This is a follow up to my earlier post about the findings by a social psychlogist that there is a “statistically impossible” skew in the percentages of social psychologists who self-identify as liberal and conservative, reflecting a pervasive bias against conservatives throughout the social sciences.

Paul Krugman helps us out in understanding this phenomenon by pointing to academia.  Krugman explains that there is no discrimination as such, it’s simply that liberals are smarter and more open-minded, as proven by the predominance of liberals even in the hard sciences at universities:

“It’s particularly troubling to apply some test of equal representation when you’re looking at academics who do research on the very subjects that define the political divide. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?”

Interesting that Krugman does not consider an alternative explanation, namely, that academia is a place largely free from the pressures of free markets.  Indeed, the whole system of tenure is meant to give academics the functional equivalent of a civil service job; once you’re in it’s extremely difficult to kick you out even if your productivity drops dramatically once job security is achieved. 

Is it really shocking to find that people who gravitate towards an employment cocoon tend to be liberal? Does this reflect innate intelligence or a lifestyle choice?

Equally important, scientific research at universities is heavily dependent upon government grants, for example, from the National Sciences Foundation.  Being in favor of smaller government is not a path to success in the academic science world. 

Yet again, is it really surprising that people who live off of big government support big government?  Is the ability to obtain government grants a valid measure of intellectual open-mindedness?

Perhaps we need a comparative study. 

Compare the political self-identification of the scientific entrepreneurs who have built companies and created new industries and national wealth through competition with the political self-identification of those who fear free market competition and live off government funding at universities or in government institutions.

The academic cocoon serves a purpose, at least in the sciences.  I’m glad that there are professors who spend their careers doing basic research which may not pay for itself in the short-run, but may be valuable to the overall development of science. 

But let’s not pretend that the predominance of self-identified liberals in academia reflects anything other than a career choice.

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