WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2020
Four researchers' slippery text: Way, way back in 2016, a group of four researchers conducted an alleged study. They asked a bunch of (white) medical students and residents to evaluate the accuracy of fifteen different statements.
As we noted yesterday, it seems to us that the problem began with certain aspects of the study's basic design. But the problem got much worse with the slippery text of the researchers' Abstract.
You can see the full text of the study here. The Abstract starts like this:
Black Americans are systematically undertreated for pain relative to white Americans. We examine whether this racial bias is related to false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites (e.g., “black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s skin”). Study 1 documented these beliefs among white laypersons and revealed that participants who more strongly endorsed false beliefs about biological differences reported lower pain ratings for a black (vs. white) target. Study 2 extended these findings to the medical context and found that half of a sample of white medical students and residents endorsed these beliefs...
"Half of a sample of white medical students and residents endorsed these [false] beliefs?" Unless we're dealing with simple incompetence, that's first-class slippery work!
From the highlighted statement, a reader might get the impression that half the "medical students and residents" had endorsed all the inaccurate statements. As we saw yesterday, such an impression would be grossly inaccurate.
In fact, very few of these medical students and residents "endorsed" the false statement concerning tolerance of pain among black patients. As we noted yesterday, the (false) statement in question was this:
"Black people’s nerve-endings are less sensitive than White people’s nerve-endings."
As we saw yesterday, only 16 out of the 222 (white) medical students and residents rated that false statement true. Indeed, given the slippery way the study was conducted, some or all of those 16 subjects may only have said that the statement was possibly true.
It gets worse—or in this case, better—among (white) respondents who had completed at least two years of medical school. Of third-year students and residents, only one (1) respondent out of 87 in all rated that false statement true, and that one person might have said that the statement was possibly true!
In short, very few of these (white) respondents rated that false statement true. That said, given the slippery way the researchers' abstract had been written, a careless reader might have gotten the impression that half the (white) medical students and residents had rated the false statement true.
That impression would be grossly inaccurate. But given the slippery language of the abstract, a gullible reader could easily be so misled.
Back on December 10, the Washington Post's Michele Norris conveyed that grossly false impression to her readers. In the column in question, Norris wrote this about These White People Today:
NORRIS (12/10/20): We are not just tussling with historical wrongs. A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain [than white patients] and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.
Norris' statement was grossly inaccurate. On the brighter side, it coincided with current preferred Storyline.
Where do egregious howlers come from? As a guess, we'll guess that Norris never saw that slippery Abstract. We'll guess that she never looked at the original study at all.
Tomorrow, we'll show you where the relevant link in Norris' column led. We'll show you where she probably got the false impression she then conveyed to Post readers.
Nothing will turn on the error Norris published that day—an error which will go uncorrected down through the annals of time. That said, Norris should have examined the original study before composing her groaner. Her editors should have fact-checked her claim before they put it in print.
That said, where do howlers come from? In the case of a groaner like this, we thought it was worth letting you know.
We've looked at the original study's design. We've looked at the original study's grossly misleading Abstract.
Tomorrow, we'll show you where the link in Norris' column led. Can anybody here play this game? Or again and again, is our nation's upper-end journalism really just Storyline?