Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Psychology’s Favorite Tool for Measuring Racism Isn’t Up to the Job

Psychologists are well aware that people often do not say what they really think.  It is therefore something of a holy grail among them to find ways that WILL detect what people really think. A very popular example of that is the Implicit Associations test (IAT).  It supposedly measures racist thoughts whether you are aware of them or not.  It sometimes shows people who think they are anti-racist to be in fact secretly racist. 

I dismissed it as a heap of junk long ago (here and here) but it has remained very popular and is widely accepted as revealing truth.  I am therefore pleased that a very long and thorough article has just appeared which comes to the same conclusion that I did.  Some excerpts below:

Perhaps no new concept from the world of academic psychology has taken hold of the public imagination more quickly and profoundly in the 21st century than implicit bias — that is, forms of bias which operate beyond the conscious awareness of individuals. That’s in large part due to the blockbuster success of the so-called implicit association test, which purports to offer a quick, easy way to measure how implicitly biased individual people are. When Hillary Clinton famously mentioned implicit bias during her first debate with Donald Trump, many people knew what she was talking about because the IAT has spread the concept so far and wide. It’s not a stretch to say that the IAT is one of the most famous psychological instruments created in recent history, and that it has been the subject of more recent fascination and acclaim than just about anything else to come out of the field of social psychology.

The only way to evaluate how accurately the IAT actually measures the sort of implicit bias everyone cares about, then, is to look to the research that has been published on the test. But before doing so it’s important to zoom out a bit to the broader question of how psychologists prove a given instrument, whether one developed to measure depression, narcissism, or anything else, is accurate enough to be useful for real-world purposes. There’s an entire field of psychology, psychometrics, dedicated to the creation and validation of psychological instruments, and instruments are judged based on whether they exceed certain broadly agreed-upon statistical benchmarks. The most important benchmarks pertain to a test’s reliability — that is, the extent to which the test has a reasonably low amount of measurement error (every test has some) — and to its validity, or the extent to which it is measuring what it claims to be measuring. A good psychological instrument needs both.

The IAT, it turns out, has serious issues on both the reliability and validity fronts, which is surprising given its popularity and the very exciting claims that have been made about its potential to address racism. That’s what the research says, at least, and it raises serious questions about how the IAT became such a social-science darling in the first place.

Take the concept of test-retest reliability, which measures the extent to which a given instrument will produce similar results if you take it, wait a bit, and then take it again. Different instruments have different test-retest reliabilities. A tape measure has high test-retest reliability because if you measure someone’s height, wait two weeks, and measure it again, you’ll get very similar results. The measurement procedure of grabbing an ice cube from your freezer and seeing how many ice cubes tall your friend is would have much lower test-retest reliability, because different ice cubes might be of different sizes; it’s easier to make errors when counting how many ice cubes tall your friend is; and so forth.

This is a bedrock psychometric feature of many psychological instruments; test-retest reliability is often one of the first things a psychologist will look for when deciding whether to use a given tool. That’s particularly true if it’s the sort of test that is designed to provide important information from someone based on a single test-taking session. If a depression test, for example, has the tendency to tell people they’re severely depressed and at risk of suicidal ideation on Monday, but essentially free of depression on Tuesday, that’s not a useful test. It’s safe to say, based on how the IAT is used and marketed, that most lay people who are familiar with the test imagine that it provides useful information based on a single session.

Test-retest reliability is expressed with a variable known as r, which ranges from 0 to 1. To gloss over some of the gory statistical details, r = 1 means that if a given test is administered multiple times to the same group of people, it will rank them in exactly the same order every time. Hypothetically, if the IAT had a test-retest reliability of r = 1, and you administered the test to ten people over and over and over, they’d be placed in the same order, least to most implicitly biased, every time. At the other end of the spectrum, when r = 0, that means the ranking shifts every time the test is administered, completely at random. The person ranked most biased after the first test would, after the second test, be equally likely to appear in any of the ten available slots. Overall, the closer you get to r = 0, the closer the instrument in question is to, in effect, a random-number generator rather than a remotely useful means of measuring whatever it is you’re trying to measure.

