Unbiased Research on Race Becoming Taboo

As an aside to Hans’ column…. Much of what we believe to be true about race relations and racism in the United States comes from the social sciences. The hard sciences and the social sciences alike suffer from a “replication crisis,” that is, independent researchers cannot replicate the findings of the original experiment. The ability to replicate findings is crucial for moving past headline-grabbing announcements to something resembling a scientific consensus. The problem is most acute in the “soft” sciences such as psychology. The more ideologically fraught a subject matter is — and what is more fraught than the issue of race in America? — the more suspect it should be. The replicability crisis is compounded by the ubiquitous media practice of cherry picking studies that fit preferred narratives and failing to warn readers of any caveats or reservations. Be wary of any media coverage of a study that neatly fits preconceived political narratives. — JAB

by Hans Bader

It is now dangerous for an academic to conduct or even discuss research that shows an absence of racial bias in the criminal justice system. An Asian-American college official was forced to resign his position after discussing such research, as The College Fix reports in the article, “Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks.” As it notes:

Michigan State University leaders have successfully pressured Stephen Hsu to resign from his position as vice president of research…The main thrust to oust Hsu came because the professor touted Michigan State research that found police are not more likely to shoot African-Americans….

“I interviewed MSU Psychology professor Joe Cesario, who studies police shootings,” he wrote in an email to The College Fix… Cesario is the Michigan State psychology professor who co-authored the study published July 2019 that debunked the notion that police are more likely to shoot African-Americans. Hsu wrote on his blog that the paper concluded “there is no widespread racial bias in police shooting.”

Cesario’s research had been cited in a widely shared Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism” that was published June 3 amid racially charged protests against the death of George Floyd in police custody.

As Professor Hsu notes, “Cesario’s work (along with similar work by others, such as Roland Fryer at Harvard) is essential to understanding deadly force and how to improve policing.”

The reprisals against Professor Hsu help explain why there are fewer and fewer new studies finding an absence of bias in the criminal justice system — even as societal racism continues to diminish, according to surveys like the General Social Survey. Researchers now have an incentive to conduct misleading studies, that deliberately cherry pick data and omit relevant variables, in order to reach a conclusion that is less risky to their career: that discrimination is widespread.

Researchers used to regularly find that the criminal justice system was fair to racial minorities, in arrests and sentencing. In 1994, federal statistician Patrick Langan looked at the nation’s 75 largest counties and found “no evidence that, in the places where blacks in the United States have most of their contacts with the justice system, that system treats them more harshly than whites.” As he noted in “No Racism in the Justice System,” “Many studies have been conducted that show no bias in the arrest, prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing of blacks.”

Similarly, statistical expert Stephen P. Klein of the RAND Institute studied California’s state criminal justice system and found that criminal sentencing in California was racially fair and non-discriminatory. (See Stephen P. Klein, et al., “Race and Imprisonment Decisions in California,” 247 Science 812 (1990)). That was the opposite of what Dr. Klein expected to find. He had served as an expert witness for civil-rights groups in landmark cases such as Serrano v. Priest — and studied criminal justice on the recommendation of the liberal California ACLU, which sees racism everywhere. But his statistical analysis debunked claims that the criminal justice system was systematically racist.

These studies involved painstaking statistical analysis that sought to take all relevant factors into account. The more factors a researcher takes into account, the more accurate a statistical analysis becomes.

But the more factors a study takes into account, the more time and money it takes to do the study. So researchers are tempted to cut corners by omitting factors or variables that are hard to measure, or that the researcher suspects may not be all that important.

There is another, even bigger reason for researchers to wrongly omit relevant variables or rely on incomplete data: Taking into account more data or variables can end up debunking claims of discrimination, rather than providing the “proof” of discrimination that progressive officials and journalists want. Studies frequently allege discrimination precisely by ignoring key variables. Their authors are rewarded by being given tons of favorable publicity; or having their studies lead to social change.

A classic example is the gender-bias study used to give female faculty pay raises in Smith v. Virginia Commonwealth University (1996).

The study claimed female faculty were being paid less than men by VCU due to sex discrimination. But it turned out that the study ignored relevant factors actually used by the university to set pay — such as scholarly productivity, and whether a faculty member had previously served as an administrator. If these important variables had been included in the statistical analysis, there would almost certainly have been no finding of discrimination.

But these important variables were excluded, leading to the university giving its female faculty pay raises to compensate for the non-existent discrimination. Male faculty then sued, alleging that because there was no discrimination against women to remedy, the gender-based pay raises discriminated against men.

