Heterodox Academy is a consortium of over 2,000 academics who are interested in promoting viewpoint diversity on college campuses. Yesterday HA published a piece criticizing Vox’s obvious bias when it comes to campus speech issues.
The HA piece is a detailed response to two recent pieces at Vox. The first of those, by Zack Beauchamp, is titled, “Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions.” But as HA author Musa al-Gharbi points out, Beauchamp doesn’t appear to have understood the data he chose to use to make his point:
Beauchamp apparently failed to grasp that Dr. Ungar’s Medium post focused on a subset of the total FSP data. He also misread the purpose of the essay, making inferences about the overall prevalence of free speech incidents on campus which the data did not speak to at all– and made sweeping claims on the basis of this data despite Dr. Ungar himself advising against this. Beauchamp did not give due diligence to the phenomenon he was trying to explain (i.e. the overall prevalence of campus incidents nationwide) – indeed, he did not even make full use of the sources he cited in his own essay, let alone doing basic research beyond.
Beauchamp also made another claim in his piece, i.e. that ” left-wing professors were more frequently dismissed for their speech than conservative ones.” Again, here’s HA on the data for that claim:
Sachs’ data do not show that “left-wing professors are more likely to be dismissed for their speech than conservative ones.”…
In fact, Sachs’ data show the opposite of what Beauchamp claimed: conservative professors are actually more likely to be fired for political reasons.
There is about a 10:1 ratio of liberals to conservatives in social research fields, which most of the professors in Sachs’ data seemed to hail from…
Therefore, even being as generous as we can be in terms of the fields we include (all) and the years we look at (restricting to 2017), we see that a conservative professor is, on average, nearly twice as likely to be fired for political speech than a liberal professor is – in the very data that Beauchamp cited.
Oops! It’s also worth noting that some of the left-wing professors who have been fired were chased out by other left-wing professors. For instance, Bret Weinstein, formerly a professor at Evergreen State College, is a self-described progressive. Similarly, the professor who students at Reed college shouted down last year is a “female, mixed race, American and Peruvian, gay, atheist.” So I suspect a percentage of the left-wing professors being pushed out are being pushed out by the same left-wing students creating other problems on campus.
The Heterodox Academy piece then moves on to another Vox piece from March of this year by Matt Yglesias. Yglesias’ piece, “Everything we think about the political correctness debate is wrong,” makes the argument that students on campus today are actually a lot more tolerant of speech than they were in the past. The data Yglesias relies on is summed up in this graph:
But as HA points out, this data doesn’t prove modern students are more tolerant of views they actually disagree with:
Contemporary young people are much more likely to champion LGBTQ causes (for instance, roughly 3 out of 4 Millennials support same-sex marriage) – and as reported by Yglesias’ own publication, they are significantly more likely to identify as LGBTQ themselves — than previous cohorts of youth. Hence contemporary young adults are significantly more likely to simply agree with a homosexual speaker.
Similarly, young people today are more supportive of communism and socialism (hence more likely to *agree* with a communist speaker) than previous cohorts. They are less trustful in democracy and liberalism—and more receptive towards a military coup – than any other generation of living Americans, or even any other previous cohort of young people on record (hence more likely to *agree* with a militarist). They are less personally religious, and more skeptical towards organized religion than any other contemporary or previous cohort (hence more likely to *agree* with an anti-theist).
I might quibble a bit on the idea that modern students are more likely to approve of militarists (that seems odd to me), but for the most part, modern students are different but not any more tolerant of hearing from those they actually disagree with. On the contrary, the same data suggests they are less likely to want to hear from such groups.
Remember, Yglesias argues that contemporary youth are actually more willing to put up with views they disagree with than they have been in the past. In order to actually establish whether this claim is true or not, we have to look at groups that contemporary young people are equally or less sympathetic towards than they have been in previous years. If we observe an increase in willingness to let these people speak, it can legitimately be interpreted as an increase in tolerance…
Contemporary young adults are significantly less likely to endorse “racist” views than any other U.S. age cohort. Well, are they more likely to give the racists a platform? No. They are less willing today than they ever have been to allow it. This is actually far more significant than it may initially seem — because the sphere of what counts as “racist” has also radically expanded – from David Duke in the 70’s to things like “microaggressions” today. In other words, not only are contemporary youth more willing to censor those they deem racist than previous cohorts, but they are likely to brand a much wider range of speech as “racist” (and therefore, worthy of censorship).
So here’s the overall conclusion the author reaches about Vox:
Coverage on campus speech by Vox writers seems to regularly suffer from bias. In particular, data are interpreted in such a way as to advance authors’ preferred narratives on the issue (i.e. “it’s largely a Republican hoax”). There is disregard for apparent confounds, and occasionally, glaring errors in the presentation and analysis of the cited data.
It’s worth noting that the author of the piece, Musa al-Gharbi, seems to be something of a fan of Vox’s work in general, so this isn’t coming from someone looking to do a takedown on the whole site, just someone noting that on this issue Vox seems a bit overeager to reach a particular conclusion.