Equivocations, False Analogies, and Racist Stereotypes, Hooray!

Pat Buchanan hits the fallacy jackpot over at Human Events.  Here's his article in a nutshell: we should reconsider the utopian dream of educational equality, because educational ability across races is not equal.  He starts with the familiar argument from athletics.  In the NFL, blacks outnumber whites and all other races:

In this profession, white males, a third of the population, retain a third of the jobs. But black males, 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, have 67 percent of the coveted positions — 10 times their fair share. . . .  Yet no one objects that women are not permitted to compete in the NFL. Nor do many object to the paucity of Asian and Mexicans, or the over-representation of blacks, even as white males dominate the National Hockey League and the PGA.   When it comes to sports — high school, collegiate or professional — Americans are intolerant of lectures about diversity and inclusiveness. They want the best . . .

When it comes to athletic ability, we have very different native capacities, and so it should follow for educational abilities, too. 

Why, then, cannot our elites accept that, be it by nature, nurture, attitude or aptitude, we are not all equal in academic ability?

Buchanan's evidence for this difference in ability between the races is what he sees as the permanent achievement gap in the New York math and language achievement tests.  Whites and Asians generally outperform Hispanics and blacks, even after a good deal of work has been poured into the system to even the numbers.

Since 1965, America has invested trillions in education with a primary goal of equalizing test scores among the races and genders. Measured by U.S. test scores, it has been a waste — an immense transfer of wealth from private citizens to an education industry that has grown bloated while failing us again and again.  Perhaps it is time to abandon the goal of educational equality as utopian — i.e., unattainable — and to focus, as we do in sports and art, on excellence.

Oh, in case you didn't get the point, Buchanan is telling us to re-calibrate our academic expectations for people who are brown:

For an indeterminate future, Mexican kids are not going to match Asian kids in math.

Fallacy checklist:  Equivocation on 'equality'?  Check!  Inequality in ability (even in native abilities) does not mean that one deserves less.   False analogy between sports and athletics?  Check! If you can't throw a curveball, no biggie.  Can't read, well… Vicious use of racial stereotypes? Check!  Seriously, this guy ran for president and almost won the Republican nomination in '96.

18 thoughts on “Equivocations, False Analogies, and Racist Stereotypes, Hooray!”

  1. Well said with even better examples to drive this important point home! We should expect the best that people can give, not desire that everyone be equal! How boring that would be.

  2. The manner in which Buchanan generalizes by race is also dubious. How readily he divides Americans into racial groups, whether by skin color, ethnic background, or both; but at the same time he ignores the ethnic diversity of other countries – and, for that matter, the entire continent of Asia.

    "Inequality in ability (even in native abilities) does not mean that one deserves less."

    Building on that, even if you assume that a particular ethic group has a lower percentage of high performers for a given academic subject, and even if you accept Buchanan's assumption that the difference in performance is genetic and immutable,  it will remain easy to identify individuals in any given ethnic group who perform well above the mean for any other ethnic group. So even if you accept what appear to be Buchanan's notions of race, those notions don't support his conclusion.

  3. Why, then, cannot our elites accept that, be it by nature, nurture, attitude or aptitude, we are not all equal in academic ability?
    No one denies this. The question is why are we not all equal. Buchanan has already assumed that "nature" is the reason why the little brown kids are dumb. However, Buchanan obscures this claim by pretending that ALL POSSIBLE reasons for different ethnicities having different test scores must lead to the same conclusion: There are natural differences between ethnic groups in academic ability. The myriad analogies about individual talents points to this conclusion as well. There definitely seems to be a bit of begging the question here.

  4. Hi Aaron, You're right about individuals and expectations.  However, as social policy, offering educational opportunities that are effective is the core point.  The problem is that in the New York tests referenced by Buchanan, one in six blacks are not passing the proficiency test for language or math.  Now, it's one thing to beg off making sure everybody is as good as everybody else at math and it's another thing to beg off making sure everybody can at least add.

  5. Hi Jem, I didn't get your last two sentences.  Can you explain how begging the question is the charge here?

  6. I had a better response but the CAPTCHA failed me…
    Gist: After looking at it again, no begging the question. Rather, I think Buchanan is simply disingenuous about what he believes is the reason for the achievement gap. His analogy between individual aptitude differences in children and ethnic aptitude seems to clearly show on what side of the nature/nurture divide Buchanan falls on.

  7. 'Buchanan's evidence for this difference in ability between the races is what he sees as the permanent achievement gap in the New York math and language achievement tests.'
    I think Buchanan assumes the reader is familiar with the claims of human biodiversity.  Certainly in Asia, the notion that blacks are less intelligent than East Asians is uncontroversial.
    '  Equivocation on 'equality'?  Check!'

