November 16, 2011

White People Think Black People Are Dirty

stapel stereotyping half.jpg
obviously he brought the trash with him

In Science, a study about racial stereotyping.  Science, as you know, is read by scientists, which means they are progressive intellectuals who never racially stereotype. They voted for Obama to prove it.  Though they unanimously subscribe to Evolutionary Psychology Bible they themselves are not subject to evolutionary forces; but it is helpful and entertaining to learn what makes the animals in the red states do what they do.

When you're short on time and long on caffeine skip over the study itself and just look at the Introduction, where you will always find two things.

Unnecessary references:

There is substantial evidence that discrimination has serious negative consequences for those who are discriminated against, as well as for society in general (1-3). A neglected possible source of stereotyping and discrimination is physical disorder. The environment can affect the relative accessibility of important goals (4, 5), and recently it has been found that physical disorder in particular can, through shifting the relative accessibility of goals, increase littering, trespassing, and even stealing (6).

None of these sentences need referencing, because none of them contain a proposition worth referencing.  They are either definitional (e.g. racial discrimination is negative) or uselessly vague.  Yet we have exhausted 6 out of the 24 references to be told nothing.   

Next: references that don't actually support the statements they are supposed to be supporting.

There is some evidence that stereotyping is goal-driven (7-9), and there is even evidence that when people's desire for structure and predictability is high, they are more likely to engage in stereotyping than when it is low (10-13).

Reference 10 is a review article about existentialism.
Reference 11 has the word stereotyping in it, but isn't about the link to predictability.
Reference 12 describes the kinds of responses that occur when expectations (not stereotypes) are/are not confirmed: "will this taste good?"  "If you are told Paul is a kind man, how will you react when he isn't?")
Reference 13, is about how the goal of interpretation affects the interpretation/stereotyping.

I should also point out that all four of those references happen to have been written by the same person who wrote the sentence they were all supporting.


For no reason I know, works of philosophy are compromised by even a typo in the introduction, but in science you can open with a golden shower anecdote and no one notices.  Oh well.  To the experiments. 

The setting: a Dutch train station.  40 Caucasian men and women were asked to sit in a row of chairs and fill out a questionnaire about Muslim and gay stereotypes.  Chair 1 was occupied by either a white or a black researcher, which they term a "confederate."  Yes, like they're grifters.  Where would the subjects choose to sit?

The experiment was run twice: once on a day when the station was clean (order condition), and another time a few days into a janitorial strike, i.e. in a dirty train station (disorder condition.)  How did the disorder affect the choices white people make about where to sit?

We predicted that in a dirty train station people stereotype more and would choose to sit further away from an outgroup confederate than in a (relatively) clean train station.

stereotype stapel.jpg

Importantly, this stronger stereotyping in the disorder condition was accompanied by a significant increase in the distance the respondents chose to put between themselves and the black confederate..

There are a number of reasons why this study is silly, but, unlike the researchers, subjects, and striking janitors I am not being paid for my nonsense, so I will only list a lot of them.

The subjects are completing a survey about Muslim and gay stereotypes, yet are sitting near a black man.  Would the results have been the same if the confederate was gay?  No?  Then it's only measuring racial stereotyping, which is fine, but then you can't say this:

... In a disordered environment, people are more likely to distance themselves from outgroup members than in a clean and ordered environment.

Trust me on this: 'outgroup' has a whole different connotation in The Netherlands than in the U.S.  But the sleight of hand is to take a white vs. black racial study and convert it to a scientific generalization about stereotyping, the kind where some other study can use it to say, "there is evidence to suggest that people distance themselves from outgroup members."

Would the results be the same if black subjects were studied?  Perhaps this is a study of prejudice and fear, i.e. white people are afraid to sit near black people but black people are also afraid to sit near black people, which would produce the same graph.  But you'd have to rewrite the conclusions because it wouldn't be about "outgroups."

Right about here I you want to take a drink, because apparently the only scientist in The Netherlands that has sex with strangers is me.  Think about his study, and the results, and what you think it means.  Now look at these photos:

stapel stereotyping.jpg
Suddenly the seating choice takes on a different hue.   Is she avoiding the black man in the top picture, or is she looking to get penetrated in the second?  BE HONEST LIARS.  I will admit that technically the author remains correct, both interpretations are the result of "stereotyping,"  but one happens to be a negative stereotype and the other happens to be a substantial plot point of every drama on ABC.  Here's a revised title for the study:  "Clean Stations, Dirty Minds: How Just The Right Conditions Can Make A Woman Go Black.  (But She'll Be Back.)"

The study assumes that how close whites sit to whites is the default, hence a black confederate in a dirty station makes them sit "further away"; but why isn't the distance they sit in the disordered condition the default per race, and other things make them close the gap?  This is especially true if the subjects are used to disorder as the typical state of affairs, i.e. they're from Rotterdam.  ZING!  (It is, after all, a train station.)

