From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Mon May 01 2006 - 13:08:22 EDT
>--------------------- Original Message -------------------- >Subject: critics of statistics >From: "Luis A. Aviles" <email@example.com> >Date: Sun, April 30, 2006 12:59 am >To: firstname.lastname@example.org >----------------------------------------------------------- > >Dear Jerry: > >Please, forward the message, I would like to see what comes from it. > >Let me explain something to you about my interest in the matter. I am >currently working in a project in which I present a critique of statistics >based on the results of the U.S census conducted in Puerto Rico, as it >relates to racial classification. My work criticizes the positivist >assumptions of racial statistics. I would like to know of people working >in the field of economics, and other fields, who work on issues related to >a critique of any aspect of the social production of statistics. As the >field of statistics presents itself of being non-ideological, I would like >to be familiar with critiques of statistics. Do you know of anyone? >Thanks, >Luis A. Aviles >University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez I include some of my own reflections on this topic, but my thinking has developed since I wrote some of the below for listserves about eight years ago (see archives of LBO-talk); some of this was included in my dissertation, and there are no footnotes here, so please do not cite below. But here are three sources: Tukufu Zuberi, THICKER THAN BLOOD: An Essay on how Racial Statistics Lie Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 2001) The Politics of Large Numbers : A History of Statistical Reasoning by Alain Desrosières, http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/ (a set of articles on racial classification in medicine) several pieces by Michael Root on making kinds, classification and race. DO NOT CITE BELOW WITHOUT MY PERMISSION ON THE CONCEPT OF GENERAL INTELLIGENCE Stephen Jay Gould argued against IQ testing on the basis of his critique of the factor analytic derivation of g (a unitary quality underlying all mental cognitive activity) as the principal component which can resolve the greatest amount of information from a battery of tests. Gould did not really argue against the cultural or class and race biases of the test-- that is, IQ tests are biased to validate status quo hierarchies as a reflection of class- and race-differentiated innate capacities (perhaps a more suitable topic for what is supposed to be a popular critique of the IQ industry) --but the attempt to resolve test information into a principal component, instead of rotating factor axes from their principal component to new positions until multiple clusters of intelligence are identified and g has disappeared. That is, Gould argued that g is a reification, an artifact of a statistical technique, and the attempt to simplify test information into a principal component is ideologically (or metaphorically) driven. This argument which is as easily misinterpreted as a positivist stricture against the postulation of unobservable explanatory variables has been challenged even by other critics of The Bell Curve. As Clark Glymour puts it, Gould claims that factor analysis produces conjectures about the existence of unobserved properties solely because the properties, if they existed, would explain features of data; in his phrasing factor analysis 'reifies' unobserved quantities, and he thinks 'reification' is a Big Mistake. I wonder whether he thinks atoms and molecules and their weights are Big Mistakes as well, and if not, why not. However what drove Gould's argument is not positivist skepticism towards the postulation of unobservable causal mechanisms. Gould would not have argued against the reification of g had it be shown to have been detectable in its effects; given however that variance in life outcomes that general intelligence, much less inherited general intelligence, could be shown to account for was negligible even in terms of its supporters' own data, Gould simply concluded that the postulation of its existence has extra-scientific--nay, scientistic--grounds. He argued that Spearman had hoped to pass off the method--factor analysis-- by which g can be derived from a battery of tests as scientific on the basis of unjustified analogy to physics: Thus caught up in physics envy again, Spearman described his own 'adventurous step of deserting all actually observable phenomena of the mind and proceeding instead to invent an underlying something which --by analogy with physics--has been called mental energy.'