Is Social Science Research Biased?

Thomas Wood, writing in the Washington Post last April, concluded that Trump voters were racist.  In an article titled, “Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism,” Wood used the “symbolic racism scale” to determine the presence of racism. The question is, does this method accurately measure anything?

According to the Musa al-Gharbi, a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in sociology at Columbia University, social science research is likely biased to the left. He calls such methodology as employed by Woods as too easily influenced by the researcher’s own political leanings.

Al-Gharbi says that politics is the process of hashing out how society should be arranged.  Sociology is the discipline of determining how society is arranged and making suggestions as to how it is best arranged.

As you might note, politics and sociology are very similar. Thus, if the discipline of sociology is dominated by one particular political point of view, its research might be biased. Are the social science disciplines dominated by one political point of view over another?

Al-Gharbi published an article titled “Race and the Race for the White House: On Social research in the Age of Trump.” His interest was to show how much of the work being done by social scientists during and after the campaign was fundamentally flawed.

In an interview conducted by Madeleine Kearns of The National Review, al-Gharbi told that he had observed analysts and social scientists who could not accept that Trump was a real candidate who could actually win the Republican nomination and then the election.  He believes this bias on their part affected their research.

Because they saw Trump as so beyond the pale, they just couldn’t imagine how any reasonable person could vote for him. Thus, those who did vote for him must be crazy, racist, sexist, or just plain ignorant. Instead of trying to genuinely understand why people voted for Trump, they tried to prove the voters bias.

The myth is that progressive/liberal voters are issue driven and more enlightened. According to Al-Gharbi, careful research reveals that progressive voters, on average, are no better informed on issues than conservative voters. Yet, when the overwhelming majority of social scientists are of one political persuasion, they perpetuate this myth and their science is used as a means to a political end. In other words, it is biased.

A case in point is Wood’s article and his use of the symbolic racism scale. Because people today will not come right out and say racist things as in the past – like they do not want people of color in the same restaurants – Woods promotes the idea of symbolic racism. Researchers look for a proxy that a racist would support but people of color would not. What the researcher picks as the proxy is where their bias is embedded in the research, al-Gharbi points out.

Is inequality a social problem that needs to be addressed? Absolutely. How do we address it? Those on the left have one set of ideas; those on the right a different set of ideas.  Social research tends to support the ideas from the left, but is that support objective? Not without an active interplay of the opposing ideas.  This active interplay will not take place without a growth in the number of political conservatives in the disciplines of the social sciences.

Unfortunately, students who go against the progressive/liberal line of thought are rejected.  A Black conservative student has “sold out” if he or she does not hold to the party line. A white conservative student is trapped in their “whiteness.” They are to be pitied and every effort brought to bear to deconstruct their ideology so it can be correctly reconstructed. There can be no active interplay of opposing ideas in this kind of atmosphere.

Social research is more subject to bias than other forms of research because its goal is so similar to the goal of politics. Yet, social science research is used with almost no hesitation by the academy and the media to shape its teaching and reporting. Americans are overall more conservative and more religious than most social researchers.  This gap must be reduced if social research is going to be credible and genuinely helpful.

1 thought on “Is Social Science Research Biased?

  1. Susan Robertson Gallagher January 20, 2019 — 2:31 pm

    Thank you for your sane, logical, and well articulated post. I personally think Donald Trump is a horrible person, but I am not entirely against his or the Republican Party stance on everything. Neither am I a Democrat. I disagree with much of what they propose for our country, too. I am like most people, probably. I don’t like being put into a category only defined by “others” who THINK they know me by articles written with unsubstantiated data. It’s too bad we can’t just get straight facts and
    both sides from the news media.


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