Affirmative Action Isn’t About Uplift

In the spirit of politics isn’t about policy, Shelby Steele:

The original goal of affirmative action was to achieve two redemptions simultaneously. As society gave a preference to its former victims in employment and education, it hoped to redeem both those victims and itself. When America — the world’s oldest and most unequivocal democracy — finally acknowledged in the 1960s its heartless betrayal of democracy where blacks were concerned, the loss of moral authority was profound. …

Affirmative action has always been more about the restoration of legitimacy to American institutions than the uplift of blacks and other minorities. For 30 years after its inception, no one even bothered to measure its effectiveness in minority progress. … Research … has completely failed to show that affirmative action ever closes the academic gap between minorities and whites. …

But affirmative action has been quite effective in its actual, if unacknowledged, purpose. It has restored moral authority and legitimacy to American institutions. When the Supreme Court seemed ready to nullify the idea of racial preferences in the 2003 University of Michigan affirmative action cases, more than 100 amicus briefs — more than for any other case in U.S. history — were submitted to the court by American institutions in support of group preferences. Yet there was no march on Washington by tens of thousands of blacks demanding affirmative action, not even a threat of such a move from a people who had “marched” their way to freedom in the ’60s. In 2003, the possible end of racial preferences did not panic minorities; it panicked institutional America.

So the question that followed from the Michigan cases — how long will minorities need some form of racial preferences? — is the wrong question. A better question is: How long it will take American institutions to feel legitimate without granting racial preferences? … Disparate impact and racial preferences … are “white guilt” legalisms created after the ’60s as fast tracks to moral authority. They apologize for presumed white wrongdoing and offer recompense to minorities before any actual discrimination has been documented. …

Today’s “black” problem is underdevelopment, not discrimination. Success in modernity will demand profound cultural changes — changes in child-rearing, a restoration of marriage and family, a focus on academic rigor, a greater appreciation of entrepreneurialism and an embrace of individual development as the best road to group development.

Whites are embarrassed to speak forthrightly about black underdevelopment, and blacks are too proud to openly explore it for all to see. So, by unspoken agreement, we discuss black underdevelopment in a language of discrimination and injustice. We rejoin the exhausted affirmative action debate as if it really mattered, and we do not acknowledge that this underdevelopment is primarily a black responsibility.

Our policies are often not about what we say and think they are about.  Each side in politics is better at seeing through other sides’ hypocricies; don’t assume that because you see many of their hypocricies and few on your side, that you don’t have just as many.

Added: This morning’s Post says it is living in poor neighborhoods that most impoverishes middle class black kids.  Doesn’t sound much like discrimination.

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  • http://brightinstrument.blogspot.com Nick Novitski

    I think most people would agree that one of the gains for the institutions that filed those briefs is increased ethical (and even rational) legitimacy. But speaking for my side and it’s ability to see through the other, I think that this talk of “underdevelopment” is a clever code for “affirmative action doesn’t work because black people are lazy.” After all, they didn’t even march for it!

    I also believe that it’s madness in the face of evidence to deny the existence and heavy burden of discrimination. I await links to the studies that will demonstrate to me my folly.

  • Chris

    Agreed on the code word underdevelopment. If the field were level, AA would die a natural death.

  • Mike

    …this underdevelopment is primarily a black responsibility.

    Although I don’t disagree there’s some truth to the other things said, this quote bothers me. Maybe it’s my “white guilt” or whatever. But the question that arises in my mind is, *why* are so many black people underdeveloped. I don’t think anyone proposes they are intrinsically defective, which means it is something they inherit. I presume the author’s point is that they inherit largely from their parents and/or a larger black sub-culture. But I don’t think this washes the hands of whites for “responsibility.” We are hardly two generations away from a blatantly racist society, and it seems to me any aspects of “black culture” that discourage performance in school or other aspects of social participation are best explained as a legacy of that injustice.

    That being said, I have no idea what the “solution” is. I don’t disagree with affirmative action, but I would not argue if one said there is a sense in which it is patronizing. I personally think we need far more aggressive “education” programs, which take students at a younger age, hold them for a longer portion of the day, and all year round. This should be a relief to poorer families in which both parents work, and I suspect would help balance negative influences at home (regardless of race). I would think more visible role models would also be of enormous value, but I don’t know how you achieve that.

  • Eric Johnson

    > don’t assume that because you see many of their hypocricies and few on your side, that you don’t have just as many.

    True – but what if you came of age on the other side? 🙂

    It’s been noted before, but the Civil War was not that fun to have, and it said something about the morality of America. Of course I realize maltreatment went on for another century. (Which just goes to show how hard it is to force social change with war.)

    Does affirmative action help minimum wage types that much? I don’t know but I wonder.

    It’s hard for me to see what could help low-wage earners – including their sociocultural conditions, personal pride, and all that good metaphysical stuff – more than plain old higher wages. As far as the wage goes, it’s hard to fight globalization, but that fact only makes our policy on low skilled immigrants seem more insane.

    I also am kind of enamored of the negative income tax for bottom tax brackets idea. It has the same benefits over welfare payments that “make-work” has, but the jobs are market based, and have the dignity of not actually being make-work. It promotes work and responsibility. It gives freedom and allow efficiency. What’s not to like? It seems like the sleek prince of redistribution schemes. I’m not reflexively resistant to the idea that we should instead spend the same money on public health care funding for the same low-earners, because elites know what’s best for them. I’m sure this argument is rather convincing, under some possible set of conditions. But things being what they actually are – the benefits of health care at the margin being arguably quite limited – this seems irrational and wrong, basically a weird handout to the medical profession. Which seems to be the kind of thing these enlightened elites often produce.

