Archive - Mar 2014

March 30th

Suspension Of Belief

« March 2014 »

Memo to social scientists: I'M SORRY.

Data is a tricky thing. Nate Silver's new website, for example, tries to marry punditry with number-crunching, which is an admirable goal in theory and a bit tricky in practice. Because data isn't enough - whose data is it? Who's interpreting it? It's not an easy thing to get right, and from everything I've been reading since the launch, it's even tougher not to get bristly and snarky when people question your data or the competence of those you've delegated the interpretation to.

And even when everything goes right, it's probably a thankless task, because the target audience is largely a bunch of fuckheads who don't give a damn about your numbers or your careful work.

Case in point - the Department of Education released a report last week that crunched the numbers, all social sciences-like and found, unsurprisingly, that schools' increasing reliance on zero-tolerance policies, suspensions, and police involvement is pretty dramatically tilted towards black, Latino, and Native American kids.

We've seen this kind of data before - drug arrest rates, for example - where after controlling for population size and other factors, what's left is the institutionalized racism anyone with half a clue knows surrounds us. And every time see this type of data, we also see the usual gang of people with 49% of a clue or less, almost always white, explaining that it's not racism, it's the innate inferiority of minorities that's the problem.

For today's example, we'll turn to Topeka, Kansas. What's the matter with Kansas? As you'll see, a touch of old-fashioned racism.

"Has anyone considered this happens because they can't read or write. Like other students that go to school to learn." - "bogeyman"

Oh, well, let's just make Bogeyman head of the Department of Education, because he understands that black kids are suspended because none of them can read or write, and none of them go to school to learn. Good to know it's not racism.

"The FREQUENCY of misbehavior isn't as important as the DEPTH of the misbehavior. Some one mentioned cursing above. Say a 7 year old minority boy starts letting f-words fly...That is one incident. Compare with a "white" boy who might say the d-word. Which would lead to a suspension? Another, my "white" son might hit Susie with a toy. What if a minority boy comes and tackles her full bore. Both are one incident, but one is more aggressive." - - "AdAstraKS"

You can really feel this one trying. You can almost smell the smoke as their brain tries valiantly to frame their innate racism in non-racist terms, and then fools itself into thinking it's pulled it off. I do want to know what "the d-word" is, though. From context, I have to assume "damn", but the other possibilities are a lot more interesting. I mean, what if it's "douchecunt"? And if it's not, can someone in Kansas find AdAstraKS's white, Suzie-whacking son and teach him to say "douchecunt"?

"They are getting kicked out because they behave like a bunch of savages. Now, I don't care what color they are, if they behave like thugs, they need to get thrown out. If a lot of the ones thrown out are of the red or black race, so be it. It doesn't matter if they are red, black, white, brown, yellow, green, magenta, or cyan - if they are screw ups, they need to be thrown out. End of story." - "doubltap", which right there is a sign of class.

Well, no, not end of story. A couple of important pieces are missing. First, what model of color laser printer was "doubltap" sitting near as he looked around the room, panicked, trying to come up with colors that weren't skin colors to show he wasn't racist? And second, why does he think certain races have a proportion of "savages" much higher than their actual proportion in the population? It can't be because of race, because they could be cyan savages for all he cares.

So bring your numbers. Patiently explain that yes, you accounted for that. And that. And that. America is impervious to your thoughtful work. We know what's going on, and your numbers will bounce off our impenetrable skulls every time. Because if they get in, we might have to do things differently. And that's unacceptable.