Anything goes at the New York Times...

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2019

...in support of preferred, treasured themes:
Are black women discriminated against within the field of economics?

We have no background in the subject; we'll assume that they certainly may be. But that isn't our topic for today. Our topic today is this:

What is accepted as "evidence" at the New York Times? More specifically, what is accepted as "evidence" in support of preferred conclusions and themes?

For our text, we'll use yesterday's op-ed column by Cook and Opoku-Agyeman, a pair of academics. In fairness, the principal blame on the academic end must lie with Cook, an assistant professor at Michigan State.

Opoku-Agyeman, a research assistant at Harvard, just graduated from UMBC this past June.

At any rate, we're more concerned with the New York Times than with this pair of writers. That said, they started their piece with an assertion which certainly may be accurate:
COOK AND OPOKU-AGYEMAN (10/1/19): Economics is neither a welcoming nor a supportive profession for women. In 2017, Alice H. Wu, now a doctoral student in economics at Harvard, published an eye-opening study of online conversations among economists that provided convincing evidence that overt sexism was a serious problem in the field. Last year the economist Roland G. Fryer Jr., a star of the Harvard department, faced sexual misconduct allegations, prompting calls to condemn the widespread sexual harassment and discrimination in the profession. (In July, Harvard suspended Professor Fryer for two years.)
"Economics is neither a welcoming nor a supportive profession for women?" So far, the evidence is slender, but that certainly may be true, perhaps to a major degree.

But then, the writers expand their claim, and they present some statistics. Our first question will be this:

Why on earth, why in the world, would any newspaper publish a passage like this?
COOK AND OPOKU-AGYEMAN (continuing directly): But if economics is hostile to women, it is especially antagonistic to black women. Black women account for 6.8 percent of bachelor’s degrees in the social sciences. But in 2017, only 0.6 percent of doctoral degrees in economics and only 2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in economics were awarded to black women.
In that passage, the writers claim that economics is especially antagonistic to black women.

That certainly may be true. But the statistics they present in support of this claim make no apparent sense—except at the frequently hapless Times, in support of preferred conclusions.

What have the writers said in that passage? For one thing, they say that black women receive 6.8 percent of bachelor’s degrees in the social sciences, but only 2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in economics.

Why in the world—why on earth—would that be surprising? After all, economics is just one field—one field within the larger domain of the social sciences. Of course black women, like everyone else, will receive fewer degrees in the one discipline than in the wider domain as a whole.

It's amazing to think that a pair of academics would seek to publish such a bogus comparison. That said, it's entirely typical when editors at the New York Times wave such a non sequitur into print, especially since the comparison is being offered to support a preferred conclusion.

A second utterly bogus comparison is offered in that passage. Black women are said to account for 6.8 percent of bachelor’s degrees in the social sciences, but only 0.6 percent of doctoral degrees in economics.

In this case, we're dealing with a double dose of apples-to-oranges. To wit:

Most people who receive bachelor's degrees do not go on to receive doctoral degrees of any kind. Why would we be surprised when the number of black women receiving doctorates just in one particular discipline is smaller than the number receiving bachelor's degrees in a much wider number of disciplines?

In our view, that's an astonishing paragraph. What isn't surprising, sad to say, is the fact that the New York Times chose to put it in print.

Again and again, despite all the branding, the New York Times reveals itself as one of our dumbest newspapers. We see this fact played out again as the writers submit more statistical "evidence" just one paragraph later:
COOK AND OPOKU-AGYEMAN: This month the American Economic Association published a survey finding that black women, compared to all other groups, had to take the most measures to avoid possible harassment, discrimination and unfair or disrespectful treatment. Sixty-two percent of black women reported experiencing racial or gender discrimination or both, compared to 50 percent of white women, 44 percent of Asian women and 58 percent of Latinas. Twenty-nine percent and 38 percent of black women reported experiencing discrimination in promotion and pay, respectively, compared to 26 percent and 36 percent for whites, 28 percent and 36 percent for Asians and 32 percent and 40 percent for Latinas.
Can we talk? This passage should specify that the study in question concerned harassment, discrimination and unfair or disrespectful treatment as reported by women in the field of economics. We'll assume that the writers included that fact and some editor airbrushed it out.

That said, consider some of the new statistics offered in that passage. According to the authors, these new statistics support the claim that black women are subjected to more misconduct of various sorts than any other group of women in the field.

That certainly may be true, but is that what the data show? As you yourself can see, that last large clump of statistics sorts itself out like this:
Percentage reporting discrimination in promotion:
Black women: 29%
White women: 26%
Asian women: 28%
Latina women: 32%

Percentage reporting discrimination in pay:
Black women: 38%
White women: 36%
Asian women: 36%
Latina women: 40%
Do those numbers support the claim that black women are subjected to the most discrimination in promotion and pay?

