Wednesday, October 10, 2007

10-10-07: Diversity Study: It's Bad?

I read a fascinating article in the Boston Globe today, online, called "The Downside of Diversity" by Michael Jonas. It's about a study performed by a world-renowned social scientist named Robert Putnam. The study, which was done in 41 communities throughout the United States and included 32,000 people, resulted in some interesting findings regarding the effect of diversity in a community's "social capital." Putnam coined the phrase, which deals with "the social networks that are key indicators of civic well-being." After initially publishing his raw data in 2000, Putnam has spent the past several years going through the data to test the theory he came to at that time: diversity can often be bad for a community's civic well-being.

What's really perplexing about the study's findings is that it seems to go against the very fabric of the American social policy, which promotes diversity. But, it turns out, diverse communities often lack trust, charity, and optimism about society. It was often the case that people in diverse communities didn't trust people like them! For example, a black Baptist in a community with several other races and religions was less likely to trust a fellow black Baptist in that community than if they lived in a community with a majority of black Baptists. Less diverse communities seemed to have more overall trust, which is downright odd to learn.

An even stranger aspect of the study is that its facilitator, Putnam, is a liberal. His findings go completely against his beliefs; he's been getting complimentary e-mails from staunch bigots praising him for "proving that racism works." Part of the praise given to Putnam, as stated by a colleague at the end of the article, is that he was brave enough to publish the findings. That got me thinking: how many studies have been done that weren't published simply because the social scientists behind the study didn't agree with the findings? I'm sure it's worked against both liberal and conservative alike, but what if it was a ground-breaking study? What if it went against one specific thing that person believed in, but otherwise would have helped reveal a great truth? This begs the question of the role that cognitive dissonance plays in these studies. I think I'll e-mail Scott Adams about this...

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