I am a bad liar so I
doubt that I hid my jaw-dropping expression.
“Fucking Republican.” “In grad school I was publicly called a ‘fucking Republican’ by
a faculty member. I saw other students’ families insulted for the work they did (e.g., finance).
There are other things I won't share that were worse. Being conservative or libertarian is a stigma
you can hide, so most of the comments after I learned to keep my mouth shut publicly were more
climate-based than directed at me. There are constant jokes about people on the right being idiots
or evil. The default assumption [is that] you are liberal in any academic environment so nobody
censors. I remember after one talk I went to where the speaker went off on Republicans for about
10 minutes. I had two liberal colleagues actually sympathize with me after that.”
Silenced. It is very difficult to write this. I am worried that if someone I know will read it, they
will be upset with me, and they will avoid me even more. Why would I worry about reporting to have
faced prejudices? It started with my new job a couple of years ago. A new job, tenured post, life secured;
fantastic. Also, my colleagues were nice. I am a very social person and outgoing and liked to attend all
events to which I was invited. Everyone seemed supportive, they liked my research; it was great. A few
months into the post, I noticed that many people often talked about politics rather than about their
research. I kept out of these discussions. But then came the time of the primary presidential elections; one
evening at a social event, I said: “I might vote for the Conservative party.” I said, I might, because in fact
I was not quite sure and would have liked to debate the issue. “Then you must be completely deluded.”
was the first response, “Then you are a fascist.” someone else said to me. I was quite shocked and
somehow not expecting that. And that was it. There were no further discussions, and since then I stopped
being invited to social events. Ok, why would I care? It is a shame to not go to social events, but what
was more worrying was that I also felt my work conditions were getting worse. That extra school funding,
I didn’t get it anymore, but that extra administrative load, I did get. Not only was social support
withdrawn, but I also had the impression that internal research support and resources were also
withdrawn. I wish I hadn’t said anything. What do I do now when I am at a work meeting and the topic is
politics as usual, and when it is said: “The Republican Party is terrible, selfish bastards who don’t care for
people. I wish more people were educated enough, so no one voted for them. They are awful, don’t we all
agree?” I don’t dare to say anything anymore.”
Unwelcome and awkward. “I belong to two labs in my department, supervised by two
different professors. One lab is amazing and respectful and tolerant of differing opinions. The
other less so. It’s been made clear that I’m not welcome to [the second] lab social events (or even
informal academic events) because of my political beliefs. The supervisor meets with me
infrequently and often makes some weird and irrelevant comment about me being a Conservative,
even when it has no actual relevance to the discussion at hand.”
Singled out and targeted. During a class discussion on social identity and self-
categorization, out of nowhere, the professor aggressively asked me if I believed that the actions
taken by President Bush in response to 9-11 (the invasion of Iraq) were any different than the
actions taken by Mohammad Atta on 9-11(hijacking and crashing planes into the World Trade
Center). This question was not posed to any other student in the class (none of the other students
in the class, and in the program for that matter, were veterans). It was solely directed at me. This
made me feel both uncomfortable and upset and I refused to answer the question.”
Conservative = Nazi. “Once I was asked at a summer school on social identity and
group formation ‘why I was even there,’ because we discussed collective action, and
conservatives, apparently, don’t support activism. Another time I was told I had voted for ‘a Nazi
Party’ by voting for the Conservatives.”
You were in the military? You are a bad fit for this lab. “Following a twenty-year
career in the military, I entered graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in social psychology. During
my first year, like most graduate students, I explored different labs to work in where I could
participate in research that I found interesting while developing my skill set as a researcher. I
ultimately found a lab that matched my interests. This lab had recently obtained a dataset where
the sample population was from the military, so given my military experience I began to work on
a research project utilizing that data set.
Almost immediately, I began to feel as though my ideas were being discounted and
discredited much quicker and more often than other students on the project even though I had real
tangible experience within the organization the group was studying. Although there is some truth
to the stereotype that people who have served in the military politically lean to the ‘right,’ the real
kicker in all of this is that I’m far from a hardline conservative. Yes, some of my views would be
considered politically conservative, however other views I have would be considered by many to
be very liberal/progressive. Nevertheless, within a few weeks of joining the lab I was
unceremoniously asked to not only leave the project, but to leave the lab as well. When I asked
about the reasoning behind my dismissal, I was told only that it appeared that I wasn’t a good fit
for the project/lab.”
