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Measuring a Liberal Bias in Psychology

Measuring a Liberal Bias in Psychology

As a self-professed passionate moderate (the liberal charismatic title was thrust upon me by an opponent), I’m very conscious of bias on both the liberal and conservative sides. To be human is to be biased. I have my moderate biases, including a bias toward considering anything from the left or the right obviously biased. You just can’t win with me!

A number of readers likely already know that FiveThirtyEight.com is one of my favorite, of not my absolute favorite, news source. Besides their efforts to state their own biases, and the fact that I like numbers, this is a result of their efforts to cite their sources and show their work. If I question their rating of a pollster, for example, I can go look at what goes into that rating.

Before I get to the article I’m linking from them today, I want to emphasize something important. I like numbers, yes, but you have to be careful. The reason for this is that you have to understand how the numbers you’re liking were produced. Let me give an example. A friend asked me to read a book on the ancient world because I know the languages and he wanted an assessment of how much credence I should give it. In the book, someone gave measurements for the original size of the great pyramid in millimeters. There is no way the author could actually have that information. Numbers calculated in that way are designed to give the impression of precision even when such precision does not exist.

A more common way to produce a number is to assign it, such as asking people to rate something on a scale from 1 to 10. In order to know the question asked, how it’s asked, and who it’s asked of. After that you might consider asking what those people might know. For example, asking a random sample to rate the quality of cardiac care in this country on a scale from 1 to 10 produces information on how the sample views this, but might tell you as little as nothing regarding the actual state of such care, depending on who is being asked and what they could know.

So here’s the article, Psychologists Looked in the Mirror and Saw a Bunch of Liberals. (You need to read the article—the whole article. This material is useless without the reasoning behind it and the look for solutions.)

Someone noted the bias with a simple show of hands, and followed up with a study looking at the way in which results of studies were presented in journal abstracts. Here’s the generalization:

Sure enough, the abstracts more often explained their findings in terms of conservative ideas rather than liberal ones, and conservatives were described more negatively in the eyes of the raters.

The study authors tested for a bias in their raters and found that their liberal raters actually rated the abstracts as more negative regarding conservative views than did conservative raters. In a  separate test, they also note that a panel of psychologists surveyed for their expectation of bias expected the results to be more biased than the study showed they were. You should, in turn, read the note on the potential problem with the panel of psychologists surveyed.

Note to self: Doing a deep enough study on an issue to have a strong opinion is a lot of work and takes a lot of time!

One of the solutions suggested is studies done by “trans-ideogical teams,” i.e., have research done by people who expect different results and who then design a study based on what would change their mind on the topic. I like this idea quite a lot.

I’ll note that this has a great deal to do with the way I publish (my company). I look to create conversation between people of widely differing viewpoints. (This is not identical to creating a church congregation, where some identity is necessary. I also support diverse congregations, but the boundaries will be set up differently.) I believe that in learning, there is great value in hearing the opposing position from someone who actually supports it.

A conservative professor requiring readings from a liberal book and explaining liberal ideas is not as challenging as hearing from an actual liberal. Similarly, if you reverse liberal and conservative. I have lived and learned in situations dominated by conservatives and at other times in ones dominated by liberals. The result I see is the same: Complacency, laziness, and arrogance. One decides one doesn’t have to have support for an idea because “everybody knows that.” But this “everybody” is a very selected subset.

I don’t see any solution here except intentionally involving people who disagree. I have found for myself that I cannot truly express the support for an idea I don’t accept myself nearly as well as a person who truly does support it, even if I try diligently.

This article is encouraging to me because it attacks bias in two ways: 1) Identifying and quantifying it, and 2) Looking at ways to correct for it.

Do Liberals and Conservatives Really Need Each Other?

Do Liberals and Conservatives Really Need Each Other?

Early in my college days I encountered a man who would have a substantial influence on my life. It started as he explained textual variants and alternate possible translations in Genesis 1 for 2nd year Hebrew. I’d taught myself that far, and hadn’t done badly figuring out the rules, but my knowledge was less than practical. That man was Dr. Alden Thompson, now professor emeritus at Walla Walla University, and author of several books, two of which I publish.

While showing me things that I had never seen before, and wasn’t sure I wanted to see, Alden displayed a gentleness and spiritual depth that had a profound impact on the way in which my theological understanding would develop. It is an approach he has modeled for decades and truly grown into even more as he moves forward.

Looking at the divisions in his beloved Seventh-day Adventist Church, Alden doesn’t want victory for liberals or conservatives or any of the many other variations one might find. What he wants is conversation and an appreciation of the gifts that all bring to the table.

Even though I don’t publish it, as we approach celebration of Consider Christianity Week, I wanted to call attention to Alden’s book, Beyond Common Ground: Why Liberals and Conservatives Need Each Other. Alden is talking about faith and a church organization, but the principles he discusses apply broadly, most importantly, learning to listen to and value the diversity. He matches that with a willingness I often don’t find in either liberal or conservative circles: A willingness to recognize the fear that new ideas and change may bring and to honor the need of solid ground for some people.