    What can you do? The callow, romantic myths of our society are a positive curse. Our pharisees and messiahs alike go on assuming that the longer haler lives of the wealthy are due to health care. Their correlative studies prove causation. The possibility that rich people simply average modestly genetically superior to poor people with respect to health? Absolutely unconscionable. Irrational. Why on earth would the fittest individuals of any animal species prefer each other as mates, producing a degree of stable stratification? It seems crazy. It would be unfair. Humans would no sooner evolve to do such a thing than the large-eyed deer and downy bunnies which have roamed our fens and forests for eons, cuddling up for warmth with grass-eating lions and wolves by night.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve often justified affirmative action (and heard others justify it) in explicitly Bayesian terms. A person who is “disadvantaged” is going to have worse qualifications given the same amount of innate talent. Therefore, all other things being equal, a black person with one SAT score is going to be better qualified for a job than a white person with the same SAT score. Now, this sort of argumentation suggests that it might be more effective to move from race-based affirmative action to a more broad based affirmative action which takes into account all the ways a person might be disadvantaged and might not be disadvantaged (in the individualistic sense, a white kid from a trailer park deserves of more of a boost than Malia and Sasha Obama, as the article notes, even though all-other-things-being-equal being black is probably a minus), and it also is more applicable to education than jobs (in that finding “diamonds in the rough” and elevating them to their full potential is kind of the whole point of education, but employers just want someone who can work now) and calculating the exact bonus that should be given requires a different approach, but I think it’s a fairly persuasive argument which has fairly little to do with white guilt.

    • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

      A person who is “disadvantaged” is going to have worse qualifications given the same amount of innate talent. Therefore, all other things being equal, a black person with one SAT score is going to be better qualified for a job than a white person with the same SAT score.

      No; they are equally qualified (assuming the SAT score is meaningful). What you mean is that the black person has better innate qualities; but, handicapped by discrimination, these translate into equal qualifications with a white person who has less-noble innate qualities.

    • Z. M. Davis

      “finding ‘diamonds in the rough’ and elevating them to their full potential is kind of the whole point of education”

      But formal schooling also destroys and cripples a lot of diamonds in the rough by warping their minds into believing that nothing you do can ever possibly matter unless you do it in a school under the control of some so-called teacher. If you really want to elevate people to their full potential, help them find something they care desperately about, then give them library priveliges and an amazon.com gift card.

      • Z. M. Davis

        Okay, on reflection my tone is a little harsh here, but you have to understand that I’m hurt. And I know, I know: “privileges.”

    • tim

      Therefore, all other things being equal, a black person with one SAT score is going to be better qualified for a job than a white person with the same SAT score.

      That’s like saying a one-handed person who types as fast as a two-handed person is better qualified for a typist position. While the one-handed person’s achievement is more impressive, both candidates are equally qualified to be typists. Granted, if the one-handed person had two hands, he might be faster than his competitor… but he doesn’t. If all other things are equal, the SAT score must actually measure, accurately, the qualifications of both candidates.

      • http://tr.im/ybot E. Weiskott

        That’s like saying a one-handed person who types as fast as a two-handed person is better qualified for a typist position.

        You know, I hire the one-handed typist every time, provided that I believe in my abilities as an employer and that I can then train the other hand. That’s where the innate ability comes in. Z. M. Davis’ point assumes that this innate ability can be expressed and developed at a later date.

  • Chris

    Would it make more sense to worry about leveling the field to eliminate disadvantages vs treating the symptom by awarding bonuses to the disadvantaged?

    Why would we seek to elevate diamonds in the rough vs eliminating ‘the rough’?

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

    I’ve often justified affirmative action (and heard others justify it) in explicitly Bayesian terms. A person who is “disadvantaged” is going to have worse qualifications given the same amount of innate talent. Therefore, all other things being equal, a black person with one SAT score is going to be better qualified for a job than a white person with the same SAT score… I think it’s a fairly persuasive argument which has fairly little to do with white guilt.

    SAT scores overpredict black college grades. So do high school grades. Similar results hold for employment. Silicon Valley has no problem hiring nonwhite qualified engineers from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, but curiously such hires are almost always Indian or East Asian despite the far larger number of blacks and Hispanics in America. Logically, your argument has already been disproven beyond any reasonable doubt.

    Of course, this has little bearing on whether your argument is persuasive, because most people don’t actually want to drill down to the truth of this matter. Your argument is superficially plausible, and that’s good enough. And frankly, I’m okay with this since we don’t yet have the technologies to address the actual genetic disparities in a satisfactory manner; we need to buy a few more decades of social peace. Overcoming bias is all well and good, but at some point you can’t help but notice that this particular bias was explicitly designed to defend against genocide, and it is succeeding.

    • Mike

      …designed to defend against genocide???

      I would say any willful ignorance of racial disparities are designed to defend against prejudiced discrimination.

      It is unknown whether there are any systematic differences in the average aptitude of members of different races. But I consider it a matter of fact that variations among members of different races are very large, so large in fact that a significant fraction of any race has higher aptitude than most members of any other race. This means discriminating based on race unjustly (and unwisely) disqualifies deserving applicants.

