THURSDAY, JANUARY 12, 2023
...producing a treasured result: Once again, we want to apologize for the length of this Case Study.
In full fairness to ourselves, the holidays got in the way. Then too, we have to say this:
So many peculiar behaviors are involved in the case of that UVa study that it's very, very, very hard to capture what our self-impressed blue tribe has actually done.
Some of these peculiar behaviors come from academics, including the academics who conducted the UVa study. The rest of these peculiar behaviors come from high-end mainstream journalists, who have repeatedly described the UVa study in ways which are extremely hard to square with the study's actual results.
We all know what these tribal players have said. In various types of formulations, they've denounced the racist beliefs of These (White) Medical Students Today.
Such statements are highly pleasing to our badly deformed blue tribe. What has been omitted from these accounts is the fact we noted yesterday, citing the work of Kevin Drum:
The authors of the UVa study also surveyed a group of "nonwhite" medical trainees—and the responses of those participants were "virtually identical to" the "shocking / disturbing" responses of their white counterparts, whose shocking and disturbing responses have been routinely denounced.
When it came to these journalistic denunciations, no (nonwhite) trainees need apply! Journalists have repeatedly denounced the responses of the white medical students. The "virtually identical" responses of the nonwhite medical students have been disappeared.
Quickly, let's state the obvious. This plainly isn't, in any way, the doing or fault of those "nonwhite" medical students, good decent people all.
This is the doing and the fault of our blue tribe's journalists and academics, starting with the peculiar decision by the UVa researchers to report the responses of the white participants while disappearing the responses of their nonwhite peers.
That strikes us as a very strange decision on the part of the researchers, who are good, decent people themselves. Our high-end journalists took over from there, apparently without ever bothering to look at the actual data from the UVa study itself.
Why did the researchers disappear the "nonwhite" data? We don't have the slightest idea. In their formal report about their study, the researchers never explain this peculiar decision.
That said, this is only one of the peculiar decisions these UVa researchers made. Today, we're going to focus on another peculiar decision, in the course of which we'll deliver the good news—the kind of news our pathetic blue tribe frequently seems to hate.
To what good news do we refer? As we noted yesterday, it isn't clear that any of the medical students—white and nonwhite alike—actually expressed any beliefs for which they should have been condemned in such ways as this:
SABIN (1/6/20): “Black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white people’s.” “Black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s.” “Black people’s blood coagulates more quickly than white people’s.”
These disturbing beliefs are not long-forgotten 19th-century relics. They are notions harbored by far too many medical students and residents as recently as 2016. In fact, half of trainees surveyed held one or more such false beliefs, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. I find it shocking that 40% of first- and second-year medical students endorsed the belief that “black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s.”
That denunciation of the trainees' shocking, disturbing false beliefs is the most extreme denunciation we have seen. But it shows how far our tribe can go in pursuit of such invidious statements—and the headline on this essay announced that all of these disturbing medical students were "white."
Did any of those medical students and medical residents really express any shocking false beliefs? Many journalists have said, as Professor Sabin did, that half the (white) medical trainees gave voice to such beliefs, even as they failed to note that the nonwhite medical trainees gave voice to views which were "virtually identical."
Yesterday, we announced the good news, the kind our tribe tends to hate. We said it isn't all that clear that any of the medical students—white and nonwhite trainees together!—gave voice to any such shocking beliefs.
Today, we'll explain (again) why we said that, making reference to another of the peculiar decisions the UVa researchers made.
As you may recall, participants in the UVa study were asked to assess fifteen statements about possible biological differences between blacks and whites. According to the researchers, four of the fifteen statements were true; the other eleven were false:
The fifteen statements:
1) On average, Blacks age more slowly than Whites.
2) Black people’s nerve-endings are less sensitive than White people’s nerve-endings.
3) Black people’s blood coagulates more quickly—because of that, Blacks have a lower rate of hemophilia than Whites.
4) Whites, on average, have larger brains than Blacks.
5) Whites are less susceptible to heart disease like hypertension than Blacks.*
6) Blacks are less likely to contract spinal cord diseases like multiple sclerosis.*
7) Whites have a better sense of hearing compared with Blacks.
8) Black people’s skin has more collagen (i.e., it’s thicker) than White people’s skin.
9) Blacks, on average, have denser, stronger bones than Whites.
10) Blacks have a more sensitive sense of smell than Whites; they can differentiate odors and detect faint smells better than Whites.
11) Whites have more efficient respiratory systems than Blacks.
12) Black couples are significantly more fertile than White couples.
13) Whites are less likely to have a stroke than Blacks.*
14) Blacks are better at detecting movement than Whites.
15) Blacks have stronger immune systems than Whites and are less likely to contract colds.
Those are the fifteen statements respondents were asked to assess. In the assessment of the researchers, the statements marked with an asterisk are the statements which are true.
