Academia’s rejection of ideological diversity has consequences

November 1, 2015

The Volokh Conspiracy

Academia’s rejection of ideological diversity has consequences

Jonathan H. AdlerNearly every institution of higher education champions diversity. There are good reasons for this.  Diversity of viewpoints, perspectives and experiences can enrich educational environments and facilitate critical examination of complex issues. Yet some forms of diversity are clearly more important to academic institutions than others.

Arthur C. Brooks writes in the New York Times:

Scholarly studies have piled up showing that race and gender diversity in the workplace can increase creative thinking and improve performance. Meanwhile, excessive homogeneity can lead to stagnation and poor problem-solving.

Unfortunately, new research also shows that academia has itself stopped short in both the understanding and practice of true diversity — the diversity of ideas — and that the problem is taking a toll on the quality and accuracy of scholarly work.

The ideological imbalance that pervades academia fosters groupthink and undermines critical thinking. The dominance of left-leaning perspectives in academic institutions compromises their commitment to open inquiry and effective education.

Among other things, liberals and conservatives alike can fall prey to motivated reasoning and confirmation bias. One benefit of ideological and viewpoint diversity is that it can provide a check on such tendencies. Writes Brooks:

But even honest researchers are affected by the unconscious bias that creeps in when everyone thinks the same way. Certain results — especially when they reinforce commonly held ideas — tend to receive a lower standard of scrutiny. This might help explain why, when the Open Science Collaboration’s Reproducibility Project recently sought to retest 100 social science studies, the group was unable to confirm the original findings more than half the time. . .

Brooks cites a recent paper from the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences documenting the causes and effects of the lack of ideological diversity in social psychology. While a large number of factors contribute to ideological imbalance, the authors cite evidence that conscious bias is among them.

The lack of ideological diversity is a particular problem for law schools as it leaves many law students unexposed to perspectives and arguments with which they will have to contend in the practice of law. Most legal academics are well to the left of those whom law students will represent, as well as to the majority of judges before which they will practice. One need not agree with one’s client or a judge to be an effective advocate, but it is important to understand the perspective of the position one has to represent — as well as the perspective of the other side. The best legal advocates fully comprehend the strongest arguments for the other side and are able to present arguments that can appeal to decision-makers who may approach difficult legal questions from a perspective quite different from their own. On many issues, however, the perspectives of legal academics are relatively monolithic and reflect little understanding of (let alone sympathy for) common right-of-center viewpoints.

Brooks concludes:

Improving ideological diversity is not a fundamentally political undertaking. Rather, it is a question of humility. Proper scholarship is based on the simple virtues of tolerance, openness and modesty. Having people around who think differently thus improves not only science, but also character.

This is true, but there is relatively little evidence that most institutions of higher education much care, and even less that they are doing anything about it.

*Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in constitutional, administrative, and environmental law at the Case Western University School of Law, where he is the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation.

Malaysia: Putting University Research under the Microscope

October 13, 2015

Malaysia: Putting University Research under the Microscope

by Murray Hunter

Why we are laggards compared to Universities in Asia:

  • We have a very low standard in the English language proficiency here in Malaysia and it is considered to be at a critical level which actually affects the well-being and international prestige of this country.
  • We have also a deficiency when it comes to thinking and solving problems. Analytical and critical thinking skills are very important as they help us to evaluate the problem and to make good decisions.
  • We tend to have mind-sets and value systems that are closed. By having a closed mind-set, we will not be able to accept feedback and learn from what others have to offer. We are not exposed to challenges or high standards and this is what makes us unable to cope with diversity.
  • Our poor communication skills also causes a breakdown in our productivity and this creates a poor work environment.

Malaysia is spending about 5.9 per cent of GDP on education and 1.13 per cent of GDP on research and development. However as at 2015, no Malaysian universities have made the top 100 of the THES global or Asian university rankings, or QS World University Rankings. This is in great contrast to universities with a similar start-up time frame in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, India, and even Saudi Arabia, making the top 100 in the Asian rankings over the last few years.

