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c h a p t e r n i n e Left Bias in Academic Bioethics Three Dogmas g r i f f i n t r o t t e r , m.d., ph.d. In what follows, I argue: (1) that there is left bias in academic bioethics, and (2) that academic bioethics’ left bias is a problem that warrants remediation. I use the term left bias to designate systematic favoritism toward political positions and ideas that characterize the “left” in the United States—i.e., the side occupied primarily by Democrats in what amounts to a two-party system. It may be the case that leftward drift in the academy has been accentuated during the Bush era, with even right-leaning scholars recoiling at President Bush’s conspicuous failure to exhibit scholarly virtues (such as excellence in argument formation). If so, this trend is countered to some degree by the sudden permissibility of conservatism in government bioethics under the Bush administration. For instance, the current President’s Council on Bioethics is right leaning, though it has a better mix of political viewpoints than any of the previous, uniformly leftward national panels. Conservative think tanks are also increasingly addressing bioethics issues—and employing conservative “bioethicists.” The conservative leanings of the President’s Council and the appearance of independent conservative bioethicists hardly undermines the thesis of this chapter, however , as for the most part they feature political operatives or scholars from primary fields other than bioethics. The American Society of Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) is the largest and most important society of academic bioethicists. Though there is a small contingent of libertarian bioethicists in ASBH, most of the country’s prominent social-conservative bioethicists do not belong to this organization . Regardless of the shifting patterns, my concern is not merely with the present slice in time. I claim that left bias in academic bioethics is sustained and stubborn . The usual way to exhibit bias, at least in the academy, is to exhibit inequalities ; and the most creditable way to exhibit inequalities is by reference to empirical data. But, for reasons clearly evident, there is not much data about the political convictions of academic bioethicists—bioethicists having little to gain by conducting a study exhibiting their own monolithic political orientation. We know, courtesy of a recent study by the American Council for Trustees and Alumni, that, across the spectrum from sciences to humanities, academic departments in America’s elite universities tend to be dominated by political liberals. By implication , bioethicists, who live mostly in the academy, are also probably liberals. My approach here is to dispense with opinion polls, data on political donations and party aªliations, and anecdotes about teachers kicking conservative students or applauding Al Qaeda. The anecdotes prove nothing, and the polling and demographics prove only what everyone with a whi¤ of objectivity already knows. Of course most bioethicists are political liberals. We know this in the same way we know that children prefer candy over brussels sprouts—we learn it from experience , without the benefit of formal empirical studies. Just pick up a scholarly bioethics journal and observe the claims that academic bioethicists think they can presume, without argument. These include dubious normative claims such as “justice requires universal access to a basic package of healthcare benefits,” “health inequalities in the United States reflect rampant social injustice,” and “abortion is a matter of conscience that individual women have a right to decide for themselves.” The mere fact that a majority of bioethicists fall to the left on the political spectrum does not demonstrate, however, that there is left bias in bioethics. That datum is consistent, for instance, with bioethicists being an extraordinarily impartial bunch going out of their way to give right-wing ideas a fair hearing—yet still tentatively concluding, in the majority of cases, that leftward ideas are better supported . My allegations of left bias imply that the left-liberalism in bioethics runs deeper than a mere coalescence of opinion around good arguments. I am concerned with forms of left bias that consist in deeply ingrained habits of feeling and thought that bioethicists rarely scrutinize critically. These constitutive psychological patterns are deeply at odds with the sentiments, ideals, and opinions that frame various forms of conservative, libertarian, or other right-wing discourse ; and as a result serious dialogue between right and left rarely occurs in bioethics. Of course, right-wing thinkers are occasionally invited to speak at acal e f t...


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