‘We wanted to create a professional society and event for scholars in behavioral science who prioritize science and pursuit of truth,’ organizer said
A relatively new social science organization founded by free-thinking professors and intellectuals recently hosted its inaugural conference, dubbed “The Behavioral Science Speakeasy.”
“We wanted to create a professional society and event for scholars in behavioral science who prioritize science and pursuit of truth (rather than political goals),” University of Pennsylvania behavioral scientist and society member Cory Clark told The College Fix in a March 31 email.
The Society for Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences was launched last year. Its “speakeasy” conference was held Feb. 24 in Atlanta.
It offered “direct competition with that of The Society for Personality and Social Psychology” — the field’s major professional organization — Rutgers University psychology Professor Lee Jussim wrote in a blog post describing the event.
Jussim, author of the blog Unsafe Science, and psychology Professor Anne Wilson of Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, debated mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion policies in the sciences at the event.
“I’m a lefty with a very strong commitment to free expression & open inquiry,” Wilson, who is listed as a “founding member” of SOIBS, told The Fix via email on April 2nd. “I have known Lee for some time, have had many disagreements but also some major points of agreement about what to be worried about in the current political moment and in the ideological insularity of social psychology.”
The conference also included a series of short talks by Professors Michael Bernstein of Brown University, April Bleske Rechek of the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire, Joseph Cesario of Michigan State University, Mitchell Brown of the University of Arkansas, Calvin Isch of the University of Pennsylvania, and Gordon Pennycook of the University of Regina.
Roughly 70 people attended, Jussim told The Fix in a March 30 email. Although there was no official headcount, Jussim said this was the “upper range of what [they] were hoping for.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression primarily funded the event, FIRE Director of Faculty Outreach Komi Frey told The Fix in an email March 29.
“DEI statements were FIRE’s primary focus in collaborating with SOIBS,” Frey said. “We have extensive evidence that mandatory DEI statements for faculty hiring function as ideological litmus tests. We will oppose any screening mechanism used to weed out candidates on the basis of their political views, right or left.”
“FIRE is very interested in assisting SOIBS in organizing future events,” she said. “We’ve already discussed hosting a larger event at next year’s SPSP convention in San Diego.”
The Society for Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences describes itself as an organization for “scholars and practitioners in the behavioral sciences committed to free inquiry and truth seeking,” according to its website.
“In healthy scientific fields, ideas are debunked rather than censored, and their proponents are debated rather than punished,” its About Us page states.
“Increasingly, orthodoxies, sociopolitical dogmas, and ideological norms have captured the behavioral sciences, skewing research, practice, and policy work,” the group added. “We are dedicated to maintaining open inquiry, civil debate, and rigorous standards in the behavioral sciences.”
“Academia is filled with extremists and has way too many constituents embracing DDO (denunciation, demonization, and ostracism),” Jussim wrote in a July 2022 blog post announcing the society’s founding.
Seven academic psychologists, one professor of education reform, a psychiatrist and public intellectual and one graduate student founded the conference, according to Jussim.
Hundreds of scholars have joined the group, wrote Jussim, adding: “You do not need to be a behavioral scientist or professor to join.”
Clark said the speakeasy was a huge success.
“We received extremely positive feedback from attendees and many asked us to make it an annual event,” Clark said. “If we can get the funding to do it again, we probably will.”
“The event brought together people who, at least in private, had expressed concerns about the potential academic freedom violations of mandatory DEI statements. Many of these people were reassured to know that their concerns are shared,” she said.
Asked what the ultimate solution to encroachment of DEI in the sciences might be, Jussim told The Fix: “At the moment, I have no solution to this problem. I do, however, have a deadline for a chapter titled ‘The New Bookburners’ on far left academic tribalism and how it leads to censorship.”
IMAGE: Unsafe Science