. Spearman looked to the basic property of g--its influence in varying degree, upon mental operations--and tried to imagine what physical entity best fitted such behavior. What else, he argued, but a form of energy pervading the entire brain and activating a set of specific 'engines,' each with a definite locus. The more energy, the more general activation, the more intelligence...If g pervades the entire cortex, as a general energy, then the s-factors for each test must have more definite locations. They must represent specific groups of neurons, activating in different ways by the energy identified with g. The s-factors, Spearman wrote (and not merely in metaphor), are engines fueled by a circulating g. Once the pseudo scientific nature of the postulation of g is understood, one is led to anthropologist André Béteille's interesting comparison: as Indians are (or were) obsessed with ranking people in terms of something that cannot be measured (purity and pollution), Americans are just as obsessed to the point of having developed a compulsory billion dollar industry with something just as immeasurable on a single hierarchical scale....general intelligence! Pifalls of Racial Classification Moreover, it is not clear that it is scientifically meaningful to racialize the data on variance in IQ at all. While indeed the racialization of data can in many cases allow the social scientist to measure the effects of racism on social processes, the racialization of data can arguably contribute in some cases to the very racism that the research is meant to play a part in remedying--that is, whatever contribution the research makes to the eradication of racism cannot be segregated from the more important contribution it may make to the reification of race without which racism would be impossible. This threat is especially acute in the case of so-called intelligence. After all, the national controversy over how to account for the putative racial IQ gap, created in and through the discursive system of racial classification, could itself sanction sufficient racism and correlative self-doubt as to render the possibility of racial causation plausible after all: the discursive system of racial classification in this case may create the conditions which render its use reasonable as a way of measuring its own effect on society. Race would seem then to be at times a textbook example of what Ian Hacking refers to as dynamic nominalism--the process by which systems of classification become entrenched, objective and perduring. Implicitly drawing from J.L Austin's speech act theory, Pierre Bourdieu has made the same point about family discourse: In a kind of circle, the native category, having become a scientific category for demographers, sociologists and essentially social workers, who, like official statisticians, are invested with the capacity to work on reality, helps to give real existence to that category. The [race]discourse that ethnomethodologists refer to is a powerful, performative discourse, which has the means of creating the conditions of its own verification and therefore its own reinforcement, an institutional discourse which durably institutes itself in reality. In the festschrift to the philosopher Nelson Goodman, Paul Starr has also expressed the problem well: "Categories accumulate. We do not ordinarily think about nor act upon the categories of social life; we act and think within them." This indeed may be the greatest tragedy of race. For in this sordid debate about racial gaps in intelligence, reflection seems required about exactly why there is social interest in it in the first place. Why does one not find, as Eugene Genovese smartly asked, scholarly publications on the IQ gaps between Sicilians, WASP's and Jews: Well, then, why do they [Herrnstein and Murray] lump all blacks together? Where, apart from a few inadequate and unhelpful remarks, do we find an examination of ethnic differences among blacks in, say, performance on IQ tests? And the same criticism could be extended to the treamtment of whites, not all of whom might respond to other comparisons with the equanimity they show for comparisons involving blacks. Personally, I am pleased to be told that blacks are not as smart as Sicilians, but I would not recommend that anyone try to tell me that Sicilians are not as smart as WASP's or Jews. One cannot naively assume that a racial gap in IQ simply exists. In Morris Cohen and Ernest Nagel's succinct formulation, classifying " really involves, or is a part of the formation of hypotheses as to the nature of things." . That is, classification choices are themselves part of theory choices made in terms of values like explanatory power, empirical adequacy, simplicity, and so forth, but in particularly contested issues like social inequality, political values enter in as well. The classification of variance in IQ by race has to be understood as a choice: the classification may imply that the researcher believes that racism or congenital racial inferiority is an important causal factor in that variance or that the researcher believes that the width of the dispersion will become either more or less politically tolerable if it is understood in racial terms. But the state and the social sciences, in their official capacity and due to their cognitive authority, establish conventions of how to see things Yehudi Webster for example would argue that official racialized statistics only reify racial categories and overall contribute to the very racism that they are trying to eradicate--that is, whatever contribution they make to the measurement and eradication of racism cannot be segregated from (as noted above) the more important contribution they make to the reification of race without which racism would be impossible. While this argument may be unpersuasive in many aspects of social life, it has greater plausibility in the study of "race"-based differences in "intelligence." In short, the national debate over the racial IQ gap may be one aspect of the racism that coupled with wealth poverty