TUESDAY, JANUARY 3, 2023
The conduct of blue tribe elites: Why in the world did Michele Norris believe that grossly inaccurate claim?
The claim in question wasn't simply inaccurate; it was grossly inaccurate. So why in the world did Michele Norris believe it?
The claim appeared in a column in the Washington Post. Why in the world did a high-ranking, elite mainstream journalist believe the highlighted claim?
NORRIS (12/9/20): 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 and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.
"A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain?"
That was Norris' account of one part of the UVa study in question—the part of the study in which These White Medical Students Today were asked if they believed this inaccurate statement:
Blacks’ nerve endings are less sensitive than whites’
Why in the world did Norris believe it? You're asking an excellent question. Presumably, the answer to your excellent question starts with Norris's source.
As you can see in her column, Norris offered a link in support of her baldly inaccurate claim. She linked to an essay by "Janice Sabin, PhD, MSW," an apparently credible academic at the University of Washington.
Sabin's essay had been published by The Association of American Medical Colleges, an apparently credible academic organization. With that in mind, these are the headline Norris encountered when she reviewed Sabin's essay:
How we fail black patients in pain
Half of white medical trainees believe such myths as black people have thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings than white people. An expert looks at how false notions and hidden biases fuel inadequate treatment of minorities’ pain.
Does our nation's medical establishment "fail black patients in pain?" Stating the obvious, that's a very important question.
We aren't qualified to assess that widely-asserted belief. But those are the headlines which sat atop the essay which Norris used as her source.
At a glance, those headlines might seem to support the wildly inaccurate claim Norris made in her column. Then again, it isn't quite clear that they do.
Those headlines do not explicitly say that half the white medical trainees believed the one specific "myth" about black people's nerve endings. Those headlines may merely intend to say that half the medical students believe some such myths, not all such myths.
In short, if Norris was working from those ambiguous headlines, she may have been reading them wrong.
Those ambiguous headlines don't necessarily support the wildly inaccurate claim Norris made in her column. What did Sabin say in her actual text? Directly beneath those ambiguous headlines, here's how her essay started:
SABIN (1/8/20): “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.”
We'll start by noting an intriguing fact. In the actual text of her actual essay, Professor Sabin never says that the "medical trainees" surveyed in the 2016 study were all white medical trainees.
Someone put that accurate fact into the headlines to Sabin's essay. But for whatever peculiar reason, the actual text of the actual essay doesn't include that fact.
At any rate, Professor Sabin said she found it "shocking" that so many of These Medical Students Today hold such "disturbing beliefs" as the three she listed—false beliefs which might otherwise seem to be "19th century relics."
The excitement is general in that passage as the professor expresses her shock. That said, Sabin plainly doesn't say that half the medical students believed each of those shocking false beliefs. She merely says that half the medical students in question "held one or more such beliefs."
At this point, let's stop to critique the journalistic skills of Michele Noris. Also, let's stop to critique the skills of Professor Sabin herself.
Norris apparently scanned those ambiguous headlines and misunderstood what she'd read. Even in the ambiguous headlines, Professor Sabin (or her proxy) never explicitly said that half the medical students in question believed the inaccurate claim about black people's nerve endings—about Black patients "having a higher tolerance for pain."
In the actual text of her actual essay, it's clear that Professor Sabin isn't making that claim. Did Norris actually read Sabin's essay? If she did, did she understand what Sabin explicitly said?
We don't know how to answer those questions. Concerning Norris and her journalistic procedures, the following also seems to be true:
Apparently, Norris never looked at the actual UVa study to fact-check her (grossly inaccurate) claim. If she had reviewed the actual UVa study, she would have seen that the actual study made no claim which even dimly resembles the claim she put into print.
She simply put the claim in print—a claim which is grossly inaccurate. Two years later, Norris' grossly inaccurate claim remains uncorrected in the archives of the Washington Post.
How strong are the journalistic practices of our highest-ranking mainstream journalists? In the case of Norris, she apparently misunderstood what she Sabin had said, and she apparently never checked the actual data in the UVa study itself.
If she had checked the actual data in the actual study, she would have found that the actual study only claimed that 16 out of 222 medical students believed the specific statement in question. And uh-oh:
She also would have seen that, given the way the study was conducted, it's possible that none of the students actually said that they believed that particular claim. This brings us to the academic skills of Professor Sabin herself.
Professor Sabin said she was shocked, shocked by the archaic false beliefs held by These White Medical Trainees Today.
She didn't say that half these white medical students believed the claim about black patients and pain. But she did accept the overall assessment offered by the authors of the study, in which half the white medical students believed at least one such "disturbing belief."
In our view, Professor Sabin is perhaps a bit easily shocked—perhaps performatively so. That said, she was less than fully perspicacious in her account of what the UVa study can legitimately be said to have found.
What can the study be said to have found? Given its slippery research methods, it's amazingly hard to say.
We'll revisit that point tomorrow. At any rate, the easily shocked Professor Sabin never described the slippery way These [White] Medical Students Today got wrangled into the camp of those who continue to hold disturbing, 19th century beliefs about matters of race.
In fact, as we explained in this report, it isn't clear that any of the white medical students actually said that they believed the false claim Norris highlighted. Professor Sabin blew past this methodological problem as she, perhaps a bit performatively, expressed her sense of shock.
What did those medical students believe? Given the study's design, it's very hard to say.
That said, Norris plainly misstated what Professor Sabin actually said. Tomorrow, we'll look again at the various ways Sabin may have been misstating the actual findings of the actual study itself.
Norris is a major blue tribe journalist. Sabin is a major blue tribe academic.
Sadly, our journalistic and academic elites often seem to possess very weak analytical skills. They often seem to engage in very lazy procedures as they conduct a headlong pursuit of Preferred Tribal Storyline.
The logicians have walked off their posts, leaving us at the mercy of those other flawed elites. We've been telling you this for years at this point, and your lizard has never stopped saying that we're wrong, just oh so wrong.
Tomorrow: In service to tribal Storyline, No Thumbs On The Scales Left Behind