Few academic ideas have been as eagerly absorbed into public discourse in recent years as “implicit bias.” Embraced by a president, a would-be president, and the nation’s top law-enforcement official, the implicit-bias conceit has launched a movement to remove the concept of individual agency from the law and spawned a multi-million-dollar consulting industry. The statistical basis on which it rests is now crumbling, but don’t expect its influence to wane anytime soon… The need to plumb the unconscious to explain ongoing racial gaps arises for one reason: it is taboo in universities and mainstream society to acknowledge inter-group differences in interests, abilities, cultural values, or family structure that might produce socioeconomic disparities.
Needless to say, the Implicit Association Test, while very much in fashion, is wildly inconsistent in its results and utterly fails to predict actual behaviour, the latter a detail belatedly and reluctantly admitted by the originators of the conceit, whose methodology – one might say cheating – is quite laughable.
If the IAT were valid, a high implicit-bias score would predict discriminatory behaviour, as [test creators Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji] asserted from the start. It turns out, however, that IAT scores have almost no connection to what ludicrously counts as “discriminatory behaviour” in IAT research — trivial nuances of body language during a mock interview in a college psychology laboratory, say, or a hypothetical choice to donate to children in Colombian, rather than South African, slums.
When the peddlers of a test, an alleged curative for unconscious racism, count practically any kind of behaviour, including the random positioning of a chair, as proof of “discrimination” and unjust inclinations, alarm bells should ring, quite loudly. This is the realm of “diversity” Scientology, and the kinds of leverage in play may well attract people whose own motives are not entirely benign.
And then of course there’s this:
Greenwald and his co-authors had counted opposite behaviours as validating the IAT. If test subjects scored high on implicit bias via the IAT but demonstrated better behaviour toward out-group members (such as blacks) than toward in-group members, that was a validation of the IAT on the theory that the subjects were overcompensating for their implicit bias. But studies that found a correlation between a high implicit-bias score and discriminatory behaviour toward out-group members also validated the IAT. In other words: heads, I win; tails, I win.
Do read the whole thing. It’s quite long, but there’s lots to chew on.
Via Herb Deutsch.