A federal appeals court ruled that the male faculty could sue the university over the gender-based pay raises. It concluded that the omission of these “major” variables (such as productivity and administrative experience) meant that the gender-bias study was flawed. After its ruling, the university paid off the male faculty to settle the lawsuit, because it was fairly obvious the university would lose.

The appeals court was interpreting the Supreme Court’s murky and vague decision in Bazemore v. Fridaywhich says a study should include the “major” factors and variables to be admissible in a race or sex discrimination case.

But what makes a variable major versus minor? The Supreme Court’s vague decision itself gave little guidance as to what is a “major” variable that must be included, versus a minor one that can be excluded.

That vagueness has been the source of endless mischief, and incentivized countless bad studies. A researcher who wants to engineer a false finding of discrimination can just omit variables that are supposedly “minor,” but which, if included, would show that a racial or sexual disparity isn’t due to discrimination, but rather, something else (like fewer minorities than whites having the qualifications needed for a job, or more blacks than whites having a prior criminal record).

The researcher’s false finding of discrimination can then be used to justify doing things that progressive officials are eager to do, like creating an affirmative action plan, or awarding gender-based pay raises.

For every flawed study alleging discrimination that is successfully challenged in court because it omitted major variables, there are countless others that are never even challenged, because such a challenge is just too costly. To challenge such a study, it is often necessary to pay an expert witness to explain to the court why the omitted variables are major rather than minor, and thus should have been excluded.  Such experts usually charge at least $750 per hour for their work, and take many hours to complete and write up their analysis.

If you are a researcher, why conduct a painstaking statistical analysis that takes all relevant factors into account, and thus finds no racism or sexism, when you can make your job easier and reduce your workload by deliberately omitting relevant factors, and thus reach the politically less risky conclusion of “discrimination”?

The challenge to the flawed gender-discrimination study in Smith v. VCU was successful only because the challengers lucked out, and received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free legal assistance from the Center for Individual Rights.

Hans Bader is an attorney living in Northern Virginia. This column was published originally at www.libertyunyielding.com.

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49 responses to “Unbiased Research on Race Becoming Taboo

  1. First, there is no such thing as unbiased science generally speaking, but certainly not unbiased social science.

    Second, he wasn’t asked to resign from his VP position because he stumbled upon an uncomfortable truth. He was asked to resign because he’s a eugenicist who believes in long discredited nonsense about genetic essentialism (https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1270829003130261504.html). The fact that someone who defends scientific malpractice that was taken to the woodshed and given a sound beating 40 years ago by Stephen Jay Gould was able to get a job directing research funds in the first place is mind-blowing.

    Third, given that misogyny then and now limits women’s opportunities to get published and cited (productivity) and their likelihood of promotion (administrative experience) the study was right to ignore those factors since the lawsuit was about pay not fixing all of academia.

    • Your first statement is not generally true. It is certainly true. The presence of the observer either affects the observed, or the observer is affected by observation — or both.

    • I hope that BR is not going to succumb to the practice, now commin in everyday conversation and most PG movies, of using the “F-word”. I guess I am old fashioned, but it still makes me cringe to see it in print. Surely, there are other good adjectives that could have been used.

      • I happily removed it. UAGTW does it again and we’ll stop it. It actually made the author look like an idiot so I did that person a favor.

      • Because it’s you making this request and I respect your rigor of thought – even when I disagree – I will modulate my vocabulary moving forward.

        • Gee, I hope you meant me, but suspect you didn’t. I’m lobbying Jim hard to eliminate pseudonyms. You are at least helping me with that effort.

          • Nancy_Naive

            He capitulated. To continue to beat him is just piling on.

            Besides, I’m sure there are better specimens to foster your premise.

          • UpAgnstTheWall

            Nancy, Steve has a problem with me generally. This isn’t the first time he’s singled me out for opprobrium I doubt it will be the last.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        I used to love the old 1979 one season only Battlestar Galactica. With Lorne Greene it was basically Bonanza with lasers and space became the new Ponderosa. Since the show was on during family hour the writers substituted that naughty word with “frack”. I remember that my grandmother Whitehead did not approve of that either.

    • Hsu is not an (expletive deleted) eugenicist. Quite the opposite. His research would be more supportive of an in vitro approach.

  2. Hsu is a well-respected scholar who brought hundreds of millions of research dollars into MSU. He denies ever supporting eugenics, and it seems hard to believe that the university would have hired him in the first place if he had supported it.