would have led to a greater "racial" gap if not for the resilience of minority culture. One could of course argue that if one did not racialize the data there would be no way of confirming the hypothesis about the resilient superiority of minority culture, but this seems to be a case that the racism and self doubt generated by official debate about how to explain the gap have been simply too destructive to want to keep the debate alive. To reiterate: this is not to suggest an argument against the racial classification of data on social problems tout court; it is rather an argument for self-reflexive awareness from the social scientist about why problems are understood in racial terms in the first place. One can imagine for example Murray and Herrnstein jumping on the fact of a higher propensity to domestic homicide among blacks than whites. Yet, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the six-fold difference in black and white rates of domestic homicide disappear when household crowding is used as a measure of socioeconomic status. A racial classification of the distribution of this social pathology thus leads to a mis-specification of the causal forces which partially explain pathology. Racial comparative statistics on domestic homicide rates do not depict a racial reality. Rather, they are the data produced by the racial theory. But it is more portentous than a simple scientific error in classification. What implications will be drawn from the "self-evident fact" of the more violent propensities of blacks? What race-specific solutions will be proposed? This is of course not an idle question. In 1992, Dr. Frederick Goodwin, then head of the Alcoholism, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA), focused on a "rising rate of homicide among black men" and later attempted to make sense of the ghetto through analogies with violent behavior of monkeys in the jungle, reading stereotypes of African-Americans back into monkeys, as Pat Shipman wryly put it. Goodwin would later be involved with the Violence Initiative which proposed to study the putative biological and chemical deficiencies of those who had committed acts of violence and devise appropriate drug therapies. It was in short an attempt to cast a social issue as a public health problem of a racially identifiable group. It is simply not obvious that variance in social outcomes is always well understood in racial terms and that the social-scientific attempt to do so can be easily segregated from the causal forces that produce differences in social outcomes by race. But this kind of self-reflexiveness is underdeveloped among positivist social scientists. Given the nonsensical nature of any claim about a heritable racial IQ gap, if not the existence of the "fact" of a racial IQ gap, it is astonishing to discover academic ambivalence about the possibility of deep heritable racial differences in cognitive potential. In the Black White Test Score Gap Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips report: Snyderman and Rothman asked a sample of over 1000 psychologists, sociologists, and educational researchers, 'Which of the following best characterizes your opinion of the heritability of black white differences in IQ?' Of the 661 'experts' who returned a questionnaire, 14 percent declined to answer this particular question, 24 percent said the data were insufficient, 1 percent thought the gap was 'due entirely to genetic variation,' 15 percent entirely to environmental variation, and 45 percent thought it was a 'product of both genetic and environmental variation.' It is not clear how many of those gave the 'both' response would accept our conclusion that genes do not play a large role in the black-white gap. This deeply troubling survey result and interpretation seem to suggest that most educational psychologists, as well as these authors, do not rule out the possibility that Africans are somewhat deeply racially different than whites in their respective capacities for intelligent thought. As Block notes, many critics of The Bell Curve were implicitly arguing for a low degree of genetic inferiority in blacks. It is interesting that while the psychologist Arthur Jensen is referred to five times in this volume, Richard Lewontin, the world famous geneticist and co-author of Education and Class, is not mentioned once. There is thus unsurprisingly no nuanced discussion of what heritability even means and the problems of conducting such an analysis on human, as opposed to on plant and breeding animal populations. Yet it seems clear to me that there has to be extra scientific reasons not to dismiss in unequivocal terms the idea of any heritable racial difference in terms of the pseudo- entity of (reified) intelligence. This would be the only reasonable conclusion to reach scientifically--the refusal to even consider the hypothesis of any heritable racial differences in intelligence in terms of insufficient evidence to accept the existence of the posited entities of deeply differentiated races with concordant variations and the factor analytic derived entity of g. That is the hypothesis of whether there are genetically determined IQ differences between the races seems a scientific non starter, no less absurd that doing a few regressions to reject the hypothesis of whether witchcraft truly brings