Friday, December 20, 2013

Are Mathematicians Liberals?

A speculative posting today… just something I'm wondering about:

I follow a LOT of professional (PhD.) mathematicians around the Web, and from their occasional dabbling in political/cultural matters, my strong impression is that the vast majority could be categorized as political "liberals." One of our icons, Martin Gardner, in his recent autobiography, unabashedly labeled himself a "democratic socialist" and cites Norman Thomas as one of his "heroes."
At first I thought this made simple sense (I mean after all, aren't all astute, thinking individuals, liberals ;-))) but then I began to wonder… most (though not all) of the mathematicians I follow are 'academic' mathematicians -- they have a working association with some academic institution. Perhaps it is the academic milieu that makes one liberal, moreso than the field of mathematics???
There certainly are 'professional' PhD. mathematicians who work for private industry; so I'm curious what their political leanings are, and if they differ much from the academic crowd. Any thoughts…?

If anyone cares to respond to any of the following questions, I'd be interested just out of curiosity (and of course you can be 'anonymous'):

1) First, does anyone disagree that the majority of academic mathematicians could be characterized as political liberals?

2) If you agree with that characterization, is there anything inherent to the advanced study of math that encourages 'liberalism' (or is it the result of completely separate factors)? i.e., does 'mathematical thinking' tend somehow to promote liberal thinking?

3) If YOU are a PhD. mathematician working in private industry (or know of some) do you find any significant differences in your political views and those of your academic colleagues? (and if so, any speculation on why that is?)

These are pretty wide-open questions and generalizations, so I don't expect precise, rigorous answers.
Also, I know there have been studies or surveys done of political attitudes broken down by professions; just don't recall if any have ever specifically included "mathematicians" as a category -- if anyone is aware of such a survey, available on the Web, let me know.


Evelyn said...

These are just my guesses, but I don't think academic mathematicians are any more liberal than other academic scientists, and I think we're probably more conservative than most academics in the humanities and arts. I do think it's very easy to be/stay liberal in academia for a variety of reasons. That said, I've met academic mathematicians with all sorts of political views.

"Shecky Riemann" said...

Thanks for weighing in Evelyn… always possible that the sample of mathematicians I encounter on the Web is skewed in some way, so I'm especially anxious to hear from those working in the trenches of mathematics what your own experience is.