      However, it is plausible that many people fear that, if others were to know of systematic differences in the average aptitudes of a given race, they would use that information to discriminate, even though it is not really in their best interest to do so, just because they are not intelligent enough to understand the meaning of the information. There could also be such a phenomenum with respect to gender differences. It seems to me this is the most likely reason for “willful ignorance.”

      Yet as far as I can tell, the only value in understanding the relative aptitudes of demographic groups is to understand whether statistical discrepancies — like the paucity of women among physicists — are due to discrimination or cultural factors or are due to biology. At this point, I think there is good evidence to suggest that whatever the difference in biology, these statistical discrepancies are influenced at least in part by discrimination and cultural factors. This I think explains the lack of interest among many academics to spend much time entertaining these thoughts.

      • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

        …designed to defend against genocide???

        It is an extreme claim, but it’s supported by the experience of Armenians in Turkey, Tutsi in Rwanda, Indians in Uganda, Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia, and Jews pretty much everywhere.

        But I consider it a matter of fact that variations among members of different races are very large, so large in fact that a significant fraction of any race has higher aptitude than most members of any other race.

        Yes, but the further out you go on the tail on a bell-curve-like distribution, the greater the discrepancy in group representation produced by an apparently small difference in mean or even variance. Larry Summers tried to communicate this point to a large audience, and we all know what happened there.

        However, it is plausible that many people fear that, if others were to know of systematic differences in the average aptitudes of a given race, they would use that information to discriminate, even though it is not really in their best interest to do so, just because they are not intelligent enough to understand the meaning of the information.

        It is, unfortunately, actually in their best interest to discriminate a little bit as long as measurement error exists.

        At this point, I think there is good evidence to suggest that whatever the difference in biology, these statistical discrepancies are influenced at least in part by discrimination and cultural factors. This I think explains the lack of interest among many academics to spend much time entertaining these thoughts.

        Every time somebody rigorously demonstrates that irrational discrimination is responsible for a difference in group outcomes (e.g. screens in orchestral auditions removing gender bias), that anecdote is trumpeted to the sky. Every time a reproducible social effect is discovered that is gap-increasing (e.g. stereotype threat), we all find out about it… and then the media is far less enthusiastic about reporting on follow-up research demonstrating the limited scope of the effect. There is no “lack of interest” in such stories at all. It is the deafening silence, the extreme rarity of solid evidence for the approximate genetic equality hypothesis despite four decades of effort by millions, the depressingly limited set of ways we have to reduce the achievement gaps even a little bit without the crime of deliberately crippling the high performers our civilization depends on, that is responsible for the lack of interest in free-ranging discussion of the subject.

        I’ll conclude with a few rough probability estimates:
        * 10^{-100} or less chance that the commonly defined races have approximately equal genetic intelligence distributions, for any definition of intelligence that’d be useful to a Silicon Valley startup.
        * ~1% chance that we’ll discover and deploy some environmental intervention that vastly improves black and Hispanic social outcomes in the US within the next half-century.
        * >95% chance that we will develop the technologies necessary to address the underlying genetic group inequalities within the next half-century (as a side effect of solving other, more immediately profitable problems), or some more spectacular transhumanist breakthrough or disaster renders the matter moot.
        * ~50% chance that, once we have the tech, we’ll have the desire and political will to uplift our underclasses.

      • Z. M. Davis

        Dog of Justice: “10^{-100} or less chance”

        You’re saying some valuable things here, but that number is insane. You can’t possibly be that confident.

      • http://t-a-w.blogspot.com/ Tomasz Wegrzanowski

        “10^{-100}”

        How often claims like that turned out to be false? If it happened even once in history of humanity (and we know it did, many times), then you should consider that you might be overconfident.

        The way I see the evidence, I’m over 90% (but not 10^-100) confident that most of IQ differences between populations are of environmental origin. There could be some leftover genetic difference, and it might even be significant in a way, but environmental differences right now are huge, and changes to environment are proven to cause massive changes to IQ – Flynn effect alone caused about 10 point difference over span of 30 years without any genetic change, and environmental change which caused it wasn’t even that big.

        Perhaps after everything is equal between populations (or getting asymptotically there due to diminishing returns on environmental factors) some small difference will persist as you say. Or perhaps it won’t. I would be extremely surprised if it wasn’t much much smaller than the difference today.

      • Mike

        Yes, but the further out you go on the tail on a bell-curve-like distribution, the greater the discrepancy in group representation produced by an apparently small difference in mean or even variance.

        It occurred to me long after this was said that all evidence points to greater genetic diversity among, say, Africans than among European descendants. Significant fraction of would-be European diversity would be expected to be “chopped off” by their historical exposure to more epidemics, and developing light skin, both of which select completely tangential to intelligence. Thus if one has to guess, I think the best bet is that African descendants have greater variance. (It probably helps too that African American’s have mixed ancestry.)

        As Larry Summers pointed out, the effect of different variances overwhelms different means at the tails, which one might take to suggest that there should be a higher fraction of African descendants at the upper tail of ability.

      • Constant

        Might well be. On the other hand, slavery may have exerted extreme selective pressure on American blacks. As long as we are speculating about selective pressure, we should consider all sources. It is consistent with the common observation that recent black immigrants do better than American blacks descended from slaves (though, obviously, there are alternative explanations, if it’s even true).

