At my University, the faculty have had a recent “impromptu” debate concerning the need for “intellectual diversity” in the academy. While I normally would immediately jump onto this band wagon, I am recalcitrant. Let me explain why. I believe that diversity of ideas is perhaps the most important diversity we should seek. Now, our various cultures, ethnic groups, and such will strongly influence our ideas and our views, but it is the interaction of competing ideas that leads to growth. So why am I reluctant? Well, in this debate, it is boiled down to the simply Cartesian either/or argument, pitting political conservatism against political liberalism. I think, first, that most debates in the academy are not political. Well, at least, not debates or discussions relevant to our disciplines. Take this artticle for instance. Here we have the commonly accepted view of the creation of “crude oil” that posits that oil is truly a “fossil fuel” created from great pressures and ancient organic materials. Along comes another theory that puts forward the notion that it is not created in this fashion at all–that it comes from deep within the Earth.
LiveScience.com – The Mysterious Origin and Supply of Oil: “The idea that petroleum is formed from dead organic matter is known as the ‘biogenic theory’ of petroleum formation and was first proposed by a Russian scientist almost 250 years ago.
In the 1950’s, however, a few Russian scientists began questioning this traditional view and proposed instead that petroleum could form naturally deep inside the Earth.
This so-called ‘abiogenic’ petroleum might seep upward through cracks formed by asteroid impacts to form underground pools, according to one hypothesis. Some geologists have suggested probing ancient impact craters in the search for oil.”
So here we have competing ideas–a diversity in ideas that now can be put forward, challenged, and tested. Which is the conservative one, and which the liberal? Well, while one might actually be able to be labeled conservative (the older theory having the upper hand) neither theory is inherently “political.”
So let’s encourage diversity, let’s embrace diversity. But let’s do it as appropriate for our disciplines. Let’s follow accepted, rigorous methodologies, and let’s all work to expand our minds, and contribute to the body of knowledge, rather than close doors, close minds, and protect our limited views of the world.