These are, of course, only reported claims of mistreatment. But there's barely any difference between the number of reports by the four different groups of women—and to the extent that these differences may be worth noting at all, Latinas report more discrimination than black women in both areas of concern.

The problems with this column continue on from there. But let's stop to ask ourselves how these statistical absurdities managed to get into print.

In our view, it's astounding to think that an academic—even an assistant professor—would present work of this type for publication. But that's a question about the academy. Why in the world would the New York Times put such work in print?

Snarkily, we'll offer a pair of explanations. Again and again, the New York Times turns out to be a remarkably low-IQ paper—and at the Times, a consensus exists that it's still 1619.

The writers' claims may well be true, but their column should never have been published in its present form. Its publication reflects the problem with Hamptons-based journalism as a general matter—and with the adoption of ideological "themes" to guide journalistic work.

Postscript: Those absurdities represent the work of the New York Times working in concert with Harvard!

Go ahead—you're permitted to laugh.

21 comments:

  1. ""Economics is neither a welcoming nor a supportive profession for women?" So far, the evidence is slender, but that certainly may be true, perhaps to a major degree."

    With this sentence, Somerby dismisses the study by Yu and the complaints of sexual harassment, claimed to be widespread within the discipline. This is his idea of slender evidence. Does every woman in economics have to complete a survey before Somerby will believe that women are unwelcome, or might he consider the lack of women at high levels within the discipline to be a form of evidence?

    Somerby shouldn't try to discuss these topics. He reveals his ambivalence toward women with every word.

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  2. "That certainly may be true."

    Meh. That is one liberal 'identity' they scared shitless to even appear, to even remotely appear, to discriminate against.

    And, as usual, you know it just as well as I do, dear Bob.

    "In our view, it's astounding to think that an academic—even an assistant professor—would present work of this type for publication."

    There's absolutely nothing astounding in it: they are dembots. They do what they're told, dear Bob. And everyone published by your zombie media is a dembot, not just these fellas.

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  3. Here Somerby, I'll sort this out for you. If black women received the same level of discrimination in pay and the same amount of other harassment, but it affected their participation in the field more strongly to the point that they are .2% (.002) of the degrees granted, then it suggests they are more vulnerable to the discrimination, perhaps because they receive less support from others (those not discriminating) than white, Latina or Asian women receive. If this were not so, they would be expected to be influenced to the same extent as the other groups by the reported difficulties (low pay, harassment).

    Remember that the headline is that economics is not welcoming or supportive, not that pay is low and there is sexual harassment. The welcome and support may dictate whether black women stay or quit the profession when they experience the low pay and harassment that other women experience.

    Somerby thinks this is a failure of interpretation by Cook and the NY Times. I consider it a failure of Somerby, who doesn't understand social science research or women's issues and who doesn't think a single second about the real people behind the numbers in this and similar studies.

    Apparently Somerby can only think about one number at a time and cannot combine the information provided in several different sets of numbers to come up with a larger understanding. That is no doubt why he became a standup comedian instead of an economist or journalist or anything else requiring some actual thought.

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    1. Actual figure was .06 not .02 but the point is the same

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    2. 'Apparently Somerby can only think about one number at a time '

      Did you use the word 'think' and Somerby in the same line ?

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  4. "black women, like everyone else, will receive fewer degrees in the one discipline than in the wider domain as a whole." Yes, but the figures cited are percentages, not the actual number of degrees. A rare lapse of logic by Mr. Somerby.

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    1. '
      Why in the world—why on earth—would that be surprising? After all, economics is just one field—one field within the larger domain of the social sciences. Of course black women, like everyone else, will receive fewer degrees in the one discipline than in the wider domain as a whole.'

      Ahem, the article is about percentages. It seems like Somerby's few remaining brain cells have expired since he became a Trumptard …

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    2. We can do a rough calculation using the graphs given by urban.org based on 2015 census data. In 2010, 19.4% of adults 25 and older had a bachelors degree and 1.4% had a PhD In 2015, 1.7% of adults 25 and older had a PhD.

      Let’s assume that the only path to a PhD requires a bachelors and that it takes about five years to get a PhD. Let’s also assume that the field of economics isn’t much different from any other.

      The census says that in 2010 there were 196M people in the US over 26 (which is equal to 25 if you squint), so our pool of PhD candidates is 19.4% of that or about 38M. 1.4% already had PhDs in 2010 or about 2.7M.

      In 2015 there were 208M people over 26 and 1.7% of those had PhDs. That’s 3.5M PhDs. So that’s .8M newly-minted PhDs in 2015.

      So of about 38M in our PhD pool in 2010, about 2% got PhDs by 2015 (.8/38).