The individual results that have been published, though, suggest the race IAT’s test-retest reliability is far too low for it to be safe to use in real-world settings. In a 2007 chapter on the IAT, for example, Kristin Lane, Banaji, Nosek, and Greenwald included a table (Table 3.2) running down the test-retest reliabilities for the race IAT that had been published to that point: r = .32 in a study consisting of four race IAT sessions conducted with two weeks between each; r = .65 in a study in which two tests were conducted 24 hours apart; and r = .39 in a study in which the two tests were conducted during the same session (but in which one used names and the other used pictures). In 2014, using a large sample, Yoav Bar-Anan and Nosek reported a race IAT test-retest reliability of r = .4 (Table 2). Calvin Lai, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard who is the director of research at Project Implicit, ran the numbers from some of his own data, and came up with similar results. “If I had to estimate for immediate test-retest now, it would be r ~= .35,” he wrote in an email. “If it was over longer time periods, I would revise my estimate downward although I’m uncertain about how much.” (In emails, Greenwald argued that Lai’s figures should be adjusted upward using the so-called Spearman-Brown formula to account for the fact that they stemmed from IATs that weren’t full-length, but Blanton strongly pushed back on that claim. I emailed a few statisticians asking them to arbitrate the dispute and basically got a hung jury.) (Update: Lai emailed me after this article went up and said that in light of research published since he provided me with the original estimate, he’d now estimate the true value to be in the neighborhood of r = .42.)

What all these numbers mean is that there doesn’t appear to be any published evidence that the race IAT has test-retest reliability that is close to acceptable for real-world evaluation. If you take the test today, and then take it again tomorrow — or even in just a few hours — there’s a solid chance you’ll get a very different result. That’s extremely problematic given that in the wild, whether on Project Implicit or in diversity-training sessions, test-takers are administered the test once, given their results, and then told what those results say about them and their propensity to commit biased acts. (It should be said that there are still certain consistent patterns: Most white people, for example, score positively on black-white IAT, supposedly signaling the presence of anti-black implicit bias.)

As for validity, over and over the IAT’s proponents have made confident statements about the test’s ability to predict behavior. In the quote from Blindside excerpted above, for example, Banaji and Greenwald explicitly claim that the test does a better job predicting behavior than explicit measures like feelings thermometers in which people numerically “rate” their feelings toward different groups — an idea echoed on the IAT’s FAQ page. This is an absolutely crucial claim, and much of the IAT’s cultural and academic gravitas flows directly out of it. If the IAT can’t predict discriminatory behavior, and can’t do so more accurately than explicit measures, then it’s a lot less useful and interesting than its proponents have made it out to be. A major conceit of the test, after all, is that it reveals hidden biases that can pop up in people who explicitly renounce discriminatory beliefs or intent.

One of the current gold standards for assessing how “real” a given effect is is meta-analysis, or the process of collecting all the studies you can find on a given question and, in effect, averaging their results. This, the thinking goes, can reduce experimenter error and bias. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a much better method than relying on any handpicked collection of individual studies. And when you use meta-analyses to examine the question of whether IAT scores predict discriminatory behavior accurately enough for the test to be useful in real-world settings, the answer is: No. Race IAT scores are weak predictors of discriminatory behavior.

The arguments and subarguments get pretty complicated and technical, but two important points stand out. One is that the most IAT-friendly numbers, published in a 2009 meta-analysis lead-authored by Greenwald, which found fairly unimpressive correlations (race IAT scores accounted for about 5.5 percent of the variation in discriminatory behavior in lab settings, and other intergroup IAT scores accounted for about 4 percent of the variance in discriminatory behavior in lab settings), were based on some fairly questionable methodological decisions on the part of the authors. The Oswald team, in a meta-analysis of their own published in 2013, argued convincingly that Greenwald and his colleagues had overestimated the correlations between IAT scores and discriminatory behavior by including studies that didn’t actually measure discriminatory behavior, such as those which found a link between high IAT scores and certain brain patterns (these studies, in fact, found some of the highest correlations). The Oswald group also claimed — again, convincingly — that the Greenwald team took a questionable approach to handling so-called ironic IAT effects, or published findings in which high IAT scores correlated with better behavior toward out-group than in-group members, the theory being the implicitly biased individuals were overcompensating. Greenwald and his team counted both ironic and standard effects as evidence of a meaningful IAT–behavior correlation, which, in effect, allowed the IAT to double-dip at the validity bowl: Unless the story being told is extremely pretzel-like, it can’t be true that high IAT scores predict both better and worse behavior toward members of minority groups. If one study finds a correlation between IAT scores and discriminatory behavior against out-group members, and another, similarly-sized study finds a similarly sized correlation between IAT scores and discriminatory behavior against the in-group members, for meta-analytic purposes those two studies should average out to a correlation of about zero. That isn’t what the Greenwald team did — instead, they in effect added the two correlations as though they were pointing in the same direction.

