Artillery Row

Higher education can make you stupid

Ironically, a denial of academic political bias reveals bias, pretension, and pseudo-intellectualism

Academia is politically biased. About half of Britons identify as conservative or right-wing, but less than 12 percent of academics describe themselves similarly. Censorship and self-censorship amplify this bias. YouGov found 32 percent of self-identified “right” or “fairly right” academics had stopped airing their opinions in teaching and research, compared with 13 percent of centrists and left-wingers.

Most media ignore the bias or tie themselves in knots trying to deny it. For instance, the Times Higher Education pretends left-wing bias doesn’t matter because left-wingers aren’t “homogenous.” The Guardian newspaper raises alarm about an American right-wing group that encourages students to post instances of left-wing bias. Leftists should not feel smug. British leftism is a broad church (many Conservative MPs claim to be left of centre). However, the dominant messaging on campuses is Marxist: deconstruct systemic power, decolonise the curriculum, etc. This messaging once originated from freshers upwards but is now directed from institutional leaders downwards. At some universities, leaders collude with students to persecute staff.

Nevertheless, the extremists remain dissatisfied. A petition has proliferated “to stand in solidarity with those affected by the events in the US.” Most of the content was sourced from the Black Lives Matter movement in America. That same petition incudes a claim that “white members of staff need to be pushed into deeper consideration and action, over both conscious and unconscious ways in which many institutions in the UK – universities included – uphold racist ideas.”

To summarise: the petition moves from unquestioning solidarity with foreign Marxism, to making racist assumptions about whites at home, and thence to policing of thought. To wit: whites “need to be pushed” into a certain way of thinking – based on concepts with no scientific proof (two, in that one quote: unconscious biases; institutional racism).

The academics who publicly criticise Marxist, racist, and authoritarian messages on British campuses are rare

The academics who publicly criticise these Marxist, racist, and authoritarian messages on British campuses are rare. One type is the recently retired full professor with secure income from other media (Jeremy Black). Another type is a retired American professor with an honorary position at a British university (Mark Ronan). I am employed in America after studying and working on British campuses. Another lecturer is backed by lawyers from his Twitter followership and the Free Speech Union, after his employer’s escalation of his tweets to a dismissible offence (Mike McCulloch). Two critics of Kings College London’s bias and persecution chose pseudonyms. I, for one, am grateful that The Critic is one of the few media outlets to publish our criticisms of British academic bias.

Yet a denialist has emerged (that The Critic magnanimously published). Jason Reed’s first statement is a canard, and it goes downhill from there. “There is a strong prevailing narrative in British political discourse that, in our academic institutions, conservatives are oppressed…” Where is this narrative “prevailing”? Jason Reed provides no evidence except The Critic. The irony.

He repeatedly adopts that cultural Marxist habit of dismissing facts as “narratives,” without engaging the facts. The irony.

Then he escalates his hyperbole. He describes the “narrative” as “unscientific balderdash” with “no basis in fact whatsoever…But the narrative continues its rampage through the discourse uninterrupted…” Where is this rampage? He provides no evidence except a report from Policy Exchange. The irony.

Then a theory appears. This rampage continues, he proposes, “exactly because it is so enticing.” That’s it: his theory just petered out in one clause, as a fallacy known as circularity.

He skips from crimes against logic to crimes against empiricism. He describes the Policy Exchange’s report as “littered with basic statistical errors.” But he doesn’t describe any. He claims: “It has already been comprehensively deconstructed by various methodologists.” But his evidence for this deconstruction is a link to a tweet. This refers to a statistical correction that others in the thread dispute.

Jason Reed then claims that the report “has no qualms about twisting the truth in questionable ways in order to enhance its numbers, such as coding Liberal Democrats voters as left.” The irony. (The party itself reports that its members identify as left of centre.)

He moves on from twisting the truth to speculating: “It seems very likely that rather than beginning with a null hypothesis, the authors instead sought to prove their pre-existing views on this issue.” The irony.

Then he returns to his earlier statistical pretentions. “Any undergraduate statistics student could have explained the problems that would cause.” Jason Reed isn’t a statistics student (he’s currently studying sociology), and it shows. In the preceding sentence, he uses “null hypothesis” as a synonym of objectivity. In the following sentence, he offers one of the report’s recommendations as evidence for the report’s statistical problems. And in the sentence after that, he refers to a gender pay gap as evidence for sexism. He just will not engage with the evidence for academic political bias.

Using the gender pay gap to claim sexism is statistically, theoretically, and legally ignorant. The gap is an average, so proves nothing about differences in like-for-like positions; women choose to spend less time in the workforce, which is why the gender pay gap doesn’t arise until the normal age when British women start a family; and paying a woman less than a man for the same work is illegal.

Jason Reed’s crimes against statistics get worse. He then claims that only 70 of 14,315 professors in Britain are black and claims this proportion (0.5 percent) as evidence for racism. He links to a blog. This was not written by a statistician (Kalwant Bhopal is attributed as Professor of Education and Social Justice), and it shows.

Too many degrees these days show higher education is long on bias and short on skills

Bhopal links to a report by the Equality Challenge Unit, which actually shows 8.3 percent of British academic staff in 2015 were black and minority ethnic, and 9.8 percent were professors. Officially, counting everybody but whites, at most 14.1 percent of the population of England and Wales is BME. Since most Britons of these categories trace immigration within two generations, their representation in academic staff in 2015 was reasonable. Moreover, their proportion had almost doubled over the preceding decade. The Equality Challenge Unit warns that only 4.5 percent of staff are black, but, officially, Black African, Black Caribbean, and Black-other make up 3.4 percent of the population. Again, this is reasonable representation of a recently grown minority.

The claim that only 70 professors are black was selective: it counted British-citizen black full professors. The true total of black instructors is 2,820. The real crimes on this issue are ones of interpretation and representation. The datum was presented as evidence for white racism, without admitting that some non-whites, such as Chinese, are over-represented in academia. By the logic of the first interpretation, the unadmitted second datum is evidence for anti-white racism.

I could go on, but you get the gist. To sum up: a denialist of academic political bias invents a dominant narrative, ignores the evidence for the bias, airily dismisses a methodology he doesn’t understand, cites tweets and blogs instead of primary sources, takes a tangent to sexism, misrepresents data, and proves himself biased (which is the ultimate irony).

Yet the ultimate moral of this article is that in too many degrees these days (sociology being stereotypical) a higher education is long on bias and short on skills. That’s counter-productive for all of us.

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