Monday, July 10, 2017

The Purity Spiral in organizations and Hugos.

Seen today at SDA and David Thompson's blog, a piece by Uri Harris on the "purity spiral" in the social sciences.

A couple of years ago, six social scientists published a paper describing a disquieting occurrence in academic psychology: the loss of almost all its political diversity. As Jonathan Haidt, one of the authors of the paper, wrote in a commentary:

Before the 1990s, academic psychology only LEANED left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the "greatest generation" retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field has become a political monoculture.

While the paper focuses on psychology, it briefly mentions that the rest of the social sciences are not far behind:

[R]ecent surveys find that 58–66 per cent of social science professors in the United States identify as liberals, while only 5–8 per cent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 8 to 1 (Gross & Simmons 2007; Klein & Stern 2009; Rothman & Lichter 2008).

As these studies are now approximately ten years old, it's quite plausible that the gap has widened further over the past decade (as it has in psychology) meaning that these figures most likely underestimate the current left-to-right ratio across the social sciences.

But wait, there's more.

In fact, Haidt recently reported on a remarkable survey that was conducted among the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, which, as Haidt notes, is:

… a professional society composed of the most active researchers in the field who are at least five years post-PhD. It's very selective—you must be nominated by a current member and approved by a committee before you can join.

As part of the survey, members were asked to identify their political affiliation on an eleven-point scale, from 'very liberal' to 'very conservative'. (One point in the centre and five on each side.) The results are telling. Only 2.5 per cent of respondents chose a conservative point, and only 8.3 per cent chose the centre-point, meaning that 89.3 per cent identified as left-of-centre.

Social psychologists' self-ratings of their political orientation. Taken from Bill von Hippel and David Buss's survey of the membership of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, 2016.

Intriguingly, the least popular point among the left-of-centre points was the most moderate one (5.8 per cent), and the second-least popular was the second-most moderate one (15.6 per cent). More than two thirds (67.8 per cent) chose one of the three points furthest to the left on an eleven-point scale, and more than a third (38 per cent) chose one of the two points furthest to the left. And 16 per cent chose the furthest possible point to the left on an eleven-point scale.

This means that there were almost as many people who chose the furthest possible point to the left as there were who chose all the conservative points, the centre-point and the most moderate left-of-centre point combined (16.6 per cent).

Now, this all comes as no surprise to anyone who's gone to university in the last 25 years, or was in any way paying attention. The state of affairs is as Harris says, there's no doubt. The problems inherent in a monoculture of one politicaly acceptable view are manifold, and obvious.

What's interesting is how they got there. The author suggests a "purity spiral" of unguided selection, rather than some kind of deliberate program.

It seems likely to me that there are self-reinforcing mechanisms at work. As the ratio of liberals to conservatives increased, a tipping-point was reached where conservatives were actively excluded from the social sciences, and as they have disappeared the more radical liberals are now outnumbering the moderates to the point where they too are being gradually excluded. In other words, it appears that social science is undergoing a purity spiral towards an increasingly radical left-wing ideology.

This seems a likely mechanism to explain the Hugo awards, the SFF. Liberals in the universities join literary clubs like WorldCon and go to work for the major publishers, -all- of whom are based in New York City.

Liberalism is the culture of the New York City intellectual elite, among whom are counted publishers, editors, etc. As the years wear on and more old guys retire, the people who replace them are very keen to show they are serious and On The Right Side. Zero new Conservatives are hired, of course, because Conservatives are yucky. Who wants one of Them around? As Harris says, you keep that kind of osmotic pressure going for 40 years, you end up with the present situation. No Conservatives working in publishing, no Conservatives joining the literature clubs, no conservatives voting for awards.

As well, advancement depends on looking like a Team Player. So, everybody crowds Left and virtue signals all over the place. "Advancement" in a club setting is different, but similar. In a club it is all about the signalling and fitting in, as there is not any "work" to be accomplished.

You can see the machinery working in the Hugo nominations of the last 40 years. A gradual increase in "literary" SF, the kind of gray goo best exemplified by "When the World Turned Upside Down" from 2015. Pointlessly evil people doing pointlessly evil things in a vaguely science-fictiony post-apocalyptic environment, where Man's Inhumanity To Man is the primary theme.

People are Bad, is the basic take home from most things these days. That's what gets awards, and that's what gets published because publishers chase awards. Liberal themes, Liberal stories.

Some of you are now shouting and throwing things at your monitors. You want to know what happened to all the "Conservatives."

We are still here. Nothing happened to us, we didn't go anywhere. We still hold the same set of principles and beliefs we always did. We still pay money for stories we like, we still work for a living, we still do science and study history and literature.

What changed is, we don't get published. Reverse Osmotic pressure. Our stories are impurities that get filtered by the semi-permeable membrane of publishing selection.

The joke of course is that all this is fairly mechanistic. The average Liberals don't deliberately set out to exclude Conservatives, they just don't see good reason to include them.

