Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Why Liberals Predominate in the Hard Sciences

Paul Krugman in the Times writes An Academic Question on this subject, Juan Non-Volokh and Orin Kerr at Volokh.com interpret it, and Mark Kleiman attacks their interpretations. My take is biased, because I just posted yesterday on a related question: why liberals predominate in academia.

While Krugman throws in a lot of stuff*, I think his argument comes down to the following assertions excerpted from the piece:

  • "But studies that find registered Republicans in the minority at elite universities show that Republicans are almost as rare in hard sciences like physics and in engineering departments as in softer fields. Why?
  • "Thirty years ago, attacks on science came mostly from the left; these days, they come overwhelmingly from the right, and have the backing of leading Republicans."
  • "today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party."
* The "stuff" is conflating liberals and Democrats, conservatives and Republicans, theological conservatives and all conservatives (the professors on Volokh.com seems to tend libertarian conservative) plus a good helping of "the sky is falling" invective designed to get one's (liberal, pink) blood flowing in the morning. (This relates to another theme of mine, emotion is needed to stir action. Without the "stuff", no one would be blogging on this, not even me.)

Without getting into the question of who most correctly interprets Krugman, what do I think of the argument, as stated above. Andrew Dickson White wrote a famous book on the war between science and religion in the late 1800's. Although the thesis may be questionable, I think it's what people believe, and what people believe is important. A Christian [hard] scientist has to explain why her science is not antagonistic to her faith; an atheist does not. To the extent religious fundamentalists dominate the discussion, it probably pushes scientists and would-be scientists to the left.

Can't leave this subject without mention of Alan Sokal--the physicist who hoaxed the po-mo set. There is an anti-science mindset among some on the left, but they've neither the numbers nor the lungs of the religious right.

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