10 Dec 2015 - DrSunshine.org

Dog Whistling from the Bench

Yesterday during oral arguments on Fisher v UT Austin, Justice Scalia said “One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas…. They come from schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.” He was referring to a brief based on a 2004 paper by Richard Sander, a professor of law, and Stuart Taylor, a journalist, arguing that affirmative action has been a net negative for blacks.

The paper was published in the Stanford Law Review. Let’s assume that it has its statistics straight. That is, let’s assume it is true that more black scientists come from lesser schools than from schools as prestigious as UT Austin. To infer that this is so because the classes in elite schools are too fast for black students is to derive a bogus conclusion from the data.

Another possible explanation would be that number of black students who attend elite schools is smaller than the number attending lesser schools, so the probabilistic urn from which black scientists are drawn contains more representatives of the latter population. Either hypothesis, Sander-Taylor or the probabilistic urn, could be investigated, but concluding one or the other or something else entirely requires more thought and more data. To be fair the paper by Sander and Taylor does reflect more thought and contains additional data, but even so, its conclusions are probably wrong and have met with substantive analysis and objection in equally prestigious, peer-reviewed publications.

Be that as it may, it cannot have escaped Justice Scalia’s attention that his words would be interpreted by racists, who make up two-thirds of the Republican party and a lesser but not insignificant proportion of rest of the population, to mean that blacks are, by and large, too stupid to compete in fancy colleges. Scalia’s comments comprise a classic dog whistle, worthy of past practitioners such as George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and a host of others. Scalia knows this. He did it on purpose, and he did it from the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States. Scalia has now proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he is unworthy of his position.

Dr Sunshine

Update, 13 Feb 2016: Scalia has been relieved of his position. Good riddance.
Update, 29 Feb 2016: Toobin trashes Scalia. He sure as hell had it coming.
Update 2 Mar 2016: Toobin doubles down.
Update, 7 Mar 2016: Surowiecki piles on.

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