New book blasts 'skew towards the political left' in psychology

A group of psychology professors recently published a new anthology that seeks to fight the “political biases” that are rife within psychological research.

The book, Politics of Social Psychology, was edited by Rutgers University Professor Lee Jussim, and Jarret Crawford, who teaches at The College of New Jersey, and it aims to help psychology professors move towards “more depoliticized” psychological research.

The “skew towards the political left” in psychology research can ultimately distort research findings and policy recommendations, the book argues.

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In an interview with Campus Reform, co-editor Lee Jussim explained that there are numerous ways biases influence research.

“The problem of political biases [is] particularly acute in social science areas that address politicized topics,” Jussim explained, adding that these politicized topics include the “acceptance of evolutionary psychology,” gender differences in the labor markets,” and research on “implicit bias.”

Even though most psychology professors are left-of-center, Jussim was quick to point out that bias can also pose issues for conservative professors.

“The evidence is that people on the right are at least as biased as people on the left,” he said, adding that “at the individual level, the biases are comparable.”

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But even though political biases at the individual level are comparable, it is still a significantly more left-leaning problem, Jussim argues.

“There are so many more people on the left, that, even if people on the right were more biased, there would still be far more research in the field that is biased by leftwing politics because there are so many more leftwing researchers,” he explained.

But political bias isn’t the only way research can be corrupted. Journals that only publish “statistically significant” findings can distort scientific consensus. Meanwhile, researchers who try to find unusually “surprising” results might deliberately use a smaller sample size to try to contort their research, Jussim added.

Other non-political biases can emerge regarding “the questions researchers ask, how they design their studies, and how they interpret results,” Jussim explained, stressing that bias in psychology research isn’t just a problem of politics.

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To fight this, Jussim encourages researchers to make sure they “test competing, alternative hypothesis.” For example, a left-leaning professor who wants to test the hypothesis that "conservatives are motivated to deny science” should also consider that "liberals are motivated to deny science,” too, Jussim says.

“Religious conservatives might be more willing to deny that evidence humans evolved from animals, but liberals might be more willing to deny evidence that men and women evolved different psychological characteristics or behavioral tendencies,” Jussim explains, saying, “Both types of hypotheses could and should be tested before reaching general conclusions about who is more likely to 'deny science.'”

The Politics of Social Psychology can be purchased at Routledge.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen