Academics Against Evangelicals

Yesterday’s Washington Post reported on a new survey on attitudes of professors toward religion:

The other survey … found … an "explosive" statistic:  53 percent of its sample of 1,200 college and university faculty members said they have "unfavorable" feelings toward evangelical Christians.

This compares to 22% unfavorable for Muslims, 9% for non-evangelical Christians, and 3% for Jews.   Evangelical Christians make up 11% of faculty but 33% of the public. From the survey:   

Only 16% of faculty said they are Republicans, … In the public, 28% identified as Republican.  … Seventy-four percent of Republicans answered that they have a personal relationship with God … Only 36% of Democratic faculty said they have a personal relationship with God. … Faculty who identify as atheist/no religion were the most likely to agree that international trade agreements have favored large corporations. … A large majority [74%] of faculty believes that this country would be better off if Christian fundamentalists kept their religious beliefs out of politics.

This seems to confirm my post of last November where I mentioned:

This 2005 BE Press Forum paper suggests that [professor} discrimination against conservatives, women, and religious folks  is at least part of the explanation [of the high academic Democrat/Republican ratio]. 

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  • How is a (possible) academic bias against women part of an explanation for the high Democrat / Republican ratio in academia?

    Aren’t women much more likely to be Democrats (or at least vote for Democrats) than Republicans? That’s the information I’ve always read.

    I can understand the bias against evangelicals and conservatives contributing to this outcome, but any bias against women ought to produce the opposite effect, correct?

  • Matt, I didn’t mean to suggest that a bias against women was particularly related to a bias against Evangelical Republicans. A bias against women would mainly show that academic competitive pressures do not prevent substantial biases.

  • anon

    Faculty who identify as atheist/no religion were the most likely to agree that international trade agreements have favored large corporations

    There are correlations between the strangest things.

  • Aaron Davies

    anon: I don’t find the correlation particularly strange. Atheists are more likely to be left-wingers, and left-wingers are more likely to be anti-globablizationists.

  • TGGP

    Interesting that there was a more favorable attitude toward Muslims than evangelical Christians (who of course are viewed less favorable than non-evangelical Christians) when what by American Protestant standards would be considered “fundamentalism” is the norm in Islam. A much better post than I could make on the subject is this from Razib (an atheist Bengali raised as a Muslim) at Gene Expression.

  • My explanation of this seems significantly different than yours. You see this as evidence that there is bias against conservatives in general and evangelicals in specific. I think this reflects the perception that evangelicals are anti-science. If you work at an institution of learning, you probably won’t have a high opinion of people who are anti-science.

    Evangelicals have fought hard against acceptance of evolution, among other things, which would lead to such a perception. I’m not sure it qualifies as bias to have a low opinion of a group that has a low opinion of your life’s work.

  • Dave, in the 2005 BE Press Forum paper, “bias” is putting hiring weight on these demographic features, over and above their contribution to publication success. If the idea is that candidates’ “anti-science” attitudes are a poor signal of publication success, the paper suggests that this signal is being over-weighted. Perhaps you have the idea that each academic department is willing to hurt its own publication record in order to achieve a general social goal of punishing evangelicals?

  • It seems to me that there are two different pieces of evidence here, which you have connected: the survey at the top of the post, and the paper at the bottom.

    My comment was intended to address the reasons why scientists might dislike evangelicals, and why that might be a reasonable stance to take. Whether this goes too far in terms of hiring is a separate matter, of course.

  • Correlation does not imply causation, and these statistics do not confirm that “discrimination” against evangelicals explains the high democrat/republican ratio in academia.

    First off, having “unfavorable feelings” towards a group does not constitute “discrimination” against any individuals within that group. This is especially true when the target group has engaged in loud, nasty, and underhanded attacks against your profession, as Conservative Christians have repeatedly done in their attacks against biologists (evolution), doctors (Terry Schaivo), historians and politcal theorists. Claiming that academics are responsible for bias and discrimination is as ludicrous as claiming that the ill will many jews harbored towards germans after WWII is evidence of “anti-germanaic bias.”

    Secondly, there is a strong selection bias in those who would choose the academic path. You must be willing to sacrifice good pay in the search for learning and truth if you want to be a professor. Evangelicals already believe they have the truth (it’s in the bible), and conservatives are not known for their willingness to forego monetary reward. It’s no surprise that both groups are underrepresented in academia.

    Personally, I see articles like the Washington Post’s as yet another attack powered by bogus statistics in support of the anti-intellectual, anti-science agenda of the religious right. I’m surprised that you would willingly sign yourself up as a member of their echo chamber.

  • Zenkat, I use “discrimination” in the classic sense, of taking into account a feature, over and above the other available features, when making a decision. I’m not making a claim about whether that is good or bad.

  • TGGP

    Considering that the Germans lost and “winners write the history books”, shouldn’t we expect anti-German bias in accounts of World War 2? It certainly appears to me that Germany got a bad rap in World War 1 (they were forced to say the war was their fault when their conduct was not that different from the rest). I am not trying to make the absurd claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that Germany did not behave horribly throughout Hitler’s hold on power, but that what has been written about that period of time is likely biased against Germany. Restricting discussion to just the effectiveness of the German military and whether their soldiers were “unthinking drones”, I found this by Thomas E. Nutter quite good. It reminded me of the pap I had been told as a child about how stupid the British were in their red coats and marching shoulder-to-shoulder for the plucky non-uniformed American underdogs to easily pick them off. Then I actually learned some military history and found that British tactics were quite effective, they usually defeated the Americans, the Americans (notably the Continental Army) often the same tactics (and owe most of their most important successes to them) and the “irregular” forces were generally unreliable and accomplished little.

  • I still do not think that the polling data on its own shows that academics will use religious orientation “over and above” other available features when making decisions, especially decisions regarding hiring and promotions — unless you posit that people are incapable of overcoming their biases.

    When taken in combination with the content of the BE paper, however (which I did not read the first time around), I agree it makes a more compelling case.

    As an interesting side point, I was most convinced by the fact that the BE paper used a methodology I would normally find convincing in documenting racial or gender bias. In other words, I was swayed by the novel use of an argument that I originally heard in support of my own biases.

  • Jun

    I should be surprised. But I’m really not. I’ve always had an idea that facts like these were indeed true. It still upsets me to read something like this though. I wish they would just teach and leave their personal feelings aside.