The second, more important point to emerge from this years-long meta-analytic melee is that both critics and proponents of the IAT now agree that the statistical evidence is simply too lacking for the test to be used to predict individual behavior. That’s not to say the two teams don’t still disagree on many issues — they do, and as we’ll see there’s some genuine bad blood — but on this point, the architects have effectively conceded. They did so in 2015: The psychometric issues with race and ethnicity IATs, Greenwald, Banaji, and Nosek wrote in one of their responses to the Oswald team’s work, “render them problematic to use to classify persons as likely to engage in discrimination.”

In that same paper, they noted that “attempts to diagnostically use such measures for individuals risk undesirably high rates of erroneous classifications.” In other words: You can’t use the IAT to tell individuals how likely they are to commit acts of implicit bias. To Blanton, this is something of a smoking gun: “This concession undermines the entire premise of their webpage,” he said. “Their webpage delivers psychological diagnoses that even they now admit are too filled with error to be meaningful.”


Google under fire from its own

"Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that the left was cheering Google for firing an employee who dared to question the company's liberal orthodoxy?" asks Investor's Business Daily. "Now the company is getting battered by the same crowd for allegedly causing a critic to be fired from a think tank."

The fired employee was engineer James Damore, whose two-pronged dissent was more than the politically correct crowd could endure. In a 10-page memo entitled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," he first asserted that Google's culture was one "which constrains discourse and is complacent to the extremely sensitive PC-authoritarians that use violence and shaming to advance their cause." Then he committed the ultimate "sin," suggesting it's possible the gender gap in certain workplace positions may have to do with the difference between men and women themselves, rather than some sort of implicit bias.

That was a bridge too far. "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK," explained Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a staff memo, even as an updated memo stated "that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves" — unless they "cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace."

Progressive reaction? "Even if it creates an anti-PC martyr, firing an employee who was comfortable airing his harmful bigotry is a laudable stand," asserted Slate columnist April Glaser. "It should have been a no-brainer."

Unfortunately for the self-righteous social justice set, Google's disdain for dissent snared one of its own. Shortly after Washington think tank New America Foundation posted a piece on its website praising the $2.7 billion fine levied by European antitrust regulators against Google, company chairman Eric Schmidt made his displeasure known to New America president Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Barry Lynn, director of New America's Open Markets program, wrote the "offensive" post, asserting the EU "is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend." He also urged "US enforcers" to "build upon this important precedent, both in respect to Google and to other dominant platform monopolists including Amazon," explaining the "traditional American approach to network monopoly ... is to cleanly separate ownership of the network from ownership of the products and services sold on that network."

Lynn's post was taken down and then reposted hours later. But as The New York Times reported, "word of Mr. Schmidt's displeasure rippled through New America," leaving some people "concerned that Google intended to discontinue funding, while others worried whether the think tank could truly be independent if it had to worry about offending its donors."

They were right to worry. Last Wednesday, Slaughter informed Lynn "the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways," according to an email that simultaneously asserted the firing was "in no way based on the content of your work," while accusing Lynn of "imperiling the institution as a whole."

Lynn's 10-member team initially stuck around trying to negotiate with Slaughter, but eventually got the axe as well. In a public statement disputing the Times' story, Slaughter insisted Google did not lobby New America to expel Open Markets. Instead, she asserted, Lynn "repeatedly refused to adhere to New America's standards of openness and institutional collegiality," while offering no explanation for his team's firing.

One might be forgiven for wondering if Slaughter was influenced by the $21 million Google has bestowed on the think tank since 1999, or the fact that New America's main conference room is called the "Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab."