Although Malaysia’s ranking is high (33rd place) in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) world innovation index in 2014, the level of resident patent applications and grants is still relatively low, being ranked 44th. Patent applications have grown from 218 applications in 1999, to 1,199 in 2013, with only 39 granted in 1999, growing to 288 patent grants in 2013. When considering that 10 per cent of these applications have been made by only 10 companies in Malaysia, there is still a long way to go for Malaysian university research to have the impact that some feel within Malaysian Government circles is due.

Malaysian university researchers, according to a Malaysian Government bibliometric study in 2012, recorded an output of 29,815 papers, although these figures may have gone up since then. This placed Malaysia in 45th position in the world, but only 50th based on citations, which is a good guide to the usefulness of knowledge presented. In terms of the research impact measured by citations per paper, Malaysia only ranked 136. This is in contrast to Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan, which were ranked 46, 75, and 84th respectively. Even papers produced in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia had greater citation rates per paper than Malaysia.

Malaysian University Research

There are a number of probable reasons contributing to this poor performance. The first reason stems from the organisational structure of the Malaysian research community itself. Research has been organised into clusters with top down priorities formulated by ‘unknown sources’ within particular ministries. These priorities are not always in line with market or community needs. Most often, like the biotechnology plan, the lead time to create commercial and bankable projects is too long.

A Government corporation like the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation, controlled by bureaucrats is put in charge, where market needs often don’t make sense to the administrators. Projects are often kept in the hands of these corporations rather than commercialised, just to show the bureaucrats are doing their jobs.

Malaysian research is hindered by a lot of unnecessary costs, and bureaucracy. Although agencies like the corridor authorities were set up with the view to decentralising research and development, most initiatives are still top down and controlled by bureaucracy. These authorities are notorious in not talking to local community groups and develop strategies like paddy estates that local communities cannot accept, thus becoming ‘white elephants’. In more sinister terms, many of these research and development projects turn over community assets to government linked companies (GLCs), with little or any community benefit.

The second major problem is the nature of Malaysian academia itself. Research is a prerequisite to promotion within the Malaysian University system. This requires academics producing papers to apply for senior faculty positions. In some of the newer Malaysian universities, entering prototypes and products into technology and invention exhibitions is a way around producing papers. Consequently a large proportion of research funds go into making up promotion materials, travel, and accommodation, rather than actual research. Having a research grant is seen by many researchers as a means to travel, be it to an exhibition or conference in some exotic part of the world.

As a consequence, much university research output has little community or market relevance. The paper or prototype was produced to achieve a publishing KPI, or gain a medal at any of the international exhibitions around the world. Paradoxically, Malaysian researchers are travelling the world, but actually producing little, if any output of any commercial nature, even with the awards they are winning.

Many researchers with the above objectives in mind tend to work in isolation to industry and the community. Unlike Thailand, universities in Malaysia don’t have the same need to outreach to the community, so there are very few research projects undertaken within local communities. There is also very little collaboration with industry. This is probably not the complete fault of the researchers as industry in Malaysia, tends to be still unsophisticated when it comes to university collaboration.

As a consequence very few production prototypes ever get scaled up to commercial production. Even if there are willing parties, university bureaucracies often stall efforts to commercialize research with high financial demands, and lack of time due to other responsibilities like teaching by the researchers.

Many complex areas of research today, say in biotechnology, require teams of specialists to make specific disciplinary contributions to research. However, although in Malaysia we see many papers with multiple authors, most of them passengers. Deans, Vice Chancellors, or senior members of faculty are often put into paper authorships to curry favour for promotional purposes.

Malaysian universities have tended to put emphasis on producing large quantities of papers, rather than quality. Many academics are practicing ‘chequebook academia’ by paying to place articles in journals that can publish them within a month or so from submission. The quantity of paper output rather than academic weight is the prime KPI of Malaysian universities today.

In addition, many of the papers produced originate from the work of students, who may or may not have their name on the paper as co-author. The author has witnessed the ludicrous situation where many a Malaysian academic delivers a paper at a conference, but is unable to answer questions from the floor during question time. Some Malaysian academics are producing over 30 papers per year from this method.

