Nature Penitent Over Political Bias
The editors of Nature confess to living in a liberal echo chamber, out of touch with most Americans, too quick to judge conservatives.
This could be a first. For years we have pointed out the terribly lopsided political bias in Big Science, and the journals in particular. Just last week we exposed Nature‘s vitriol against president-elect Donald Trump (11/17/16), chastising them for their “naked hostility” not only to him but to the millions of Americans who voted for him.
Something happened to the same Editors two weeks later. Did they get religion? Did they read our report and feel sorry for their sins? Not quite; they still deplore “Trump’s odious racist, sexist and anti-intellectual remarks” in today’s Nature Editorial, worried that his statements “risk unacceptably broadening the limits of acceptable discourse — and freeing and normalizing people’s worst base instincts and a rhetoric of hate.” Not exactly a weeping confession, this, but in the editorial they do engage in some humble soul-searching. Look at what they do confess:
- Bias: “According to surveys and statistics, most Nature readers place themselves on the liberal left of the political spectrum.”
- Knee-jerking: They listen seriously to a commentator (Mark Lilla) who “called for an end to what he described as an overemphasis by liberals on racial, gender and sexual identity politics.”
- Echo chamber: They bow their heads when Lilla preaches that “many progressives live in bubbles; that they are educationally programmed to be attuned to diversity issues, yet have ‘shockingly little to say’ about political and democratic fundamentals such as class, economics, war and policy issues affecting the common good.“
- Inequality: They don’t contest Lilla’s accusation that “the excessive focus on identity politics by urban and academic elites has left many white, religious and rural groups feeling alienated, threatened and ignored in an unwelcoming environment where the issues that matter to them are given little or no attention.“
- Disunity: They listen politely when Lilla gets to the application: “What is urgently needed … is for US liberalism to refocus on educating all citizens on broader issues that unite people, and on core values of democracy, governance and the major forces shaping international politics….”
- Ignorance: They don’t complain when Lilla points the finger at them: “and for the liberal press to educate itself about neglected parts of the country and what matters to people living there.”
That’s quite a confession list. But then, sadly, comes the anti-Trump rhetoric, threatening to undo the humility. So a second preacher steps up and rubs it in:
But the discussion echoes points made earlier this year by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, directed at academics. Kristof, who has long championed diversity issues and so can hardly be accused of conservative bias, argued in a column entitled ‘A confession of liberal intolerance’ that academics are often selectively tolerant, but are intolerant when it comes to considering conservative or religious viewpoints.
That got them bowing their heads again. For a moment, these Editors acknowledge the bubble they live in that is light-years apart from the rancher in Montana trying to eke out a living in a harsh land, hampered at every turn by government regulators, or the faithful church-going couple lovingly baking cakes for all comers but politely declining to support a same-sex wedding on religious convictions, only to be threatened with heavy fines on top of loss of their livelihood in the name of “tolerance.” For a moment, the Editors envision how out of touch they have been with millions of people carrying on their daily lives outside the high walls of the ivory tower.
What will they do about it? A short pause for a moment of silence is at least something.
Both articles, although perhaps overstating the case, offer food for thought. They highlight that confirmation bias is rife in all walks of life, including the practice of research and the political viewpoints of academic liberals. No one should kid themselves that they are immune.
“Academia must resist political confirmation bias,” they titled this Editorial. “It is crucial to fight discrimination in all its forms, but it is unhelpful to exclude conservative voices from debate.” And boy, have they been excluded! More confession:
Kristof also argued that the low and plunging representation of conservatives and evangelicals on US faculties, and bias against these groups, is itself impoverishing intellectual diversity and discourse. He pointed to an effort to change this state of affairs: the Heterodox Academy, a website set up by centrist social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of New York University to advocate tangible remedies. His column did not go down well with liberals. “You don’t diversify with idiots,” stated one of the most highly recommended comments.
Ouch! The Editors seem to feel the sting in that blatant outburst, as if temporarily empathizing with a conservative having to listen to another routine ad hominem from the Left. Their ending paragraph—even though they can’t let Trump off the hook—expresses rare self-reflection, humility, and almost penitence.
Academics must be vigilant and resist normalization of Trump’s crude vision of society, but must also look in the mirror. A significant chunk of the US population voted for Trump. Are some bigots and racists? Yes; but most aren’t, and progressive academic liberals can’t simply dismiss them as retrograde. More unites Americans than divides them, and building on that common ground is the best antidote to extremism.
Conservatives can be grateful for small favors. Will this new spirit of humble cooperation last? Time will tell. The Editors still identify as “progressive academic liberals” who visualize themselves on the moral high ground above all those “bigots and racists” and extremists beneath them. But for a few days, maybe they will speak more gently and softly when they call them idiots.
With that confession out of the way, the Editors can feel good about themselves and go back to their regularly scheduled hate.
The comments after the Editorial (10 as of this writing) tended to fall into two camps: (1) those who appreciated it and have witnessed the anti-conservative bias in their own arenas, and (2) the hard-left, take-no-prisoners radical leftists who think conservatives deserve even more hate: e.g., the guy who spoke of “trump and his klan of bigots.” The latter group appears deficient in philosophy of science, committing the either-or fallacy between ‘scientism = Truth’ and’ conservative = idiot’, especially those awful “creationists” (the liberal’s worst bogeymen). Interesting that those are the same ones who, in their own words, also embrace muslims who would cut their heads off, and abortion that could have prevented their own births. Any ‘creationists’ threatening academia with either of those fates?
Here is a portion of one comment we deem more thoughtful than most, by Alan Reyes:
The posts so far [i.e., previous comments] reflect the ‘liberal bubble’ is intact. Jeff Upton ‘creates ‘ a statistic that 70% of Americans are creationists. A number that is as un-replicable as the 97% of scientists who support anthropogenic warming. I applaud Nature for trying to get the alt-Left on Nature to open their minds, but the alt-Leftoids are convinced everyone but their group is a horrible person. This reflects the crisis in science where scientific fraud is rampant especially in the Liberal sciences where inability to replicate studies is common. The issue of ‘bubble’ thinking is directly related to the science fraud where studies that confirm Liberal bias are quickly accepted and then must be recanted later. The core of science is to reject what was previously felt to be true, so, try rejecting your beliefs about others and actually talking to people who exist outside your bubble.
The Editors of Nature still didn’t say anything about Hillary Clinton’s crimes, lies and genocidal positions on late-term abortion. Now watch this.