Is Social Science Analysis Politically Biased?

In new analysis, Matthew C. Ringgenberg, Chong Shu, and Ingrid M. Werner ask if tutorial analysis reveals political slants. They develop a brand new measure of the political slant of analysis and research the way it varies by self-discipline, demographics, and the political social gathering of the sitting United States president. Lastly, they present that their measure is said to the researchers’ private political ideology, suggestive of an ideological echo chamber in social science analysis.

In our new paper, “The Politics of Educational Analysis,” we introduce a strategy to gauge the political leanings of educational analysis inside the social sciences in the USA. Our demand-based measure relies on the political leanings of public coverage assume tanks and the way they cite tutorial analysis papers and their authors. Assume tank studies usually cite analysis that agrees with their political pursuits, as we elaborate beneath. We discover that economics and political science analysis leans left, whereas finance and accounting analysis leans proper. Furthermore, this consequence persists even after controlling for the subject. For instance, analysis on govt compensation is extra prone to be cited by right-leaning assume tanks whether it is carried out by finance professors and extra prone to be cited by left-leaning assume tanks if carried out by economics professors. We additionally discover that the political slant of analysis is correlated with the analysis authors’ Ph.D. establishment, and analysis carried out outdoors universities at authorities businesses and the Federal Reserve seems to cater to the political social gathering of the USA president in workplace on the time the analysis is carried out. Lastly, our demand-based measure of the political slant of analysis is said to the researchers’ political ideology, as mirrored of their political donations.

It’s vital to know whether or not politics impacts the findings in tutorial analysis. Customers of educational analysis learn a tutorial article as a result of they need to study a specific subject, and they’re prone to replace their beliefs another way in the event that they know that analysis is influenced by the authors’ political leanings. The stakes are notably excessive for social science analysis, because it exerts a robust affect on coverage choices starting from college alternative on the native degree to fiscal and financial coverage on the nationwide degree. 

Whereas a number of papers look at the political beliefs of educational researchers based mostly on voter registration selections, petition signatures, and political donations, the mere truth {that a} researcher has political views doesn’t essentially imply their analysis is biased. Everybody—together with tutorial researchers—has political views, however it stays unclear whether or not these beliefs truly affect analysis findings.  Empirically, it’s troublesome to determine whether or not private beliefs affect the content material and use of educational analysis. So, to evaluate the political slant of educational analysis, we keep away from evaluating the political ideologies of the researchers themselves and as a substitute examine how typically assume tanks of various political ideologies cite these researchers and their work. We additionally don’t make any claims about whether or not a political leaning on a specific subject is nearer to the “reality.”

Think about two well-known economists: Paul Krugman and John Cochrane. Among the many papers by Krugman obtainable on the Social Science Analysis Community (SSRN), 92% of assume tank citations of Krugman’s papers come from liberal ones. In distinction, solely 27% of citations of Cochrane’s papers are from liberal assume tanks. Implicitly, our methodology assumes that assume tanks usually tend to cite findings with which they politically agree. Whereas it’s definitely attainable that an article can cite a paper negatively—as an illustration, to refute it—we discover such situations are very uncommon. In consequence, our methodology means that the findings in Krugman’s analysis are left-leaning whereas the findings in Cochrane’s analysis are extra right-leaning. We emphasize that this technique doesn’t point out that Krugman is essentially left-leaning in his political views, nor does it indicate that the findings of both researcher should not “goal.”

We classify assume tanks as both liberal or conservative based mostly on how typically analysis from these assume tanks is cited in speeches by members of Congress. As an alternative of limiting our definition of liberal or conservative to a binary classification, we make use of a measure launched by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal (1985) that ranges from -1 to +1 known as the NOMINATE measure. This measure assigns a steady rating to every congressperson based mostly on their voting file. A extra adverse rating signifies a extra progressive lawmaker; for instance, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (with a NOMINATE rating of -0.56) is extra ideologically liberal than West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (with a NOMINATE rating of -0.06). We calculate an ideological rating for every assume tank by averaging the NOMINATE scores of the speeches by congress members that cite the assume tank. For example, the conservative assume tank the Heritage Basis has a excessive NOMINATE rating of 0.26, whereas the progressive assume tank the Financial Coverage Institute has a low NOMINATE rating of -0.36.  

To summarize our methodology, we start with the political ideologies of members of Congress. We then consider the ideological leanings of assorted assume tanks based mostly on how continuously they’re cited in Congressional speeches from the 97th via the 114th Congress. Lastly, we measure the relative political slant of greater than 600,000 tutorial papers by analyzing how typically they’re cited in additional than 59,000 assume tank studies. Determine 1 beneath illustrates the distribution of political ideologies. As anticipated, the political ideologies of members of Congress (center panel) are bimodal because of the affect of two main political events. Nonetheless, the distribution of economists’ ideologies is single-peaked (proper panel). This means that economists should not clearly sorted right into a left-right divide. Nonetheless, the thick tails on both sides of the distribution point out the presence of economists whose analysis is overwhelmingly cited by assume tanks on one aspect of the political spectrum.

