“Diagnosing Bias”

Recent posts of ours may tell you why it is with some apprehension that I see John Tierney is raising questions  in the NY Times about the Implicit Association Test (IAT).  Here’s a sample of our past posts on his work:


Tierney in the NY Times: Wrong Again

Shame, Shame on the NY Times!

Explaining Non-Facts.


And so now he takes on the IAT.  One hopes he sees himself as just raising some questions.  Further,  it is true he has what looks to be a useful collection of pro and con articles here


HOWEVER, I think we are encountering a manifestation of just what many of us feared.  THE US HAS ELECTED A BLACK PRESIDENT; DOESN’T THAT SHOW THERE’S SOMEHTING WRONG WITH THE IDEA THAT WHITE PEOPLE ARE PREJUDICED.  And what he cites as problems shows some problematic interpretations and expectations on his part.

1.  It seems to be a problem that doctors who came out higher than others on the IAT as negative to blacks tended to give them better treatment.  IN ONE GROUP IN ONE HOSPITAL. 

       But in fact there is no conflict between treating someone well and thinking members of the group are useless.  Many of us will rush to help an elderly person dazed in the street, for example.  It’s nice of us to do so, but it doesnt’ mean we do not in general treat elderly people as detritus. 

2.  A person’s results can vary among tests, and the results can be influenced by pretty trivial stuff.

    Welcome to the world of testing, I’m inclined to say.  Women’s scores on math tests can vary with reminders of their gender.  Nothing follows about the test’s not measuring something.

3.  From a article by a researcher he cites:  students can behave pretty much the same to people giving a test even when the latter vary by race. 

     Racism may not permeate all one’s behavior; some parents manage to teach their children reasonable manners.

One the positive side, there are things worth thinking about:  someone notes somewhere that being very concerned about racism can make you score worse.  It is also argued that the test results shouldn’t be presented as strongly determining just where you are on racism.

Hillary Clinton will accept, the Guardian says: Caveat added

Congrats to the Guardian for getting the story before at least CNN and the NY Times.  And congratulations to Obama for picking a strong woman with a lot of experience and a deep commitment to human rights.  Obama is apparently following the Lincoln policy of putting former rivals in the cabinet in order to build a broad-based coalition.  And, given the amount of work she did for him, “former” is the right word.

If the Guardian is  wrong, I may cry.

Caveat:  After some searching among news sources, I have to say that on this side of the pond whether Obama is going to make the offer seems still to be in question.  At the same time, some commentators were clear that there would be a gap between what’s the official activity (vetting Bill, for example) and what’s really happened.  So the Guardian report seems premature.  Or not.