Wednesday, February 16, 2011


A recent article from the New York Times about the possibility of a politically-liberal bias among social scientists reminded me of a pattern I've observed in arguments on and off line over the years.  Eventually the argument will reach some-sort of foundational issue or boundary where the matter turns on the bias/assumptions/worldview of the interlocutors.

In this particular article, 'Social Scientist Sees Bias Within', the author, John Tierney, notes that political liberalism was becoming the dominate moral framework of the majority of social scientists.  Interestingly he notes how bias can effect research:
“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community, he said. They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.  It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism."
Clearly there can be more said about the way a person's bias or the assumptions of the group they belong to can affect their arguments but often I find people assume they are operating without bias from a neutral worldview.  I'm not suggesting a degree of limited neutrality cannot exist but it's odd that it seems a widely held view that one's own view/interpretation/explanation is without bias and free from underlying assumptions.  I believe admitting we have biases and then identifying them is a good thing!

[Photo from NYTimes © 2011]


ish said...

I wonder how many people making comment in the public arena would be able, even if willing, to identify their 'core' biases?

Jon said...

Indeed one of the core ideas we were taught when I studied various aspects of social science in was that we all bring our own assumptions to any situation. On the other hand, is it possible that people in the social sciences are more "liberal" because the evidence unearthed in their studies leads them to that position?

Marion said...

It was something I learned in Linguistics at uni, that everyone has a "grid" or "framework" that all else is based on.

Stephen Brown said...

So can one make an assertion or a judgment with confidence or even that is absolutely true? Or is everything just personal subjectively biased opinion?

Jesus said something very interesting to Pilot just before his execution.

“You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Now that's a massive claim. Does Jesus counter bias? I hope so!