Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Diversity Scam

“Diversity,” in the academic context, is usually a euphemism for affirmative action, itself a euphemism for discrimination--variously racial, ethnic, gender or sexual preference based--in favor of groups viewed as disadvantaged. In the employment context, a diversity hire is someone hired in part because he is black, or she is female, or …. .

What I find particularly irritating about this usage is that those who adopt it are typically opponents of actual diversity. In the academic context, what matter are ideas. Two professors with different gender or skin color but the same views provide less relevant diversity than two professors of the same gender or skin color but sharply opposed views.

Supporters of “diversity” try to obscure this by arguing that a different racial or gender background leads to a different viewpoint. There may be cases where this is true, although it is hard to see its relevance to most academic fields. But in such cases, favoring prospective hires whose work shows a different and original viewpoint is surely more sensible than favoring members of minorities in the hope that they will turn out to provide a different viewpoint.

In fact, at least in my observation, the people and departments most inclined to favor “diversity” in the conventional sense are among those least likely to want to hire professors whose viewpoints differ from the consensus. What they want are people of the desired gender or skin color who agree with them. My standard thought experiment to demonstrate this is to imagine that, at some late stage in the search process, it is discovered that a prospective hire regarded as a strong candidate is a supporter, an intelligent supporter, of South African apartheid. Does the probability of hiring him go up or down as a result? I can predict, with little data but some decades of experience of the academy, that in any elite university and almost any department it goes sharply down. Yet that is a viewpoint to which almost no faculty member or student has been, or expects to be, exposed. Someone who actually believes in intellectual diversity should thus regard the additional fact as a plus, not a minus.

When I offer this thought experiment, a common response is that there are no intelligent supporters of apartheid, hence the additional information shows something wrong with the prospective hire. I take that response as evidence in favor of my thesis. Almost nobody who makes it has had the opportunity to argue apartheid with a serious, sophisticated supporter--indeed, I suspect many of them have never met anyone who would admit to supporting it at all. Yet we know that millions of white South Africans did support it for quite a long period; it is a considerable stretch to claim that none of them could have been intelligent and thoughtful. And, in my thought experiment, the supporter of apartheid has already demonstrated sufficient ability to make him a strong candidate before his unfortunate political beliefs are discovered. The confident belief that no reasonable person could support a position that many otherwise reasonable people did support is strong evidence of the failure to be exposed to a sufficiently diverse range of views.

Academic hiring is not the only example of hostility to diversity by people who claim to favor it. Consider the issues of home schooling and education vouchers. It’s pretty clear, I think, to anyone involved in the controversy, that one of the main objections to both is that they foster diversity.

The objection is not, of course, put in those terms. It is rather that both make it possible for parents with the wrong views--in particular fundamentalist Christians--to indoctrinate their children with those views. The clear implication is that it is desirable to make sure that all children get exposed to, perhaps even indoctrinated with, the current consensus views--the ones that they will be taught in the public schools.

If one believes that fundamentalists are wrong and the current consensus correct, it’s reasonable enough to want all children exposed to the latter. But even given that belief, it is a position directly opposed to diversity--a desire to lessen diversity by stamping out, so far as possible, those particular dissenting views. And in at least some discussions, the hostility to diversity is explicit; the argument is precisely that it is desirable to have a society whose members share a common set of beliefs. That is, I think, a defensible position, but it is bizarre to have it expressed by people who purport to consider intellectual diversity a desirable objective

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27 Comments:

At 7:15 AM, June 14, 2007, Blogger jimbino said...

Right, David.

Just look at the diversity on the Supreme Court.

Undergrad degrees:

Roberts: History
Stevens: English Literature
Scalia: History
Kennedy: Economics
Souter: Philosophy
Thomas: English
Ginsburg: Government
Breyer: Economics
Alito: Public and International Affairs

O’Connor: Economics

Wouldn't you'd like to see some scientists there once in a while?

 
At 7:48 AM, June 14, 2007, Blogger Rick and Gary said...

Exactly! On a vacation, my partner and I encountered a young woman who criticized our hometown of Boulder, CO as "not diverse"

It turned out that she understood the word diversity exclusively to mean black people. Great PC irony.

