Saturday, March 4, 2017

GWPF Newsletter: Science In Crisis

British Universities Stifle Debate As Academics Lurch To The Left

In this newsletter:

1) Groupthink Rife In British Academia: Increased Risk Of Systematic Bias In Science
Adam Smith Institute, 2 March 2017
2) Lurch To Left Raises Concerns For Increased Risk Of Academic Bias
The Times, 2 March 2017
3) 94% Of UK Universities Restrict Free Speech
University Observer, 1 March 2017
4) Campus Culture Wars Over ‘Anti-Right Bias’ 
Times Higher Education, 2 March 2017
5) BBC: Most Scientists ‘Can’t Replicate Studies By Their Peers’
BBC News, 22 February 2017

Full details:

1) Groupthink Rife In British Academia: Increased Risk Of Systematic Bias In Science
Adam Smith Institute, 2 March 2017

Groupthink mentality is rife within academia, with 90% of British universities censoring speech on campus last year, a new report released today by the Adam Smith Institute reveals.

People with right-wing and conservative views are underrepresented in British universities, making up less than 12% of academics, even though 50% of the general public vote for right-wing parties, risking systematic biases in scholarship.

Image result for university groupthink cartoon

The paper offers a number of explanations for how the world of academia has become so homogenous, discrediting the notion that smarter people are uniformly more left wing—in fact, the top 5% of intelligence is split along roughly the same political lines as the population at large.

Studies from the US reveal that conservative academics are discriminated against in grant reviews and hiring decisions, and more than 80% of conservative academics feel that there is a hostile climate towards their beliefs at work.

The report warns that without more ideological diversity in academia, the rejection of left-liberal values will increasingly equate to denying objective facts. It may also cause a right-wing backlash, with right-leaning governments defunding universities they see as ideological opponents rather than apolitical scholars.

Further adverse consequence of ideological homogeneity include the curtailing of free speech on campus, with 90% of British universities censoring speech in some form last year; biased research with areas deemed politically unpalatable ignored, mischaracterized and angrily expostulated; and skewed teaching, with economic textbooks already giving market failure six times as much coverage as government failure and only half recognising its presence at all.

The report urges universities to commit to ideological diversity with the same fervour they commit to gender, class and race diversity, and asks that academics be alert to double standards and the risk of bias in their work, embracing adversarial collaborations within the field. An increasingly homogenous academy, it warns, will lose the trust of the public and the right wing governments funding its research.

Ben Southwood, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Conservatives have left the academy. You find a fair few libertarians—people with economically right-wing but socially liberal views—but hardly any who admit to being socially conservative.

“In principle, political views shouldn’t affect good scholarship, and it probably doesn’t matter if all our physicists are communists—unless they are passing nuclear secrets to foreign powers. But we should be less sanguine if all sociologists or anthropologists are, as they seem to be, there are obvious ways their views could infect their scholarship.

“No one is suggesting quotas, but we should be mindful of too much intellectual homogeneity. As John Stuart Mill pointed out, we need to air views in order to find out what’s true.”

Noah Carl, author of the report and researcher at Nuffield College, Oxford, said: “It cannot have escaped the notice of anyone who has spent time in British academia, especially in the social sciences and humanities, that there is a sizable left-liberal skew. One rarely encounters a fellow academic who supports the Conservatives, and I have never met one who supports UKIP.

“While differences in personality and interests appear to explain some of the left-liberal skew, discrimination may also be a factor. Moreover, growing evidence from the empirical literature indicates that the academy’s sizable left-liberal skew has had an adverse impact on scholarship.

“Universities are supposed to be places where perspectives are challenged, arguments are picked apart, and all ideas are up for discussion. This ideal is very difficult to achieve when the vast majority of scholars adhere to the same ideological precepts.”

Full paper

2) Lurch To Left Raises Concerns For Increased Risk Of Academic Bias
The Times, 2 March 2017
Greg Hurst, Education Editor

British universities suffer from “group-think” with a strong left-wing or liberal bias among academics and an under-representation of conservative views, a report claims.

Students protest in London last year over access to educationNATASHA QUARMBY/REX

It argues that the trend poses a threat to higher education because it raises the possibility of future clashes with right-of-centre governments that may strip universities of funding. There is an increased risk of unconscious academic bias and a possible threat to free speech.

The study comes after universities found themselves on the losing side of the Brexit debate, in which vice- chancellors, academic and student leaders campaigned overwhelmingly to remain in the EU last year, despite several being based in cities or regions that voted heavily to leave.

The analysis, published by the Adam Smith Institute, a free-market think tank, sought to look at the political opinions of British university academics over the past five decades and charted a threefold decline in support for the Conservatives in the period.

Although the underlying data is sketchy and not directly comparable, higher education experts said that the broad trend appeared to be correct and urged a wider debate on the issue.