    The majority of the appeals court obviously disagreed with UpAgnstTheWall about the relevance of productivity and administrative experience in setting pay, in Smith v. Virginia Commonwealth University. The majority viewed productivity as central; the concurring opinion of Judges Williams and Wilkins focused on administrative experience.

    The liberal dissenters did indeed claim that productivity should be disregarded — based on the bizarre claim that if productivity differs between men and women, productivity itself must be sexist to consider. But that idea is empirically wrong: in many workforces, women are either more productive on average than men, or less productive on average than men. This is the whole reason why the Equal Pay Act permits productivity-based wage differentials.

    That’s true even for the most objective measures, such as piecework, not just in measures of scholarly productivity, where one could argue that quantity should matter less than quality. One objective measure of quality would be the number of citations a scholarly article gets, but it’s worth noting that in academia generally, female faculty don’t outperform male faculty on that measure.

  3. As usual, Mr. Bader has written in a way as not show the whole issue.

    Mr. Hsu is still a tenured member of the faculty. He did not lose his job – he actually resigned from his position as VP of Research and Graduate Studies after hundreds of MSU professors argued for his removal – based on his well-known views about race and intelligence.

    https://statenews.com/article/2020/06/michigan-state-geu-calls-to-remove-vp-research-administrator-stephen-hsu?ct=content_open&cv=cbox_latest

    so yeah, this is about science….

  4. The above article correctly states that Hsu was forced to “resign from his position as vice president of research.” It does not say that Hsu became unemployed, and indeed, indicates that Hsu is a “professor.”

    There is no reason to believe that the GEU’s erroneous claims about Hsu are accurate on the subject of race and intelligence. Nor is there proof that the university’s administration believed those claims. Many other sources, such as The College Fix, do not appear to credit those claims.

    Given how much money Hsu brought in to MSU as Vice President for Research, it would be surprising if MSU attempted to fire him from the faculty. Doing so might violate the First Amendment, since vastly more contentious speech has been deemed by judges to be protected by academic freedom.

    Unfortunately for Hsu, college administrators have fewer First Amendment rights than faculty do. New York courts found that administrators like department chairmen can be removed for the very speech that faculty cannot be punished for if they are not administrators (compare Jeffries v. Harleston with Levin v. Harleston).

    So the mere fact that MSU can remove someone from an administrative position doesn’t mean it can remove him from the faculty.

  5. Mr. Hsu has left a large record of his views including on Twitter and GEU provided links to them.

    People can judge for themselves.

    The “police study” is at the tail end …

    I still think Mr. Bader did not portray the issue fully and accurately.

    • If there’s no unbiased science, I guess there must be an exception for climate science.

      • The entire point of peer review and consensus based study is to mitigate the effects of bias. Climate change research has mounted these hurdles, eugenics and race/gender essentialism haven’t.

        • yup. Consider “research” and “studies” that don’t have peer review, replication and some level of consensus from others in the same field to be – OPINION!

          And that INCLUDES gathering various stand-alone “studies” (survey) , none of which has undergone peer review, replication and consensus as a group of opinions.

          Even consensus itself is not a slam dunk – there can be consensus about PARTS of a study and strong disagreement about other parts of it. Written Conclusions are usually carefully written so as to not say more than they really should.

          Building Consensus and Peer Review

          I’m not sure Stephen Hsu thinks that way – he’s got his views and he tries to support them but it looks like he’s not really interested in the process of peer review, replication and consensus.

          https://www.e-education.psu.edu/marcellus/node/789

          • UpAgnstTheWall

            It’s funny that people still use Einstein as an example of someone whose work upended known science when that isn’t true at all. Newtonian physics still stand more mesoscale interactions, he just expanded known science at a metascale level. General relativity built on the geometric work of Riemann and the mass-energy equivalence is essentially the kinematic energy equation scaled up to lightspeed conditions. He also did very little work exclusively alone even if he was able to pull all the threads together for solo publication.

            And your broader point about consensus is bang on; that’s why meta-analysis is so important. Here, too, climate change study stands on its own two feet while eugenics is propped up on the shoulders of men who couldn’t find a date to prom.

  6. Crazy ain’t stupid. Not our Crazy, just crazy in general. As long as the data is representative, large enough to support the statistical conclusions, there are no discrepancies with his assumptions, or his work efforts, then he got results that are counterintuitive. Switching doors after Bob Barker shows you the goat is counterintuitive and also the winning move. “My whole life lies waiting behind door number three.”