While Beyond Common Ground is written very personally and is anchored therefore in its author’s community, it discusses issues I have seen trouble, divide, and sometimes destroy communities of various types. Consider reading this engaging and challenging book as you think about Christianity during Lent, and of course during Consider Christianity Week.

Here’s a short video interview with Alden:


On Publishing a Conservative Book

On Publishing a Conservative Book

First, let me alert all my readers that this is about my business even though this is a personal blog. Second, for those who read my business blog, it will be, to a certain extent, repetitively redundant.

Several months ago I decided that I would expand my publication efforts into the area of politics, though I continue to look for a faith overlap in what I publish. This is simply a new category; nothing so dramatic as a new imprint. In doing so, of course, the new political book would be from some perspective or another. If it had been a liberal book, I would want to write a post on publishing a liberal book, and even if it were a moderate book, this might be titled on publishing a moderate book.

What I have found before, and has inevitably come up again, is that people assume that I started publishing in order to publish books with which I agree. I have probably helped nurture this idea by publishing my own books through my company. That is something I will just have to live with, because the sales of those books have been an essential part of growing this business in a very competitive market. None of my books are massively popular, but all of them have helped the bottom line.

Thus I was led to write a post on publishing books with which I disagree a couple of months ago, and now I’m writing this one. The first instance of this problem came up when I responded to a post suggesting that Christian publishers needed to publish “the truth”. This goes way back to 2006, but I find that the posts are still there so one can examine the discussion at the time.

I do, in fact, regard my business as a ministry, or to put it in secular terms, a service. I have specific goals and a specific audience I hope to reach. My interest is in broadening Christian education for what I call the “broad Christian center” and especially in mainline protestant churches. Education doesn’t involve hearing just one set of ideas, and neither does my publishing effort.

In order to accomplish that, I’m seeking to publish books that are both challenging and dialogue-seeking. What I mean by that is that they express their viewpoint well from within their particular perspective and also reach out to communicate with those from other perspectives. I’m not seeking the literature of compromise, i.e. people who water down what they actually believe in order to build dialogue. I posted a view on this, which can be found here.

In connection with this new book on politics, this issue has come up in two ways, first by people who assume that since I’m publishing and marketing it, I must agree on all points. While I don’t feel the call to fight with my own authors, I have no need to agree with everything they say. Second, I hear it from people who question why I would publish a book with which I don’t agree fully.

That leads back to the question of publishing “truth.” Should I limit my publications to those that express precisely the view that I hold on each and every topic? If I did, I would have to remove books of my own from the market each and every time I change my mind on a detail. What about a broader level of truth? No, not so much. What I look for in manuscripts–and trust me, getting good manuscripts that fit my goals isn’t easy–is a point of view that is worth hearing expressed in a way that it can be heard.

If my company were not individually owned I would have less trouble with this. Large companies are expected to produce a variety of ideas. But as it is, many people are surprised each time I publish a book that doesn’t entirely agree with what I have said or written.

So what is this conservative book that I’m publishing? It’s Preserving Democracy, and it’s by Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. I’ve published two books and two study guides by Elgin dealing with Christian apologetics (Evidence for the Bible and Christianity and Secularism. I like Preserving Democracy, because Elgin has done thorough research, referenced the book extensively, and has argued his points well, in my view.

No, I don’t agree with everything in this book, but that is really not the relevant point. I think this is a book that expresses ideas that should be considered. If you don’t agree, you should know why, and be able to support your position.

It’s possible this sounds like damning the book with faint praise. Not true! I’m extremely delighted to have it as the first Energion Publications title in the Politics category. I hope it will challenge people, start debate, and create action. One course of action might be proposals or manuscripts. (Are you interested in the approach I’m taking? Do you have a manuscript or an idea for one? Contact me.)

But I’m also using it to establish my brand identity, so you may hear me talk a bit about my ideas here from time to time. Conversation between people expressing clear, uncompromised ideas can be a powerful force.

Elgin expressed this in his book:

A good healthy democracy depends on a healthy debate that includes both pros, cons, and ramifications of each side and their proposals. But when debate exists primarily in slogans, bumper stickers, and thirty second TV spots, true honest discussion and debate is impossible.

Furthermore, with so many outlets for information, groups are increasingly becoming more insular. Democrats talk primarily to Democrats, Republicans to Republicans, and Libertarians to Libertarians. Each group looks to its sources and insulates itself from others, effectively becoming self-reinforcing, feeding on their own rhetoric rather than on reality. (pages 165-166 in advance copies)

I think he is absolutely right. I believe his book is a step in the right direction. Many more are needed, but you can’t take a second step until you have taken the first. It’s my first step toward strengthening the political debate as a publisher.

Note: If you are interested in reading an advance copy, and you are a blogger, involved with other social media including Twitter, or a political leader, please e-mail me at pubs@energion.com. There are still a few advance copies available, and I’d be delighted to send you one while they last.