Chris Hayes has the latest on white people!


One of our favorite pet peeves: It has long been one of our favorite pet peeves.

It’s also a problem which infests the journalistic treatment of academic studies, such as they are.

The problem doesn’t quite have a name. So let’s get started with a tease from Tuesday night’s All In.

At one point, Chris Hayes teased an upcoming segment. This is what he said:
HAYES (8/13/13): White people don’t like affirmative action unless they’re getting something out of it. I’ll explain coming up.
Could that possibly be true? That’s what you might call a sweeping statement. But could it really be true?

Could it be true that “white people don’t like affirmative action unless they’re getting something out of it?”

Some white people don’t seem to “like affirmative action” at all! But Hayes seemed to be making a sweeping statement—a statement about all white people.

Could it possibly be true? That all “white people” feel that way about affirmative action?

It almost seemed that this might be the case based on Hayes’ next tease. Here’s what he said this time:
HAYES: Coming up, white people want college admissions to be a true meritocracy strictly based on test scores, unless they think white people don’t do well on those tests. New insight on white people problems, next.
Interesting! Hayes was going to convey a “new insight on white people problems!” A few minutes later, this is the way his actual segment began:

“A jaw-dropping new study shows that white people don’t like affirmative action unless they think it’s going to benefit them.”

According to Hayes, the new study is “jaw-dropping.” Maybe this jaw-dropping study really does show that all white people think and feel this way about affirmative action!

In fact, that doesn’t seem to be what the jaw-dropping study actually shows at all. As he continued, Hayes described the study in a bit more, or perhaps a bit less, detail:
HAYES: So along comes this great experiment, a study by Frank Samson, a professor of sociology at the University of Miami. The study asked 599 white Californians how they felt about the importance of grade point average in the University of California admission system. Grade point average was generally rated as extremely important.

But half of the people in the study were randomly selected to receive this information. "Under current admissions procedures in the University of California system, Asians make up almost 40 percent of the student body or two out of every five students, while they are only 12 percent of the California population.”

Lo and behold, that group of white people who got that information gave grade point average less importance because suddenly they, white people, were the ones being threatened by the so-called meritocracy. Part of Professor Samson’s conclusion: "This finding weakens the argument that white commitment to meritocracy is purely based on principle."
Hayes is becoming a showman, as he explained to Salon a few weeks back. For that reason, you’ll have to forgive him if he goes on the air and pretends to be dumb, when he pretty much isn’t.

In this case, note what that jaw-dropping study actually says. It says that white people “gave grade point average less importance” (our emphasis) when they were prompted to realize that strict reliance on GPA doesn’t advantage their group.

This isn’t exactly a study about attitudes toward affirmative action. More directly, it’s a study of attitudes towards what you might call “strict reliance on GPA.” But that isn’t our complaint about the way Hayes kept describing the study.

According to what Hayes says in that passage, this study found that white people are less likely to favor “strict reliance on GPA” when they come to see that this reliance doesn’t favor their group. The key word there is “less.”

The people in question were less likely to favor strict reliance on GPA. Until we get more information, this leaves us largely clueless.

Question: How much less likely are white people to favor strict reliance when they get that prompt? Hayes didn’t ask or answer that question at any point in the program. And when he brought on a famous professor as his guest, the famous professor didn’t inquire about this matter either.

It may be that white people are only slightly less likely to favor strict reliance. On the other hand, it may be that they’re much less likely.

But Hayes didn’t bother with any of that! He just took a vague formulation, then spoke of white people as a group, as if the study had found an attitude shared by all.

How much less likely are white people to favor “strict reliance?” If you actually care about this topic, you pretty much have to ask.

But Hayes didn’t ask that question; neither did the famous professor. As we’ve noted in the past, this sort of thing goes on all the time when journalists talk about studies.

Tomorrow: More from Hayes and the famous professor. Plus, a completely absurd report from—who else?—the New York Times.


  1. So dumb...How do these people get to be tenured professors anyway?

    "Asians make up almost 40 percent of the student body"...strictly because of their test scores or due to some other entry requirement/quota??? How about repeating this study with a group of, I don't know, 599 Asians?! Then prompt one group to be on high alert for affirmative action before the question and see if you get a different aggregate opinion!

