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The Forum > General Discussion > Professorial integrity

Professorial integrity

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In the Australian today was an excellent piece, focussing on an issue that's been close to my heart for a while.

A couple of quotes:
"THERE could hardly be a more pleasant discovery.

It is when we find that our political preferences, professional interests and friendship networks all stand in perfect alignment, like an eclipse of the sun.

Out of this delightful conjunction of the planets we discover ourselves free to advance our career under the mask of political rectitude, even as we enforce our political prejudices on others under the description of scholarly research, all the while convincing ourselves that we are acting from the loftiest of motives."


"The problem with the modern planets-in-alignment school of professorial radicalism is that it too often rewards bad behaviour with an enhanced superannuation payout, even as it provides scholarly mechanisms for the elimination of heterodoxy and independence of spirit."

I think the author has very well-encapsulated the problem that I have previously likened to a steam engine with the throttle tied down and the brake removed. I have mostly discussed it in regard to the feminisation of our institutions and social structures, but the author clearly shows the broader problem.

So how do we fix it?
Posted by Antiseptic, Monday, 22 November 2010 9:44:39 AM
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Since Graham's been busy, this thread took a while to be a pproved, so I thought I'd bump it.
Posted by Antiseptic, Monday, 22 November 2010 4:00:55 PM
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So how do we fix it? I'm not sure that we can. If the world consisted simply of some self-evident reality that everyone perceived in exactly the same way, there might be no disagreement among observers.
But the truth of the matter researchers will be influenced by their background, training,and prior experiences. Inevitably, they, like anyone else, will be guilty of some measure of bias (the tendency, often unconscious) to interpret facts according to one's own values.

Complete objectivity is particularly difficult to achieve for scientists. By rigorously excluding personal biases and by submitting their research findings to the criticism of the scientific community however, scientists can try to guard against subjective distortions and can reach a high degree of objectivity. Total objectivity is probably impossible to achieve in any science, since bias is usually always unconscious
Posted by Lexi, Monday, 22 November 2010 4:05:26 PM
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Very good article anti.

I think aside from the peer group trends and ideologies of the scientists, I see the meeja also may have a role.

I read the papers too much, and I always wonder whether the filter of the things I read comes from

a) My bias in selecting articles
b) The editor/papers idea of what will sell or their ideological bent (Though I make a point of reading both the smh and Australian etc)
c) The phenomena discussed in the article.

Now a) is pretty easy to recognise, and I think I have a realistic view of to what extent I read stuff in order to be outraged.

b) Well, I am always fascinated by the 'flavour of the month', and even think there is a flavour of the year and decade. One example is when every indiscretion by any P-plater (It got to ridiculous levels) was reported after a particular tragic death of a speeding P-plater. Then all the animal cruelty stories after that cat-in-a-bin lady recently. As for longer term trends, (you'll love this anti) there are many many articles on all sorts of topics how women, uniquely, or even just differently to men (ie more powerfully) are affected by something. I would estimate at least double the stories are about 'how woman are affected' even when the topic is plainly not remotely a women's issue. I still haven't worked out if nobody studies men at all or the women articles are the only ones that get reported.

c) This article rings very true. I remember when pynchme posted a link containing some emails between her university colleagues and one of them was complaining that one of her pupils was 'aggressive' or needed to be kicked out just because he was asking too many of the wrong type of questions. It gave the impression they weren't teaching a subject rather an ideology, and were so indignant a student wasn't obediently swallowing every little theory they proposed. They were upset that the student had read an alternate source of information that wasn't kosher to them.
Posted by Houellebecq, Tuesday, 23 November 2010 7:52:37 AM
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Lexi, the whole point of science is that results should be able to be replicated and that conclusions should be falsifiable. The objectivity of the researcher in coming to the conclusion is irrelevant if the results are broadly disseminated and analysed.

The problem with that approach for the funders of public research is that it allows their preferred conclusion to be shown to be wrong or at least unsupportable on the evidence presented. Governments don't fund projects that will make their policies look foolish.

Houellebecq, of course we all filter our inputs and outputs. The author's point was that the current way we do research - he focussed on science, but social research is a much bigger problem - is flawed in that it doesn't permit proper review of results. I've time and again seen press releases touting such and such a result from a paper, but found that the paer itself was either not complete, not published, or simply not available broadly. The effect is that the result takes on a life of its own and by the time the paper is finally revealed (usually very quietly) the fact that the result was not supported by the data is simply not mentioned.

science at least has a process for self-correction: socila studies will be defended even if shown to be wrong, on the grounds that "my opinion is as good as hers".

My suggestion is that there should be a rule for Governemnt-funded research of any kind that the original data sets must be made available with the report and that no press releases making substantive claims may precede publication of the report.

It won't stop those who know their bread is buttered best with ideological margarine, but they won't be able to dine out for months on half-baked results.
Posted by Antiseptic, Tuesday, 23 November 2010 9:48:48 AM
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The screening out of nonconformists can start early. It reminds me of the study of psychologist graduates (Gartner, J.D. "Antireligious prejudice in admissions to doctoral programs in clinical psychology" published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice in 1986).

Unsuspecting clinical psychology department professors were sent applications purportedly from graduate students. These were matched on relevant aspects eg. academic achievement but differed in that some applications volunteered information that suggested they are a conservative Christian. It appears to test the hypothesis many of us develop (eg. when you read the curious research that gets through on spanking in peer reviewed psychological publications) that psychologists are predominantly left wing liberals and being a conservative could indicate an undesirable post graduate psychology candidate.

When asked to provide feedback the professors provided support for the hypothesis by rating the 'conservative' candidates significantly lower in all areas than those with equivalent qualifications. They also had fewer doubts about the abilities of the nonconservatives, felt more positively about their ability to be good psychologists, and rated them as more likely to be admitted to the graduate program.

Teaching psychology students also seems to require a certain political perspective. Gross P and Levitt N in their 1994 book "Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science." have suggested that social science disciplines demand "at least a rough allegiance to a leftist perspective as qualification for membership in the faculty".

Psychologists with a history of progressive activism Wright RH and Cummings NA (a former President of the American Psychological Association who successfully introduced a resolution in the APA in 1974 that homosexuality is not a psychiatric condition) in their 2005 book "Destructive Trends in Mental Health" opined that McCarthyism was "abominable" but lacked the "insidious sense of intellectual intimidation that currently exists". They hold that "If psychology is to soar like an eagle it needs both a left and a right wing."
Posted by mjpb, Tuesday, 23 November 2010 11:03:39 AM
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