Malaysian academics are very hesitant to take up alternative methods of research, such as ethnography and narrative in the social sciences. This is a symptom of a general will to innovate in the area of research. The preferred route is a safe one where other research tends to be duplicated within a Malaysian context. So in an engineering conference or invention expo, one will tend to see lots of solar panel concepts that have been revamped into new contexts, as an attempt to be novel.

Malaysian academics tend to follow local leads. If for example, Balanced Scorecard is popular at a particular university, then one will see a number of faculty members doing their PhD thesis on Balanced Scorecard.

Innovation is desperately needed in Malaysian university research, but the panels who vet research grants tend to be bitterly conservative and penalise any academic who tries to be innovative.

Malaysia needs to look at what China is doing with university research. It is quickly becoming a powerhouse, looking at contemporary problems and issues with strong research teams. The language barrier is being broken with good editors employed to work up papers to international standard.

Malaysian university research needs a paradigm change. Instead of following national agendas instituted by bureaucrats, bottom up thinking needs to be appreciated and accepted. Most technologies already exist, and don’t need to be re-invented. What is needed is applying these technologies to community and industrial problems that exist outside local universities.

Citations to research need reward rather than the production is raw papers. A realisation is needed that patenting concepts and products that have no commercial value is a futile pursuit, although it fulfills a university KPI.

Grant panels need to practice meritocracy, and grant fund to the most innovative rather than conservative.

Although overall research output is increasing from universities within Malaysia, emphasis must now be put on producing quality research, if Malaysia is not to continually fall behind its other ASEAN neighbours.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

Princeton don Angus Deaton wins the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics

October 13, 2015

Some background on  Princeton don Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel Laureate in Economics (

Nobel Laureate In Economics 2015Before the work of French economist Thomas Piketty transformed the U.S. political discussion on income inequality last year, Princeton economist Angus Deaton devised important new ways of measuring household consumption, living standards and poverty that shaped the current political economy debate.

Those contributions earned Mr. Deaton the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Sciences on Monday (October 12, 2015) from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The academy said Mr. Deaton’s contributions to the study of individual consumption had provided crucial insights for policy makers addressing economic welfare and poverty reduction.

Mr. Deaton, a week shy of his 70th birthday, was born in Scotland and is a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States. He earned his Ph.D. at Cambridge University and moved to the U.S. in 1983 to teach at Princeton University.

The Nobel committee highlighted three key questions that Mr. Deaton’s research had informed:

  • How do consumers distribute their spending?
  • How much do individuals save and spend their own income?
  • How should poverty be measured?

The academy described the academic contributions that Mr. Deaton made to economics, including models that challenged existing methods for how to measure consumer demand for goods and that improved the understanding of how individual consumption levels vary in ways that can’t be seen in aggregate.

Here’s one good example that the academy draws attention to in its summary of his work that provides a flavor of his contributions to the field:

For a long time, economists have labored with the idea that a country may become stuck in a poverty trap. Low incomes can result in such low calorie intake that people cannot work at full capacity—thus their incomes remain low, and so does their calorie intake. The question of poverty traps is important in designing international assistance to the poorest countries. If assistance is geared towards encouraging economic growth, but increasing income still does not lead to noticeably increased calorie intake, there is an argument for reorienting assistance towards direct food aid. Deaton’s research on the relationship between income and calorie intake has shed important light on this issue: increased income does indeed lead to more calories being consumed. On the other hand, the evidence does not support the hypothesis that malnutrition explains poverty. In other words, malnutrition is largely the consequence of a low income, not vice versa.

In recent years, Mr. Deaton has focused more attention on measuring and reducing global poverty, along with income inequality, while providing a particular emphasis on India and Africa.

He publishes a biannual column on developments in U.S. political economy and wrote a 2013 book on inequality. Those writings have covered a wide range of topics that include the need for regional price measurements, the risks of too much regulation in academia, the dark side of extreme income inequality that corrodes basic state institutions like the courts, and the failures of foreign aid to improve outcomes for the poor. One report on the minimum wage debate and the way it has divided the economics profession was written nearly 20 years ago, but the themes in it have aged little.

