Unbiased research on race in criminal justice system becoming taboo in academia

Jul 4, 2020 by

Unbiased research on race in criminal justice system becoming taboo in academia

Fight at Michigan State (Image via Twitter)

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.

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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 cherrypick 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 Corporation 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 only successful because the challengers lucked out, and received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free legal assistance from the Center for Individual Rights.

Source: Unbiased research on race in criminal justice system becoming taboo in academia – Liberty Unyielding

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    Martha S. Lyon

    One of the things that . . . actually, there are two things that disturb and frightens me the most about Generations X,Y, Z and the youngest ⅓ – ½ of the baby boomers — essentially people born after around 1958-1960 are (1) the black and white (philosophy and attitude, NOT SKIN COLOR . . .caps for emphasis only) world they live in when life is lived in the grey and (2) the superficial thinking they routinely engage in and form beliefs and conclusion based on . . . that is, the thought process for so many (not everyone, just most or too many) doesn’t go beyond what’s on the surface, what is most obvious and two-dimensional, which means it’s often meaningless or insignificant. It’s cosmetic in the sense that it covers up, like makeup does, what lies deeper below the surface.

    Michigan State University administrators forced Professor Stephen Hsu to resign as vice president of research because he “touted Michigan State research that found police are not more likely to shoot African-Americans.”? Seriously?

    A university that is has always been, and we Americans have depended on it being, a bastion of independent thought and the free and wonderful exchange of ideas, where our developing children can spend four years having their thoughts, views, beliefs and morality challenged until they are sure what they believe and why, where developing children can have wonderful epiphanies and new ideas triggered by someone else’s perspective, even when they don’t agree with it?

    Presumably, administrators caved under pressure from either alumni and important sources of funding or students or both, just as Harvard has over that nonsense about micro-aggressions and trigger warnings“that forces professors to become milquetoast providing a watered down educatioo.

    Professor “Hsu wrote on his blog that the paper concluded ‘there is no widespread racial bias in police shooting'” That’s all he did? Judging by his name, technically, as an Asian man, he doesn’t even have a dog in this fight. But because he shared the results of someone else’s study, this intelligent, educated professor, who undoubtedly has much to offer or he wouldn’t be at Michigan State, is stamped irrelevant and kicked to the curb because he has informed others of a study they need to think about?

    What if it’s not a valid study? Most everyone under age 55-60 is having a meltdown or a coronary, anyway? The study was published a year ago. It didn’t matter then, so why now? Because you think it hurts your movement aand cry for change so now you think you have the right to tell the rest of us what we can think, what we can read, what we can hear (as in students ringing cowbells to prevent an audience from hearing a speaker on campus)?

    The Black Lives Matter movement is relying on the First Amendment . . . the right to free speech . . . but a professor can’t even share the results of someone else’s study? Where’s his right to free speech? He can’t exercise because he might get fired if he does. What is happening to everyone. It’s like you’ve all gone mad.

    What is everyone so afraid of? Do you have a right to a response at all when you haven’t even given the matter some refined, in-depth thought? If the stats are correct, have you thought about what that means beyond the superficial? Maybe there’s something there that strengthens your platform, gives it a stronger leg to stand on. But you won’t find that out if you jump to conclusions without thinking about it.

    This is why superficial thinking is so dangerous and why we should all be very frightened. What if f it’s true that the study validly “[debunks] the notion that police are more likely to shoot African-Americans. The numbers are on record, so it’s probably true. But what about why that’s true? Think about that. I think I read that more whites are criminals, so it isn’t the bloody number; it’s that they WAIT FOR A REASON to SHOOT WHITES while they are always SHOOTING BLACKS and MURDERING them with excessive force FOR NO DAMN REASON AT ALL. That’s what matters. Who cares how many whites are shot. It’s the fact that they wait for a reason to shoot them, but there’s NO REASON TO SHOOT and otherwise MURDER all these black men.

    You still have a strong movement with an important and very strong platform that must continue. So why go off the deep end before you have all the facts and understand what the study is really saying, if anything. On its face, it’s actually irrelevant to Black Lives Matter. Not until you think about it more and find out why the stats are accurate do you realize there’s something there the movement can use. Geez!, It doesn’t change the fact that black men are being murdered, and it must stop. So, please people, you’ve got to stop this superficial, insignificant thinking.

    One other thing about the college campus. What happened to developing a back bone? I had severe PTSD for 14 yrs., but I wouldn’t dream of asking professors to sidestep anything related thereto. How can I learn anything if my professors are constantly censoring themselves in lectures. It’s nuts. I don’t know where you got the idea you have to be coddled. Our inadequate school system has caused more adverse consequences than underdeveloped thinking, comprehension, speaking and writing. Let me share a secret. Life is damn hard. It’s not fair and never will be, and, frankly, human beings still have a long way to go before they/we can say we’re “good people.” They can be unspeakably cruel. So, in consideration of all that, those born after 1958-60 absolutely must find a way get get themselves a backbone. You parents, grandparents and every ancestor had a backbone. Now it’s time for you to get one. This country can’t be run by accommodating every little specialized group, and there will never . . . never be a time when we finally get it all right. Being flawed makes them impossible. Toughen up, people. You never know how tough your ride might turn out to be.

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