If you are Conservative, I am not your friend. “One of my colleagues and I went to the same
university for our PhDs, she in philosophy, I in psychology. We had offices quite close to each other
because my PhD was interdisciplinary and also involved philosophy. We went out for coffee a couple of
times. I often came to her office, sat on her desk and we discussed philosophy, laughed, and chatted. One
day we went for ice cream and sat in the cafe for a long time discussing problems of philosophy and free
will. It was cool. She wasn’t my closest or best friend, but we were very good colleagues and wanted to
keep in touch when we finished studying. We became friends on Facebook. After completing our PhDs,
both of us got tenured positions at different universities. The cities were far away but we saw each other’s
updates on Facebook, and we also stayed in touch and exchanged stories through Facebook’s private chat.
Then came the 2015 UK general election and the UK Conservative party won it. One Sunday morning I
was reading the newspaper and saw her name, the name of the woman I just described, my previous
colleague, the friendly woman with whom I shared offices and went for coffee. She was in the news
(Johnston, May 10, 2015) because of controversy over a web blog she wrote entitled: “If you are a
Conservative, I am not your friend” (Roache, May 8, 2015).
What?? … that morning I checked Facebook, and indeed, she had unfriended me. This
was because I “liked” the Facebook page of the Conservative Party. And because, as she wrote in
her article, ‘Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political
views, even if it’s just online.’ I was very upset about this, because you might think that this is
virtual and thus does not matter, and I would agree that it would not have mattered if this was a
person that I literally didn’t know; but I did. In fact, we were friends before in reality! I don’t
want to ever speak to her again and am now glad I am not ‘friends’ with such an intolerant
Blog critical of President Carter disqualifies applicant for graduate admission. “I
applied to several PhD programs in Social Psychology, and was accepted by three. At one of
these programs, the faculty had apparently seen my blog (an old blog that I canned later that
year). Among posts about my recent marathon experience, I had posted about the mass
resignation of all fourteen Jewish members of the board of advisors of the Carter Center, former
President Jimmy Carter's nonprofit. They resigned because Carter's new book seemed to suggest
that Palestinian terrorist bombings of Israeli civilian targets were justified until a Palestinian state
was established, or a particular type of peace accord was accepted by Israel. In my blog post, I
supported the board members and criticized Carter's apparent tolerance of terrorism. Then on a
phone interview, a faculty member from the social psychology program directly asked me about
this blog post (and no others). She also asked if I "really" felt that way about Jimmy Carter. She
also openly stated that all of the faculty in the program had a problem with my post, except for
her (it would've been 4 - 6 other professors), and that they all opposed my entry into the program.
From her questions, I got the impression that my politics needed to clarified and vetted
before final decisions were made. They subsequently denied me admission, with no further
interaction or visits. (If it matters, this program was somewhat less selective and prestigious than
the programs that accepted me). That was an extremely awkward phone call. I was blindsided,
was not at all prepared to talk about politics or my precise feelings toward Jimmy Carter. It's the
kind of thing that could not happen in a normal professional environment, and would give HR
people nightmares if it did. During the call, I got the impression that they thought / were worried
that I was a conservative.”
Limitations and Qualifications to These Anecdotes
The evidence presented above was obtained from a non-representative, non-random
sample, and is qualitative and subjective. Although the Jussim and Anglin funding story and the
Crawford et al. publication stories have been amply documented (e.g., the reviews are on record),
the subsequent stories constitute the subjective experiences of those reporting them. Those
stories include some unknown and unverified combination of facts and subjective perspectives.
We have not sought to independently verify these stories with others present. As such, caution is
warranted with respect to understanding what these stories mean. Some are so vividly recalled
and presented that our own view is that they should be given high credibility, but, of course, even
then we cannot be sure.
