When I was living in Canada, we asked people how much money they would be willing to pay to clean lakes from acid rain in the Halliburton region of Ontario, which is a small region of Ontario. We asked other people how much they would be willing to pay to clean lakes in all of Ontario. People are willing to pay the same amount for the two quantities because they are paying to participate in the activity of cleaning a lake, or of cleaning lakes. How many lakes there are to clean is not their problem.
This is a mechanism I think people should be familiar with. The idea that when you’re asked a question, you don’t answer that question, you answer another question that comes more readily to mind. That question is typically simpler; it’s associated, it’s not random; and then you map the answer to that other question onto whatever scale there is.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is worried about the “statistically impossible lack of diversity” in his profession: liberals outnumber conservatives at “a ratio of two or three hundred to one, in a nation where the underlying ratio is one to two.” He takes this as evidence of discrimination; the profession of social psychology “must be a hostile climate that discourages underrepresented groups from entering.”
The link includes lots of great responses from other social psychologists. Here are some choice excerpts:
- Dan Gilbert: “Exactly how lopsided must a ratio be before we are allowed to conclude that it could not possibly occur without bias? Ten to one? A thousand to one? Jon doesn’t say because Jon doesn’t know. …[S]cientists start debates by raising questions, not by making up the answers.”
- Lee Jussim: “[Dan Gilbert’s] lack of awareness of the abundance of data attesting to liberal hegemony and scientific dysfunction indicates exactly the type of blind spot one would predict on the basis of Haidt’s claim that social psychology has become a ‘sacred community’ whose values ‘bind and blind.’”
- Paul Bloom: “Even if [the locker room] mentality [of mocking conservatives] turns out to have nothing to do with why there are so few conservatives in psychology, it’s still ugly behavior, surprisingly so for a community that claims to value diversity. Jon is right that we should do better.”
- Alison Gopnik: “My guess is that we suffer more from institutional and intellectual narrowness than the political variety.”
- Jennifer Jacquet: “There are very few conservatives in social psychology possibly… because the field of social psychology self-selects for liberals and might even create them (e.g., if you learn/accept through the work in social psychology that people are largely a product of their environment, it makes it hard to then support political strategies that further disadvantage the poor).”
- John Jost: “[W]e should ask honestly whether social scientists are too liberal or society is too conservative. After all, when experts and laypersons disagree, we do not usually rush to the conclusion that the experts are biased.”