    I don't think Buchanan is equivocating, I think you're intentionally missing his point.
    'Inequality in ability (even in native abilities) does not mean that one deserves less. '

    Irrelevant.  A legless girl may "deserve" to be a ballerina, but she CAN'T be.
    'False analogy between sports and athletics?  Check! If you can't throw a curveball, no biggie.  Can't read, well…'
    You're missing the point.  You seem to be talking about moral entitlement, and Buchanan is talking about pragmatic possibility.
    'Vicious use of racial stereotypes? Check! '

    If you really want to vicious racism, you should come to Hong Kong. 
    You may be good at critical thinking most of the time, but you're clearly misreading Buchanan.  I think your emotions have clouded your reason.

  8. Hello dagehzu,
    The issue here doesn't have anything to do with excellence.  It has to do with the fact that an educational system owes it to those in it that they will be at least competent in the required material.  That there will be large differences between individuals in ability is non-controversial.   That because there will be differences, we don't owe it to people to help them learn math is what's controversial. 
    Now, if you're going to charge me with missing Buchanan's point, it's your responsibility to explain it. You haven't done it, and that's not just sloppy, it's foolish.  All you've offered is a worse version of what Buchanan said.  That's worse than foolish, it's immoral.
    Finally, the fact that racism is acceptable in Asia is no reason at all to correct anyone on this matter.   In fact, the issue here is not about any of the native abilities of the races, but about giving those who need an education a chance.  Perhaps you, too, could use some schooling.  It just started here.

  9. Dr. Casey,
    This is actually an issue I know something about. I spent a fair amount of time arguing with the scientific racists on wikipedia, and during the process I read many books on the history of IQ, and books for and against scientific racism. I've read Gould, Kamin, Jensen, etc. I have two points too make; First, the views of Jensen, Burt, Eyseneck etc. are widely held among intelligence researchers and psychologists in general. If you take a psychology class you will invariably learn about Eyseneck's theory of criminality, Jensen was one of the most respected psychiatrists of his time. Second, scientific racism is a classic example of why we should be dubious of appeals to authority, (since scientific racists often use them, to deflect criticism from non-psychologists). 
    The scientific community should never be able to convince the public of their claims strictly through their status as scientists.  In the past you've criticized conservatives for disagreeing with climatologists about global warming, 'they aren't scientists who are they to judge." Conservatives are 100% right not to accept claims about global warming based on appeals to authority, and I applaud them for not blindly following the scientific priesthood, (to their credit climatologists do not rely heavily on appeals to authority*).
    Another thing you said which I have a disagreement with is that philosophers do not need to be scientists and scientists do not need to be philosophers. This is the conventional wisdom of our day which embraces specialization and condemns people who "interfere," in other fields. Specialization has lead to the existence of academic cults, such as scientific racism, that survive by dismissing critics as "uneducated in the field."
    Our academic culture has failed because it reverses the role of expert and common opinion. The real test of a claim is not whether you can convince the experts but whether you can convince those who are not experts in your field. Scientific racism was first rejected by anthropologists such as Boas who actually studied and had experience with other cultures. But since Boas was a non-psychologist he could be dismissed. Because the scientific community of a particular discipline get's to define who is an expert, they get to decide what the scientific consensus is. 

  10. I was paraphrasing your post on global warming, (which I can't find), where you said that your friend the philosopher of science "couldn't think of a single area where he disagreed with the scientific consensus."
    Which I interpreted as saying, "what business do you (conservatives) have in doubting the scientific consensus."

    While searching for this post I realize that you don't make many appeals to authority, so using you was a bad example. I read your quote a long time ago and it disturbed me, which is why I posted.

  11. Hey Ben, nice of you to comment on this post (it wasn’t mine by the way). I will say this. There is nothing wrong with an argument from authority. That’s a typical and very reasonable form of argument–it’s why I do what my doctor tells me, etc. Now if my Doctor starts making judgements that fall outside of his area of competence (for instance, if he tells me that climate science is all a bunch of crap), then I might wonder.

  12. Hi Ben, very instructive comment.  Thanks.  A few points.  First, Buchanan's scientific racism was entirely his own, namely his extrapolation from the New York competency test data.  Pretty weak authority.  Second, you're right that appeals to authority can be wrong, and in some cases, horribly so.  But unless we have the experience and judgment to undercut their reasons, we aren't in any position to reject their claims.  And so your example with Boaz is right, but not to the point about how people without the requisite expertise shouldn't defer to cognitive authorities.  It should be clear that cases from authority are weaker than, say, cases from direct experience, but that's all that needs to be conceded.

