Paul Krugman discusses who’s clueless: We agree with the general thrust of this morning’s column by Paul Krugman.
Krugman discusses several ways the modern GOP has stood in opposition to research, facts, science and evidence. Our impression?
He may have wandered onto foreign soil in his second paragraph, where he mocks a position taken by the Texas GOP regarding “Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS),” which was said to be “simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE).”
On that matter, we’ll guess that Krugman may have knee-jerked a bit—and we wish he wouldn't do that! But as a general matter, we agree—in the past few decades, the GOP has been considerably less fact-based than the Democratic Party.
That said, warning bells sounded for us at this part of Krugman’s column:
KRUGMAN (2/11/13): O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.Careful, Kruggers! the analysts cried. We can recall when a great deal of irrationality routinely came from us on the left. (Professor Theoharis is bringing back memories in her doctrinaire, slippery new book.) And we think we may see some areas where we liberals are catching up fast.
The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.
In our view, the liberal world seems increasingly irrational—and fact-averse—in the general area of race. First, consider a piece in yesterday’s Washington Post. Then, consider a recent post in which Kevin Drum linked to several other liberal pundits.
In yesterday’s Outlook section, Matthew Hutson reviewed a new book about various types of unconscious bias, including unconscious racial bias.
This is the way the review began. Can you spot a missing fact in the passage we have highlighted?
HUTSON (2/10/13): What if we’re not the magnanimous people we think we are? That seems to be the conclusion of the past few decades of social psychology research. Freud stuck a dagger in the comforting idea of complete, conscious self-awareness, but experimental findings suggest that not only do we not know ourselves, if we did, we might not invite ourselves over for dinner.Hmmm. Somehow, Hutson knew that 75 percent of all people who take the Race IAT display “an implicit preference for white people over black people.” But he didn’t know the corresponding percentage for black people who take the test!
This research takes Freud’s dagger into our vanity and twists it. One of the greatest sources of torque is what’s called the Implicit Association Test, a computer-based assessment that susses out unconscious biases. One version, the Race IAT, reveals that 75 percent of its takers, including some African Americans, have an implicit preference for white people over black people. The story of the IAT, and of prejudice in general, is told in the accessible and authoritative “Blind Spot” by Mahzarin R. Banaji, one of the test’s chief developers, and Anthony G. Greenwald, the researcher who created it in 1994.
“Some” African Americans have that same preference! That was all he said!
Frankly, we were suspicious. We clicked from the book review to the IAT web site and found the apparent percentage in its FAQ feature. The percentage was rather high:
IAT WEB SITE: For White respondents, the automatic White preference may in some sense be an in-group preference. However, the automatic White preference is more than that—it is observed with similar strength among Asian Americans, for whom neither Black nor White is an in-group. In this sense, the IAT may reflect an attitude that is learned through experience in a culture that does not regard Black Americans highly. Moreover, if the IAT result represented an in-group preference exclusively, then Black Americans should show for their group the same level of automatic preference. We know that that is not the case. 50% of Black Americans show automatic Black preference, but the remaining half show an automatic White preference. We conclude from such data that the IAT preference is some combination of an automatic preference for one’s own, moderated by what one’s learns is regarded to be “good” in the larger culture.If we’re reading that correctly, fifty percent of blacks who take the Race IAT display “an implicit preference for white people over black people.”
It’s certainly possible that fifty percent of black test-takers have some sort of “implicit preference for white people over black people,” whatever we might end up deciding that means. But why do you think that rather large number didn’t make the review?
Why did Hutson simply say “some?” Why didn’t he give us a number?
We don’t know the answer to that, but we’ve seen this done before. With blinding speed, this latest Case of The Missing Percentage made us think of that recent post by our favorite, Drum, “Racial Resentment and Fox News.”
Question: What liberal doesn’t want to read a post with a headline like that?