misfortune. Indeed we know from Evans-Pritchard's analysis of witchcraft of how internally contradictory and explanatorily insufficient belief systems can not only maintain their purchase but also remain important for the reproduction of an unequal society. The power of race, like witchcraft, partially derives from how much it allows one to make easy sense of various misfortunes and the in-built safeguards it has against explanatorily failure. However, it is not yet widely accepted in the academy that there is as much madness in this whole way of thinking about the heritable differences in races as there would be in the power of witchcraft. To say that there are no genetically inferior races is inadequate because it commits one at least to that way of speaking. It seems to commit one to the view that even if there is no decisive evidence for genetically inferior races, there might have been or still be. To speak in this way about witches is more easily seen be involved in a distortion than if one speaks this way about heritable racial differences. Race and Medicine As has been noted by Vincente Navarro, on one of the rare occasions (in 1986) that the government did collect statistics on mortality rates for one of the most important causes--heart disease--by class, it was discovered that there was a higher differential in the rate for heart disease between blue and white collar workers (2.3. times higher for the former) than there was between blacks and whites (about 1.3 times higher). Drawing the conclusion that "growing class mortality differentials, which are ignored by the government and the media, are primarily responsible for the growing race mortality differentials, not the other way around," Navarro is arguing, in effect, that reliance of race as a variable in health statistics reifies white identity while 'de-emphasizing the class structure of American society and (making) it appear that the differences are genetic (and pan-racial) and therefore not a function of social and economic inequality or racism." Navarro himself writes: The evidence is overwhelming that class is an extremely important category for understanding the lives and deaths of the US population. Why, then, do the government and the media focus on race and ignore class? Why is the United States the only major developed capitalist country that does not collect mortality statistics by class....The absence of class analysis and class discourse is a victory for the capitalist class, which encourages the myth of the middle-class society. The capitalist class emphasizes race rather than class as a means to keep white workers on its side. For instance, mortality statistics that show that whites have better health indicators than blacks suggest that white workers are more similar to their white bosses than they are to black workers. Because of racism, blacks have higher mortality indicators than whites within each class and within each occupational category. That is why it is important to publish mortality statistics by race, standardized by class. But the publication of mortality statistics by race alone is not only unscientific, it is an ideological statement. It assumes--as the federal government does--that race is the most important category by which to divide our population. This assumption is of course wrong: it divides rather than unites people who, in fact, have more similarities than differences in their ways of living and dying. (109) For all its powerful implications, Navarro's attempt to reduce race to "an ideological statement" is however ultimately unsatisfactory. For one, it does not capture the ways in which race is subjectively experienced as a self-evident category. Secondly, Navarro does not dwell on the complexity of how race can be both (merely) a misrepresentation of fundamental social contradictions and still a (real) precipitant of inequality, both an ideology and a material force. That is, Navarro seems to be saying both that membership in the minority group gives one a greater likelihood of experiencing a certain outcome (the implicit assumption being that "it's really minorities' overrepresentation in the working class that explains their disproportionate health problems.") and that minority status in itself is also in some sense causally relevant to being subjected to some specified outcomes. In all fairness to Navarro, there is certainly inherently nothing contradictory in arguing that race is both an index of a more powerful factor that cannot for ideological reasons be specified in any other way and itself a factor in the eventuation of outcomes. To be sure, Navarro is not saying that minority status is causally relevant only in so far as it gives one a greater statistical likelihood of suffering blue collar working conditions. Race itself can be the proximate cause of outcomes through for example stress from racism or awareness of the low status to which one is consigned in the eyes of others on account of this or that somatic particularity. Navarro's point seems to be that not only is race overburdened as an explanation for the health problems of minorities, it serves to obscure the problems of workers, regardless of race. And he indeed can say that without having to deny that racial discrimination is active in the social world.
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