If you want to go Schrodinger, remember that the subjects in both conditions are surrounded already by other white people who are observing them (the interviewers).   They are not alone.  In ordered environments, does this make people feel safe/horny/cold/social enough to move closer? (i.e. if the interviewers were not present, perhaps whites would choose to sit equally far from black people in both ordered and disordered environments.  They'd still be racist, but things couldn't make them more racist, only less racist.)  

Note also that the default condition for the station is clean; the janitorial strike caused an unusual circumstance.  How would the results come out if the station was usually dirty and one day became unusually clean?

And etc.  Instead, the study closes with this:

Thus, the message for policy-makers is clear: One way to fight unwanted stereotyping and discrimination is to diagnose environmental disorder early and to intervene immediately by cleaning up and creating physical order.

That's the kind of delicious "broken windows" soundbite that gets you published in Time Magazine, but why would the effects last more than a day?  Wouldn't people become desensitized to the disorder? 

I don't even doubt the conclusions
, but you have the moral decency not to overlook the flaws just because they match your prejudices.  This study does not logically lead to those conclusions, this study is sufficiently vague and flawed that no conclusions can be made, at all.

The reason this matters is because if the study is published in this way, with these conclusions, people will assume it is science.  This becomes a "known."  Next thing you know it's in a Malcolm Gladwell book and that's the game.

These points seem not to have occurred to the following people: the two authors of the study; the guy who took this photograph; the four peer  reviewers; the editor; everyone who read the study.

I don't blame them, but as I am not the smartest guy in the universe it should have at least occurred to someone, and thus we have the fundamental problem of psychological research: it shouldn't be reviewed by peers.  Not because they are stupid, but because they are in the same "world" and can't see things from the outside.  It should be reviewed by physicists; but  if it was, there'd be only one psychology journal left and it would be empty.   I reviewed Justin Timberlake's In Time more closely than anyone reviewed this study.

Two things happen with studies like these: either they enter the Sea Of Publications, another meaningless ion of sodium that does nothing else at all except contribute to the rising sea levels that will eventually kill us all;  or they get used by government policy guys to justify, well, it depends: justify making trains stations way cleaner, or way dirtier.  Your city's needs may be different.


So the study is an interesting observation about which no conclusions can be reached.  However, there's a further punch line to this: the study was a fraud.

Diederik Stapel, noted Dutch psychologist, was recently outed for massive scientific fraud, i.e. he made up all his studies.  "All of them?"  Does it matter?

The scientific community is aghast at the extent of his fraud-- fraud on "Astonishing Scale", writes Gretchen Vogel in the same issue of Science; and Bruce Alberts was so furious he wrote an "Editorial Expression Of Concern."  Ooooooooohhh.  People's Elbow.

The battle cry now is that science has to be done differently in order to prevent fraud; but the important truth is that this study should never have been detected as a fraud because it should never have been published in the first place.  The cacophony of self-righteousness among everyone with "professor" somewhere near their name is a diversion from the reality that the way the entire field conducts research and draws conclusions is suspect.

Hide behind Stapel, strap some Kevlar to his chest and let it draw fire while you deploy a few more studies to the journals that are of dubious quality and of no consequence, the system has to hold just until you make tenure.  I know.    These studies are useless, worse, they are perfectly packaged for the media and popular consumption so that in spite of their meaninglessness they will change the way people think and change the way society acts.  I wouldn't have used this study to win another drink in a bar argument but some minister somewhere will use it to demand 300M euros or whatever they will use next month  for clean stations or racial purity.


"Why is Alone lenient on the judge who beats his daughter?  Can he really believe Wall Street is blameless?  He thinks the media is creating a straw man of a college kid angry at Paterno's firing?"

You don't need me to point out the obvious bad guys, there is no point for me to decry scientific misconduct and pedophilia. But when I don't do it you think there's something wrong with me, that I'm blind.  Why do you want me to say the things you already know are true?   Because that's what you were trained to want.

What you need me for is to untrain you, force you to realize that focusing on the obvious bad guys is a defense against looking at everything else, because that everything else is you.  You were trained by media which labels hypocrisy as the worst sin imaginable; and individual instances of corruption-- hey, there's a welfare cheat, hey, there's Bernie Madoff-- as the appropriate target for your wrath.  Bernie Madoff is not your problem, he is not your enemy, and unless you lost money to him he is nothing to you; and as long as you can be reminded to be angry at him you are not going to ask why the system needs Bernie Madoffs to survive.  Stapel may have invented the data that no one will look at but Science didn't vet the conclusions that everyone will remember.  Which is worse?  "Keep your guns trained on the bullet proof straw man.  Look over there, he's a jerk!"    If they can drive you to rage, they've  succeeded.

Here's the synthesis: there's an argument against OccupyWallSt, and another about a beating your daughter, and another about raping some kid in a shower, and this, and etc-- all of these are the same thing.  All of these represent the institutionalization, the mainstream acceptance, of self-serving behavior because that behavior allows everyone else to be equally self-serving.  Or, in more basic yet precise language: individual narcissism is encouraged to permit the existence of societal narcissism, all of which is at the expense of your soul.  Repent.