It is also important to note that the email sent to the SPSP listserv soliciting stories of
political discrimination and hostility might be considered a leading question, emphasizing
conservative more than liberal experiences with such biases. Given the well-documented
preponderance of progressive social psychologists (Haidt, 2011; Honeycutt & Friberg, 2016;
Inbar & Lammers, 2012; Langbert et al., 2016; von Hippel & Buss, this volume) we thought it
was reasonable to presume that ideological bias within social psychology is more often directed
towards conservatives than progressives; and, consequently, that we needed to work somewhat
harder to communicate to conservatives that it was safe for them to share their experiences with
us. Our email also offered anyone who submitted a personal experience the chance to collaborate
on this chapter. We acknowledge that this could have led anyone responding to embellish or
even make-up a personal experience with ideological bias. Yet, we felt our offer of collaboration
was necessary to establish a sense of trust with conservative social psychologists so that they
would willingly relay their personal experiences with ideological bias.
Nonetheless, these do constitute reports of subjective experiences and perceptions of political
discrimination within social psychology by social psychologists. Are these anecdotes on the same firm
scientific ground as experimental demonstrations of various forms of bias? Probably not, but that is the
wrong question. Our view is that the right question is this: How consistent are these anecdotal stories
with rigorous social scientific research on political biases?
Confirmation Bias and Political Prejudice
Motivated reasoning refers to biased information processing. It is driven by affect and goals
unrelated to accurate belief formation (Kahan, 2011; Kunda, 1990). A specific type of motivated
reasoning, confirmation bias, occurs when people seek out and evaluate information in ways that confirm
their pre-existing views while downplaying, ignoring, or discrediting information of equal or greater
quality that opposes their views (Ditto & Lopez, 1992; MacCoun, 1998; Munro & Ditto, 1997; Nickerson,
1998; Taber & Lodge, 2006; also referred to as myside bias, see Stanovich, West, & Toplak, 2013). Such
biases occur across the political spectrum.
Confirmation Bias and Motivated Reasoning Among Scientists
Scientists are not immune to confirmation biases and motivated reasoning (Ioannidis, 2012;
Lilienfeld, 2010). Values influence each phase of the research process (Duarte et al., 2015). Reviewers’
theoretical (Epstein, 2004; Greenwald, Pratkanis, Leippe, & Baumgardner, 1986; Mahoney, 1977) and
ideological (Abramowitz, Gomes, & Abramowitz, 1975) views can influence their evaluation of research
reports, leading them to judge studies that oppose their beliefs more critically than studies supporting
their views. Consequently, they are then less likely to recommend publication or funding of studies with
undesired findings or hypotheses.
Potential Implications of Such Biases for the Social Psychological Research Literature
Political beliefs and values are one potential source of confirmation biases. To estimate the
extent of such biases, we make the following assumptions. If political biases are nearly nonexistent (say,
below 1%) the issue of politically distorted research would evaporate. However, given the ample
evidence of politically distorted claims and conclusions throughout social psychology and other social
sciences (Abramowitz et al, 2015; Ceci et al, 2015; Duarte et al, 2015; Jussim, 2012; Jussim et al, 2015;
Jussim et al, 2016b,c; Martin, 2015; Pinker, 2002; Redding, 2001; Schumm, 2015) and the additional
evidence that confirmation biases more broadly distort social scientific conclusions (Ioannidis, 2012;
Jussim et al, 2016a; Lilienfeld, 2010), our estimation starts with the assumption that such biases may not
be trivial. What is a good operationalization of “not trivial”? First, we conservatively assume that only a
small minority of articles are affected by political bias, either because the topic is not politicized or
because our colleagues keep their biases at bay. For our first illustration, we assume only 10% of all
articles are affected by political biases. Third, we assume such biases are just as likely among
conservative as among progressive social psychologists.
Next, we must estimate the proportion of progressive versus conservative social psychologists.
We again start with a conservative estimate of the proportion of social psychologists who are
ideologically left 80% (the lowest of the figures obtained in the recent spate of studies assessing
ideology among social psychologists; Buss & von Hippel, this volume; Inbar & Lammers, 2012). Thus,
our first estimation assumption means that, if we consider a group of 100 social psychologists, 80 would
self-identify as progressive. Most of the remaining 20 would be moderates and libertarians, but, for
simplicity purposes, we purposefully overestimate (based on survey results) that 10% are conservative.
The overestimate of conservatives is a useful fiction here, because it biases our simulation as much as
possible against finding biases in publication. Put differently, any lower estimate would indicate that the
field’s publications are even more biased than our simulation suggests.