Angus Deaton of Princeton wins the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics

@The Washington Post

Angus Deaton, a Professor at Princeton, has won the Nobel Prize in economics for his research into how people rich and poor make decisions about what to buy and how much to save.

“I’ve always been interested in what makes lives better for people and how they behave,” Deaton said Monday morning in a phone interview with the Post. Deaton’s research has made diverse contributions to the study of consumer spending, with particular attention to the world’s poorest.

The Nobel Prize committee recognized Deaton for his “analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare” — a broad phrase to describe a broad body of research.

“His work covers a wide spectrum, from the deepest implications of theory to the grittiest detail of measurement,” the panel of Swedish economists wrote in its announcement of the prize.

“I always thought that because I’d worked on so many different things they would tend to pass me over,” Deaton joked. “But they did a wonderful job of sort of cobbling it all together and making it sound really integrated,” he said.

Deaton’s research into theories of consumption and survey techniques changed how economists think as well as how they conduct their research. His early work helped bridge the divide between those who study the choices of individuals and those who study the greater economic forces that stir countries.

In recent decades, he has spent much of his time using those ideas to investigate poverty in developing nations, especially India and South Africa. The prize Monday brings attention to the increasingly vigorous field of development economics.

“I’m so delighted, not just for myself, but that this sort of work is being recognized,” Deaton said by phone at a press event Monday.

Asked about the refugee crisis sweeping Europe, Deaton expressed sympathy for those who have been uprooted by poverty and war. “What we’re seeing now is the result of hundreds of years of unequal development in the rich world, which has left a lot of the world behind,” he said.

Deaton’s efforts surveying poor households — measuring malnutrition, living standards, and whether parents discriminate between boys and girls — has helped economists better understand those who live on less than a dollar a day. Through his research, often with the World Bank, he has been a first-hand witness to the decline of extreme poverty in recent decades.

At the press event Monday, Deaton expressed optimism about continued progress — but reminded the audience that several hundred million people still live in “something close to destitution.”

“You have to remember that we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “For many, many people in the world, things are very bad indeed.”

The Nobel prize in economics comes with an award of about $976,000, and most winners have been American. Edinburgh-born Deaton has joint British and U.S. citizenship. In 2014, economist Jean Tirole of France won the prize for research into market power and regulation.

The Big University

October 7, 2015

The Big University

by David Brooks

John HarvardJohn Harvard-Founder

“Education…means emancipation. “It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature.”–Frederick Douglass

Many American universities were founded as religious institutions, explicitly designed to cultivate their students’ spiritual and moral natures. But over the course of the 20th century they became officially or effectively secular.

Religious rituals like mandatory chapel services were dropped. Academic research and teaching replaced character formation at the core of the university’s mission.

Administrators and professors dropped spiritual language and moral prescription either because they didn’t know what to say or because they didn’t want to alienate any part of their diversifying constituencies. The humanities departments became less important, while parents ratcheted up the pressure for career training.

Universities are more professional and glittering than ever, but in some ways there is emptiness deep down. Students are taught how to do things, but many are not forced to reflect on why they should do them or what we are here for. They are given many career options, but they are on their own when it comes to developing criteria to determine which vocation would lead to the fullest life.

But things are changing. On almost every campus faculty members and administrators are trying to stem the careerist tide and to widen the system’s narrow definition of achievement. Institutes are popping up — with interdisciplinary humanities programs and even meditation centers — designed to cultivate the whole student: the emotional, spiritual and moral sides and not just the intellectual.

Yale CampusYale University@New Haven

Technology is also forcing change. Online courses make the transmission of information a commodity. If colleges are going to justify themselves, they are going to have to thrive at those things that require physical proximity. That includes moral and spiritual development. Very few of us cultivate our souls as hermits. We do it through small groups and relationships and in social contexts.

In short, for the past many decades colleges narrowed down to focus on professional academic disciplines, but now there are a series of forces leading them to widen out so that they leave a mark on the full human being.

