Okay, start with this. (The suggestion will come as a total shock to you, I’m sure.)
Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science
Behavioral and Brain Sciences / Target Articles Under Commentary October 2014
• Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014
Abstract: Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity—particularly diversity of viewpoints—for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and socialpsychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: 1)Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years; 2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike; 3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking; and 4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? I’d be curious to know what evidence they looked at, what support they found for it, more about their methodology, and precisely what their recommendations were. I reckon quite a few of us here would be. And believe it or not, however much my instincts and experience cause me to suspect that they might very well have quite good evidence, and that their methodology may well be faultless, by this point I’ve just seen too much lousy science in my life to ever, ever, ever take it on faith that a study was done well simply because it sounds kind of right, based on my experience and gut feeling.
So I’d quite like to read the whole thing.
But I can’t, of course, because it costs $45 to buy this article, and $5.99 to rent it. And frankly, I’m a little unclear on that “rental” concept—what does that mean? This isn’t a book. It’s not like you take it out of the library and then give it back. Once I’ve got it, I’ve got it, right? I want to keep it, I just copy it, no? I mean, is it supposed to be an honor-code thing? Is the idea that I promise only to read it for 24 hours and then never look at it again?
But that’s not the main point, just a minor point of perplexity.
The main point is this. I think Cambridge University Press is entirely entitled to be in the business of selling articles. I do not think it reasonable to expect that their editor-in-chief, deputy editor-in-chief, their copy editors, their production manager, their web designers, their customer-service representatives, acquisitions editors, graphic designers, proofreaders, webmasters, human resources managers, accountants, administrative assistants, and fact-checkers work for free. Indeed, the 14th Amendment settled that question rather definitively.
Nor do I believe the researchers who wrote this paper should have done so for free, nor do I believe they would have done so, even if I believed—which I do not—that they should have. They have families to support, presumably, and even if they didn’t, it would be their business, not mine, if they said that they had Ferraris to buy, and thus did not care to work without adequate pecuniary compensation.
The proponents of the open access movement have a serious point. The paper above may not be an important key or clue to progress in science. My guess is that it probably isn’t even much of a clue at all. But other papers, equally beyond the means of all but the very wealthy and well-connected, very well may be. And we need to have some reasonable way widely to share the results of that kind of scientific research.
Right now, only the kind of people to whom $45 is spare change, or those affiliated with elite research institutions, can read an article like this. This is a problem not least because of the very phenomenon the abstract above suggests. But it is a problem for a much more significant reason. Remember these guys in that ashram near Pune? I think it’s safe to say that they don’t have the resources to shell out that kind of money, either—and that they’re nowhere near the kinds of institutions that do.
Again, I’m not sure that’s a huge problem in the case of the article above (and particularly not sure since I haven’t read it). But is a very obvious problem if you are, say, a highly talented teenager who studies at an ashram-lab in a small village 40 kilometers from Pune:
The objective of the school is to teach children, mainly from the nearby rural areas, skills which have direct relevance to the family occupation, primarily agriculture and related vocations . The children develop the traits of entrepreneurship right from the school as it is mandatory for them to earn Rs. 1000 per month through the skills that they are learning currently.
NB: Rs 1000 is worth about $16. Not even half an article. And say, for example, that you are a highly talented teenager who is trying to figure out how, for example, to build something like this:
A new prototype design … for fabricating hand-operated de-husking machines. This low cost machine will be useful for preparing brown rice (non-polished rice as traditional rice pounding ) without grid (electricity) power. Dr. B.S.K.K.V , Agriculture B. Tech students Sanath Prabhukhanolkar and Nilam Shirsat worked on this prototype designing during their summer training at Vigyan ashram campus.
Now, I imagine it would be quite useful to those students to know what, exactly, has been tried before, how well it worked, and whether that research suggests anything of relevance to the task before them. I am not certain of this, but I also suspect they are not likely to have the kind of pocket money that would allow them to spend $45 dollars to read articles that might, if the abstract is to be believed, contain a hint—although certainly a promising abstract is no guarantee, so really, it would be a gamble. Nor, I suspect, are they apt to have access to the kinds of research institutes so amply endowed that subscribing to all of these journals would be a trivial matter.
It is genuinely not in the public interest for access to research results to be highly restricted and available only to the most narrow of the economic elite. Who knows what those kids could do, given full access to the body of knowledge that’s already out there? Who knows how this might benefit not just them, but us? After all, if they manage to solve this problem, its implications and applications could perhaps be sufficiently wide to benefit—even greatly to benefit—those whose diets are not highly-reliant on hand-pounded rice.
Or it may not be. There’s no way to say. But it is certainly fair to say that it’s a lot more likely that kids like that could go somewhere useful, fast, if they had low-cost access to journals where relevant research might be published; and safe as well to say that the faster they go somewhere useful, the better off we all will be.
So what’s the solution? I can’t say I have one. Someone has to pay for the kind of research published by Behavioral and Brain Sciences. It’s simply not going to arise by means of a flock of benevolent winged science fairies.
Should the American taxpayer pay for it? No, he should not; or certainly, not more than he already does. Taxation is theft. The less of it, the better. This is all the more true because the vast, indeed the overwhelming amount of research published in journals such as this is a complete waste of time and money, if not utterly fraudulent, and among the tasks I least trust my government (or anyone’s) to do well is to discern what’s worth funding—especially in such fields as behavioral and brain science. But hardly limited to those.
Not a new problem, precisely. Economists have devoted many a page to these kinds of questions. But it is one I find quite vexing, and a genuine dilemma. We can’t make people work for free. But it is still very much in our interest that what they do be given to others, sold at rates well below what others are willing to pay, or in many cases, sold at rates that they would be willing to pay if they could, but those circumstances are right now so far from imaginable that it is ludicrous even to imagine them. What might make them less ludicrous? Massive advances in science and technology. What might help to stimulate those advances? Access to the massive body of research they right now can’t afford to read.
So what would you consider the appropriate balance? And who would you wish to adjudicate these questions, assuming they are to be adjudicated case-by-case?
Is this question just too hard? I suspect so. But it nonetheless requires a solution. So what might we be missing here?