Furthermore, we assume that each of our 80 progressives and 10 conservatives has published a
single article. This, too, probably biases the results against finding political biases, because the most
productive social psychologists, on average, are at the most prestigious institutions, and, for example, the
psychology programs at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have exactly zero faculty members who
are registered Republicans (Langbert, Quain, & Klein, 2016). If, for example, the 80 progressives were,
on average, 50% more productive than the 10 conservatives, given our assumptions, the level of biased
publications would also increase by 50%.
Given these assumptions, of every 100 articles, we would expect eight to be progressively biased
and one to be conservatively biased. Although the good news in this scenario is that 91% of the literature
is unbiased, even these very low estimates of bias still lead to a literature that has eight times as many
articles skewed by left-wing politics than by right-wing politics.
Table 1 also presents a variation of this analysis, making different assumptions about both the
level of bias and about differences in progressives’ and conservatives’ propensities for bias. Specifically,
we also present scenarios in which 20% and 50% of articles are subject to some degree of bias. For those
who think the 50% figure is too high, consider this: It has been argued that even (and perhaps especially)
“basic” research in social psychology without obvious ties to politics, is actually most vulnerable to
political biases (Funder, 2015). For example, the fundamental attribution error and the “power of the
situation” both may seem to be fundamental phenomenon revealed by basic research that is independent
of ideology. In fact, however, both comport well with liberal worldviews that people are products of their
conditions, rather than with conservative worldviews that hold people personally responsible for their
behavior. We are not claiming the 50% figure is true, but we do think it is worth considering how biased
the literature would be if it is true.
In addition, Table 1 includes other scenarios regarding progressive/conservative differences in
propensities for bias. Specifically, it also shows scenarios in which conservatives are twice as likely as
progressives to be biased in their evaluations of manuscripts in ways that ultimately lead to biased
publications. Even though we think the evidence shows progressives and conservatives to be similarly
biased in their judgments of science (e.g., Anglin & Jussim, 2017; Ditto, Clark, Liu, Wojcik, Chen,
Grady, & Zinger, 2016) and argument quality (Crawford, 2012; Crawford, Jussim, Cain, & Cohen, 2013),
some literature suggests that conservatives tend to have more biases (e.g., Altemeyer, 1996; Jost, Glaser,
Kruglanski, & Sulloway, 2003). Even if conservatives are indeed far more biased than are progressives,
these scenarios show that there are good reasons to believe the social psychological literature will still
suffer from far more left-wing than right-wing distortions because of the far greater number of liberals in
the field.
Lastly, one more thing is worth keeping in mind. Specifically, 10% probably wildly
overestimates the proportion of conservatives in social psychology, at least with respect to the types of
social issues studied by social psychologists. Even Inbar and Lammers (2012) only found 3.9% of social
psychologists self-identifying as conservative on social issues. Von Hippel and Buss’s data indicate a
figure closer to 1%. Langbert’s (2016) data shows that, at the most prestigious institutions, it is closer to
zero. If we assume 5% conservatives in Table 1, each disproportion doubles, indicating literatures that
are eight to sixteen times more biased in a left-wing direction. If we assume 2% conservatives, the bias
estimates in the literatures in our simulation will range from twenty to forty times more biased in favor of
research advancing progressive values.
Conclusions. The scenarios we presented here oversimplify scientific processes. There is not
likely to be a simple straight line between the ideological distribution of scientists and the frequency of
ideologically biased publications in social psychology. Furthermore, given the widespread presence of
colleagues with progressive perspectives, the few non-progressives in social psychology are likely to have
a greater depth of understanding of progressive perspectives than do progressives of conservative
perspectives (because progressives rarely have to seriously grapple with non-progressive perspectives).
Nor has our simulation addressed the fact that there are usually multiple reviews of a single paper, or the
dynamic interplay between editors, reviewers, and authors. Nonetheless, despite its oversimplification,
our estimates have provided one potentially valuable contribution: they can at least be used to generate
empirical hypotheses about the extent to which political biases might be tainting the scientific literature in
social psychology.
Combating Political Discrimination and Encouraging Ideological Heterogeneity
The scientific literature indicates a climate of hostility towards non-progressive individuals,
backgrounds, and ideas. The anecdotes presented here brought that climate to life with concrete examples
of how it manifests. One might think, therefore, that we hold a deeply pessimistic view about our field’s
ability to combat such biases.