      • Douglas Knight

        Africans are quite diverse, but are West Africans (much) more diverse than Europeans? (African Americans surely are, because of the white admixture.)

        Black immigrants to the US are largely the descendants of slaves, just slaves in the Caribbean.

        Black Americans average slightly shorter than whites, but have slightly larger standard deviation. Blacks in America and Japanese in Japan have lower standard deviation on IQ tests than whites. Height isn’t really a bell curve at the extremes. IQ is a bell curve in the middle by definition, but it looks pretty reasonable. I’d be a lot more nervous extrapolating it, though.

  • http://extropolitca.blogspot.com Mirco

    Affirmative Action is useful for the Academic types in humanities because they are able to block east Asians from entering the academia and enable them to let black enter.
    East Asians with their higher intelligence are boring because they “study, study, study” and would be a menace for the white elite controlling the humanities, where blacks admitted with Affirmative Action are funnier as they don’t “Study, study, study” and are not a danger for the white elite as they have a lower IQ than the whites.

  • George Weinberg

    But speaking for my side and it’s ability to see through the other

    or rather is propensity to assume bad motives as an excuse for failure to engage ideas. Do you know who Shelby Steele is? Free clue, he’s Claude Steele’s twin brother.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

    You’re saying some valuable things here, but that number is insane. You can’t possibly be that confident.

    How confident are you in the sun rising tomorrow? Not 100% if you’re a good Bayesian, but close enough that you simply assume it will for the purposes of every other calculation you make. 1-(10^{-100}) is not an unreasonable level of confidence to have there, even though our basic understanding of the laws of physics doesn’t even have to be wrong for that to fail. (E.g. cloaked alien spaceships could arrive tonight and use some massive engine to stop the Earth’s rotation.)

    If I were alive 40 years ago and was asked then about the likelihood of no systematic and relevant genetic differences between races/classes/etc., I would have given a number more like 10%. But that was before practically our entire civilization tested the approximate equality hypothesis to destruction. On top of that, everything we’ve learned about human genetics and evolution is consistent with the inequality hypothesis.

    If you have an initially plausible hypothesis, but you run millions of near-independent tests on it all of which could potentially prove it, and they all fail, it is time to adjust your likelihood estimate downward. By how much? That depends on how thoroughly the tests cover the ways the hypothesis might be true. In this case, the coverage is as thorough as the most powerful civilization the world can manage. Even at this moment, if you have a genuinely promising idea that hasn’t been tested, you can easily get a grant to study it, and you’ll be assured of adulation for the rest of your life if the idea works.

    In light of this, I stand by 10^{-100}.

    • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

      Addendum: I will grant that part of the reason for my extreme confidence is the fact that I am, myself, a member of a previously discriminated-against race. If you’re white, it’s fair for you to conclude that your understanding of minority experience in America is always going to have significant blind spots, so I wouldn’t expect you to share my level of confidence.

      But I have seen, over my entire life, how irrelevant what remains of white racism is. The only relevant opportunities that are mostly closed off to me because of race involve dating. And even that is largely meritocratic — my personality is not one that most American girls instinctively value, regardless of my race, and a larger fraction of East Asian men have similarly unattractive personalities than men of other races.

    • Z. M. Davis

      10^(-100) is really really really ridiculously small. Honestly, which would surprise you more: somehow being proven wrong about this whole race and intelligence business, or winning the Powerball lottery twelve times in a row?

      • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

        Well, if the approximate equality hypothesis is actually right, then I pretty much have to conclude that I’ve been lucky to a degree beyond winning twelve Powerball lotteries.

        I had two working parents and was not pushed very hard academically; straight A’s were quite rare for me. My family was not particularly rich or privileged, especially when I was younger. I cared as much about computer games as math. Somehow, I still succeeded at math and programming contests (which my parents did NOT pressure me to enter) in high school and college at a level that quite a few Asians have exceeded, but no black has ever matched.

        You know how famous a Laszlo Polgar or Richard Williams who raised top-flight black math/science nerds, and could articulate how he did it, would be. Even, perhaps especially, if the kids were adopted. The incentive is there. If Reid Barton is any indication, the homeschool approach can definitely lead to higher performance than I achieved. I’ll go further and say that if I estimated at least a 10% chance of success, I’d do this myself because it would prove so much if it worked. Yet nobody tries anything like this. Either, by some inexplicable stroke of luck, I’m really that much more autonomous than the entire rest of the American population… or most of the people at or above my level share my pessimism.

        I could elaborate a lot more, but the bottom line is that there are enough interconnected things in my life and worldview that only make sense if the approximate equality hypothesis is wrong. The number of bits of entropy any conspiracy theory adequate to account for my observations would need, if approximate genetic equality were true, is large enough. If there’s no conspiracy, the amount of blind luck I’d have to have had by now to be where I am relative to the entire black population, without having particularly involved parents, is large enough. Or my memories could be utterly faulty or implanted or something, but there’s no point in assigning more than token probability mass to that.

        If you still don’t think 10^{-100} is reasonable, realize that it corresponds to less than 340 bits of information. Show me 340 bits of evidence in favor of approximate genetic equality, and I may change my mind.

