Updated: Aug 22, 2018
By Zach Finzi
It can be argued that no individual has ever known the truth in all facets of life. This notion reflects the idea of our dependency on a diversity of views and the importance that lies within the coagulation of perspective in analyzing a subject for any purpose. Collective intellectual strength was observed by Francis Galton in a weight guessing contest of an ox at a county fair. What Galton observed was that the average of all the individual guesses was closer to the actual weight of the ox than any individual guess.
This phenomenon has been referred to by the author James Surowiecki as The Wisdom of Crowds, which is the title of his 2004 book arguing for intelligence in numbers and how it gives form to the world and society we live in. The notion of collective discovery and observation is a pervasive and imperative construct in the field of scientific discovery; such unification of multiple views is required to create the fullest understanding.
In a more recent analysis of the importance of collective views and their contribution to finding an accurate solution, Duarte et al. attempted to dissect political diversity and its importance in social psychology. Among the early stages of political discourse preceding the highly polarized 2016 presidential election in the United States of America, Duarte et al. published an article entitled, Political diversity will improve social psychological science (2015). The goal of the article was to discuss the recent political homogenation in the fields of psychology, sociology, and humanities among university professors, as well as the possible negative implications on the diligence and process of scientific analysis. The importance that lies with diversity of mindset within scientific analysis is the recurring presentation of skepticism in findings, theories, and current understanding. Such a process ensures a diversity of approaches, views, and concepts are examined, reexamined, and then compared to gain the fullest understanding possible under a given concept.
However, diversity is hard to achieve and uphold when a clear imbalance of mindsets presents itself among the driving agents of discovery. It is important to first note that Duarte et al. presents liberal to conservative ratios of 8:1, 5:1, and 10.5:1 among university professors in social science, humanities, and psychology respectively. High concentrations of one political ideology is argued to show the radical dominance of a singular moralistic perspective in the fields of such science. Moreover, Duarte et al. touches upon 3 risks that arise in the current shift in political influence; these risks state that political dominance can embed ideological assumptions and values in understanding of truth, the progress of the field, and the view of those who might disagree. Such risks would reduce the efficacy of speculation and diversity of exploration. These vulnerabilities would hinder validation of findings and understandings from multiple viewpoints, ultimately skewing the field. More specifically, if social psychology were to progress under the views of this political majority, implicit biases to ‘deviant’ political groups would be strengthened and true scientific validity would be lost. In the case of the ox, if all individuals determined their guess of the ox’s weight using the same method of observation and valuation of characteristics, the average of all inputs would be further from the actual value.
This lack of diversity can reflect the psychological construct of confirmation bias, where evidence is selected based off its ability to substantiate preexisting subjective beliefs. Biased progression of research can lead down a trajectory of understanding that fails to consider multiple alternative aspects and perspectives. Similarly, the ability for a minority opinion to influence the direction of social psychology will diminish in the wake of a majority opinion suffering from the psychological construct of groupthink, characterized by the reduction in creative, novel thought within a group. Absence of variety in this sense can stagnate valid scientific progress and give rise to deep rooted belief systems which diminish and silence speculation. Duarte et al. goes further to suggest that such blind validation could result in a ‘hostile climate’ for non-politically dominant thinkers. Discrimination of conservative ideologies as less intelligent and complex, along with disengagement of conservative undergraduates investigating current literature are likely to occur. It is highlighted that this may increase the cause of political domination by one ideology in current sociological and psychological disciplines.
In the face of impending feedback mechanisms of further polarization within the social psych community, what can be done to prevent biased progression? Duarte et al. implores for awareness of current polarized conditions, the welcoming of adversarial opinions, and the expansion of diversified methods of inquiry to combat tilted progress. Assuring an open mind in the scientific process is a definitive characteristic of a scientist. Further, objective practice should be the goal of every mind eager to examine the world around. Yet human beings are not perfect, and implicit biases can show themselves even in cases unknown to us. Therefore, a diverse collective of individuals and perspectives is required to combat the mystery of our nature and that of the cosmos beyond. This article by Duarte et al. provides clear arguments for the engagement in collaboration between ideologically unique practitioners of social psychology. Even more, it provides insight into our own biases and how we may affect our course of understanding the world and the importance of a diverse viewpoint.