    This "social experiment" is designed to slime a given target group as racist and would probably work against any group of one's choosing. Congratulations on your successful experiment, Professor.

    1. There is no affirmative action involved in this study. It just manipulates the information subjects have about the percentages of Asian students being admitted based on gpa. References to affirmative action were presumably a hook to get the public interested in the study, which shows that people care about race in admissions. The information provided is misleading because even though Asians are 12% of the population, there are many more Asians residing in the area that feeds students to the University of California. The UC used to impose race and sex based quotas. Quotas are not the same as affirmative action because when you cut off the number of people being admitted in a particular group you are not allowing less qualified people from other groups to be admitted affirmatively. There are always way more strongly qualified students in every group than can be admitted to the UC campuses, especially Berkeley (where Asian student quotas was an issue).

  2. orange makes me want to vomit

    1. That's because it's used too often with green and yellow.

      When it's paired with navy or turquoise, orange sings.

    2. hah! well at least you get it...i think. good mind reading - oh no! navy and orange?--the monsters of the midway? . . . but yellow?

  3. off topic.

    since this article is drawing few responses. . . some deep thoughts. . .

    ive seen a lot of clips but i cant remember the last show on msnbc ive seen. but I do remember it had no paide advertisng from outside companies. mostly it was mathews seemingn to audition for a place on mt rushmore, alex wagner and lawrence o'd telling us that the whole world should come here and stay, and madow and hayes talking about something or other but im always to distractdd by their style to remember what they were saying. . . but no virtues of soap, etc. were being heralded.

    if this is still the case, is it the same thing that happened to liberal talk radio where the big companies boycotted them and I assume still do? how long will comcast carry msnbc if this is an ongoing thing?
    just recently a new boss at nbc. steve capus out and a brittish woman in.

    about four months ago nbc, cnbc and msnbc and maybe one other were consolidated under another woman, i presume an american. i understand mr. capus was not happy with the new arrangement.

    and thats the way it is: thursday, august 15, 2013.

    1. Those were deep thoughts indeed, but a bit more on topic than the nausea inductive power of the color orange.

      I myself am intrigued why a grown man would want a Peeve for a pet. Goats are a better get.

    2. Sock puppet much?

    3. no and never have...just cuz somebody is not foanming at the mouth like u doensnt mmean its not a legit he could have been speaking sarcastically. study this commentn troll, print it out, and try to learn sumthin. yer welcome.

  4. Bob's complaint about omitting the magnitude is especially common in medical articles. Many such articles say Treatment X is better than Treatment Y, but without saying how much better treatment X is.

  5. Poo Poo Platter ( No Study, No Pets, No Service)

    Bob Somerby's nameless Pet Peeve seems to be that Chris Hayes and the unnamed "famous" Professor should have asked "how much less" likely are white people to favor
    GPA based admission standards. A quite reasonable gripe,
    but not major considering the other problems with Hayes's coverage which Bob alludes to then overlooks. Maybe he'll get to those later when he posts his follow up opus promised for today.

    I've got some problems with infestations in blog posts which this offering illustrates.

    No linkage: Why no link to the All In Episode in question. That way we can verify for ourselves the veracity or lack of same by the famous poster.

    Why not name names (Rodeo Rachel problem): The "famous" professor should have been named to avoid the reader's possible confusion that he was the same professor who authored the study, which he was not.

    Why not cite the study: Bob alludes to the fact that Hayes totally distorts what this study was about, which I would find to be a greater problem than complaining about the absence of measurements about "how much less"
    respondents in the study answered positively to one question over another. In fact I would call it THE problem. In this I suspect Mr. Hayes mis covering, a famous professor is opining, and <r. Somerby is critiquing a study they haven't seen or read. Mr. Somerby may be trying to find the actual study upon with the story was based. It isn't easy. So why post about it when you haven't read it?

    This All In story was a miserable excuse for a news story or even an opinion story. The fact is the study itself may be worthless as academic research. But based on this post, the biggest problem is that Hayes and an unnamed professor who is so famous he is unnamed did not ask the right question.

    Somerby promises more. We'll see if he manages to get his eyeballs on the study and makes it possible for us to do the same when this tale continues.

    1. "Poo Poo...We'll see.."


    2. Anon 8/16: "YAWN"


    3. PPP -

      "Imitation is a kind of artless flattery."
      Joseph Addison