If so, however, one would be wrong. Over the last few years, as we have raised these issues in a
variety of academic and scholarly contexts, we have been pleasantly surprised at the earnest openness and
willingness to consider these ideas among many of our colleagues, including many progressives.
Furthermore, a brief survey about the political orientation and political views of those 13 individuals2 who
submitted stories for this chapter revealed a fairly diverse group. Political orientation was assessed on a 7-
point scale (very left/progressive to very right/conservative). This scale also included response options
for “other” and “not sure.” Four of the 13 reported their political orientation as conservative (all 4
2 Some of the individuals who submitted stories did take us up on the offer of co-authorship.
answered above the middle-of-the-road option at the midpoint of the scale), 5 reported their political
orientation as progressive (all 5 answered with choices below the midpoint), and 4 reported their political
orientation as other. We also asked if political views were left/progressive, centrist/moderate,
right/conservative, libertarian/classical liberal, unclassifiable, or other. Three reported left/progressive
views, 2 reported centrist/moderate views, 6 reported libertarian/classical liberal views, and 2 reported
Some scientists clearly believe in the value of intellectual diversity as an important ingredient for
advancing the quality of science, rather than (or in addition to) as a tool for engineering social justice
initiatives (e.g., Loeb, 2014). Furthermore, many may have been unaware of their own propensities for
political biases, but, once revealed, are quite open to combating them. Furthermore, we are optimistic
because, in fact, social psychologists have learned quite a lot about how to reduce intergroup hostility
all we need to do is apply our well-established principles to ourselves. For example, intergroup contact
reduces prejudice (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006), strongly arguing that, if the field embraces and welcomes
non-progressives, many will discover that their exaggerated caricatures are not justified, and at least some
of the hostility will be reduced. In that spirit, we next offer recommendations from two labs that have had
some success in combating political biases and in encouraging nonleftist students to pursue social
Jussim’s social perception lab policies and practices. Inspired by Haidt’s (2011) call for social
psychologists to explicitly include political diversity in their diversity statements, Jussim has the
following diversity statement on his page introducing opportunities for research for undergraduate and
graduate students:
Anyone, from any background whatsoever, regardless of race, gender, ethnic, religious, political,
social class, sexual or gender orientation, and health or mental health status, and any other
status or category not listed here is welcome in the Social Perception Lab (SPL) …
The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) declared itself to have the goal of
fostering: "the career development of students who come from underrepresented groups, i.e.,
ethnic or racial minorities, first generation college students, individuals with a physical
disability, and/ or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered students."
I strongly endorse fostering the career development of such students. … however, SPSP's
statement clearly does not go far enough. Here is Jon Haidt's analysis of that statement:
First, can we change "i.e." to "e.g.?" Why should it be i.e.? Do we really want to say to the public
that this is the official list of groups that get benefits? Second, can we tack on a phrase like: "or
who bring helpful and underrepresented perspectives in other ways?"
One of the main intellectual arguments for diversity is that people from diverse backgrounds will
often (not necessarily all the time, but in general) have different experiences and therefore
different perspectives to bring to bear on solving scientific and social problems. I agree. So, that
sounds like we should make a particular point of trying to encourage and support the careers of
people who actually think differently than most of us.
And who might those people? Two strong contenders are political non-liberals (including
centrists, libertarians, and conservatives) and people who are highly religious….
Consequently, my view is that, for its own good (and regardless of my own particular
political and religious beliefs), social psychology would greatly benefit from an influx of people
whose political and personal beliefs are different than those of the overwhelming secular
and leftwing majority of current social psychologists.
Certainly, the base rate of students in psychology with left-wing politics is quite high, and plenty
of students in Jussim’s lab have held such views. Nonetheless, as a result of this climate, he has also had
two honors students who are Republicans (one of whom went on to a Ph.D. in social psychology at an Ivy
League university; the other recently started a Master’s program in forensic psychology and is
enthusiastically working on the extremely important problem of overturning wrongful convictions for
serious crime). He has had a religious, right-of-center student who not only completed her Ph.D. but has
gone on to a terrific research career and to chair her department. His recent grad students have also
included a politically inactive liberal (who nonetheless found studying political biases interesting and
important) and a libertarian (also studying political biases).
