Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sociology: A Corrupt Discipline

From the John William Pope Center:
“Diversity” is the new slogan under which academics and their institutions march. But what is it? What does it mean? How will we know when we have achieved a sufficient amount?

In my discipline, sociology, “diversity” can refer to almost anything other than white males, and may even include white males if they can lay claim to some form of victim status (e.g., are LGBT, “differently abled,” vegan, or depart from the mainstream in some other identifiable way).

Significantly, however, “diversity” does not seem to include political diversity.

Sociology departments would actively recruit an LGBT candidate for an opening, with something close to 100 percent consensus that this would fill a departmental need. But actively recruit a Republican, a conservative, or a born-again Christian Fundamentalist? Not a chance.
The author, one James D. Wright, goes on to give two examples of ideological bias and intolerance.
I edited the scholarly journal Social Science Research for 36 years. A pair of papers we published in the last few years shows how badly sociology has fallen into a one-party mindset.

In 2010, I published a paper by Darren Sherkat, “Religion and Verbal Ability,” arguing, with a mass of supporting data, that Christian Fundamentalists scored more poorly than others on verbal ability testing. Since verbal ability is often taken as a marker for intelligence, the implication of Sherkat’s finding was that Christian Fundamentalists are relatively stupid.

Not one word of protest over this scurrilous conclusion was ever voiced, at least not to me, even though there are a lot of Christians and Fundamentalists “out there” who might well have taken offense. Christian Fundamentalists simply do not comprise a legitimate identity grouping in the minds of the American professoriate, so you can say pretty much anything you want about them and no sociologist will bother to question your research.

Two years later, I also published a paper, “How Different are the Adult Children of Parents who have Same-Sex Relationships?” by Mark Regnerus. It argued, again with supporting evidence, that children raised by same-sex couples suffer various penalties later in life.

At the time, there was a firmly held consensus of opinion within sociology that there were no differences of significance between same-sex and conventional marriages—a consensus that hung by a very thin empirical thread. Here was a paper whose findings challenged that consensus. Vicious ad hominem excoriation was the result.

The Regnerus paper ignited a year-long howl of protestation, enraged emails by the hundreds, demands that the paper be retracted, FOIA demands that I release all the (confidential) email correspondences between me and the paper’s referees, demands that the identities of the referees be made public, petitions denouncing my duplicity in publishing the paper (signed, incidentally, by the then-current and immediate past Presidents of the American Sociological Association), and ultimately a series of court appearances where I had to defend the importance of anonymous and confidential peer review in the overall scientific process.

Why the difference? Christian Fundamentalists, who by some accounts make up a third of the U.S. population, do not possess a legitimated identity—they lay no claim to victimhood—so they can be derogated without reprisal. Gay people, in contrast, are probably today’s most legitimated victims within sociology. As legitimated victims, they can only by referred to by sociologists in politically correct ways.

Here is another illustration of the way sociology has blinded itself.

Within sociology, there is a minor industry based on the proposition that violence against women is unique, entirely different than violence against men, and that domestic or intimate partner violence is all about men’s “power and control” over women. So unique, so different, is violence against women that my department now awards a Ph.D. in domestic violence studies.

In 2002, the criminologist Richard Felson published a massive review of the research literature on violence and gender. It systematically dismantled virtually the entire violence against women narrative. Felson found that violence against women is rarely the result of sexism or misogyny. The motives for violence against women—to control, to achieve retribution, to defend self-image—are the same as the motives for violence against men.

I was so taken with the breadth and analytic depth of Felson’s arguments that I assigned the book as required reading in a course on Social Research and Social Policy.

My feminist colleagues were aghast—they were unsure that students should even be allowed to read this heresy, much less be required to do so.

Much the same reaction ensued when I also assigned Linda Waite’s The Case for Marriage. I was assured that both volumes had been thoroughly discredited, although I have yet to come across a negative review of either that, in my opinion, rises above diatribe.
Two things are at work here: self selection and group think. Sociology tends to attract leftists who want to change society in radical ways. Once such people come to dominate academic departments, they reproduce themselves. They also increasingly drive out of the discipline people who think differently. Graduate student who are right-leaning or even centrist find themselves in a hostile environment. It’s difficult to get articles published and thus difficult to get tenure — in addition to the fact that other people in your department don’t want you to have tenure.

It’s a recipe for stifling and intolerant conformity. And this in a discipline which could provide a lot of insight into social behavior.

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