Our new hobby is writing letters to people that are sure to disregard us. Today's letter is to the Washington Times with regard to their coverage of a study on the political orientation of university faculty. We talk about it here and here, and Ezra talks about it here. The study itself is problematic (more on this later), but what caught our attention is that the Wash Times article quotes one of the study's authors as drawing conclusions that are the exact opposite of what he himself said in the study. Here's the letter, with emphasis added:
On March 30, the Washington Times published a piece by Joyce Howard Price, entitled “Study Finds Liberals Dominate Faculties.” The article quotes one of the study’s authors S. Robert Lichter as saying the following: "…this is the first study that statistically proves bias [against conservatives] in the hiring and promotion of faculty members."
However Lichter’s study itself says: “The results do not definitively prove that ideology accounts for differences in professional standing. It is entirely possible that other unmeasured factors may account for those variations.” (p. 13)
The claim Lichter makes in your article stands in direct contradiction to the statements he makes in his own study. Isn’t it the job of your publication to point out this sort of inconsistency?
Just after I sent this letter, I looked at the Wash Times article again and realized that not only had they not (apparently) read the study, or checked into potential issues with it, but they also hadn't even presented a opposing viewpoint. Just some stuff about the study's authors and then this:
Peter Sprigg, senior director of policy studies for the Family Research Council, said the study proves that "American academia is overwhelmingly dominated by liberal secularists."
He said it's time they engage in real "diversity" and hire faculty members who reflect the values and "conservatism of Americans at large."
And that's how the article ends. Fair and balanced.
[thanks to HWL reader Cheryl for suggesting we write this letter.]