Academic- and government-sponsored misinformation based on “the science” may have become a focal point during the COVID pandemic, but it is nothing new. Like Ptolemy needing extremely complex models to explain the observed movements of the sun and the planets because the authorities had deemed Earth the center of the solar system, today’s “experts” bend over backward in their attempts to show that all racially disparate outcomes are the result of “systemic racism.”
Reports produced by academic think tanks and government experts are cited in anti-racist public policy proposals and quoted by politicians, activists, and cable news talking heads as established fact. Media outlets across the country parrot their headline claims, never pausing to read or question the analysis.
After reading multiple news articles summarizing some of these studies, I decided to review the actual reports themselves. The gyrations these Ph.Ds. go through to avoid obvious, commonsense explanations and arrive at that of “systemic racism” are quite impressive. There is actually an entire body of work detailing how to bring critical race theory to bear on data analysis. It describes:
As David E. Kirkland explains, “The use of research evidence is not only embedded in systems of power, it is a system of power.” He further argues data are not neutral, as some might posit. This does not mean that data should not be used but that we should approach them differently. Kirkland, by way of Ibram X. Kendi, suggests research teams “be composed in ways that allow for checks against all racist impulses and ideas” and says grants should “incentivize researchers to always include diverse and critical perspectives in the conception and design of the work.”
Academics, it seems, have embraced this approach wholeheartedly.
The New York Times recently ran an article titled “Childbirth Is Deadlier for Black Families Even When They’re Rich, Expansive Study Finds.” It cites a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, in which the authors’ most damning “proof” of racism is that wealthy black families at the top of the income distribution had worse infant and maternal health than the poorest white families. This assertion is incredibly misleading considering that the report also found that the wealthiest parents of all races have the most complications because they are more likely to put off having their first child until after age 35, when the likelihood of a preterm-birth or low-birth-weight child is much higher — another example of authors choosing only the data that fits their predetermined conclusions.
The authors never mention the top causes of birth complications, much less attempt to adjust for them in their analysis of the “causes” of these health discrepancies.
Additionally, while it is true that black families’ maternal and infant health was worse than that of non-Hispanic white families across the income spectrum, the authors never mention the top causes of birth complications, much less attempt to adjust for them in their analysis of the “causes” of these health discrepancies. Black women are significantly overrepresented in the most common causes of complications in birth — diabetes (76 percent more likely to manifest), hypertension (44 percent), obesity (46 percent), severe obesity (59 percent), and teenage pregnancies (108 percent). I also wondered why the authors fail to discuss how Hispanic families fared in childbirth. As it turns out, their pregnancy-related mortality ratio is the lowest of all groups — even lower than that of white women. The authors once again exclude anything that counters their desired conclusion.
Instead, the study’s authors recommend the following solutions: Reduce health care “demand-side barriers rooted in a long history of racism”; and address the “large and persistent racial wealth gap in the US, policy-induced racial segregation, racial disparities in pollution exposure, and cumulative stress due to racial discrimination.”
Based on a new paper from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, a Stanford University news release on Jan. 31, 2023, declared: “Researchers have long wondered if the IRS uses its audit powers equitably. And now we have learned that it does not.” CBS News and dozens of other news outlets immediately parroted the claims. This was the authors’ conclusion even though the study found the following: “Because EITC [Earned Income Tax Credit] audit selection is largely automated, and because the IRS does not observe race, the status quo racial audit disparity is unlikely to be driven by disparate treatment of Black and non-Black taxpayers.” In an interview with NPR, one of the paper’s contributors elaborated: “So what we find is that Black taxpayers tend to make the types of mistakes [underreporting income and falsely claiming the EITC] that IRS historically has focused on.”
The IRS does not collect any information on race. Due to limited manpower, the IRS uses as much automation as possible. This catches simple factual mistakes, like people underreporting their income in comparison to what their W2 says or more than one person claiming the EITC (a low-income tax credit) on the same child. Since this is all automated, any disparity in the rate at which any group is audited is tied to that group’s propensity to underreport their income and/or improperly claim the EITC.
As a possible “solution” to the systemic racism the authors claim exists at the IRS, they suggest tweaking the IRS algorithms so that Hispanic, Asian, and white low-income EITC claimants are targeted for audits at a higher rate than blacks. This solution both is arbitrary and requires intentionally ignoring a significant percentage of automatically flagged tax returns.
On Jan. 11, 2022, ProPublica used a study from the Department of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago as the basis for claiming that “traffic cameras in Chicago disproportionately ticket Black and Latino motorists.” The study, however, had found that “[p]roponents contend that cameras offer a race-neutral alternative to police enforcement of traffic infractions, emphasizing dual concerns of racially disproportionate stops and the risk of violent encounters with police particularly for Black drivers.” Even though “[t]he number of cameras in close proximity to majority Black or majority Latino neighborhoods is not significantly greater than other neighborhoods,” the research shows that “majority Black census tracts have the highest rates of tickets per household.” Furthermore, “[t]he deployment of cameras reduced the expected number of fatal and severe injury crashes by 15%.”
Traffic cameras are, by definition, race blind.
The reality is that traffic cameras are, by definition, race blind, and they reduce the number of traffic injuries and fatalities. The commonsense — and omitted — conclusion is that black and Latino motorists in Chicago are disproportionately ticketed because they disproportionately violate traffic laws (i.e., speeding and running red lights).
Because traffic and red-light cameras were initially introduced, in part, to reduce systemic racism, the authors have a tough time coming up with any reasonable solutions. One is to “[i]ntroduce a graduated pricing structure for red-light violations, comparable to speed violations.” I find it hard to compare binary events (running a red light) to graduated ones (going 10 versus 50 miles per hour over the speed limit).
A team of researchers from various universities — including the University of Washington, Seattle; the University of Texas at Austin; Carnegie Mellon University; and the University of Minnesota — published a report claiming to “show that, in the United States, [air pollution] exposure is disproportionately caused by consumption of goods and services mainly by the non-Hispanic white majority, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic minorities.”
Oddly, comments in the report itself point to explanations other than racism:
Our results suggest that income, to the extent that it correlates with consumption, is an important factor in determining how much pollution a person causes, even if it may be statistically less important as a determinant of exposure. We also find that differences in racial–ethnic groups’ contribution to exposure are driven more by differences in their overall amount of consumption (magnitude effect) than by differences in the types of goods and services they consume.
In reality, most people do not want to live near facilities that create air pollution (factories, energy plants, chemical plants, etc.), so the homes located in these areas tend to be less expensive. People who make more money tend to spend more money, or consume, and producing goods for purchase generates pollution. Asians and whites have a higher median income than blacks and Hispanics.
Once again, the authors ignore the obvious, shamelessly taking what their data show is clearly a class/income–based issue and labeling it evidence of systemic racism. And even though the data are clear, the report suggests further study. Fortunately for us, one of the paper’s authors “stresses that ‘we’re not saying that we should take away white people’s money, or that people shouldn’t be able to spend money.’”
Perhaps one day those in academia will put aside their biases and realize that the less-complex answer is the right one.
Jim Curry is a retired finance executive currently residing in New Jersey.
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