Friday, December 11, 2015

Fisher Disher

Image from Slate's Scalia Insult Generator.
I've been all over the place on Justice Scalia's remarks at the oral arguments for Fisher vs. University of Texas–Austin, the complaint against the UT quasi–affirmative action admissions policy of letting in anybody in the top 10% of their high school classes, which discriminate against young Abigail Fisher because, she thought, she wasn't in the top 10% in her high school, but probably if she was in one of those MINORITY schools she would have been since they're all so dumb and she's smart enough to have made it through LSU*, so what's going on, where Scalia explained:
there were people who would contend that "it does not benefit African-Americans to -- to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less -- a slower-track school where they do well." He argued that "most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're -- that they're being pushed ahead in -- in classes that are too -- too fast for them," Scalia said.
Pity the poor African Americans led by an uncaring society to believe they ought to attend a school with smart people in it! And occupying a seat that might have been occupied by Abigail Fisher, whose whole family went to Austin, proving that she's the right sort, even though her grades were maybe not that great.

*In the 2015 Shanghai rankings UT-Austin is at 27th in the US, and LSU at the tie for 79th to 102nd. Just saying.

But the thing that really got to me was that Scalia had a proper pseudo-scientific source for his retrograde opinions, as I found myself noting at the Frogpond:

Scalia bases his racist remarks on an amicus brief in Fisher by anti-affirmative action sociologist Richard Sander, recapping the research reported in his Mismatch : How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It.William Kidder's review of the book in the Los Angeles Review of Books shows vividly why the amicus brief got a response
from nearly a dozen of America's leading social scientists and methodologists, including two members of the National Academy of Science and others without known prior positions on affirmative action -- that represents an unflinching rebuke by social science heavyweights:

Sander's research has major methodological flaws -- misapplying basic principles of causal inference -- that call into doubt his controversial conclusions about affirmative action. The Sander "mismatch" research -- and its provocative claim that, on average, minority students admitted through affirmative action would be better off attending less selective colleges and universities -- is not good social science. [...] That research, which consists of weak empirical contentions that fail to meet the basic tenets of rigorous social-science research, provides no basis for the [Supreme] Court to revisit longstanding precedent supporting the individualized consideration of race in admissions.

And some clown commenter convinced Scott Lemieux that this bush-league Eysenck was a bona fide expert, whom Scalia had (deliberately) misunderstood:

Implicit in Scalia’s questioning and willful distortion of Richard Sander’s research is an assumption that the selective and high-demand schools where affirmative action is most relevant are distinguishing between “qualified” and “unqualified” applicants....

Me, with reference to that "willful distortion" crack, based on a somewhat heedless comment at an earlier post:

I can’t believe I’m saying this, Scott, but you’re being unfair to Scalia. He’s not misquoting Sander’s amicus brief, he’s translating it from the original dogwhistle.
The review your commenter [linked above] cited is Richard Kahlenberg’s from–not to be too argumentum ad magazinam about it–Even-the-Liberal-New-Republic, headlined “Race to the Flop—The Problem with Affirmative Action” and it is praising Sander with faint damns, and arguing (in a weaselly deniable way) that the Court should find for Fisher too.
A better review is William Kidder‘s in the Los Angeles Review of Books, which clarifies that Sander is pretty much in Charles Murray territory, a bad scientist with an axe to grind.
Sander certainly does argue in the amicus brief as Scalia says:
when schools use large preferences [by which he means any kind of preferences for a large group such as a race, even those as indirect as the ones used by University of Texas] to admit students, the students (and the school’s diversity environment) suffer a variety of adverse effects…. In “learning mismatch”, students receiving large preferences actually learn less in the classroom than they would if they attended a school where the student’s level of academic preparation was closer to the median student…. In “competition mismatch”, students receiving large preferences are at a competitive disadvantage, tend to receive lower grades, and become academically discouraged, which can lead to switching to a less competitive field of study or dropping out of school…. “social mismatch” describes the tendency of students, regardless of race, to form friendships at much higher rates with fellow students at the same school who have similar levels of academic preparation (or similar levels of academic performance). If academic preparation (or grades at college) are highly correlated with race, then social mismatch will tend to produce racially segregated social interactions, defeating a core purpose of campus racial diversity…
That’s right, for Sander affirmative action causes segregation. Also, as Kidder explains, the data just don’t back him up.
That remark about black students benefiting from help at elite colleges which Kahlenberg said was “calling for more affirmative action” isn’t; in context, rather, as Sander puts it in the amicus brief:
This doesn’t mean that students are not harmed by the first-order effects; it means that some ordinary consequences of first-order mismatch can be effectively offset or disguised
He’s alleging it’s still harmful for black kids to be allowed into UT, but the harm is treacherously concealed by their successful graduation and higher incomes.
A really important point, as Paul Campos notes, that gets neglected in the excitement over Scalia's increasingly open racist ranting, is that it is entirely irrelevant to the Fisher case:
That is because the legal issue in the case is whether affirmative action programs such as that being employed by the University of Texas are unconstitutional, not whether they are a good idea. Right wing-critics of judicial activism, and most particularly Justice Scalia, love nothing more than to lecture liberals about this distinction.
But they don't care about the distinction when it interferes with their doing what they want to do, like overturning a perfectly good and obviously constitutional diversity program.

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