  13. Dr. Casey,
    [quote] There is nothing wrong with an argument from authority.[/quote]

    Yes but if that argument is used to end all debate then it is a fallacious appeal to authority, an appeal to ultimate authority. Real scientists rarely use those kind of appeals, including climatologists. Scientific racists, and psychiatrists rely very heavily on appeals to authority.
    As for your doctor example, that is a perfect example of the limits of appeals to authority. Let's say I injure my arm, and the doctor looks at it and x-rays it and tells me it's a minor injury and I will be fine. But it still hurts I can't raise my arm, etc. I look at the x-ray pictures and there is a clear break, but the doctor says it is a mark on the bone that only looks like a break, and that my symptoms are psychosomatic. Good inductive reasoning would tell me to get a second opinion, because the weight of evidence from experience outweighs my respect for the doctors expertise. It is more likely that my arm is actually broken then that I am simply imagining this.

  14. Scott,

    "First, Buchanan's scientific racism was entirely his own, namely his extrapolation from the New York competency test data."
    Pat Buchanan could easily find a dozen psychologists who would agree with his contentions. He used an example of his own choosing as evidence for a widely held scientific view. I don't like it anymore then you do, but I can't put my head in the sand and pretend that he is the only one who thinks this.
    "But unless we have the experience and judgment to undercut their reasons, we aren't in any position to reject their claims. "
    The experts on a subject have very often been wrong. Usually the scientist is right and the non-scientist is wrong, but not always. You can't dismiss an argument simply because of the source, I can't say Jenny McCarthy is wrong simply because she isn't a scientist. What matters is the strength of the argument/evidence not the source.
    Second, appeals to authority are essentially useless in a serious debate, since what is at question is usually whether the authorities are right. To defend the authority of the authorities based on the fact that they are authorities is ludicrously circular reasoning.

  15. On Experts vs. Non Experts:

    If some guy off the street wants to argue physics with Steven Hawking he will lose, because he doesn't understand physics and Steven Hawking does. For this man on the street to effectively argue he would have too truly understand Steven Hawking's arguments, his research, etc., it is after all impossible to argue against something you don't understand. So the novice by default has to effectively become an expert to argue with Steven Hawking.
    "But unless we have the experience and judgment to undercut their reasons, we aren't in any position to reject their claims. "
    You also can't truly believe a scientific claim you don't understand, unless your taking it on faith, and that isn't even belief. I would say an uneducated creationist, who goes to the library and studies biology so he can attack evolution has enough experience and judgment to make his/her claims. Most of the creationists even if they aren't scientists know enough about science too where they should know better, but they continue to oppose evolution because they have a deep emotional attachment to a particular position.
    Sorry to side track this post into other debates.

  16. My fourth comment in a row! About the original article by Pat Bucahanan. I'm not exactly sure what Pat Buchanan is advocating so I can't say whether I disagree or agree with him (what does he think we should do?). I don't know what he means by "abandoning educational equality," I suppose I do agree with him in one sense educational equality shouldn't be our priority.

    Let me explain, if I wanted to make sure that Blacks, Whites, Asians etc., all had the same scores on a reading test I could easily accomplish this. How? Not teach any of them how too read, then they would all get zeros!!! I think the priority should be in improving the overall education level not making sure all ethnic groups come out equal. If there was an English exam and Asian students where scoring 70% and white's were scoring 60%, I'd be happier if everyone's score went up by 10% then if only the white score went up by 10%.
    In other words, I think improving the quality of education for everyone is more important then insuring that all ethnic groups get the same score on some test. I'm not saying you can't have a program that caters specifically to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, I just think it shouldn't be a major or primary goal and must always be subordinate to the larger goal (improving everyone's education). I think it's a mistake to allow racists to shift our priorities, just because they fixate on race doesn't mean we have to.

  17. I realize this thread has become a running one man monologue, about an issue that only interests me but I had something to add about scientific racism in general. When Charles Murray wrote "the bell curve," he subtitled it "intelligence and class structure in america." He wanted to argue that our meritocracy has led to a natural hierarchy based on talent, his research revealed the exact opposite. Poor white's have very similar IQ scores to rich whites.  Charles Murray barely talks about this because it contradicts his hardcore social-darwinist beliefs.
    That was one of the things about the book that made me more angry then anything, while prejudice against blacks is generally frowned upon classism is not. I hate to say this but………All we do is trade old prejudices for new ones.

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