 
At 8:14 AM, June 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About the last paragraph of your post...There's a large difference between exposure and indoctrination. It's possible to go to public schools, be exposed to new ideas, yet still avoid being indoctrinated into the consensus view. On the other side though, it's much more difficult to adopt the consensus view if you never even know it exists, say if you're homeschooled in a fundamentalist household. The case certainly holds up that, if we want to increase the amount of diversity, then having home schooling parents indoctriniate their children is a good way to do so, but is being diverse, but at the same time ignorant of other views, valuable?

That being said, my characterization of homeschooled children not being exposed to other views might be a mis-characterization, but I think i'll go out on a limb here and say that in a fundamentalist christian home schooling situation, parents aren't encouraging their children to weigh options equally--presenting other views in a fair light.

 
At 8:55 AM, June 14, 2007, Blogger COD said...

Where exactly can we find a public school that is a bastion of free and open thought? The public school system is no better, it's just dogmatic about different issues.

 
At 11:08 AM, June 14, 2007, Blogger Swimmy Lionni said...

I think you overstretch "reasonability" in your apartheid example. Many apartheid supporters were indeed "otherwise" reasonable and intelligent, but I don't think it's hard to argue that, on the issue of apartheid, every single one of them was biased. People can be reasonable in general but completely unreasonable on any specific issue. (This is a large part of the thesis of Bryan Caplan's new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter.)

 
At 12:09 PM, June 14, 2007, Blogger phosphorious said...

Couldn't we define something like an "appropriate degree of diversity". A physics department might want to hire both supporters and critics of string theory, for example, because this is an appropriate level if diversity. . .but the would not want to hire an intelligent design theorist. That's beyond the pale of what is considered science.

So we might want diversity to an extent, in that we don't want there to be one approved way of life. But that doesn't mean just anything is allowed.


Of course, I suppose an "appropriate degree of diversity" is just another way of saying "lack of diversity".

 
At 1:04 PM, June 14, 2007, Blogger William Newman said...

Swimmy Lionni wrote "Many apartheid supporters were indeed 'otherwise' reasonable and intelligent, but I don't think it's hard to argue that, on the issue of apartheid, every single one of them was biased."

I thought apartheid was thoroughly odious, and I never ran into an intelligent supporter (only one useful idiot). But I have no trouble imagining intelligent supporters. I can even put a classic argument for inherited legal subordinate status into their mouths: without it, there would be so much instability that everyone, including today's serfalikes, would be worse off. And in South Africa's neighborhood, I think that argument actually had much more force than in many other cases where intelligent people make that argument. (E.g., the argument for allowing only very small numbers of immigrants into the US today.)

Compare the USSR. I don't know how broadly you are defining bias; do you think every single supporter of the USSR was biased? (And if so, should they have been excluded from tenured positions?) It's not obvious to me that it was more insane in principle to support apartheid than it was to support the USSR, and it was pretty academically respectable to support the USSR. Is there a first principles reason why one should be qualitatively more upset about subjugation based on inherited skin color than about subjugation based on inherited nationality? Perhaps one could try to argue that history conclusively demonstrates that subjugation based on skin color is more dangerous and harmful than subjugation based on nationality --- but that might be a more challenging project than the usual public school graduate would guess. (Not that there is any indoctrination in the public schools or anything.) And I certainly don't understand how to get from reasonable first principles to the fashion for being pointedly indifferent to requiring people to work and shooting them if they try to escape. South African sympathizers could at least point to border controls which were, as I understand it, clearly oriented toward throttling the flow of people who wanted in.

 
At 1:56 PM, June 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Friedman

The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 (an Act of the Scottish Parliament) defines ‘charitable purposes’ as including ‘the promotion of equality and diversity’ [section 7(2)(k)]. It is remarkable that a charity can promote two opposite and contradictory purposes at the same time: A fascinating example of doublethink.

 
At 4:39 PM, June 14, 2007, Blogger Rowan Manahan said...

In a Dublin hospital, two patients were sharing a room. They were both scheduled for surgery the next day. One was an Irish little old lady who was becoming increasingly anxious and reciting endless rosaries as the day wore on. The other was a Kenyan gentleman, who was also very anxious at the prospect of his surgery. Specifically, he requested that four bulbs of garlic be placed at the corners of his bed because he had been cursed with "bad ju-ju" and was afraid that he might not survive the surgery unless he could ward off the evil spirits that had been called down upon him.