The author Noah Carl, a research student at Nuffield College, Oxford, looked at results from an online survey of university staff published by the Times Higher Education magazine before the 2015 general election, which found that 46 per cent said they would vote Labour and 11 per cent backed the Conservatives.

Another 22 per cent said they would vote for the Green Party and 9 per cent for the Liberal Democrats, with the rest backing other smaller parties. The online survey, in which 1,019 university staff took part, was self selecting and may have included some non-academic university staff.

The author compared these findings with a book written in 1995 by AH Halsey, an Oxford professor, called Decline of the Donnish Dominion which reported surveys of academics’ political views across three decades. These found that 35 per cent said they supported the Conservatives in 1965, falling to 29 per cent in 1976 and 18 per cent in 1989. Different survey methods will have been used and the university sector has grown since, so they figures cannot be directly compared but give an indication of past voting patterns.

The author concluded that discrimination may be a factor and said it was harder for universities to be places where perspectives and arguments were challenged if scholars shared a similar ideological outlook.

Full story

3) 94% Of UK Universities Restrict Free Speech
University Observer, 1 March 2017

The censoring of free speech is rampant across the UK, with nine out of ten universities curbing free speech on university campuses. This is according to the 2017 Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR), published by the online magazine Spiked.

Image result for spiked campus censorship
The university rankings, described as ‘vile’ by the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK, assesses 115 universities. It examines the bans and policies universities and students’ unions utilise to stifle free speech on campus. The universities are then ranked by way of a traffic light system.

According to the rankings, 63.5% of institutions are marked ‘Red’, meaning that significant restrictions are placed on speech through “the banning [of] particular speakers, materials and ideas”. Spiked, in the preamble to the rankings describes these universities as “hostile to free speech and free expression, mandating explicit restrictions on speech, including, but not limited to, bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words”.

In particular, two issues stand out as a major concern; the first is related to clampdowns on discussion of religion and the second are clampdowns on debate about transgenderism. Tom Slater, Deputy Editor of Spiked and FSUR Coordinator commented: “At some of Britain’s most prestigious institutions – once interested in probing perceived wisdom and in pursuing truth, the oldest and newest orthodoxies in the book are being ring-fenced from criticism”.

The source of censorship varies however, with restrictive policies emanating from either university administrations or student unions, or both. The magazine criticises the widespread censorship by student unions, however what’s most striking is how fast university administrations are catching up.

Full story

4) Campus Culture Wars Over ‘Anti-Right Bias’ 
Times Higher Education, 2 March 2017
John Morgan

Dutch Parliament passes motion to hold inquiry over bias against conservatives, as US education secretary claims liberal academics ‘tell you what to think’

Politicians’ claims that universities are systematically prejudiced against researchers and students with conservative views raise the prospect that Western institutions could become key battlegrounds in a new age of “culture wars”.

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s education secretary, lit a fire under the long-standing debate over supposed liberal bias last week in her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. After asking how many in the audience at the biggest conservative conference in the US were college students, she said: “The fight against the education establishment extends to you, too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.

 “They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights [including free speech] of people with whom you disagree.”

In the Netherlands, parties of the Right recently passed a motion in Parliament that “asks the government to request advice and consideration from the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences” about “whether self-censorship and limitation of diversity of perspectives” is rife in the country’s universities and research institutes.

Pieter Duisenberg, the member of the House of Representatives for the centre-right VVD who proposed the motion, told Times Higher Education that he put forward the plan after being approached by conservative academics who felt discriminated against in being denied senior posts and in research funding.

The American-born politician also cited the Heterodox Academy, a group of US professors that warns of “loss of viewpoint diversity” and advocates for “a more intellectually diverse” academy.

Mr Duisenberg added: “That combination of people approaching me plus the debate that is [happening] in other countries has led me to the question, ‘is this an issue in our academies, yes or no?’”

He continued: “What I’m not advocating is quotas on political views…What I’m advocating is freedom in the academy.”

Full story

5) BBC: Most Scientists ‘Can’t Replicate Studies By Their Peers’
BBC News, 22 February 2017
Tom Feilden

Science is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests.

see also GWPF Report: Donna Laframboise: Peer Review — Why Skepticism Is Essential

Full story

According to a survey published in the journal Nature last summer, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.

Concern over the reliability of the results published in scientific literature has been growing for some time.

“It’s worrying because replication is supposed to be a hallmark of scientific integrity,” says Dr Errington.

Two more proved inconclusive and in the fifth, the team completely failed to replicate the result.

After meticulous research involving painstaking attention to detail over several years (the project was launched in 2011), the team was able to confirm only two of the original studies’ findings.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.
The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

“The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.”

From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.
This is frustrating clinicians and drug developers who want solid foundations of pre-clinical research to build upon.... 

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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