Research Article: Larregue’s Critique of Cofnas et al. (2017): A Rejoinder

Date Published: March 12, 2018

Publisher: Springer US

Author(s): Nathan Cofnas, Noah Carl, Michael A. Woodley of Menie.


Data from the General Social Survey indicate that conservatives’ self-reported trust in scientists has steadily decreased since 1974. In Cofnas et al. (The American Sociologist, 2017), we suggested that this trend may have been partly driven by the increasing tendency of scientific institutions, and the representatives of such institutions, to distort social science for the sake of liberal activism. Larregue (The American Sociologist, 2017) makes three opposing arguments: (1) It is “very hard” to establish the charge of bias, especially since we did “not state what [we] mean by ‘bias.’” (2) We did not establish a causal relationship between scientists’ (alleged) liberal activism and conservatives’ distrust of science, and we ignored activism by conservative scientists. (3) We were wrong to advocate “affirmative action” for conservatives in academia. We address these arguments in turn: (1) Larregue does not engage with our main arguments that liberal bias exists in social science. (2) In recent years, prominent scientific organizations have, with great publicity, intervened in policy debates, always supporting the liberal side without exception. It is not unreasonable to assume that this would diminish conservatives’ trust in these organizations. Contra Larregue, in Cofnas et al. (The American Sociologist, 2017) we explicitly acknowledged that conservative scientists can also be biased. (3) We never advocated “affirmative action” for conservatives, and in fact we object to such a proposal.

Partial Text

Based on data from the General Social Survey (GSS), Gauchat (2012) reports that American conservatives’ trust in science has fallen significantly since 1974. GSS interviewers preface their question about trust in science with the following:I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?The interviewer then asks respondents about “the Scientific Community.” In 1974, 49% of self-identified conservatives responded with “a great deal” compared with 48% of liberals and 45% of moderates. Moderates started reporting less confidence in the late 70s and early 80s. Conservatives’ confidence dropped steadily, while liberals showed no discernible change. By 2010, 38% of conservatives, 40% of moderates, and 50% of liberals answered “a great deal.”

Citing Gross (2013), Larregue (2017) suggests that scholars in different fields have different views about the extent to which “politics should influence teaching and research.” Those in some disciplines, such as biology, tend to take an “objectivist stance,” denying that politics should have any influence on research. Scholars in other disciplines, such as the humanities, are “much more skeptical about professors’ capacity to keep politics at bay” (i.e., they accept that researchers’ politics can legitimately influence their work). Larregue writes:As Neil Gross found in the interviews he conducted, “sociology is best described as an epistemological hybrid, combining elements of objectivism and skepticism” (Gross 2013, p. 190). Interestingly, sociologists were further fractally divided between two scientific poles: those closer to the humanities or activist camp, who shared the belief that objectivism is an illusion, and those who endorsed a more professional and positivistic stance, for whom sociology should try to attain objectivity. This latter epistemological position was dominant among the sociologists interviewed by Gross: “For most American sociologists, in other words, objectivity remains an ideal toward which they claim to strive, even as they recognize the impossibility of ever fully achieving it” (Gross 2013, p. 200). This tends to contradict CCW’s [i.e., Cofnas et al.’s] claim that social scientists are consciously distorting their science to fit their agenda.




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