See if you can guess which patient was referred for a Psychiatric consult?

 
At 11:08 AM, June 15, 2007, Anonymous Mark said...

One problem with David's call to use diversity of opinion in academic hiring is that it would give applicants an incentive to have outlandish opinions. The diversity of life experience that comes from having a particular skin color can't be faked.

 
At 2:44 PM, June 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

please turn on the little blogger function that allows e'mailing of posts. you can find it in your settings. thank you.

 
At 3:41 PM, June 15, 2007, Blogger ada47 said...

Had to laugh. Otherwise I would cry.
I was recently at a discussion of “diversity” when someone recounted a panel discussion she had attended about minorities in science. Someone had asked him if the panel was diverse. He said, “Oh yes, very diverse”. Another person who had attended the discussion shot him an annoyed look and exclaimed, “It was NOT diverse! There were no white people on the panel!"

 
At 3:52 PM, June 15, 2007, Blogger Matt Rognlie said...

"And, in my thought experiment, the supporter of apartheid has already demonstrated sufficient ability to make him a strong candidate before his unfortunate political beliefs are discovered. The confident belief that no reasonable person could support a position that many otherwise reasonable people did support is strong evidence of the failure to be exposed to a sufficiently diverse range of views."

Your thought experiment sucks. We could substitute "slavery" or "genocide" for apartheid, and your "logic" would still hold. If you think that's tenable, let me know.

 
At 4:23 PM, June 15, 2007, Anonymous Consumatopia said...

The point of diversity isn't a variety of conclusions, it's a variety of premises. We want diverse faculty because we want to know how people with different Bayesian prior probabilities will evaluate the same evidence. In the long run, as the evidence approaches infinity (and mortality approaches 100% as Keynes points out), then assuming that they are smart, honest Bayesians their posterior probabilities will asymptotically converge. If they diverge, then we know something's afoot.

The case for socioeconomic diversity is clear from this perspective--people of different races will start with different viewpoints, different preconceptions, even if, as they analyze the same evidence, their final conclusions approach each other.

The case for diversity in final conclusions is less clear. Perhaps they've reached a different conclusion because they're aware of evidence others don't see, or they started from a viewpoint that's been ignored by the mainstream academic culture. Or, perhaps they've reached a different conclusion only because you're reasoning process has been corrupted--either by lack of reasoning ability, or emotional attachment to their particular oddball conclusion. Or perhaps the original prior probabilities were simply beyond common sense. As the conclusions become more outlandish, the latter becomes overwhelmingly more likely.

Consider how it changes your thought experiment if the pro-apartheid candidate in question was actually a black South African who participated in the campaign to end apartheid, and only after it ended changed their mind to regret ending apartheid. That would be a totally awesome candidate. Your original candidate is more likely than not a crank of some sort.

I'm not saying you're a crank, but whining about a lack of "intellectual diversity" is the sort of thing cranks do.

 
At 6:34 PM, June 15, 2007, Anonymous TGGP said...

Matt Rognlie: Your counter-examples would be telling if we accepted the premise that we should exclude academics who hold "immoral" (I'm not putting the word in quotes because I think those positions are actually moral but because I think nothing is) views, but I think that was just what Friedman was arguing against. There is no objective way of determining which issues are okay to disagree over and which are not. We might say that students will not want to attend if such a teacher is present, but then we would hold student demand over diversity.

consumatopia: What's the difference between a premise and a conclusion? In Bayesian terms the "posterior" generated after exposure of evidence will later be a "prior" before the next piece of evidence is made clear. There is no guarantee that the views held by a professor when they are hired will stay constant, and I don't see any reason why I should care about what premises people had when they were growing up rather than what they had when they were hired. If we only hire people who share the same view on something, then we are SELECTING CONCLUSIONS, and not mixing a diverse bunch of people with different priors who will later approach each other's viewpoints.

 
At 8:39 PM, June 15, 2007, Anonymous Consumatopia said...