Where the problem with this shows up is when the "out-group" wildly outnumbers the "in-group." Then you get four years of the Sad Puppies campaign, set up as a joke to demonstrate the Liberal bias in the awards system of the SF/F genre. What started as a science fiction nerd squabble ended up as a Big Deal in the culture wars.

Those damn Conservatives intruded! How dare they?!

This year the Sad Puppies have stopped intruding, and the Hugo Faithful are still reacting to what we did two years ago. With no one to introduce anything different into the mix, the SF/F awards season is looking extremely Lefty/SJW this year, as it always does.

The problem with monocultures is fragility. If one thing changes in the environment the whole crop can catch leaf rot or root fungus. Traditional publishing and SF cons are dwindling in size and sales, as more and more of their audience gets filtered out by the semi-permeable membrane. Unlike the usual "victim group" dynamic, Conservatives and the politically uninterested are wandering off and abandoning traditional publishing completely. They're all on Amazon, writing to e-book.

The Phantom



Lela E. Buis said...

Aren't intellectuals traditionally leftist? Look at the Russian Revolution, for example. They were on the losing side in the French Revolution, part of the elite.

The Phantom said...

There have always been two kinds of intellectuals, IMHO. The scholars, who pursue their subjects of study with discipline, and the "Cafe Set" who pose as scholars for fun and profit.

Today we are faced with the spectacle of entire swaths of the university system being taken over by people posing as scholars. My field, Anthropology, has been so damaged by Post Modern humbug that the journals are filled with nothing but SJW twaddle.

This farce started for me back in the mists of time when I was an undergrad. I published a paper on the "controversy" around E.O.Wilson's book "Sociobiology" in the late 1970's. I put controversy in quotes because most of it was Leftists smearing Wilson personally, almost none of it had anything to do with his theories or his scholarship. They didn't question his work, they maumaued him to make him shut up.

So I became a house painter instead of an Anthropology scholar. The money was better, and scraping paint in the sun all day looked more enjoyable than duking it out with poseurs in the pages of journals. 40+ years later I look at a guy like Dr. Jordan Peterson and know I made the right choice.

Leftism is not about Truth or Beauty, the two things scholars strive for to the exclusion of all else. Leftism is the belief that people are stupid and must be controlled. They can put all the lipstick on that they want, but its still a pig.

WiFi Lunchbox Guy said...

The conservatives flocked over to Baen and Castalia House.
On the awards front, conservatives have recovered from Puppy-related
sadness and conquered the Dragon Awards.

The Phantom said...

Increasing numbers of Conservative authors and other midlist types are on Amazon ebooks.

Herb Nowell said...

@Lela E. Buis:

No, intellectuals have not been on the left most of the time.

Since we're talking science fiction and fantasy let's start there. Were Tolkien, the foremost experient of his time and possibly all on Anglo-Saxon poetry in general and Beowulf specifically and philologist, and C. S. Lewis, a similar expert in late medieval poetry and thought, intellectuals? Because if they were, and I think they were, I'd be hard pressed to say they were left wing intellectuals.

David Mamett, arguably the greatest living playwright in English is quite openly conservative. He will tell you our greatest living political philosopher is Thomas Sowell who is decidedly not a leftist.

There are entire think tanks and even on university (Hillsdate in Michigan) with a decidedly right of center bent.

Are SCUS justices intellectuals? Depending on who is counting 3-5 of the current members are conservative as was the most recent justice to leave the court.

Your two examples are from fairly extreme situations where for reasons of knock on events the non-leftist intellectuals of those times and places are forgotten. This is especially true of Russia where the initial revolution was not by Lenin and the Communists but by the Duma and some of the nobility in February of 1917. Lenin, in fact, was shipped into the country by the Germans to take Russia out of the war when the Provisional Government continued the fight.

There have also been periods where, to the degree modern left-right labels (whose origins just over 200 years old) are applicable, intellectuals were right wing. The Scottish Enlightenment with figures such as Adam Smith, is a good example. Actually, intellectual figures in the UK during period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars are arguably a rightist counterpart to the leftists of the continent (a divide that still shows up in Europe in complaints about Anglo-Saxon capitalism as recently as the 2008 crisis).

Where do Nietzsche and Kierkegaard go on the left-right spectrum? While most would put the former as leftist I'm not 100% sure of that and Kierkegaard is at least as much right wing in modern US terms with his view of Christ as dictator as he is left.

That is without going into non-Western realms. Would the Confucian educated class of several Chinese dynasties be left or right wing? They were certainly intellectuals or at least continued intellectuals. What about scholars in Islam today much less the Islamic Golden Age? I don't even had the background to suggest places and classes in Indian history to bring in the discussion.

So I would say, no, intellectuals have not leaned left throughout history. In specific times and places, such as the US academy and institutional settings (with very notable exceptions) today, they have skewed left. But it is not a reliable historical rule.

The Phantom said...

Nice comment, Herb.

I think that there were Lefty intellectuals in university while I was there, but they were still in the minority in the 1970s. Now they've crowded out all other opinions.

The people and the opinions still exist, of course, just not at universities. That's how we got Trump.