      Now Cook and Opoku-Agyeman say that for economics in 2017, 2% of bachelors degrees went to black women as did .6 percent of PhDs in economics. Again, we don’t have exact comparisons and have to assume that things haven’t changed much since 2015.

      2% of the PhD pool is 2% of 38M or .76M=760K
      .6% of the newly minted PhDs is .6% of .8m or 4.8K
      So only about .6% (4.8K/760K) of black women with bachelors degrees in economics go on to get PhDs in economics.

      We can check this result. The google finds that we produce about 44,450 econ bachelors per year and about 1000 econ PhDs. so about 2% of the feeder pool. So econ isn’t much different from any other field.

      2% of 44,450 gives us 889 black women with bachelors in econ each year.

      .6% of 1000 gives us 6 black women with PhDs each year.
      6/889 gives us, no surprise, .7% of the feeder pool.

      So 2% overall make the leap from bachelors to doctorate. Only about a third of that for black women.

      We’re half done. Now we have to show that economics is special, i.e., black women are much more likely to get a PhD if they study fields other than economics. I’m too tired to do that. Sorry.

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    3. @deadrat
      Eh, the 6.8% figure was for black women in the social sciences. You aren’t doing a valid analysis. You would need to calculate the numbers of, let’s say, white women in social sciences who choose economics, let’s say 75% choose not economics and 25% choose economics. The analysis needs to show the rate at which black women in social sciences choose economics.

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  5. 'Most people who receive bachelor's degrees do not go on to receive doctoral degrees of any kind. Why would we be surprised when the number of black women receiving doctorates just in one particular discipline is smaller than the number receiving bachelor's degrees in a much wider number of disciplines?'

    I have no idea what Somerby is trying to say here, except to prove once again that he is a Trumptard.

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  6. “these new statistics support the claim that black women are subjected to more misconduct of various sorts than any other group of women in the field.

    That certainly may be true, but is that what the data show? “

    And then, Somerby uses the data about promotion and pay as a stand-in for what he termed “misconduct” to question the op-ed’s findings.

    But in fact, to support their claim, the authors state this:
    “Sixty-two percent of black women reported experiencing racial or gender discrimination or both, compared to 50 percent of white women, 44 percent of Asian women and 58 percent of Latinas. “

    This can be verified using the link provided on the online version of their op-ed: https://www.aeaweb.org/resources/member-docs/final-climate-survey-results-sept-2019

    Note that the subsequent statistics are for promotion and pay, whereas the supporting statistic is different:
    “racial or gender discrimination or both”

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  7. Come on, guys. All Somerby is saying is that Okies from Muskogee would misunderstand percentages the way he pretends to, and besides, they don’t like hearing about racism and misogyny, and thus the New York Times is confusing them and they will vote for Trump.

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  8. Bob is no buffoon, and we all enjoy a good laugh at the New York Times’ expense, but would it surprise him to learn that if 6.8% of social science bachelor degrees go to black women, that, all else being equal, 6.8% of bachelor’s degrees in economics would also be expected to go to black women?

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    1. Somerby is a buffoon, a Trumptard.

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    2. All things being equal, things are never equal.

      Harvard’s social science program includes concentrations in various fields. Economics has a hefty mathematics requirement:

      Math 1a, Introduction to calculus
      Stat 104, Introduction to statistics
      Stat 109, Introduction to statistical modeling
      Math 154, Introduction to probability theory

      Social Studies requires a single course in statistics. African American Studies and History have no math requirement. We’ve heard recently that mathematics is a male-dominated field that is hostile to women. Could it be that the it’s the hostility that women encounter in trying to study mathematics that deters them from getting economics degrees?

      Harvard requires that you declare a “concentration” in the fall of the second year of study. Declaring and changing concentrations requires an application. I doubt it’s much different anywhere else. Suppose we found out that black women accounted for 6.8% of applications for Economics but only 2% graduated with a degree in that field. That would indicate a problem worth investigating — black women want to study economics in the expected numbers but a large percentage despairs of the field. Suppose that black women accounted for 6.8% of applications in Social Science but only 2% ever applied for Economics. That might indicate a (possibly different) problem worth investigating — a large percentage of black female majors in social studies don’t even consider economics worth studying.

      But we can’t tell from the 6.8%/2% discrepancy itself whether there’s a problem or if there is, what the problem is.

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    3. 'what the problem is.'

      The problem is that Somerby is a Trumptard, but there are people who actually take him seriously and think he is a liberal.

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  9. 'Again and again, the New York Times turns out to be a remarkably low-IQ paper—and at the Times, a consensus exists that it's still 1619.'

    The only one demonstrating low IQ here is TDH with his inaccurate comments regarding percentages. Then again, he is a Trumptard.

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