...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:Do those numbers support the claim that black women are subjected to the most discrimination in promotion and pay?
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%
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.