Regardless, leftists were suddenly aghast that some of their fellow travelers could be treated like Damore and that Google's "monopoly" should be broken up. Ultra-leftist Zephyr Teachout, who is chairing Open Markets reincarnation as an independent entity, believes Google "has established a pattern of lobbying and threatening to acquire power," reaching a "dangerous point ... where it no longer wants to allow dissent." The New York Times followed up its original story with one entitled "Google's Disturbing Influence Over Think Tanks," and the Huffington Post huffed that "Google Just Proved That Monopolies Imperil Democracy, Not Just The Economy."

Should Google be subjected to antitrust statutes? The company controls 80% of the online search market and 54% of the U.S. browser market. Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are similar behemoths, and all have made efforts to control and influence the flow of information, tilting overwhelmingly left in that regard.

But does that make any of them monopolies? Teachout insists Google "is forming into a government of itself," while admitting it couldn't succeed in "entirely" silencing New Markets. The New York Post refers to "monopolists who dominate the internet" and The Week's Ryan Cooper refers to both Google and Facebook as "platform monopolists."

Perhaps. Or perhaps they provide goods and services millions of people want. And for those that don't, perhaps there's a gargantuan opportunity for non-progressive entrepreneurs to set up alternative platforms. Better that than giving government another opportunity to put its regulatory thumb on the scale.

Are the aforementioned corporations run by largely obnoxious, self-aggrandizing leftists? You betcha. But a free society is about competition, not censorship. Leftists would prefer the latter, now that the Wrath of Google has touched one of theirs.


UK: Labour Party member for Northern electorate: Left ‘failing to confront truth of sex crimes’

Sarah Champion: ‘I’d rather be called a racist than turn a blind eye to child abuse’

The “floppy left” is failing vulnerable children because it will not confront the race factor in sex crimes involving street-grooming, according to a Labour frontbencher sacked for speaking out on the issue.

Sarah Champion attributed her party’s squeamishness to a liberal fear of being falsely branded racist.

The MP for Rotherham was dismissed from the shadow cabinet by Jeremy Corbyn last month after she wrote in an article for The Sun that Britain “has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”.

A few days later Mr Corbyn accused the newspaper of inciting Islamophobia and stigmatising “entire communities”. Ms Champion’s departure from the Labour front bench led to claims that the party was stifling free speech.

In her first interview since being dismissed Ms Champion highlighted differences in attitudes towards race in London and in Labour’s northern heartlands.

“If I’m on the floppy left, to be accused of racism is probably the worst thing you can call me. That fear will motivate me to step away from a lot of topics I’d maybe tackle head on if I didn’t have that phobia,” she told The Times.

Ms Champion said that many Labour members and politicians based in London had “never been challenged by a reality that’s different” from their largely “tolerant, multicultural world”.

“London is not representative of the UK and it’s definitely not representative of the north of England in relation to race,” she said. “Rotherham and many post-industrial towns are still segregated.”

Ms Champion’s constituency is among a lengthening list of English towns, including Rochdale, Oxford and, most recently, Newcastle upon Tyne, in which groups of men largely of Pakistani origin have been convicted of multiple sex crimes against vulnerable white girls.

In 2014 The Times reported on how 1,400 girls from Rotherham were abused by groups of men who were said to be “almost all” of Pakistani heritageIn 2014 The Times reported on how 1,400 girls from Rotherham were abused by groups of men who were said to be “almost all” of Pakistani heritage
No similar prosecution has occurred in London. Ms Champion said that the “multicultural policies that I, through my working career, grew up with, and which Jeremy Corbyn grew up with, need a translation to come outside London”.

She said: “It’s not that Yorkshire’s racist, it’s that Yorkshire is very blunt and doesn’t sugar-coat anything. In Rotherham, people’s frustration is that if they all knew what was going on, why didn’t the people who were meant to protect them do anything about it?”

Ms Champion was strongly criticised by many Labour supporters last month when she called for research to understand why most of the convicted perpetrators of gang-linked sexual exploitation were of Pakistani heritage.

She said she found it extraordinary that some on the liberal left seemed less offended by her words than by her decision to write an article for a newspaper such as The Sun.

“Once you make a decision to be open and up front about what’s going on in this country, you want to get the broadest number of people to hear that message,” she said. “Rotherham has a working-class demographic and a lot of my older constituents read The Sun.

“I’m a Labour politician, I want us to be in government and I wanted to let people know we’re taking this seriously. I wanted to reach out to people that we don’t normally reach out to.”