        Finally, this is not to say that I’m similarly confident there’s nothing we can do to help blacks’ relative position before the tech is ready. I assigned a 1% chance to the event of discovering and widely deploying a successful environmental intervention, and I’d say it’s really the deployment part that’s the problem. Even now, we know enough to do a lot better than the educational status quo for blacks, which is actively and unnecessarily destructive in some ways… but we don’t, partly because that’s hard to do without acknowledging differences in genetic predispositions, and partly because of good old-fashioned teacher’s union corruption.

      • Z. M. Davis

        I guess I’m taking a sort of outside view here: even very convincing arguments in the social sciences are sometimes wrong. These things happen. Whereas twelve consecutive Powerball wins by one person simply does not happen in the real world.

      • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

        It is easier to demonstrate something is almost certainly wrong, as opposed to almost certainly right. So I actually shouldn’t have made an analogy to the event “the sun rises tomorrow”. Something along the lines of “your car will run just fine if you fill it with water instead of gas from now on” would have been more appropriate.

        The state-of-the-art iteration of the genetic hypothesis is, if the history of science is any guide, likely to be wrong in surprising places. After all, Newton wasn’t the last word on gravity, and nobody anticipated how his theory would fail, but they did understand ways that the theory wouldn’t fail; e.g. it wouldn’t turn out that if you dropped two objects of different weights and identical aerodynamic properties from a tower, they would fall at speeds proportional to their weights.

        So, your skepticism toward the genetic hypothesis is rational, and something I should do a better job of reminding myself to keep; but that doesn’t change the fact that the popular versions of the cultural hypothesis have all been very, very thoroughly disproven.

      • Z. M. Davis

        “So, your skepticism toward the genetic hypothesis is rational”

        I should clarify that I’m not arguing against the genetic hypothesis; I’m arguing against that incomprehensibly tiny number. (“Never underestimate an exponential.” As I recall, the number of particles in the observable universe is estimated to be merely on the order of 10^80.)

        I don’t think I could give “The sun will not rise tomorrow” a probability as low as 10^(-100). “We’re living in a simulation and it gets shut down tonight” deserves more probability mass than that. In addition to this, social science is difficult; we have all sorts of systematic biases: not just racial prejudice, but also humans-are-bad-at-thinking. Douglas Knight is right about independence. If you had just said 10^(-3), I wouldn’t have said anything.

      • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

        Okay, I accept your point that human thinking is error-prone enough that if, say, I was tasked with writing qualitatively different “10^{-100}” predicates for the rest of my life (starting with “the most popular English translation of the Bible is literally true”), it would be reasonable to bet that at least one would be true, and this arguably puts a lower bound in the neighborhood of 10^{-7} to 10^{-8} for any negative statement I make. Even if I was able to get feedback from others. And I know Eliezer’s elaborated on this before.

        So I should have only said that I believe I have seen more than 330 bits of evidence against the popular cultural hypothesis, which is not the same as asserting <10^{-100} likelihood since it leaves open the possibility that I’m making a mistake.

      • Douglas Knight

        Sorry to beat a dead horse, but the 1% and 10^-100 probabilities are not consistent. If “vast” is merely on the scale of what was hoped for breast-feeding, then 10 such interventions could wipe out the gap. A certain kind of independence assumption would then put the odds of 10 such interventions at 10^-20, way above 10^-100.

        The key assumption here is independence. You’re free to assert that they’re really anti-correlated or whatever, but you shouldn’t be too certain of that, either. I guess a bell curve would penalize large numbers of interventions enough. But if “vast” means 1/3 sd, then no way are these numbers consistent.

      • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

        An analogy: Might the Goldbach Conjecture be false? As far as I can tell, yes. Is 6 a counterexample to it? No. It is not inconsistent to assign a probability of 10^{-2} to the former question and 10^{-100} to the latter.

        10^{-100} refers to the popular notion that no relevant group genetic differences exist, which I claim is roughly as disproven as a Biblical translation’s absolute divinity. 10^{-2} refers to the notion that differences exist, but there’s a lot of black-specific low-hanging fruit, and we’ll be able to pick it. I’m actually more than 50% confident that such low-hanging fruit exists, but the legacy of “separate but equal” makes it hard to ensure good deeds go unpunished there.

      • Constant

        10^(-100) is really really really ridiculously small.

        Granted, that seems right, but I do have a question. It doesn’t seem at all difficult to get to that number starting from a much less ridiculously small number, by iteration of Bayesian reasoning. Can you mathematically characterize the factors in probabilistic reasoning that would prevent you from arriving at such a ridiculously small number? I’m hoping it’s something other than a kind of non-mathematical sanity check that you apply to the numbers after your calculations have reached a really really ridiculously small number.

      • Z. M. Davis

        Constant—honestly, I was using an informal sanity check, but it seems legitimate: a human who knows that humans are bad at social science can only put so much confidence in her conclusions, because “Humans are bad at social science and have a tendency to place unjustified confidence on their favored conclusions” is part of your prior information. To overcome this burden, it would seem like you would need some specific evidence that you have superhuman rationality—although what form could that evidence possibly take? I don’t know.

