Political Activism and Research Ethics

Journal of Applied Philosophy 37 (2):233-248 (2020)
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Those who care about and engage in politics frequently fall victim to cognitive bias. Concerns that such bias impacts scholarship recently have prompted debates—notably, in philosophy and psychology—on the proper relationship between research and politics. One proposal emerging from these debates is that researchers studying politics have a professional duty to avoid political activism because it risks biasing their work. While sympathetic to the motivations behind this proposal, I suggest several reasons to reject a blanket duty to avoid activism: (1) even if it reduced bias, this duty would make unreasonable demands on researchers; (2) this duty could hinder research by limiting viewpoint diversity; (3) this duty wrongly implies that academia offers a relative haven from bias compared to politics; and (4) not all forms of political activism pose an equal risk of bias. None of these points suggest that researchers should ignore the risk of bias. Rather, researchers should focus on stronger evidence-based strategies for reducing bias than a blanket recommendation to avoid politics.
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