The trick is to find a way to talk about moral and spiritual things while respecting diversity. Universities might do that by taking responsibility for four important tasks.

University-of-Chicago-Becker-Friedman-Institute-courtesy-Ann-Beha-ArchitectsUniversity of Chicago–Becker-Friedman Institute

First, reveal moral options. We’re the inheritors of an array of moral traditions. There’s the Greek tradition emphasizing honor, glory and courage, the Jewish tradition emphasizing justice and law, the Christian tradition emphasizing surrender and grace, the scientific tradition emphasizing reason and logic, and so on.

Colleges can insist that students at least become familiar with these different moral ecologies. Then it’s up to the students to figure out which one or which combination is best to live by.

Second, foster transcendent experiences. If a student spends four years in regular and concentrated contact with beauty — with poetry or music, extended time in a cathedral, serving a child with Down syndrome, waking up with loving friends on a mountain — there’s a good chance something transcendent and imagination-altering will happen.

Stanford@Palo AltoStanford University@ Palo Alto, California

Third, investigate current loves and teach new things to love. On her great blog, Brain Pickings, Maria Popova quotes a passage from Nietzsche on how to find your identity: “Let the young soul survey its own life with a view of the following question: ‘What have you truly loved thus far? What has ever uplifted your soul, what has dominated and delighted it at the same time?’ ” Line up these revered objects in a row, Nietzsche says, and they will reveal your fundamental self.

To lead a full future life, meanwhile, students have to find new things to love: a field of interest, an activity, a spouse, community, philosophy or faith. College is about exposing students to many things and creating an aphrodisiac atmosphere so that they might fall in lifelong love with a few.

Fourth, apply the humanities. The social sciences are not shy about applying their disciplines to real life. But literary critics, philosophers and art historians are shy about applying their knowledge to real life because it might seem too Oprahesque or self-helpy. They are afraid of being prescriptive because they idolize individual choice.

But the great works of art and literature have a lot to say on how to tackle the concrete challenges of living, like how to escape the chains of public opinion, how to cope with grief or how to build loving friendships. Instead of organizing classes around academic concepts — 19th-century French literature — more could be organized around the concrete challenges students will face in the first decade after graduation.

It’s tough to know how much philosophical instruction anybody can absorb at age 20, before most of life has happened, but seeds can be planted. Universities could more intentionally provide those enchanted goods that the marketplace doesn’t offer. If that happens, the future of the university will be found in its original moral and spiritual mission, but secularized, and in an open and aspiring way.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on October 6, 2015, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: The Big University.

Why Flying Blind Is Dangerous

September 23, 2015

The Decline of International Studies

Why Flying Blind Is Dangerous

Malaysia: Unity Government?

August 12, 2015

Gotch Ya, Najib

Malaysia: Unity Government

by John Berthelsen

Malaysia’s deteriorating political situation has driven two once-implacable foes – former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his onetime rival for UMNO party leadership Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah – together to try to form a unity government to remove current Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“There is a leadership crisis in Malaysia and the consensus is that only one candidate can end it,” said a longtime friend of Razaleigh who played a role in setting up a meeting between the two figures. “That is Ku Li [Razaleigh’s nickname], the only solution. The question is how to put together the mechanics of how it is to be done.”

Sources in Kuala Lumpur say Najib has dug in his heels and refuses to entertain the idea of stepping down voluntarily. It is believed that he has threatened to bring down other politicians and officials with him if he is forced out.

Friends and associates of Razaleigh have been trying for weeks to persuade him to join the effort to oust Najib. But the fact that the former enemies within the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) would seek common cause is an indication of how deep Malaysia’s political and economic crisis has become.

Dr M and Ku LiCan they form Unity Government

Mahathir and Razaleigh met Tuesday, August 11, the source said, adding that the biggest hurdle with be forcing a vote of no-confidence in the parliament.

The two believe they would have unanimous support from the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, which holds 89 of the 222 parliamentary seats although some Parti Islam se-Malaysia votes would be questionable after the fundamentalist Islamic party split earlier this year. Attempts to reach Pakatan officials were unsuccessful.