      • Constant

        ZMD – I think if you look at a typical teaching example, say a coin toss scenario of some sort, of how to do Bayesian inference, you’ll likely see that iteration can easily take you to the extreme you are arguing against. Granted, we are imperfect, but the process if inference is what it is. You propose being uncertain about our rationality, but I don’t see quite how to implement this in, say, a coin toss scenario, except as a “meta” process that acts on the strict Bayesian inference. You talk about uncertainty about our rationality, but that is “meta” rational in a way, and in particular if we are reasoning by Bayesian inference, this uncertainty must, to be consistent, manifest as uncertainty about the validity of Bayesian inference. Or some such thing.

        Also it is easy to define a set of 10^100 possibilities, and the average probability assigned to each of these cannot exceed 10^-100, on pain of adding up to P>1. This is true even though we are imperfect. Thus in principle it can be reasonable to assign a very very low P to some hypothesis, despite our imperfection.

      • http://www.livejournal.com/users/dogofjustice Dog of Justice

        Constant, I think ZMD’s argument would be that there’s at least a 10^{-8} chance or so that you mess up in defining the mutually exclusive possibilities and don’t realize it. Which seems right.

        But you’re right about it being mostly meta/”outside the model”. It means you should listen to evidence that the mathematical model you’re using is wrong (rather than assigning literal 100% probability to it being accurate), but you immediately run into the problem of, how the hell do you treat the possibility that Bayesian inference itself is unsound? Well, you can say all your numbers are conditional probabilities on that not being the case, and in most situations treat those conditional probabilities as if they didn’t have a condition attached, but when a pathological situation comes up you can still deal with it.

        My 10^{-100} bound is a conditional probability, and there are more conditions than just the validity of Bayesian inference. Some of those conditions, such as the validity of basic genetic and evolutionary theory, and the quality of the information I have access to, can be legitimately questioned at more like the 10^{-7} to even 10^{-3} level, so ZMD was right to object to taking my number literally. But without those conditions, I can’t make any inferences at all. So, as a decision-making agent, I take those conditions for granted, even though as a philosopher I don’t.

      • Constant

        DOJ, that implementation makes sense. But you have not addressed my second and final point, which is that “in principle it can be reasonable to assign a very very low P to some hypothesis”. If the number of possibilities is high enough, then the average P assigned to one of those possibilities must be low enough so that the sum of probabilities does not exceed 1. And it is not that hard to define 10^100 possibilities. Uncertainties about our ability to reason, or about our fundamental assumptions, do not negate this point.

        One response is that in the specific case at hand we weren’t talking about 10^100 possibilities, but just two. But I could reply that if you randomly pick one possibility X out of these 10^100 possibilities you can define a set of two possibilities, X or not-X, and still in the average case P(X) is no larger than 10^-100.

        Another response is to say that we ought to “privilege” possibilities that are simple to describe. The description of a typical element of a set of 10^100 possibilities is long (100 numerals in base 10), but a description such as “the sun will rise tomorrow” is short, so we ought to assign a somewhat higher probability to it. (This is reminiscent of Occam’s razor.) My problem with this response is that this is a statement about the possibility itself and its expression in our language. It does not have any connection I can see with our own fallibility as rational thinkers. And it was our fallibility that was the basis of the argument that we ought never to assign a probability as low as 10^-100 to something like “the sun will rise tomorrow”.

    • Douglas Knight

      millions of near-independent tests

      There is nowhere near that much independence for distinguishing a genetic hypothesis from a cultural hypothesis.

      • Chris

        While it isn’t the norm, there are enough poor South Asian and East Asian and Ashkenazi Jewish kids raised without cultural expectations differing substantially from the black upper middle class. There are enough cross-racial adoptions. There is enough incentive to go to spectacular lengths to prove the cultural hypothesis right.

      • http://ucsdcalrev.wordpress.com Dog of Justice

        (As I’m sure you noticed from the gravatar, that was me.)

      • Douglas Knight

        That’s not a million different cultures. It’s, maybe, a million tests that parental expectation isn’t the answer. There are also a million tests that most parents who think they can do a lot better are wrong.

        “coverage is as thorough as the most powerful civilization the world can manage” – maybe, but no one knows how to create cultures, let alone what cultures they should create. Even for easy tests, people don’t make a serious effort. People only tried a controlled experiment of the effect of breast-feeding on IQ in the last few years!

  • Pingback: Interessantes woanders (2009.07.28) › Immersion I/O

  • jonathan

    One of the original arguments for forced busing was that noted by the Post’s article on neighborhoods: you would take kids out of a milieu of poverty and put them for some hours a day into schools where they would see and soak up a different world. And the rationale for Open Housing laws was that housing patterns are often created by long-term discriminatory policies. I could go on, but your point is true only if you negate all the prior arguments and history and believe in a Robertsian fashion that society should be color-blind and thus needs to act as though it is even when it isn’t. You haven’t made any effort to dispose of these older arguments or the data / history on which they’re based; you’re seem to be jumping to a different conclusion based on your existing beliefs.

    An argument for affirmative action was explicitly Christian: that bad acts had been done by American society and that repentance was necessary to expiate the sin. I’m not Christian but that was rather easy even for me to understand. Repentance does not require effectiveness or even acceptance; it’s the offer that counts. As policy, actual affirmative action programs mixed repentance with attempts to be effective at changing circumstances. So if you want to evaluate affirmative action you need to separate these motives and look at how much was accomplished as repentance and how much as changed circumstances. If you want to consider affirmative action apart from repentance, then you should say so. In sum, if you want to move to a more color-blind world, then you need to acknowledge the various motives that went into policies with which you object.

