Saturday, April 28, 2012

Political Conservatives and Schools of Public Health

The LA Times has published a long obituary for my UCLA colleague Professor Rick Brown from the School of Public Health.  He was a national leader in creating new data sets such as the California Health Interview Survey.    For a taste of what types of questions were asked to individual respondents click here.   These data were useful for describing trends --- for example you could use them to estimate; "what share of 43 year old Hispanics in California have Type II diabetes?"   To see how he used these data in his own peer reviewed research, click here.  He was a very important scholar.  Data creation and sharing such data with the broader research community is a crucial public good.  I would guess that there are hundreds of peer reviewed published studies based on the data he created.

At the end of the obituary, the LA Times lists the set of politicians who Dr. Brown advised over the years.  They are all Democrats.   This lopsided distribution got me thinking.   Given that Schools of Public Health mainly focus on social justice, do any political conservatives choose to be students in such programs or to teach in such programs?  If such ideological sorting does take place (that liberals are vastly over-represented in both studying and teaching at Schools of Public Health), does this matter?  Does this lack of balance affect fund raising?  Does it lead to an over-reliance on the state and national government for funding?    When we think about a university's professional schools, does it matter if the Business School has a relatively large share of conservatives while the law school and School of Public Health have the opposite?   Is ideological balance important?  What is lost when an organization is "lopsided"?  I realize that these are touchy questions but as an intellectual, I have many questions.

As some of my readers know, I have published several papers recently on liberal/environmental ideology and its role in consumer choice.  The sexy stuff is my work that investigates the choice to drive a Prius or install solar panels but there is less sexy stuff such as day to day electricity consumption and modes of travel to work (i.e public transit).  A consistent theme in my work is that liberal environmentalists "walk the walk".  They are more likely to engage in voluntary restraint than political conservatives.  

I would hope that there will be an emerging economics and sociology literature studying career choice and ideology.  The broad research question here is to make progress on the causes and consequences of political ideology.  In this polarized age, this would appear to be an important question.