TCS Daily

The Science Haters

By James D. Miller - April 6, 2005 12:00 AM

Republicans are too anti-science to become good professors. That's the essence of Paul Krugman's recent New York Times column explaining why there are so few Republican college professors.

Of course, recent events at Harvard indicate that it's the academic left that rejects science. Harvard's President Larry Summers was castigated for suggesting that politically incorrect science be conducted. Dr. Summers infamously suggested that researchers consider the possibility that biology partially explains the dearth of female science professors. For this comment, his Arts and Science faculty passed a resolution expressing lack of confidence in him, and the presidents of Stanford, MIT and Princeton published a letter saying that "speculation that 'innate differences' may be a significant cause of under representation by women in science and engineering may rejuvenate old myths and reinforce negative stereotypes and biases." So acting with the approval of their leftist faculties, the presidents of Stanford, MIT and Princeton have condemned Larry Summers for the crime of politically incorrect speculation. Nothing could possibly be more anti-scientific then rejecting speculation.

Larry Summers hinted that women on average might not be as qualified as men to be science professors. Paul Krugman wrote that Republicans en masse are categorically not as qualified as everyone else to be professors. Larry Summers was almost universally condemned by academia for his comments, not because they were necessarily wrong, but because it was considered wrong for him to make negative generalizations about an under-represented group. In academia, Republicans are far more under-represented than women are. So if Paul Krugman is not widely condemned by academics it will constitute pretty strong evidence that academia is biased against Republicans.

Many college leftists want more women but fewer Republicans in their ranks. They cite diversity as the reason for desiring more women, but this creates a problem since this diversity rationale would seem to indicate that they should also seek to hire more Republicans. Krugman, therefore, is aiding the intolerant college left by claiming that Republicans are so anti-science that colleges would suffer by having more of them around. Fortunately for Republicans, much of the college left is so hostile to science that even few college professors will accept Krugman's arguments.

Much of the left in humanities departments doesn't believe in science. They feel that it's wrong to privilege scientific over other types of knowledge. Leftists have been known to use literary theory to demonstrate flaws in science. Such anti-scientific silliness lead to the Social Text hoax.

New York University professor of physics Alan Sokal, himself an "unabashed Old Leftist," was bothered by the anti-scientific viewpoints of many left-wing humanities professors. These professors often used their French literary theories to attack science. To prove that these humanities professors actually knew nothing about real science he wrote an article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" agreeing with the leftists' view of science. But as the author himself wrote, his article contained a "mélange of truths, half-truths, quarter-truths, falsehoods, non sequiturs, and syntactically correct sentences that have no meaning whatsoever." The article was, however, published in 1996 by the academic journal Social Text as a serious piece criticizing the scientific method. Only after it appeared did Professor Sokal reveal that his article was a parody. That such an article could get published would surprise few Republican college professors as we well understand how many leftist humanities professors both hate science and are ignorant of its workings.

Krugman correctly points out that self-selection is part of the reason there are so few Republicans in academia. But much of this self-selection is because of leftist bias. For example, consider the academic field of Women's Studies. True, few Republicans will self-select to become Women Studies professors, but only because this field is totally defined in left-wing terms. Similarly, the fields of African-American Studies, History, English and Sociology are increasingly devoted to left-wing topics. A smart undergraduate who tells her academic advisor that she wants to get a Ph.D. focusing on military history will likely be told to go to law school instead because few colleges will consider hiring a military historian. In contrast, if this same undergraduate announced her desire to study how capitalism has promoted environmental racism she would be told of the rich academic job market that will await her after she completes her Ph.D.

Bias against Republicans in academia is an intensely personal issue for me. Smith College recently tried to fire me by denying me tenure. I believe that I was denied tenure for being a conservative. Fortunately, Smith's five person faculty Grievance Committee found that my academic freedom had been violated during my tenure review. As a result I came up for tenure again and this time succeeded. (My story is well told here.) Based on my experience and knowledge of academia, however, I have advised other Republicans to be wary of academic careers.

James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work.


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