In the academy the free interchange of competing ideas creates knowledge through cooperation, disagreement, debate, and dissent. Kaufmann’s landmark study proves that the last three in that list are severely suppressed and punished. The pervasiveness of such repression may be a death sentence for science, free inquiry, and the advancement of knowledge in our universities.

Earlier this year, Eric Kaufmann of the University of London published a remarkably detailed and comprehensive study of bias in academia, Academic Freedom in Crisis: 

Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship.”

Kaufmann’s writing is a product of California’s Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, a small think-tank set up to do research that is forbidden in today’s academy. His finding of rampant left-sided political bias in publication, employment, and promotion in the Academy — and discrimination against anyone right-of-center — qualifies as forbidden scholarship.

What follows below is (I think) a generalization of the process that Judith described with regard to the Wuhan Coronavirus.  I hope readers will come away with the notion that the process of institutionalizing, and then defending, bad, politicized science is fractal—the internal geometry is very similar for most all such instances.  The reason is because mainstream practitioners of science have a demonstrable political bias and discredit or reject the work of anyone whose beliefs are inconsistent with that bias.  Been there.

In the academy the free interchange of competing ideas creates knowledge through cooperation, disagreement, debate, and dissent. Kaufmann’s landmark study proves that the last three in that list are severely suppressed and punished. The pervasiveness of such repression may be a death sentence for science, free inquiry, and the advancement of knowledge in our universities.

I am led to that dire conclusion because the universities appear to have no way to prevent this fate. No solution can arise from within the academy because it selects its own lifetime faculty, which is largely left wing—increasingly so—and makes the promotion of dissenters highly unlikely. Kaufmann demonstrates profoundly systemic discrimination by leftist faculty against colleagues they find disagreeable.

It is important to note that Kaufmann concentrates primarily (but not exclusively) on the social sciences and humanities, in part because that’s where most previous research on bias applies. Data for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are not as common. However, there is no a priori reason to believe that these fields are unaffected by systemic biases influencing entire institutions. Sure, one can make the argument that math is apolitical, but one can’t say the same for the many branches of science that now have considerable and controversial policy implications. Even a casual reading of both the academic and popular literature on environmental science and climatology reveals rampant politicization.

Kaufmann’s study is shocking in its depth, even to academics (like me) who experienced for decades what he describes. He documents all aspects of an academic career, from advanced graduate study to landing a faculty position, research funding, publication, and promotion. That normal career progression is all but derailed if a person expresses a scintilla of non-left views in casual conversations, faculty meetings, public discourse, teaching, grant applications, submitted publications, or the promotion process.

He surveys the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada using different markers for liberal and conservative views. Among others, in the U.S. he used Trump-versus-Biden support, while for the U.K. he centered upon “leave” or “remain” in the controversy over membership in the European Union.

Kaufmann starts by distinguishing between “hard” and “soft” discrimination. The former includes the direct use of university disciplinary procedures against dissenting academics, internally generated campaigns for ouster, or simply making life so uncomfortable that a scholar feels compelled to leave. More specifically, he defines it as “being fired or threatened for one’s views,” while the “soft” version includes “not being hired, promoted, awarded a grant, or published in a journal.”

There is some good news here, but the past tense may be more appropriate. Kaufmann found that “most academics reject the “hard” version,” though he also found an alarming order-of- magnitude increase in the number of reported cases in recent years.

It is the soft version that has been more prevalent.

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June 11, 2021