Academic bias is the bias or perceived bias of scholars allowing their beliefs to shape their research and the scientific community. Claims of bias are often linked to claims by conservatives of pervasive bias against political conservatives and religious Christians. This claim focuses on what conservatives, such as David Horowitz, say is discrimination against those who hold a conservative ideology and the argument that research has been corrupted by a desire to promote a progressive agenda. Barry Ames et al., John Lee and Henry Giroux have argued that these claims are based upon anecdotal evidence which would not reliably indicate systematic bias. Russell Jacoby has argued that claims of academic bias have been used to push measures that infringe on academic freedom.
According to Academic Questions, a quarterly journal with a conservative point of view, evidence for academic bias includes the disproportionate percentage of academics who are political progressives and/or irreligious. Conservative activists, such as David Horowitz, have argued that this imbalance is due to academics creating an inhospitable atmosphere for conservatives. Ames et al. and Neil Gross have suggested that this divide is due to self-selection. Instead of conservatives not participating in academia because of discrimination, this theory suggests that conservatives simply are more likely to choose not to pursue an academic career.
Empirical support for academic bias
Some research supports the possibility of academic bias against political conservatives and the highly religious. An audit study suggests that entrance into a clinical psychology graduate program is negatively affected by whether the applicant is a conservative Protestant. Examination of the comments made by members of the admission committees of medical schools also indicated religious candidates were more closely questioned because of their beliefs. Other research indicates a willingness of academics to openly admit that they are less likely to hire a colleague, if they find out that the colleague is either religiously or politically conservative. George Yancey’s research is particularly notable since he finds that academics in a variety of disciplines are open to discriminating against fundamentalists, evangelicals and to a lesser extent Republicans. Research further suggests that certain types of conservatives are more likely to suffer from potential academic bias. Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter’s analysis indicates that economic and foreign policy conservatives’ academic careers do not appear to be shaped by their conservatism. Yancey also argues that the label of Republican or Christian may not be enough to trigger bias but those seen as strongly conservative in their political ideology or religious theology may garner discrimination and prejudice. Furthermore, evidence of academic bias appears to be stronger in the social sciences and humanities than in the natural sciences. According to George Yancey, such findings indicate that if academic bias exists then it does so within a given cultural context.
Empirical support for self-selection
However, reasons given for the unwillingness of conservatives to pursue an academic career may be because conservatives prefer higher paying jobs and are not as tolerant of controversial ideas as progressives. Empirical support for self-selection can be found in the work of Neil Gross. He conducted an audit study whereby he sent emails to directors of graduate study programs. He varied the emails so that some of them indicated the student supported the presidential candidacy of Senator John McCain, some of them supported the presidential candidacy of then Senator Barack Obama and some of them were politically neutral. He found that the directors of graduate study programs did not significantly vary in their treatment of the senders of the letters regardless of the implied political advocacy of that sender. His work suggests an absence of systematic discrimination against political conservatives.
Implications of academic discrimination
Research by a conservative group, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, argues that course curriculums betray a progressive bias. However, John Lee argues that this research is not based on a probability sample and uses a research design that cannot rule out explanations other than political bias. Furthermore, research suggests little or no leftward movement among college students while they are in college.
Academic bias has also been argued as a problem due to discrimination against conservative students. Research has indicated that conservative Christians may experience discrimination on colleges and universities, though these studies are anecdotal and rely on self-reported perceptions of discrimination. For example, the Hyers' study includes "Belief Conflicts" and "Interaction Difficulties" as discriminatory events. However, other work suggests that very few students experience discrimination based on political ideology.
Bias in other dimensions
There is some evidence that academic bias can be based in non-political and non-religious dimensions. At least one study suggests that perception of classroom bias may be rooted in issues of sexuality, race, class and sex as much or more than in religion. However, according to Yancey's research, willingness of academics to discriminate against colleagues indicate little appetite for such discrimination, unless the target is religiously or politically conservative.
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- Anti-Christian Bias in Academia and Beyond