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Political Diversity and the Daycare Wars

A new National Affairs essay highlighting some of the overlooked deficiencies of universal daycare (now a mainstay of the Democratic policy agenda), raises an interesting question: Why is there so little reliable public information on the costs and benefits of such programs?

There is more research than anyone needs on the dangers of certain fabrics used in car seats and backpacks or the risks of drinking from a garden hose or eating conventionally grown fruit. […]

When it comes to daycare — something that instinctively worries many parents — few are willing to take a hard look. The media, which seemingly report constantly on alarming new risks to children, rarely present the public with information from studies on the impact of daycare, especially when the findings suggest that daycare is associated with significant negative outcomes. […]

A deeper reason may be that the psychologists who study daycare have attempted to downplay or put a comforting spin on troubling findings. Just last year, an important study found that the culturally liberal outlook of almost all social psychologists had biased the studies and conclusions they reached. It is likely that a similar outlook, and in particular an unwillingness to present findings that may interfere with women’s progress in the workplace, has similarly harmed the work of developmental psychologists regarding daycare.

In other words, as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (the lead author of the study in question) put it on Twitter, “daycare research may be biased by fact that nearly all researchers want to reach conclusion that there’s no downside.”

The essay reinforces a point that we have emphasized in these pages before: The reason America needs more political diversity in the social sciences is not because moderates and conservatives in academia need an affirmative action-style spoils system. Rather, it’s because the knowledge-creation process—the system by which scientists create knowledge and that knowledge is disseminated to the public and incorporated into political decisions—functions better if there is disagreement and debate among the scientists. Findings are more robust if they have been repeatedly challenged and refined over time.

Conservatives upset with the state of academic research have often emphasized the way non-progressives are discriminated against suppressed in many fields. And that may be true. But a more productive approach may be to highlight the way that their absence undermines the integrity of science itself—and, in the long run, the quality of public policy decisions.

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