The line between premises and conclusions is kind of hazy, but things that are unchosen--like race and your parent's income--are surely prior rather than posterior. Black and white people necessarily start from different premises--or at least, different viewpoints--but don't necessarily reach different conclusions.

Diversity of conclusions isn't really worthwhile. Just have everyone draw lots to choose what opinion they'll have tomorrow, and then you'll have maximum diversity of conclusions--i.e. perfectly random noise that never converges on anything.

Diversity of premises, diversity of evidence, diversity of viewpoints, diversity of life experience--THOSE are useful. Those might show us something that the rest of us have missed.

We care about the views they had growing up because we don't want to select conclusions (as you apparently do) we want the best means of reaching future conclusions. So we look at the process of reaching the conclusion, rather than than just the answer they came up with. Cultural and socioeconomic diversity is prior, and therefore about selecting process. Diversity of ideas is posterior, and therefore about selecting results.

 
At 12:31 AM, June 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is news ?

 
At 6:20 PM, June 16, 2007, Blogger William Newman said...

Consumatopia writes 'I'm not saying you're a crank, but whining about a lack of "intellectual diversity" is the sort of thing cranks do.' and 'Diversity of premises, diversity of evidence, diversity of viewpoints, diversity of life experience--THOSE are useful. Those might show us something that the rest of us have missed.'

Say, hypothetically, that someone thought that *you* were a crank? First you turned our host's call to take others' calls for seriously and literally into his "whining about a lack of diversity" and criticized him for it. Then you yourself (don't whine, true, but instead solemnly) pronounce on the practical importance of promoting "socioeconomic diversity" over more conventional measures of general ability. I don't see how you can reconcile the two (but maybe that's a non-problem since I don't see how you can justify the first even in isolation). Perhaps at least you could justify the second? For example, do you have a favorite example of relative failure by institutions that didn't place enough importance on promoting by race and class instead of by ordinary estimates of competence?

If someone questioned my view that institutions can damage themselves pretty badly by preferring race and class over conventional measures of ability, I might point to the situation in American science before the Second World War, when there was a surge of highly-qualified immigrants, especially Jews. I'm not sure what'd be the best quantitative measure of scientific output and influence to check quantitatively, but the general informed opinion (from historians and from the kinds of scientists who still cite papers of the period in their research papers) seems to be that the institutions which turned up their noses at Jews lost a lot of ground (as institutions like Columbia and Berkeley became associated with oh-so-inappropriate-for-Harvard names like Rabi and Oppenheimer). Can you think of any historical pattern that you think dramatically supports your point of view?

If perhaps you haven't ever thought about it and are only now starting your search for evidence to justify your preferred conclusion, I suggest that perhaps the further you get from fields where one can easily judge "useful" in terms of measurable intended outcome (like chess teams, engineering development groups, hedge funds, or sports programs), the better luck you might have of finding an example you can hold up as a relative success for your preferences.

 
At 10:30 PM, June 16, 2007, Blogger Jonathan said...

Matt Rognlie: 'We could substitute "slavery" or "genocide" for apartheid, and your "logic" would still hold.'

Indeed it would. Throughout much of human history, slavery was conventional practice and was accepted as normal and moral by virtually everybody. Genocide would also, I think, have been regarded as acceptable in the right circumstances. To regard both practices as thoroughly immoral and beyond the pale is a matter of contemporary moral fashion -- although in these respects I'm a child of my age and agree with the current fashion.

 
At 11:22 PM, June 18, 2007, Anonymous Bob said...

Ha! Change the word South African to Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) in the text below and it has already happened, a thousand times over!! Indeed, a very powerful, highly intelligent argument by the Pro-Apartheid debater would consist of exactly one word: "Mugabe".

Bob in Texas

Consumatopia had said, "Consider how it changes your thought experiment if the pro-apartheid candidate in question was actually a black South African who participated in the campaign to end apartheid, and only after it ended changed their mind to regret ending apartheid. That would be a totally awesome candidate. Your original candidate is more likely than not a crank of some sort."

 
At 1:27 PM, June 19, 2007, Anonymous Mark said...

William Newman said: "do you have a favorite example of relative failure by institutions that didn't place enough importance on promoting by race and class instead of by ordinary estimates of competence?"