    Of course, the stretch of “just shootings” as proof of a lack of racism may be the big stretch. Applying a particular result from a particula and rare outcome to the general population trait is suspect to me. There are way many more police interaction outcomes than “shootings”. Arrests, warnings, stops, searches, beatings, tazings, etc., and here’s the big rub, the raw data on shootings has been well documented as being sketchy and incomplete at best.

    Once his work gets a proper review… until then, it’s just interesting.

  7. The most fascinating aspect of all of this is that Hsu probably would be (is, based on his blog musings) a proponent of selective abortion, unfettered stem cell research, and human cloning, and suddenly *poof* he’s the Right’s poster boy for faculty practices.

  8. I note Bader cited several researchers, not just the one. I know nothing about this professor or his views. Certainly the nature vs. nurture debate is an old one. But I’m familiar with how the academic community treats dissenters to the Consensus on Climate Catastrophe, and this person might (might) be getting the same treatment.

    The whole idea of doing such studies is nuts, whether seeking to prove or disprove bias. No police officer should use excessive force against any person. A finding that they are not doing so with any racial bias misses the point that it should happen far less often than it now does. Even if all the studies Bader cites are true, it still doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem. Sometimes the focus on race is a distraction from the real issue.

    • Racial bias is relevant, because racism is deeply pernicious, and also, because racist police departments can lose their federal funds as a result of racist polices or practices. Excessive force of any kind may violate the Fourth Amendment, but racism also violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

      Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division took the rather dubious position that not just racial double standards, but mere “disparate impact”, violated federal law, in its Ferguson report. That position, if accepted, would allow the federal government to withhold federal funding from basically every police department in America, because even non-racist police departments with black police chiefs arrest more blacks than whites, per capita, and arrest fewer Asians than whites, per capita, due to the lower Asian crime rate, and the higher black crime rate. Indeed, in a footnote in its Ferguson report, the Civil Rights Division admitted that the racial disparities it statistically found in Ferguson were actually smaller than in much of the country (Ferguson did have certain manifestations of actual racism, but they didn’t account for most of these statistical disparities, and the Civil Rights Division actually found that the shooting of Michael Brown was justified, in page 82 of its report, rejecting the false “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative peddled by CNN and BLM).

      • Fred – I think Obama was more right than wrong – over all… and his approach at least did not accept the status quo of “we are trying”.

        Disparate Impact is being “defined” by different folks with different agendas… but I was would ask – if there are policies that result in different impacts – take an easy one – between men and women – that’s a disparate impact – but it does not mean that ANY such disparate impact is due to a particular thing until you can tie it to it.

        And so I’d not agree on the “disparate impact” – no matter the reason – concept – no matter who is proffering it or alleging the other side is proffering it – without proof.

        The point is that there are legitimate disparate impacts that need to be addressed – rather than shifting the discussion and claiming all of them are essentially bogus.

      • Disparate impact is only dubious if one starts from the premise that Black citizens are more innately criminal than their peers of other races.

        It is slightly unfair to law enforcement, though, since they are only responding to the response to the systematic inequalities that Black Americans have struggled under for centuries not creating them in and of themselves.

        • Under disparate impact, a police department could be liable because it arrests fewer Asians than whites — even though that obviously has nothing to do with racism. In every state in the country, Asians are arrested, jailed (and suspended from school) at lower rates than whites. And this is obviously not due to racism: only a tiny fraction of cops, teachers, judges, and principals are Asian.

          The higher black crime rate in the U.S. is not due to “innate” criminality. The African country of Rwanda has a low crime rate, despite being all-black and plagued by hunger and poverty. The higher black crime rate in the U.S. is real, is due to cultural factors, and has been conceded to be higher by liberal criminal justice writers like Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post. These crimes are not being fabricated by the police: Most crime against black people is black-on-black, meaning it was reported by a black person, not a racist white person. Most rapes of black people, and 89% of all murders of black people, are committed by another black person. Abolishing “disparate impact” by refusing to arrest black criminals once “too many” black people have been arrested compared to their percentage of the black population would thus harm black people most.

          • re: ” The higher black crime rate in the U.S. is real, is due to cultural factors”

            okay. can you give examples and do you think/believe that “cultural factors” are influenced by things external to the culture , govt policies… other cultures actions toward their culture?

    • There are two possibilities vis-a-vis the use of excessive force by US police departments and agencies, especially relative to other democratic societies, either there is systemic racism, or there is not. Either is equally frightening.