  • http://liberalvichy.blogspot.com/ Vichy

    I find affirmative action obnoxious. So what if there IS discrimination? Nobody owes you so much as the time of day or the color of the sky. Nobody has to like you. You don’t ‘deserve’ a living.

    • http://tr.im/ybot E. Weiskott

      Wow. “Some people don’t deserve a living.” They used to call that attitude eugenics. How did that work out?

      What you are saying is patently illogical. “Group X does not deserve abc (but Group Y does deserve abc—implied).”

      Your error of reasoning lies in a common misconception or unconscious logical assumption that the playing field for the commonly understood ‘races’ has somehow been swept clean, and all is equal and roses bloom on little girls’ cheeks. As pointed out above, if there were truly no need for it in terms of social justice, we wouldn’t even be DISCUSSING a project as logistically and politically desperate as affirmation action.

      On the other hand, perhaps your reply indicates that you do not subscribe to any notion of social justice in the most basic sense. If that is the case, you are just a heartless motherfucker and, if you think about it, you aren’t actually responding to any of the substantial issues posed by this topic.

      • TGGP

        How did that work out?
        Well, how did it work out? Did Francis Galton or Oliver Wendell Holmes ever admit that they’d been wrong about it?

        Vichy didn’t say anything about a specific group. The quote was “You don’t ‘deserve’ a living.” not “Some people don’t deserve a living.” If you used copy-paste to quote the person directly above, you wouldn’t have made that mistake. Here “You” functions like “One [person]” or the German “Man” and means any/every individual.

        if there were truly no need for it in terms of social justice, we wouldn’t even be DISCUSSING a project as logistically and politically desperate as affirmation action.
        If there were truly no need for genocide, we Nazis wouldn’t even be DISCUSSING something as logistically and politically desperate as the Final Solution. See how tricky it is to derive “ought”?

        If you read Vichy’s blog you will find a complete rejection of any notion of social justice in the most basic sense.

      • http://tr.im/ybot E. Weiskott

        (1) As in the follow-up “Group X…” hypothetical, my quotes were quoting the logic, not the letter. In the context of this thread and the previous sentence, Vichy’s post made clear that the “you” was not “everyone,” but “minorities who would benefit from affirmative action and other similar programs.”

        In fact, even if “you” there does carry the indefinite sense of G. “man” (hey, I know foreign languages too!), in the context of a comment about (purported) discrimination, it is still clear that certain people DO get a living, and it is the OTHERS that somehow don’t deserve it.

        (2) You know, it is really easy to come up with witty, seemingly apt analogies that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. In the context of the heated, free-speech debates over affirmative action (perhaps not free in an ideal sense, but a far cry from propaganda-controlled Nazi Germany!), my statement was clearly not of the form “whenever X project repeatedly enters discussion, something of the sort must be necessary, whether X or something similar” but rather “when, in a relatively free society, X project—the continued existence of which has proven odious in the extreme to just under half the population—is proposed and enacted, there exists an actual issue which project X is designed to address.”

        And re: the blog, to reiterate what I said before. If you don’t believe in social justice at all, then I suppose every political debate since the advent of America has to be pretty nonsensical to you, at least on the surface.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Vichy only has one comment here. The sentence about being owed a living is preceded by another denying that you are owed the time of day, the color of the sky or being liked, which goes beyond the issues involved with affirmative action. Not being owed a living is a specific case of the broader rule that nobody owed you anything.

        You’ve introduced a qualification by saying it must be a “free” society. Nazi Germany is ruled out, but how about Weimar Germany? Der Sturmer was promoting the same sort of thing back then. Not that it’s the only instance of a policy I bet you’d consider completely irredeemable that still had a mass of supporters arguing for it.

        Michael Huemer thinks morality is objective, but agrees with me that political debate is overwhelmingly nonsensical, comparing it to religious arguments. Religion and morality being a load of hooey seems to simplest explanation for all that to me. Notice how “politics” is a bad word, what low regard politicians are held in and how they accuse their opponent of “playing politics”?

      • http://tr.im/ybot E. Weiskott

        If you read carefully, I’m not actually supporting a conception of justice per se, only pointing out that without a moral dimension, arguments about public policies are meaningless. So you are quite free to say with Huemer that morality (and by extension any politics based on morality) is nonsensical, and (as an aside) I might be inclined to agree in a large, philosophical sense. But then, as you make clear in your own response, that’s not a statement about politics on its own terms; it’s a statement about your philosophical view of morality.

        So to reiterate once again the main thrust of my response to Vichy’s dismissive posting: if at bottom you believe that a reasonable and meaningful argument about a political issue can’t be had, why are you joining one here? To say “you don’t deserve a living” is itself, for all its detached coyness, not an amoral statement.

  • BMM

    Does anyone else entirely fail to understand Robin’s “Added” comment at the end? I don’t get his logic for dissociating the phenomenon he’s describing from discrimination. I like the rest of the entry, but I have the feeling that Robin’s “Added” comment is wrong.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    The Washington Post story was lame. There have been experiments in which poor black families were offered money to help them move to middle class neighborhoods. The Post doesn’t mention ANY of them to support the contention that neighborhood is a causative factor rather than merely correlated.