Those are the fifteen statements. Respondents were given these six ways to assess the statements:
The six permitted assessments:
1 = Definitely untrue
2 = Probably untrue
3 = Possibly untrue
4 = Possibly true
5 = Probably true
6 = Definitely true
Respondents had to give one of those scores to each of the fifteen statements. They weren't allowed to say that they simply didn't know if some particular statement was true. They could only assess a statement in one of those six ways.
That list of possible assessments strikes us as somewhat peculiar. For starters, in terms of their basic truth value, "possibly true" and "possibly untrue" mean the exact same thing.
By definition, if something is "possibly true," that means it's also "possibly untrue." We'll only note this one distinction:
"Possibly true" is a fairly standard English locution. We'll guess that the phrase "possibly untrue," a tiny feint at a double negative, rolls from the tongue in conventional speech with a great deal less frequency.
Having said that, whatever! The truly peculiar procedure here is the following:
If participants marked a statement as "possibly true," they were scored by the researchers as having "endorsed" the statement!
Why do we call that procedure peculiar? To borrow from the late Sam Ervin, Because we speak the English language. It's our native tongue!
We're sorry, but no. If you say a statement is possibly true, you haven't said that the statement is true. That is especially so if you've been stripped of the chance to say that you simply don't know whether the statement is accurate.
With these peculiar procedures in place, pity the poor (white) medical student who took part in this study:
Just imagine! He or she is asked to evaluate a given statement. Not knowing whether the statement is true—and not being permitted to say as much—he or she marks the statement as being "possibly true."
Alas! Having marked a statement as possibly true, the medical student is regarded as having said that the statement is true! And at this point, another slightly peculiar procedure enters the mix:
Pity the poor (white) medical student! Exposed to eleven statements which are (allegedly) false, he or she responds correctly to ten of those statements.
The medical student directly rejects ten of those eleven allegedly false statements. But if he or she merely says that one of the statements is possibly true, he or she is consigned to the Hell of holding at least one disturbing, shocking belief straight outta the 19th century!
One final indignity awaits:
That medical student's "nonwhite" peers offered responses in this survey which were "virtually identical" to those of the "white" medical students. In fact, according to Drum's perspicacious analysis, the following is true:
DRUM (1/4/23): Beliefs of white and nonwhite respondents are virtually identical. In particular the average score for nerve endings is 1.94 vs. 1.83 (nonwhite respondents are more likely to believe it) and 1.76 vs. 1.73 for skin thickness. Overall, the belief in false statements is 2.06 vs. 1.98, meaning that nonwhite respondents are slightly more likely to believe them than white S&Rs.
Belief in false statements is not a problem. The percentages are low and the responses are almost all tentative.
According to Drum's deep dive into the bowels of the UVa study, the nonwhite participants were slightly more likely to believe the false statements than the white participants were. But so what? In their report of the study, the researchers disappeared the nonwhite respondents. They discussed the white respondents only, saying that 50 percent of these miscreants had ascribed to at least one of the allegedly false beliefs.
Pity the poor white medical student who agreed to take part in this mess! If he rejected ten of the eleven allegedly false statements, then marked the eleventh such statement as being possibly true, he was consigned to the Hell of holding shocking false beliefs from the 19th century.
In fact, if we're still speaking English, he has expressed belief in none of the allegedly false statements. Meanwhile, his (wholly blameless) nonwhite peers, whose responses were virtually identical though slightly worse, never get mentioned at all.
This very strange study seems to pile one peculiar procedure on top of another in search of an ultimate finding. For whatever reason, the ultimate finding the researchers chose to report concerned the white medical students only.
The nonwhite students gave responses which were virtually identical, but those responses were disappeared. And just for the record, very few of the students, white and nonwhite together, actually affirmed any of the allegedly false statements. More from Kevin Drum's perspicacious work:
DRUM: Answers are given on a scale of 1-6. S&Rs are allowed to mark an answer as "possibly," "probably," or "definitely" true or false. With one exception, which I'll get to, virtually every single person who marked a false statement as true said it was only "possibly true." Among all the false statements, there were 229 marks of "possibly true" and only 9 marks of "probably true." There was not a single mark of "definitely true."
I said there was one exception, and this is it: I didn't count the marks from the question about the thickness of Black skin. This is the huge outlier, with 41% of first and second-years believing it and even 23% of thirds and residents believing it.
According to Dum, almost no one ever marked a false statement as anything more than possibly true. He notes one exception—the statement about the thickness of skin. We'll note an interesting point he makes about that statement tomorrow.
At this time, we ask you now to gaze upon the apparent strangeness of this frequently-cited study. In our view, the study piles one peculiar procedure upon another, leading to a treasured result:
These White Medical Students Today! Their shocking, disturbing false beliefs are straight out of the 19th century, one top academic familiarly declared.
At present, our highly self-impressed blue tribe seems to love such crackpot statements! The statement is ugly, counterproductive and false, and so is our failing blue tribe.
Tomorrow: An attempt at an overview of a highly instructive event