Determine 1: Distribution of NOMINATE SCORES

Be aware: The determine shows the distribution of NOMINATE scores for assume tanks (left panel), Congress members (center panel), and analysis (proper panel).

Are Economics Professors Liberal?

We use our technique to look at the political slant of analysis in numerous disciplines based mostly on the papers revealed within the prime journals in accounting, economics, finance, political science, and sociology. Desk 1, beneath, summarizes our findings for a number of of the journals in economics and finance in our pattern: the primary 5 rows present that papers revealed within the prime economics journals are cited extra by liberal assume tanks, whereas the final three rows present that papers revealed in prime finance journals are cited extra by conservative assume tanks. This sample can also be evident within the different financial and finance journals in our pattern, with their scores detailed inside the paper. We additionally discover that economics journals are cited greater than analysis in different social science disciplines, in line with T.V. Maher et al. (2020), and we discover that assume tanks usually tend to depend on tutorial analysis lately.

Desk 1

Be aware: The typical NOMINATE rating for assume tank studies is -0.051. Scores lower than -0.051 are extra liberal, and scores better than the common are extra conservative. Thus, the political slant of a tutorial paper or journal likewise displays this threshold.

After all, it’s attainable that finance professors write about matters which might be extra prone to curiosity conservative assume tanks, whereas economics professors write about matters which might be extra prone to curiosity liberal assume tanks. However even after controlling for the subject of every article utilizing Journal of Financial Literature (JEL) subject codes, we discover the outcomes maintain. 

Ideology of Demand and Demographics

Do variations within the political slant of analysis have a proof past tutorial self-discipline? Can they be defined by the researchers’ demographics, reminiscent of gender or their Ph.D.-granting establishments, or different components reminiscent of if the researcher works in academia or for banks or authorities businesses?


Our outcomes present that analysis carried out by ladies is extra prone to be cited by a left-leaning assume tank than analysis carried out by males: liberal assume tanks cite male authors 7% much less typically than feminine authors. This proof is in line with latest survey proof (e.g., Ann Mari Could et al. (2014), Harry van Dalen (2019), and Ann Mari Could et al. (2018)). Nonetheless, whereas surveys evaluate the ideological views of feminine to male researchers, they don’t present whether or not the analysis produced by ladies has systematically completely different political leanings than the analysis produced by males. Our findings present it does.

Ph.D. Coaching

We additionally discover that the political slant of researcher output is said to the ideological slant of the establishment the place the researcher obtained their Ph.D., controlling for gender and different components. For instance, a graduate from the College of Southern California’s economics division is greater than twice as prone to be cited by a left-leaning assume tank in comparison with the common researcher, whereas a graduate from the George Mason College’s economics division is related to a large shift to the suitable. After all, we’re cautious to notice that these outcomes may very well be on account of a range impact (e.g., liberal college students select to review in liberal departments) or a therapy impact (college students inherit their views from the division at which they research). We don’t examine these attainable relationships additional, and future analysis ought to discover the mechanism driving these outcomes.


As well as, we discover that analysis at authorities businesses and regional Federal Reserve banks is considerably extra prone to slant in the direction of the political social gathering of the present U.S. president, when in comparison with analysis carried out by lecturers at universities. Nonetheless, once more, we’re cautious to notice that the outcomes may very well be pushed by a wide range of choice or therapy results, and these explanations are troublesome to disentangle.

The Ideological Demand and Provide of Analysis

Lastly, we try and reply if the political slant of social science analysis would possibly mirror the political ideologies of the person researchers fairly than merely share an affinity with the political agendas of public coverage assume tanks. Particularly, is it the case that right-leaning assume tanks cite papers written by right-leaning students, and left-leaning assume tanks cite papers by left-leaning students? We discover that it’s.   

We look at the political donations of two,675 researchers who’ve being cited by assume tanks, and discover they’re associated to the common ideological rating of the researcher’s papers. For researchers that donate to a number of events throughout our pattern interval, we discover {that a} scholar who donates to the Republican Get together is 16% much less prone to be cited by a liberal thank. Once we embody all researchers in our pattern (a complete of 16,749), together with those that have by no means donated, the distinction shrinks to 10%.

General, the proof reveals that the political slant of analysis just isn’t merely a results of public coverage assume tanks in search of out outcomes that verify their ideological positions (the demand aspect), however that the political views of particular person researchers align with the content material of the articles they write (the availability aspect). In different phrases, there seems to be an echo chamber impact in social science analysis: left-leaning politicians cite left-leaning assume tanks who cite left-leaning students who assist left-leaning politicians, and right-leaning politicians cite right-leaning assume tanks who cite right-leaning students who assist right-leaning politicians. Social science analysis has an outsized affect on public coverage. The attainable existence of an echo chamber between researchers, assume tanks, and policymakers deserves additional consideration in our extremely polarized age.

Articles signify the opinions of their writers, not essentially these of the College of Chicago, the Sales space Faculty of Enterprise, or its college.

Originally posted 2023-11-15 11:00:00.