Ms Champion drew a parallel between the reluctance of some people in her party to acknowledge the race factor in such crimes with the terror of being accused of racism that played a role in the longstanding failure of police forces and local authorities to prosecute offenders.

“By not dealing with the facts head on, you allow people to manipulate what’s going on.”

She emphasised that most child sexual abuse took place within the family and that the vast majority of convicted child-sex offenders in Britain were white men, usually acting alone.

“But for me, with this type of street-grooming crime, it’s no different to where we were in the recent past, with everyone knowing what was happening in the Catholic church but not doing anything about it.

“If, 15 years ago, we’d acknowledged there was a particular issue among a criminal subsection of men in the Pakistani community we could have addressed it, carried out the research and gained the understanding to challenge it, tackle it and eradicate it.”


Australia: The marriage equality movement and the new intolerance

Many important issues now can't be debated openly without inspiring immediate hysteria. Same-sex marriage is one of them. Anyone who tries to defend traditional marriage – or even highlights the risks that the campaign poses to religious freedom – is instantly treated with shock and distaste.  

Note the paradox. The marriage-equality movement has succeeded in changing public opinion across the Western world by championing love and acceptance. Polls show Australians have become more tolerant of the LGBTI community, so much so that support for same-sex marriage is now a majority view. And yet many activists have become intolerant of people who might subscribe to religious or more traditional positions.

The principal of Frankston High School says a mother's comments in a TV commercial promoting a "no vote" to same-sex marriage is false.
Thus, Australian company board members who defend traditional marriage have had to endure a hysterical witch hunt at the hands of a social media mob.

A Catholic archbishop of Hobart was regarded as engaging in hate speech because he voiced the church's scepticism about same-sex marriage.

In the US, a chief executive was run out of business after it turned out he had donated money to a state referendum opposing gay marriage.

Tennis legend Margaret Court, a devout Christian, said she would not fly Qantas because of the company's barracking for same-sex marriage. She was immediately given the pariah treatment.

It is nothing short of outrageous that these people should have been subjected to such vitriol because of their opinions. Yet they are just some of the many people who have become the target of the Twitter crowd.

What is really disturbing is that these campaigns are justified in the name of "tolerance" and "diversity". The activists are supposed to oppose bigotry, yet they impose a new stifling orthodoxy of their own. It is as if gay marriage is made a taboo subject – unless you hold the approved point of view. Who is really being intolerant here?

Our civil society should be vibrant enough to tolerate all people of whatever sexual or religious instincts. But the same-sex marriage lobby will lose the goodwill of many voters if it keeps turning its agenda into a political orthodoxy from which there can be no dissent.

Why the panic? Attitudes are shifting rapidly. As recently as 2013, Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton opposed gay marriage. Even Penny Wong was to the right of Dick Cheney! Like many westerners, they have changed their minds.

So the case for altering the definition of marriage has gathered steam. But a political debate over the subject is precisely what many of its supporters do not want. They instead want to impose a national solution via either the judiciary or the Parliament, even though the Turnbull government went to the last election on a pledge to resolve the matter via a plebiscite.

Whatever one's views, the democratic process – the plebiscite or, if the High Court approves, the postal vote – is a good thing. Both sides play by the same rules and can accept the people's verdict as legitimate. And as support grows for a legally sanctioned union between people of the same sex, the politics will follow. Isn't that how democracy works? Or are socio-cultural changes more durable when they are imposed from the top?

Alas, anyone who dares to express views outside the mainstream is regarded as a fanatic, who has to be subjected to absurd scrutiny.

We saw a telling example of this when ABC News presenter Joe O'Brien asked the Australian Christian Lobby's Lyle Shelton whether he could in good faith support gay athletes in sporting endeavours. The contorted logic here is that if you oppose gay marriage you must be a homophobe.

Yet Shelton's sin is to hold views that held sway for millennia, views shared by virtually all priests, bishops, imams, rabbis and other religious leaders.

John Stuart Mill would be aghast. In On Liberty, the great 19th-century British liberal warned: "Unmeasured vituperation, employed on the side of the prevailing opinion really does deter people from expressing contrary opinion, and from listening to those who express them."

This is a matter of grave concern that goes to the heart of contemporary public discourse in Australia. The new intolerance should appal all genuine liberals.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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