Diversity is to academia is to the West Wing is to everything


Part 1:

Have a read of this forthcoming academic paper in ‘Behavioral and Brain Sciences’ on political diversity and social psychological science (link via the Marginal Revolution blog and the Library of Economics & Liberty).

In it, the authors quote the sociologist Christian Smith on the ideology shared by most left-leaning sociologists, which as can be expected is the ‘liberal progress narrative.’ They use his work on moral communities to warn against homogeneity of thought – researchers who think in a similar way use their conceptions of history to guide their research, thereby leading to a vicious circle that sees no avenue for exploration of important questions:

If left unchecked, an academic field can become a cohesive moral community, creating a shared reality (Hardin & Higgins, 1996) that subsequently blinds its members to morally or ideologically undesirable hypotheses and unanswered but important scientific questions (Haidt, 2012).

They go on to discuss why, therefore, it is important to ensure diversity of political opinion in the university environment.

Part 2:

I’ve been binge-watching The West Wing these past few weeks (and I’m not yet done, so no spoilers please). In Episode 0, Season 3 of The West Wing titled ‘Isaac and Ishmael’, an episode that was released primarily in response to 9/11 and without a clear link to the rest of the episodes that preceded or followed it, the cast discusses the meaning of terrorism with a group of high school students. Definitions of tolerance and intolerance, Islam, Christianity and Judaism are aired by various characters. As a representation of the variety of opposing views in society, it was simultaneously entertaining and important:

C.J.: You know of a way to do this without tapping some phones?

Toby Ziegler: What about illegal searches? What about profiling? You know what Benjamin Franklin said?

C.J. Cregg: He said, “Hey look, I’ve invented the stove!”

Billy Fernandez (student): He said, “They, that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Josh Lyman (to the students): In the mean time, remember pluralism. You want to get these people? I mean, you really want to reach in and kill them where they live? Keep accepting more than one idea. Makes them absolutely crazy.

Part 3:

Diversity matters. We’ve all read about the importance of having diverse workplaces. If groups of people aren’t diverse, groupthink occurs, followed by a number of other problems; we know this. The academic paper linked to above states possible organisational responses as well as professorial responses to guard against homogeneity of thinking. One is the importance of being alert to double standards and asking yourself whether you are judging everyone by the same yardstick. Another is the importance of supporting adversarial collaborations, which coincidentally I picked up from The West Wing as well – in the show, the Democrats hire Republican Ainsley Hayes despite the fact that she has some very different views from them.

As a co-founder of Ada’s List and the author of The Other Valleys, I obviously feel strongly about diversity of thought and action, and these two projects are attempts to raise consciousness and awareness of issues that matter and that many people don’t realise they will benefit from, if only they took the time.

Here’s to a broadening 2015.

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