Is There an Academic Bias against Religion? Appears so, at Least against Conservative Christians.

Is There an Academic Bias against Religion? Appears so, at Least against Conservative Christians. May 1, 2012

By George Yancey

The question of academic bias has been one many people have argued about for decades. Some have pointed out that people in the sciences are more likely to be politically liberal and irreligious and that this overrepresentation is proof of this bias. Others argued that this political and religious disparity is due to the fact that political conservatives and the highly religious are less interested in a scientific occupation. While there may be a different level of scientific interest between progressives and conservatives this does not mean that scientific bias is a myth. Indeed, some of my recent work confirms that it is not a myth.

In my book Compromising Scholarship I surveyed scientists in several disciplines (Political Science, Anthropology, History, Physics, Chemistry, Experimental Biology, English Language, Non-English Language, Philosophy and Sociology). I asked them whether it would affect their hiring decision if they found out that an applicant was of a given political or religious orientation. I found some evidence that being a Republican would negatively affect a scientist’s willingness to hire someone. For physic scholars, only 10 percent were less likely to hire someone if they found out that the applicant is a Republican, but for anthropologists this percentage was 32.3. It was even worse for conservative Christians. A range of 21.8 percent (of experimental biologists) to 58.8 percent (of anthropologists) were less willing to hire someone if they found out that he or she is an evangelical. For fundamentalists the range was 36.4 percent (of experimental biologists) to 71.4 percent (of English professors) being were less willing to hire a fundamentalist.

As a scholar it is disturbing that so many fellow academics prejudge a possible scientist based on their political or religious beliefs. In reality those qualities should not matter as it concerns a person’s scientific abilities. We have to wonder how it shapes our scientific endeavors when such political and religious barriers exist. Even those who are not Republicans or conservative Christians should be dismayed at the ideas that may not be explored or the talent that may be wasted.

It is probably asking for the impossible to expect academics to leave their political and religious biases behind when they do their work. But if there is bias in who professors will hire then it is also quite possible that there is bias in other aspects in how scholars do their work. Too often those who argue that academic bias is a myth forget that all humans have biases. They are not doing scholars a favor when they make assertions that bias does not exists in academia. Ignoring the evidence of academic bias robs scholars of the ability to deal with their biases. It is reasonable to ask scientists to remember that they have biases and that they need to be careful about how their biases affect their judgment. Such caution can only improve the social atmosphere that academics operate in.

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