Drum started by saying that Thomas Edsall had “present[ed] some evidence that racial resentment has increased in the Obama era, especially among Republicans.” Drum linked to Edsall’s piece at the New York Times web site. He then discussed the reactions of several liberal bloggers.
Question: Have you ever seen a liberal balk at a claim like this? We liberals seem to love the idea that “explicit racism” or “racial resentment” have increased in recent years, especially among Republicans or among viewers of Fox.
It’s always possible that such claims are true, of course. But you can’t express the idea so fuzzily or so improbably that we will reject or challenge what you have to say.
For our money, Edsall’s piece largely proves this point. This is the semi-coherent way he explained “racial resentment:”
EDSALL (2/6/13): In their 2010 paper, “President Obama and the Growing Polarization of Partisan Attachments by Racial Attitudes and Race,” Tesler and Sears argue that theAccording to Edsall, Tesler and Sears found that “voters high on a racial-resentment scale moved one notch toward intensification of partisanship within the Republican Party on a seven-point scale from strong Democrat through independent to strong Republican.”
“evidence strongly suggests that party attachments have become increasingly polarized by both racial attitudes and race as a result of Obama’s rise to prominence within the Democratic Party.”
Specifically, Tesler and Sears found that voters high on a racial-resentment scale moved one notch toward intensification of partisanship within the Republican Party on a seven-point scale from strong Democrat through independent to strong Republican.
To measure racial resentment, which Tesler and Sears describe as “subtle hostility towards African-Americans,” the authors used data from the American National Election Studies and the General Social Survey, an extensive collection of polling data maintained at the University of Chicago.
Speakers of English may be able to imagine what that goulash might mean. That said, Edsall’s clarity was largely AWOL this day. Adding insult to injury, this is the link he provided under the words “racial resentment scale.”
Click that link, and you will see what real confusion is! But it’s OK, as long as Edsall is making the claim we adore.
Alas! As always, Tesler and Sears used those questions from the American National Election Studies and the General Social Survey to measure this rather amorphous trait—the trait Edsall defined as “subtle hostility toward African-Americans.” To help us know how this subtle trait is measured, Edsall now quoted Tesler and Sears.
Doggone it! As always, what follows was the first question they cited. This is the kind of question they used to determine who has “racial resentment:”
TESLER AND SEARS: The scale was constructed from how strongly respondents agreed or disagreed with the following assertions: 1) Irish, Italian, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.The use of the term “special favors” guarantees that no conservative would ever disagree with that assertion. Yes this blatantly obvious “gotcha” question is used to establish “racial resentment,” which generally sounds a lot like racism by the time we finish our dance in the end zone.
(By the way: Would any Democratic politician ever say that African Americans should get “special favors?” Of course not! Also, how would you answer that question? Do you think blacks should get “special favors?” Careful! Resentment watch!)
Race is the most important, most destructive factor in all of American history. The topic has produced so much suffering that it ought to be treated with respect and with care. But race is also an area where we liberals often seem to be training ourselves to be just as dumb as conservatives have been for the past thirty years. Facts, logic, clarity seem to mean little to us in this area. We rush to agree with the latest conclusion as long as it sounds very bad.
Krugman is right about the general drift of the past thirty years. But with the rise of liberal news orgs, we liberals are dumbing ourselves back down, and it can be done—many of us were less than brilliant in the street-fighting days of the 60s. At present, race seems like the area where we liberals are most eager to toss away norms of reasonable analysis. And by the way:
It isn’t just that book review where the percentages tend to get lost for black respondents. It’s routine to disappear percentages for black respondents on various measures of alleged anti-black feeling. Just a guess: If the percentages for black respondentss turn out to be too high, supplying them tends to kill all our pseudo-liberal fun. Or do you think it was a coincidence that that percentage—50 percent!—was AWOL from yesterday’s Post?
Has racial resentment actually grown? How about “explicit racism,” which the AP pretended to measure last year?
Those are deeply serious questions. Why don’t we treat them as such? Or are we just willing to trust the professors, seeing how brilliant they are?