  9. I know nothing about Dr. Hsu, so I cannot comment on Mr. Bader’s claim. However, I do find it enlightening that he seems to think only liberals or “progressives” would publish incomplete or biased studies. (“The researcher’s false finding of discrimination can then be used to justify doing things that progressive officials are eager to do.”) Furthermore, he conflates academic studies and studies conducted for the sake of litigation. The two categories have different objectives.

    As for Klein’s study, he did find that criminal sentencing in California was racially non-discriminatory. But, Bader makes the leap and attributes to Klein a conclusion that he did not reach–that he “debunked claims that the criminal justice system was systematically racist.” Sentencing is just one element of the criminal justice system, as Mr. Bader, a lawyer, well knows. There is the arrest, there is the trial, there is the conviction (or plea bargain), there is the element of legal representation, etc.

    It goes without saying that any research or study should take into account all relevant variables to the extent possible and the end result should not be predetermined.

  10. I note “the college fix” is a right wing student group. Also Haner, since when are you an editor here? I recommend you leave my stuff alone.

    • Was “stuff” the correct word to use in this circumstance?

      Although, I have noticed that most people use the word “stuff” when referencing their own work, but when referring to the works of another tend to use,.. uh,… well, you know.

  11. Peer Review or Trade Association?

  12. Hsu has been kissing the third rail of genomic research for the last 10 years. Not his research, that has problems of its own, e.g., who is paying for it and what they are doing with it (hint: an authoritarian regime that has implemented drastic stuff already) but with wildly unprovable and decidedly racist views.

  13. Unfounded claims made against Professor Hsu in the comments above are rebutted at length at this link, including sources cited in it:
    https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2020/06/wsj-on-twitter-mob-attack-and-msu-moral.html

  14. An eminent law professor explains why Hsu’s firing is bad for academic research and quality, at this link:
    https://reason.com/2020/06/21/michigan-state-university-vp-of-research-ousted-because-of-his-past-scientific-statements/
    The law professor in question is a former law clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and the author of a leading First Amendment casebook.

  15. The main problem I have with Hsu is that he crosses the line between opinion and research, not making clear in his discussions which is which and I’m not the only one – there is a plethora of others in the scientific community who question the scientific veracity of some of his statements.

    He also appears to hang around with a known white supremacist and Holocaust Denier and claims he did not know their reputations.

    His voice is not being quieted but he’s not wanted as a research leader and voice of research done under the aegis of that office.

    If anything, he is now even more free to express his views and not have to represent others.

  16. Timely blog post by the Anti-Planner:
    http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=17281

  17. the title ” Unbiased Research on Race Becoming Taboo”

    is a piece of work.

    I’m not even sure how one would define “unbiased research to start with”.

    If some guy spouts some personal opinion and calls it “research” is that “unbiased”?

  18. Face it, there was no room left in the black eye budget for both Hsu and Nassar

  19. Stephen Hsu made MSU much richer and financially more sound. He didn’t give its budget a “black eye.”

    Hsu brought in countless millions of dollars in research money to MSU as vice president for research.

    But that apparently counted for nothing in academia, which is so politically narrow-minded these days that U-Mass. fired a nursing dean who helped people with disabilities, because she said “everyone’s life matters” in addition to saying that “Black Lives Matter.” Her statement that “everyone’s life matters” was viewed as too close to saying “All lives matter,” which is now viewed as hate speech on some campuses, because some people choose to say it rather than “Black Lives Matter” (even though the nursing dean said BOTH that “black lives matter,” and that all lives matter):

    https://reason.com/2020/07/02/university-of-massachusetts-nursing-dean-fired-after-saying-everyones-life-matters/

    • Nassar brought in a lot of bucks too. But, I didn’t actually mean a $ budget; I meant their allotted amount of bad PR.

      Ya know everything’s a trade off. His money and source is secure. Others mightn’t be and if his remaining as VP costs other researchers their money, it’s a loss.

    • MSU might have made a deal with the devil initially then changed their mind.

      I just don’t buy the “we get rid of those who don’t agree” stuff.

      there are a lot of irascible, disagreeable, ideological scientists in positions of leadership but their peers pretty much respect them even if they disagree.

      This one went off the farm…

      and now he’s a ready-made martyr for the right… and they
      probably were made for each other.

      If Hsu is REALLY that good, he’ll get snapped up by all those others who adore him.

      • Hsu is not going anywhere. He is tenured faculty, and his research is fully funded. He just gave up a position from which he no longer profited.

  20. Pingback: Reality-Based Research on Racism Under Assault in Academia | CNSNews

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