Motyl’s lab climate. Motyl believes there are two key elements to fostering a welcoming
climate for all, regardless of their social or political identity. First, there must be a climate of respect. In
respectful climates, people resist the temptation to take cheap shots for easy laughs in presentations by
including pictures portraying people on the other side in a dehumanized way (e.g., Republican politicians
morphed into chimpanzees or as demons with horns). In the occasional presentation where Motyl might
include such pictures, he strives to ensure that he has a similar image of someone on his side (e.g.,
Democratic politicians morphed into chimpanzees or as devils with horns) and highlight the tendency for
people to have mirror image stereotypes of people in different groups (e.g., Crawford, Modri, & Motyl,
2013; Graham, et al., 2013). If we want people to feel like they belong, we cannot make a mockery of any
particular subgroup of individuals without making a mockery of opposing groups. In other words, we
must not poke fun at any group, unless we are doing so in a bipartisan, “equal opportunity” way.
Second, disagreement must be encouraged. This may be difficult because the inherent power
asymmetry between students and professors may make students fearful that their professors will lower
their grade or ridicule them in front of their peers if they disagree with them. To combat this, in initial
meetings with advisees and student collaborators, Motyl explicitly encourages them to disagree with him.
He tells them he has been studying social psychology longer than they have, but that largely means he is
more familiar with (and perhaps biased by) the status quo in the field. They have fresher eyes and may see
things differently than people further along in their careers. He also explicitly tells them that if intelligent
people can study the same literature and still disagree, then the answer is not obvious. When the answer is
not obvious, the research is then more interesting and important. More flippantly, he often insists that
agreement is boring. Except agreement with that axiom, of course.
These two norms should help promote diversity along all lines, not just political lines. If we foster
respect of different viewpoints, all people should feel more welcomed than in places where we tolerate
intergroup bias and penalize those who do not conform. Ultimately, if we apply the same standard of
evidence to papers that come to liberal conclusions as those that come to conservative conclusions, our
field would likely study a broader range of the human experience and perhaps even be more replicable.
The importance of diversity of thought. Science represents an attempt to reach the
truth through a series of successive approximations. Ideas and theories compete in a marketplace
of ideas where some attain greater success than others. One form of success in this marketplace
is when an idea or theory attains increasing consensus or support. Yet, consensus does not
always imply veracity. Discord and disagreement are essential to the progression of knowledge
and can motivate deeper thinking about the issues at stake (Crano, 2012). The potential benefits
are numerous and include reducing the impact of confirmation bias (Mercier & Sperber, 2011),
higher-quality group decisions (Crisp & Turner, 2011; Moscovici & Personnaz, 1980; Nemeth,
1995) and the production of novel solutions to a variety of problems (Crano, 2012; Mannix &
Neale, 2005). In properly functioning scientific contexts, minority viewpoints constitute strength,
not threats to scientific integrity. If the majority view is actually closer to the truth, then the
validity and credibility of the majority view would be further strengthened by withstanding a
forceful attempt at falsification by the minority (Popper, 1959; 1963). If the minority viewpoint
is closer to the truth, in a well-functioning scientific context, data produced by that minority
should lead to appropriate scientific self-correction. This sentiment is captured well by John
Stuart Mill:
“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may
be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable
to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they
are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion... Nor is it enough that he should
hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them,
and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them
from persons who actually believe them...he must know them in their most plausible
and persuasive form” (Mill, 1869/1989, p. 38).
Politicized science can have profound consequences. It becomes increasingly difficult
for a field to protect against politicization when it lacks ideological diversity. While it is
unreasonable to expect every field to have an equal representation of rival political viewpoints, it
is not unreasonable to desire greater viewpoint diversity in fields that are overwhelmingly
homogenous, particularly if that field, like social psychology, frequently investigates
ideologically charged research topics. To rule certain political ideas out of bounds a priori
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Table 1.
% of Biased
Likelihood of
Publishing Biased
# of Progressively
Biased Articles per
100 publications
# of Conservatively
Biased Articles per
100 publications
80 Progressives,
10 Conservatives
Right = Left
Right = 2x Left
Right = Left
Right = 2x Left
Right = Left
Right = 2x Left
Note: This table assumes one publication per author.
