Shields: Most scholars aren’t aware when they’re doing things in a biased way. I think bias creeps in in ways we don’t see. That’s what makes it difficult and tenacious: It’s not something social scientists consciously do for the most part.
Dunn: For conservatives, if they arrive at conclusions that are disfavored by the left, they’re concerned that they’ll be accused of irresponsible research, and that shuts off research itself. With Regnerus, I don’t know that many people would want to engage in the same kind of data gathering that he did, lest it lead to results that aren’t palatable to others in their discipline. Many people just stay away because it’s not “socially responsible.”
Shields: I think as social scientists we should avoid accusing each other of reverse-engineering studies. I think there should be a kind of culture of charity—we should assume good faith, not bad faith, on the part of our fellow colleagues.
Green: One thing that’s looming in your book is this notion that academic or scholarly work is a way of discerning “truth.” Perhaps social-science findings are so politically charged because they’re seen as a firm way of establishing truth, and if they don’t line up with the idea of history as a march of progress, then that is foundationally threatening to a progressive way of thinking about the accumulation of knowledge.
But you also allude to truth as something that can be found through this back-and-forth between conservative and liberal professors. How does this manifest in the academy?
Dunn: There does tend to be a kind of Whig history: There’s been this natural expansion of liberty, and if you look at the progressive movement, there were the good people, who were the progressives, and then there were those who try to obstruct them. It turns out that it’s much more complicated than that, and it’s only recently that scholars, economists, and historians have explored some of the darker parts of the progressive movement. The eugenics component of the progressive movement, for example, has largely been unexplored
I think that’s part of the problem with homogeneity. If you did have more political diversity in the academy, it wouldn’t have taken until now—the past 10 to 15 years—to be written.
Green: What’s the appropriate role for conservative scholars who speak as intellectuals outside the academy?
Shields: Thinks tanks have been an important platform for conservative ideas, but there are disadvantages to going that route for conservatives, because you can’t shape conversations and discussions from within the university. It’s important for conservatives not to think, well, we’ve got AEI and Cato and Heritage and Hoover, and academia is just a ghettoized, worthless place that should be burned to the ground. The university is important. There is a concern that too many conservatives will be siphoned off, too—they’ll say well, it’s a much easier path if you want to be an intellectual.
Green: Is it true that any professor who walks into a classroom wearing a bowtie is, in fact, a conservative?
Shields: Absolutely. No question. They just scream conservative. You can’t find liberals who wear ties anymore, much less bowties. Conservatives tend to dress up a little bit—they’re more formal.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a liberal professor in a bowtie. Have you, Josh?
Dunn: Not that I can recall.