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The deranged reaction to the CRED report
Back in March, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) published its report on the causes of racial inequality in the UK. Though the authors “take the reality of racism seriously” and “do not deny that it is a real force”, they concluded that “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism.” They also advised that the term “institutional racism” should not be used as a “general catch-all phrase”, but only when “deep seated racism can be proven on a system level”. So fairly innocuous and appropriately qualified conclusions then?
Not in the eyes of many left-wing commentators, who immediately took to slinging ad hominem insults at the reports’ (mostly non-white) authors. One Cambridge academic asked whether the Chair, Dr Tony Sewell, was in fact a “Dr”. Once it had been established that he was, she announced that “Dr Goebbels had a research PhD”. An equally edifying contribution was made by a Labour Party MP, who posted a picture of a Klansman in front of burning cross. (Really grown-up stuff, I know.) The invective proved so intense that the authors felt the need to issue a statement. They noted, “The deeply personal attacks on many of us by politicians and other public figures are irresponsible and dangerous.”
While you might have expected such childish behaviour from academics and politicians, you’d hope that representatives of the United Nations would offer slightly more sophisticated commentary. Alas, this did not prove to be the case. In April, the UN’s “working group on people of African descent” opined that the CRED report is “an attempt to normalise white supremacy”. (Recall that nine of the ten authors were non-white.) This working group also charged the report with seeking to “delegitimise data grounded in lived experience”. (I suppose this makes sense, given that ‘objectivity’ has been identified as a “characteristic of white supremacy culture”. I’m not kidding.)
It’s one thing to call people names on social media, but using an official statement to denounce the work of ten researchers (several of whom have done far more for ethnic minorities than their critics) as “an attempt to normalise white supremacy” strikes me as seriously deranged. I’m obviously not claiming the report is beyond criticism, and I’ll admit I haven’t read the whole thing (which drags on for 258 pages). But it seems like a fair attempt to tackle a complex issue. (It even acknowledges that genes help to explain ethnic differences in disease risk.) The authors therefore deserve – at the very least – not to be slandered by the UN.
One of the more intelligent criticisms of the report is that its authors gave short shrift to audit studies of ethnic discrimination. (These are studies where you send out pairs of matched CVs, one of which contains an ethnic minority name, and the other a white British name.) However, the authors’ summary of the research doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. They admit that audit studies “provide conclusive evidence that bias, at least in hiring, does exist.” And they note that while they such studies “show discrimination against names that are recognised as not being traditionally British, it is unclear if this effect is about race, class or perceived foreign culture”.
Moreover, the psychologist James Thompson has argued that audit studies are not quite the slam-dunk form of evidence their proponents would have us believe. It isn’t usually possible to match CVs on all relevant characteristics, and some of the reported characteristics (such as university degree class) may differentially predict work productivity across groups. For example, Chinese British graduates with a 2.1 in engineering might have slightly higher work productivity than Black British graduates with the same degree class. If employers know this, they may rationally prefer CVs with typically Chinese names over ones with typically black names.
In addition, an alternative method for studying hiring discrimination often yields null or even opposing results. In particular, one can have individuals from different groups prepare genuine CVs, and then send those out to employers with all identifying information removed. (The method is termed ‘anonymous application procedures’.) Thompson reviews a number of studies that found ethnic minorities did no better or even worse when applications were anonymised. For example, researchers used this method to study hiring discrimination in the Australian Public Service, and found that “officers generally discriminated in favour of female and minority candidates.” (It should be noted that none of the studies Thompson reviews were carried out in Britain.)
Even if you take the matched CV studies at face value, it’s unclear how ethnic discrimination could explain the pattern of results shown in the CRED report. When it comes to median hourly pay (see p. 110), Chinese and Indians actually earn more than white British, whereas Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and black British earn less. White Irish also earn substantially more than white British, despite historical prejudice against that group. (The same basic figures can be found on the ONS website. And they are consistent with the figures on household income.)
In order for ethnic discrimination to explain these results, employers would have to be rewarding people from Chinese and Indian backgrounds, while penalising those from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black backgrounds. The fact that Indians earn considerably more than Pakistanis and Bangladeshis is particularly difficult to square with ethnic discrimination, since it would require employers to be able to distinguish South Asians by their exact country of origin. (I somehow doubt most middle managers are capable of doing this.)
Of course, few people would claim employers are discriminating in favour of Indians. But if the gap between Indians and whites isn’t due to discrimination, then why assume the gap between whites and other groups is? Note that both Chinese and white Irish earn more relative to white British than white British earn relative to any other group.
The CRED report is by no means perfect, but it’s a decent stab, and far better than you would have expected from a government commission on race. (Imagine an equivalent report written by Critical Race Theorists.) The reaction, on the other hand, has been unseemly. How often do members of a government commission face “deeply personal attacks” from prominent public figures, let alone the UN? (And they didn’t even discuss group differences in cognitive ability.) Of course, the reason why the reaction proved so incandescent is that cosmic egalitarianism – as Bo Winegard calls it – has become a sacred value for the progressive left. And until that value is effectively challenged, the ad hominem attacks will continue.
Image: United Nations headquarters in New York, 2008
In the Know
I reviewed Russ Warne’s book ‘In the Know: Debunking 35 Myths about Human Intelligence’ for The Critic. Here’s an excerpt:
Overall, the book is interesting, well-written, clearly structured, and meticulously referenced (Warne opts for an in-text citation style, which allows the reader to track down original studies easily). While its main purpose is didactic — to disabuse the reader of certain misconceptions he or she may have — there is a central message running through the book’s 350-or-so pages: intelligence is real, quantifiable and important, and denying those things can lead to tangible harms.
I’ve written five more short posts since last time. The first criticises a Lancet paper claiming that “elimination” of COVID-19 is a sensible strategy. The second argues that geography, not lockdowns, explains the global pattern of excess mortality. The third summarises an article claiming the lab leak theory is more plausible than the natural origin theory. The fourth introduces a new website that aims to document the harms of lockdowns. And the fifth notes that deaths in England and Wales have been below the five-year average for seven consecutive weeks.
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