... Not only have we seen illiberal responses to the open expression of ideas, 2 many of these responses seem to be coming from within the academy, which is particularly worrying given that the modern university and its associated values of academic freedom and intellectual openness are grounded in Enlightenment-era thought (Blackford 2019). Reports of increased self-censorship suggest that illiberalism in the academy is taking its toll on the quality of academic discourse, which has downstream effects on the quality of public discourse (Stevens et al. 2018). ...
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Self-censorship is a well-documented phenomenon within the academy. Building from the works of Tocqueville, Mill, and Smith, this paper identifies sources of self-censorship within the academy, namely the values of intellectual abrasion and civility, that are associated with the liberal intellectual tradition. The resulting phenomenon of self-censorship, I argue, has both positive and negative effects on the quality of public and academic discourse. Given the dual nature of self-censorship, scholars seeking to make the morally upright choice of whether to self-censor or to speak up face both an epistemological and a moral challenge. I argue that in discussions of the “impartial spectator” and the virtue of self-command, Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments anticipates these challenges and lends guidance to the scholar who is sincerely committed to doing what is right when navigating associational life within the academy.
... We thereby targeted a population that so far has received little attention in social-psychological research (Duarte et al., 2015). Specifically, claims of a politicized social psychology skewing to the political left, being politically biased in their research and publishing practices, and excluding conservatives motivated our research (Crawford & Jussim, 2018;Stevens et al., 2018). Therefore, we presented data of an MTurk based study with liberals (i.e., individuals who identified as very or extremely liberal). ...
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Political polarization between conservatives and liberals threatens democratic societies. Ameliorating liberal research participants' negative feelings, evaluations, and stereotypes towards conservatives might be one step into the direction of a political depolarization. In a sample of U.S.-American liberal research participants recruited via Amazon's Mechanical Turk (N = 271), we randomly assigned participants in a pre-post-design either to a clinical-psychological, metacognitive-intervention (MCT), an educational, or a no-treatment-no-pre-measurement-control-condition. In the MCT-condition, participants were first asked seemingly simple questions that frequently elicited incorrect responses, followed by corrective information. In the educational condition, information was conveyed in a simple narrative form. MCT was significantly more effective in ameliorating liberal participants' negative feelings, evaluations, and stereotypes towards conservatives compared to the other two control-conditions. Further, MCT-participants significantly reduced their negative feelings, negative evaluations, and perceptions of threat from pre-to post-measurement, significantly more than participants in the educational condition. The results of our preliminary study and its implications are discussed, and recommendations for further research are made.
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This paper explores the suppression of ideas within an academic scholarship by academics, either by self-suppression or because of the efforts of other academics. Legal, moral, and social issues distinguishing freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and academic freedom are reviewed. How these freedoms and protections can come into tension is then explored by an analysis of denunciation mobs that exercise their legal free speech rights to call for punishing scholars who express ideas they disapprove of and condemn. When successful, these efforts, which constitute legally protected speech, will suppress certain ideas. Real-world examples over the past five years of academics that have been sanctioned or terminated for scholarship targeted by a denunciation mob are then explored.
This paper explores the suppression of ideas within academic scholarship by academics, either by self-suppression or because of the efforts of other academics. Legal, moral, and social issues distinguishing freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and academic freedom are reviewed. How these freedoms and protections can come into tension is then explored by an analysis of denunciation mobs who exercise their legal free speech rights to call for punishing scholars who express ideas they disapprove of and condemn. When successful, these efforts, which constitute legally protected speech, will suppress certain ideas. Real-world examples over the past five years of academics who have been sanctioned or terminated for scholarship targeted by a denunciation mob are then explored.
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We argue that because of a long history of intergroup conflict and competition, humans evolved to be tribal creatures. Tribalism is not inherently bad, but it can lead to ideological thinking and sacred values that distort cognitive processing of putatively objective information in ways that affirm and strengthen the views and well-being of one’s ingroup (and that increase one’s own standing within one’s ingroup). Because of this shared evolutionary history of intergroup conflict, liberals and conservatives likely share the same underlying tribal psychology, which creates the potential for ideologically distorted information processing. Over the past several decades, social scientists have sedulously documented various tribal and ideological psychological tendencies on the political right, and more recent work has documented similar tendencies on the political left. We contend that these tribal tendencies and propensities can lead to ideologically distorted information processing in any group. And this ideological epistemology can become especially problematic for the pursuit of the truth when groups are ideologically homogenous and hold sacred values that might be contradicted by empirical inquiry. Evidence suggests that these conditions might hold for modern social science; therefore, we conclude by exploring potential ideologically driven distortions in the social sciences.
