"Are scientists biased against Christians?" - from the Brownell and Barnes group


Sarah Brownell (PI) and Elizabeth Barnes (PhD fellow) may be familiar to many of you as they have done a lot of work exploring the teaching of evolution by Christian professors. I received an email from Barnes earlier today about another piece of work they have just published.

The last sentence of the abstract reads:

Taken together, these studies indicate that perceived bias against Christians in science may contribute to underrepresentation of Christians but actual bias against Christians in science may be restricted to a specific type of Christianity that scientists call fundamentalist and/or evangelical.

Their work suggests that there is an actual bias against students that may be perceived as “evangelical” or “fundamentalist”. Also from the abstract:

in Study 3, biology professors did rate a Christian student who went on a mission trip with Campus Crusade for Christ as less hireable, less competent, and less likeable than a student who did not reveal a Christian identity.

I’ll have to read this more closely, but I was surprised to see a conclusion of some bias. I try to attend at least one meeting per year and have never perceived any sort of negative response, despite my 16+ years at Houston Baptist (sounds rather fundy to me) University. Perhaps this has just been poor perception on my part, but I don’t think so.

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In the paper (study 3), they listed Campus Crusade for Christ as an extracurricular in the student’s application and also included a letter of recommendation from the organization for the student to really bring attention to her affiliation. Maybe if you only identify as a faculty from a Christian school (which is not super notorious like BJU or Liberty), most people wouldn’t even notice? Or maybe they wouldn’t assume that faculty at Christian schools are necessarily Christian themselves. After all there are plenty of nominally Christian schools which are practically secular. Additionally, it could be that there were a few people with slight negative reactions, but not enough that they would verbalize it openly.

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Perhaps that student was just less hireable, less competent, and less likeable. After all, we are talking about one student.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some bias against uber-conservative students who made a headache of themselves. In my own experience, there is more potential bias against political affiliation, especially fervent support, than there is religious affiliation. If you wear a MAGA hat and annoy the TA’s and professors all day with politically charged rhetoric . . . well, you won’t be that popular in most science departments.

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Good points. Plus, “Campus Crusade” for anything may raise red flags for an interviewer.

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That is a possibility, but with an n of 1 you really can’t say one way or another.

As a matter of fact, my little brother is in Cru, and I can’t imagine anyone having a bad thing to say about his character, ever. He is one of the sweetest people I know. I am extremely biased, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t imagine any interviewer walking away and thinking my little bro is unlikable. I have worked with quite a few undergrad students from a BYU affiliated school, and I have nothing bad to say about any of them. They were all upstanding people, and their talents in science were no different than groups of students from the local state school.

So there is at least one big bad atheist liberal scientist who has no problems or bias against ultra-conservative Mormon students. That should be worth something.

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I read this study. First off their data is dated and will skew their results substantially. Nationally today 65% Americans identify as Christians not 75% as in the 2007 data referenced and dropping rapidly. More importantly, more millennial’s identify as Nothing-in-Particular (49%) vs. Christian (46%). So what I think the authors are seeing is not bias against Christians in science but ambivalence of Christians in science. No longer can a mission trip with Campus Crusade for Christ be considered a good internship or qualification to a career in science. I don’t think this is bias at all. It is more likely that millennial’s are not getting a privilege or “a pat on the back” for being Christian. Most science department don’t really care (and shouldn’t care) what your religious beliefs are.

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