Parliamentary dysfunction

The ruling Barisan Nasional holds 132 seats, but UMNO has only 88 of them. A general election is not due until April 2018 – unless events overtake Najib’s defenses.

“The Parliament is dysfunctional in that the speaker [Pandikar Amin Mulia] is not a democratic speaker,” said the source, a constitutional lawyer. “He controls parliament on behalf of the ruling coalition instead of being a neutral speaker.   He won’t allow a vote of confidence on an incumbent Prime Minister who has lost the confidence of the people.”

However, with rank-and-file sentiment growing restive in the face of a financial scandal linking Najib to irregularities in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad investment fund, some of the component parties in the BN could be open to changing horses. The Malaysian Chinese Association, for instance, has grown disenchanted with UMNO’s increasing embrace of fundamentalist Islamic views and Malay-first rhetoric. Christian parties in East Malaysia could also be up for grabs.

How much real clout the two elderly politicians have is unknown. Although Razaleigh, 78, has retained his seat in Parliament, he has been out of a leadership position since 1987, when he challenged Mahathir for the premiership and lost in a battle that split UMNO and guaranteed their enmity. Mahathir, 90, remains a more potent force, but he has been attempting to bring down Najib for more than a year, largely without traction.

Declining fortunes

However, the economic situation may play as much of a role as politics in forcing the issue. Global Risk Insights, the international risk rating agency, warned on August 12 that the 1MDB scandal has “shattered business confidence in Malaysia” and that the government has been distracted as a result from dealing with economic issues like the impact of falling global oil prices on oil-dependent Malaysia’s government debt. Household debt is climbing.

The ringgit, having fallen through the psychologically important RM4:US$1 barrier, is one of the globe’s worst performing currencies. The raid on the currency from global traders appears to be picking up speed, with the ringgit weakening to RM4.25 to the US dollar before the central bank used enough reserves to drive it back down to RM4:03. Banks have begun to limit retail withdrawals to RM3,000 and currency traders say there is a shortage of foreign currencies as people seek safer havens in the dollar.

In the meantime, Najib may be losing his grip on UMNO. He still has the loyalty of a large number of the 191 divisional cadres, mostly through vast payments that provide them with electoral resources and jobs between elections, but the grass roots are another matter.

An extraordinary video went viral earlier this week, for example, of a young woman going postal on Najib during an UMNO women’s wing gathering in Langkawi, accusing Najib in a screeching voice of having “urinated on the 3 million UMNO members. He needs to be sent for medical treatment.” The video has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people.

Sleazy trail

BERSIH, the reform NGO, has ordered what it hopes will be a massive rally for August 29. Mahathir is urging people to attend and has suggested they bring water bottles to mop up the tear gas. The Police have threatened to block the rally.

The focal point of the whole mess is 1MDB, which was set up as a state-backed investment fund in 2009 with the advice of Jho Taek Low, the young Penang-born tycoon and friend of the Najib family. In the intervening years, the fund, as a result of what appears to be extraordinarily bad management, has run up debts that by some estimates have reached RM50 billion, an unknown amount of that unfunded.

Najib in anxiety

In early July, the Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal reported that US$680 million was transferred from unknown sources through a complex web of transactions to Najib’s personal bank account at AmBank in Kuala Lumpur prior to the 2013 general election. Sarawak Report has released graphic details on the flow of millions of ringgit through banks, companies and government agencies linked to 1MDB into accounts held by Jho Low, as he is known, and other accounts.

Najib has said the money was not for his personal use, leaving others to hint that it came from Middle Eastern sources to be used in the 2013 election. But sources have told Asia Sentinel that at least RM1billion flowed out from Najib’s accounts overseas. Neither the source of the money nor its final destination is clear. Certainly, given the relatively small amounts needed to fund electoral races in Malaysia, it would seem impossible to spend such a huge amount

On his blog, Che Det, Mahathir ridiculed the idea that the money came from unknown Arab sources, saying “his claim that Arabs donated billions is what people describe as hogwash or bullshit. Certainly I don’t believe it and neither can the majority of Malaysians if we go by the comments on the social media. The world had a good laugh.”