Experts (Nmax = 102 answering) on intelligence completed a survey about IQ research, controversies, and the media. The survey was conducted in 2013 and 2014 using the Internet-based Expert Questionnaire on Cognitive Ability (EQCA). In the current study, we examined the background of the experts (e.g., nationality, gender, religion, and political orientation) and their positions on intelligence research, controversial issues, and the media. Most experts were male (83%) and from Western countries (90%). Political affiliations ranged from the left (liberal, 54%) to the right (conservative, 24%), with more extreme responses within the left-liberal spectrum. Experts rated the media and public debates as far below adequate. Experts with a left (liberal, progressive) political orientation were more likely to have positive views of the media (around r = |.30|). In contrast, compared to female and left (liberal) experts, male and right (conservative) experts were more likely to endorse the validity of IQ testing (correlations with gender, politics: r = .55, .41), the g factor theory of intelligence (r = .18, .34), and the impact of genes on US Black-White differences (r = .50, .48). The paper compares the results to those of prior expert surveys and discusses the role of experts' backgrounds, with a focus on political orientation and gender. An underrepresentation of viewpoints associated with experts' background characteristics (i.e., political views, gender) may distort research findings and should be addressed in higher education policy.
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Three studies investigated how ethical people believe it is to suppress politicized research findings and how strongly they support research on politicized topics. In general, participants reported that it is unethical to suppress research findings and that they support the conduct of politicized research, regardless of whether the findings or topics supported or opposed their views. Even so, liberals and conservatives reported that it is less unethical to withhold the publication of research findings that challenge vs. support their views and stronger support for research aligned with their ideology. Politically active participants were especially likely to demonstrate partisan support for science. Together, these findings suggest that although people explicitly endorse the conduct and dissemination of politicized research, their politics still influence their support for research consistent versus inconsistent with their views.
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Three studies investigated how ethical people believe it is to suppress politicized research findings and how strongly they support research on politicized topics. In general, participants reported that it is unethical to suppress research findings and that they support the conduct of politicized research, regardless of whether the findings or topics supported or opposed their views. Even so, liberals and conservatives reported that it is less unethical to withhold the publication of research findings that challenge vs. support their views and stronger support for research aligned with their ideology. Politically active participants were especially likely to demonstrate partisan support for science. Together, these findings suggest that although people explicitly endorse the conduct and dissemination of politicized research, their politics still influence their support for research consistent versus inconsistent with their views.
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Inbar and Lammers asked members of APA Division 8 (personality and social psychology) about their political orientation, hostility experienced related to their political orientation, and their willingness to discriminate against others based on perceived political orientation. In this replication and extension, 618 faculty members from various academic disciplines across four California State University campuses completed an online questionnaire that added parallel questions about the liberal experience to the original questions about the conservative experience. Participants were overwhelmingly liberal in self-report across all academic areas except agriculture. The conservative minority reported experiencing more hostility than the liberal majority, but both groups expressed similar “in-group/out-group” attitudes. Results supported the ideological-conflict hypothesis for discrimination and a “birds of a feather flock together” interpretation of the lack of political diversity among the professoriate.
Psychology celebrates diversity, recognizes the value and legitimacy of diverse beliefs, and strives to be inclusive. Yet, the profession lacks sociopolitical diversity. Most psychologists are politically liberal, and conservatives are vastly underrepresented in the profession. Moreover, when sociopolitical views guide the research, advocacy, or professional practice of psychologists, those views most often are liberal. The lack of political diversity in psychology has unintended negative consequences for research, policy advocacy, clinical practice, the design and implementation of social interventions, and professional education. It excludes or marginalizes conservatives and conservative views, having detrimental effects on the profession in each of these areas. This article examines the importance of political diversity and the negative consequences of its absence and provides strategies for increasing sociopolitical pluralism in psychology.