WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2023
Nonwhites said the same things: As our Case Study nears its end, we return to the basic text of the UVa study in question.
We return to the very start of the four researchers' report on the UVa study. Their widely cited research report starts in the manner shown:
UVA STUDY (4/4/16): The present work examines beliefs associated with racial bias in pain management, a critical health care domain with well-documented racial disparities. Specifically, this work reveals that a substantial number of white laypeople and medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites and demonstrates that these beliefs predict racial bias in pain perception and treatment recommendation accuracy. It also provides the first evidence that racial bias in pain perception is associated with racial bias in pain treatment recommendations. Taken together, this work provides evidence that false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites continue to shape the way we perceive and treat black people—they are associated with racial disparities in pain assessment and treatment recommendations.
For the record, we've focused on the alleged false beliefs of those "white medical students and residents." We haven't focused on the alleged correlation between those alleged false beliefs and subsequent treatment recommendations.
In particular, we've focused on the way those alleged false beliefs have been described by journalists and academics over the past few years. Once again, here's the way Professor Sabin described those alleged false beliefs in an essay which was later cited as the source for an account of the UVa study in the Washington Post:
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.”
The headline to Sabin's essay made it clear that the shocking medical students and residents in question were "white." You can see the whole essay here.
Yikes! According to Professor Sabin, those (white) medical trainees has given voice to shocking, disturbing false beliefs—false beliefs which seemed to be drawn from the days in which this nation was built on a foundation of human enslavement.
According to the UVa researchers, the (white) trainees had expressed an array of false beliefs. According to Professor Sabin, the false beliefs of these (white) trainees weere shocking and disturbing—and were reminiscent of this nation's baldly racist past.
The professor's assessment went well beyond what the researchers had said. But in each of these descriptions, readers were told that it was white trainees who held these false beliefs. Readers were given no reason to think that any other groups of respondents had been involved.
A bunch of white medical trainees had given voice to shocking, disturbing false claims—false claims which seemed to be racist, or at least racist-adjacent! At present, our highly unimpressive blue tribe seems to love making such statements more than we love life itself.
These White Medical Students Today! They hold shocking false beliefs concerning matters of race! Our flailing tribe seems to love such thrilling statements, even where such statements are grossly misleading, or are indeed simply wrong.
A bunch of white trainees had been surveyed, full stop. Based on anything anyone said, no "nonwhites" had been involved!
In fairness, it's easy to see where journalists and academics might have gotten that impression—but hold on! Way, way down at the very end of the UVa researchers' report, this bit of surprising news was offered as a slightly puzzling afterthought:
UVA STUDY: Readers may also be interested in analyses for nonwhite participants (Asian, n = 43; black, n = 21; biracial, n = 28; Hispanic/Latino, n = 11; other, n = 3).
Say what? As it turned out, the UVa researchers had also surveyed a substantial number of "nonwhite" medical students and residents!
As it turns out, the researchers had surveyed 222 white trainees—but they had also surveyed 108 of their nonwhite classmates and colleagues! But in a decision which may seem slightly peculiar, the researchers had decided to restrict their study to the responses of the white trainees alone.
For reasons which went unexplained, responses by the nonwhite trainees were, in effect, disappeared. Why would the researchers decide to do that?
We have no idea.
We've seen no attempt to explain this decision—but as a result of this decision, Professor Sabin was soon denouncing the white trainees in extremely colorful ways, without even mentioning the fact that nonwhite trainees had been surveyed too.
That said, we interrupt this morning's report to bring you some very good news:
In our judgment, very few of the medical trainees—"white" and "nonwhite" trainees alike—actually endorsed (agreed with) any disturbing or shocking beliefs in the course of the UVa study.
We'll offer even better news—it isn't entirely clear to us that any more than a handful of the medical trainees endorsed any false beliefs at all!
We'll postpone our reason for saying these things until tomorrow's report. For today, let's focus on a basic fact, a fact expressed by Kevin Drum in his perspicacious assessment of the UVa study itself.
Who knew! A group of nonwhite trainees had been surveyed, along with a bunch of disturbing whites! And not only that! After he journeyed very deep into the bowels of the UVa study, Drum was able to emerge with some surprising news.
Remember what's at issue here. The trainees were judged on the frequency with which they (allegedly) "endorsed" (expressed agreement with) eleven different (allegedly) false statements.
As we've noted, it seems to us that very few of the trainees endorsed any false statements at all. But this is what Kevin Drum found deep in the bowels of this widely cited UVa study:
Good lord! In the assessment of the UVa researchers, the nonwhite participants had endorsed a bunch of (allegedly) false beliefs too:
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 [participants] 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 [participants] are slightly more likely to believe them than white participants].
Belief in false statements is not a problem. The percentages are low and the responses are almost all tentative.
When it comes to belief in false statements, "the responses are almost all tentative?" What the heck did Kevin Drum mean by that?
We'll review that point tomorrow. For today, let's get clear on something Drum clearly says in that passage.
Let's be clear on what Drum is saying! Based upon his review of all the responses by all the participants, he says that the responses of the (disappeared) nonwhite trainees were "virtually identical" to those of the (shockingly racist) white trainees!
In fact, the nonwhite trainees were "slightly more likely" to endorse the false statements than the white trainees were! The differences between the two groups were tiny and inconsequential, but that's what Kevin Drum found.
According to Drum, there was virtually no difference in the way the two groups assessed the 11 (allegedly) false statements. But having said that, so what?
Responses by the white participants have routinely been cited, for years, within the mainstream press. The white participants have been savaged for their shocking, disturbing false beliefs. The similar responses by the nonwhite participants have been disappeared.
The researchers reported the alleged false beliefs on the part of the white respondents. At the same time, they virtually disappeared the fact that the nonwhite respondents had offered assessments which were "virtually identical."
Our professors and journalists took over from there. Why does our blue tribe behave in these ways? Also, is there even the slightest chance that we'll ever stop?
(Disconsolate experts say no.)
We close today by restating the bit of very good news we adumbrated above:
In our assessment, very few of the respondents, white and nonwhite together, "endorsed" any false statements at all! Tomorrow, to explain why we would say such a thing, we'll turn again to the findings reported by Drum.
That said, our deeply flawed, routinely repulsive tribe is, at present, deeply in love with invidious racial claims. We love expressing these claims more than life itself, and we need to make ourselves stop.
Tomorrow: How many participants, "white" and "nonwhite" alike, actually endorsed any false statements at all?