How about large American banks for most of the 20th century? They hired only the top students from elite universities. These schools had a cultural bias toward accepting rich WASPs. Consequently, banks discriminated against minorities seeking loans, even though some of these minorities were good credit risks. Everybody lost because of a lack of diversity.

 
At 1:46 PM, June 24, 2007, Anonymous Economist said...

Anonymous: ideally, this would be a charity protecting "equality [in rights and freedoms before law] and diversity [of opinions and beliefs]." An example of the former is NOT barring women from voting, blacks from public schools and gays from marriage. An example of the later is the First Amendment and protecting Philippe Rushton (researches possible gender differentials) from angry protesters or funding anti-defamation campaign for Larry Summers' balanced remarks.

Matt Rognlie: I don't know much about genocide research but I know that Prof. Robert Fogel at UChicago described slavery as an economically viable institution in a very intelligent way. While he certainly wasn't supporting it because of moral qualms but it's an example of the kind of diverse academic views 'academic freedom' is supposed to protect.

Mark: Let's dissect "an incentive to have outlandish opinions." Academic hiring should not/does not function like David Letterman's Top 10 list or Oprah's show. People don't get hired based on opinions that are unsupported by evidence (as opposed to clinical trials, experiments, studies, peer-reviewed publications etc). So no one is going to score bonus points for saying "I was Post-Doc at MIT in 2004-2006 and I support cold-fusion research" (unless they actually revolutionized physics, in which case they would get the Nobel prize immediately). So what happens when we just consider people who had outlandish assertions *and* managed to prove them? We get creative visionaries like Nicholas Tesla and Max Plank. Thinking outside the box IS a good thing!!

 
At 11:39 PM, June 28, 2007, Blogger John Fast said...

Matt Rognie wrote:

"Your thought experiment sucks. We could substitute 'slavery' or 'genocide' for apartheid, and your 'logic' would still hold. If you think that's tenable, let me know."

I agree that the logic still holds. I don't believe that David was saying that we *should* hire people who support apartheid, slavery, genocide, or young-Earth creationism; I believe he was merely saying that, if someone refuses to hire such people, they shouldn't claim to be in favor of diversity, because they set limits on it.

 
At 11:20 PM, March 16, 2009, Blogger moto said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7:40 AM, March 10, 2010, OpenID obbop said...

"Diversity is our strength" is an oft-heard mantra spewed by the well-indoctrinated herd of USA humans whose cognitive abilities I tend to have many doubts about.

I am convinced the USA is in the throes of class warfare and that the "love of diversity" is one of many tactics used by a small elite class to divide and conquer the masses of commoners.

"There's class warfare, all right, Mr. (Warren) Buffett said, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

The Ivy League professor's paper questioning the veracity of the promulgated but seldom-defined wonders of diversity was shouted down by a mass of intellectuals.

Perhaps those so admiring of "diversity" should wander the barrio streets or dwell within the urban slum and ride the city busses with the crowds of "diverse" teenagers when high schoolers head home and experience the joys of diversity.

 
At 11:11 PM, December 11, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I`ve been told that organized jewry are the primary proponents of "diversity".They produce the pro-minority and anti-white/european propaganda used to instill collective guilt in caucasian americans,and they also are the ones who continually agitate for more diversity legislation.Do jews have altruistic motives in doing this? No.They do it because it serves their agenda against their hated and perceived "enemy",the white european christian.The goal being to not only make whites feel guilty for the alleged racial sins of their ancestors,but also to deprive whites of any positive sense of their own culture or a desire to promote and protect their own group interests.In this way,whites will be more inclined to basically give up their own culture and country to the non-white dregs of the third world and thus fulfill the jewish quest for domination of western society.

 
At 6:37 PM, March 10, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diversity functions as a victim cult.

The leaders of Diversity lecture people that the following is always true:

white oppress black
men oppress women
gringo oppress hispanic
straight oppress LGBTQ
gentile oppress jewish
occidental oppress asian
healthy oppress disabled
settler oppress native american

Affirmative Action is only a very small part of the Diversity scam. Entitlement privileges are the objective of all Diversity people.

Diversity victim class people are the organized majority of voters in the US and Israel.

 

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