Energy

Ideological ‘Group Think’ Is Killing Science On Campuses

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Progressive group-think mentality is rife among U.K. academics and is killing science on campus, according to new report by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI).

The report found left-wing and liberal views are over-represented in British academia compared to the general population. Roughly 50 percent of the general public supports right-wing or conservative parties, but only 12 percent of academics do.

The study also found 90 percent of universities in the U.K. had censored free speech on their campuses in the last year or prevented scientific research into areas deemed politically unpalatable to the political left.

“It cannot have escaped the notice of anyone who has spent time in British academia, especially in the social sciences and humanities, that there is a sizable left-liberal skew,” Noah Carl, author of the report and researcher at Oxford University, said in a press statement. “Moreover, growing evidence from the empirical literature indicates that the academy’s sizable left-liberal skew has had an adverse impact on scholarship.”

Other research from the U.S. cited by ASI’s report confirms that conservative or libertarian academics are discriminated against in grant reviews and hiring decisions. Roughly 80 percent of right-wing academics feel that there is a hostile climate at work towards their beliefs.

“Universities are supposed to be places where perspectives are challenged, arguments are picked apart, and all ideas are up for discussion,” Carl said. “This ideal is very difficult to achieve when the vast majority of scholars adhere to the same ideological precepts.”

This is a big problem, because researchers have a documented tendency to find evidence of phenomena they happen to believe in and to reject observations that are unpopular with their financiers. In a survey of 2,000 research psychologists conducted in 2011, over half admitted they selectively reported experiments, which yielded results favorable to their predisposed views.

Scientists also have a huge incentive to tweak, or outright fake, statistical analyses to make results appear to significantly validate their political goals. A growing number of scientists have noticed the wave of retractions, especially among social scientists. Polling indicates that such outcomes are causing science itself to become less trusted.

Another study found that 34 percent of researchers self-report that they have engaged in “questionable research practices,” including “dropping data points on a gut feeling” and “changing the design, methodology, and results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source,” whereas 72 percent of those surveyed knew of colleagues who had done so. Virginia Tech researchers note that the National Science Foundation estimates that research misconduct creates over $110 million in annual costs.

Scientific research is also susceptible to bias when it is funded by the government, leading to a considerable number of scientific studies that cannot be replicated or reproduced.

Government funding of research produces enormous financial incentives for scientists to engage in dubious laboratory research. Academics are under serious financial pressure to rapidly and continually publish research to sustain or further their careers, even if the research is essentially useless or misleading. Even major scientific journals like Nature are asking, “Is Science Broken?”

“Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue,” Richard Horton, editor of the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, wrote in a study published last April. “Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

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