  • toto

    The “Washington Post story” discusses a Pew study that covered 5000 families over thirty years. If the WaPo summary is to be trusted, neighbourhood trumps family income in prediction of future life outcomes. Also, the effect applies to “middle-class” families, rather than poor families. That’s quite different from bribing the wretched of the hood into Bel Air.

    * 10^{-100} or less chance that the commonly defined races have approximately equal genetic intelligence distributions,

    I’ll just point out the obvious, oft-quoted fact that, at the time of their grandeur, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilisations used to hold similar conceptions regarding their obvious intellectual superiority over the notoriously dim-witted Northern Europeans. And that was before the Crusades!

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    It has restored moral authority and legitimacy to American institutions.

    This is a rather odd conclusion. I imagine for conservatives it has the opposite effect. Affirmative action policies have subjugated the individual to his collective and dissolved the importance of personal responsibility and merit.

    Further, the suspicion it lays on any black person in a high level position surely doesn’t match with the above statement. Thus, it undermines the institutions’ honesty in assessing students or employees.

  • James

    To my knowledge the largest and most far reaching affirmative action program to ever have taken place was the program in India to address the issue of the “untouchables” — a group that had experienced centuries of broad based, institutionalized exclusion.

    Set-asides of 50 to 90% for public sector jobs, housing and education were made. The result of this was that “the rising tide lifted all boats”. Instead of loosing out to the recipients of set asides, middle class and lower middle class populations were the beneficiaries of a new class of CUSTOMERS! Those untouchables that were provided education and opportunity joined the mainstream economy.

    As far as living in a equanimous merit based society goes…
    Colin Powell — whose record of performance excellence over a period of decades speaks for itself — was promoted to General in 1977 only after Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander threatened that there would be no promotions to general for anyone if he were given yet another promotions lists without a single minority listed, with the excuse that no military officers of color met the competitive criteria.

    I am surprised that neither of these instances are mentioned given the vociferous and beefy response to this posting.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I don’t have a good model for understanding affirmative action in the US, or even race. But I haven’t been impressed with any of the comprehensive theories I’ve been presented with yet. I think one of the best starting points with race is to acknowledge that it is extraordinarily robust as an ideology, a pageant, a mythology, an identity capture technology. It’s an extraordinary social weapon for Goffman-smart people to use against Asperger-smart people. It’s one of the few macrosocial frames that can compete effectively with the major religions as shaping mass behavior and attracting mass attention. And I think it may be the hardest to study from a “neutral” position -it seems to me that every observer becomes “raced” and gets subordinated to the grand pageantry. They all either become a Steve Sailor, or become skewerable by a Steve Sailor for their gamings and insere claims at objective participation in a social epistemology of racial identity as a natural phenomenon.

    There has been and is on-going really great scientific and empirical inquiry into Christianity. When it comes to race, even our best, most pure empiricists seem to me to become immediately tainted. Perhaps we can at least start by acknowledging that it’s one motherfucker of a bias-inducing macrosocial phenomenon.

    • Douglas Knight

      There has been and is on-going really great scientific and empirical inquiry into Christianity

      Could you give examples?

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    If we’re talking genetics, let’s bring haplogroups and haplotypes into the discussion. No need for baskets like White ,Black, East Asian -even if they may be fairly accurate substitutes. Especially with “white” and “black” I’m feeling gamed into team socialization. Like I’m a pawn (okay I suppose we’re at least knights -the pawns watch Fox News and BET) defending defending the white king or going after the black one.

    Speaking of obvious things to study, I’d like to see some good game theory/evo psych/behavioral economic study identification and nomenclature that weirdly break out of the normal pageantry. Stuff that Steve Sailer, Anthony Cumia, Professor Gates, and Patrice O’Neal would blurt out at each other in an argument if they were all highly literate in current social science.

  • Level

    Tolerance of Affirmative Action is based on white guilt.

    A fairer, faster and more effective system to level the playing field is to remove all race/gender/ethnic barriers and to make the barriers illegal.

    If you want us all to live together, unite us, dont split us through AA.

    If the only reason why previously disadvantaged individuals didnt succeed was due to oppression, remove all oppression and let them flourish naturally.

    AA, is apartheid in reverse.

    Nature is a perfect example of a working system. You dont introduce a new animal to kill a dominating species. It makes things worse. Instead, nature will balance it out by making the dominating species battle for resources and eventually die down.

  • VT

    I supported race-based affirmative action until I saw it operate in reality. The ideal of “leveling the playing field” sounds great, but as with most things, the ideal is far from the reality.
    All that I’ve seen affirmative action do is bring exceptionally incompetent, lazy, unqualified or minimally qualified individuals into organizations and promote them up the chain of command past truly hard working, intelligent, driven people. The result is devastating. Staff become demoralized and morale plummets. Productivity goes down, both because the non-recipients of affirmative action loose incentive and because the recipients themselves don’t have incentive to excel.
    Also, lets face it, the average black iq is about 85. My experience working with large numbers of blacks bears this statistic out. So when we have to meet a quota, we are forced to draw from a pool of applicants with relatively lower cognitive ability than other other groups. In my experience,the main beneficiaries of race-based aa learn and function as a much slower pace than other groups. This means that it takes more resources, time, and ultimately more staff to get work done.
    What I want to know is how long will affirmative action be “necessary” for blacks. At what point can will they be required to perform equally and pull their own weight? 50 years from now will they still require this type of coddling in reparation for 100 year old wrongs done to their ancestors?