In defense of Scalia

Yes, really.  Antonin Scalia may well be a racist, but one cannot automatically make that claim (as so many have) based on his comments about affirmative action.  Nice Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on the matter:

Here’s what Justice Scalia had to say in the arguments over the case, Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin:

Justice Scalia: There are — there are those who 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. One of — one of the briefs pointed out that — that most of the — most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas.
Mr. Garre: So this court —
Justice Scalia: 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.

Reaction online was swift and fierce.

[lots of stuff about Scalia being a racist]

Okay, so how is that not racist?  Scalia was referring to academic research on the matter.  Now, it may not be accurate research– the point is clearly debatable– but it is not like he was just making this up out of whole cloth:

Here Justice Scalia appears to be referring to the idea of “mismatch,” which argues that students who are admitted to a college under a preference, despite having weaker academic credentials than the college’s typical student, are less likely to succeed there.

It’s an idea that’s been studied and debated for years. Richard H. Sander, an economist and law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, released a controversial study over a decade ago arguing that there would be more black lawyers if law schools got rid of racial preferences.

In a blog post published on Wednesday for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a conservative think tank, Mr. Sander laid out his take on where research on mismatch currently stands. “Only demagogues (of which there is, unfortunately, no shortage),” he wrote, “or people who haven’t read the relevant literature can still claim that mismatch is not a genuine problem.”

In an interview with The Chronicle, he noted that “mismatch has been really controversial,” but said “there’s an emerging consensus that this is a real thing.”

Actually, maybe not so much of a consensus at all:

Matthew M. Chingos, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, was one of the authors ofCrossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, a scholarlybook based on research that found whatever students’ grades and test scores, they were more likely to graduate if they attended a more-selective college.

Mismatch is “not crazy-sounding in theory,” Mr. Chingos said in an interview. And there are circumstances under which it would happen: “If we took someone who couldn’t read, they’d be unlikely to succeed at Harvard.”

Harvard, of course, has an admissions process, in part for that reason.

The serious question, Mr. Chingos said, is whether colleges’ affirmative-action policies admit students who are not likely to succeed there. “There is no high-quality empirical evidence in support of that hypothesis,” he said.

So, in short, this is a genuine academic debate about whether “mismatch” is a real thing.  Even Chingos says it is “not a crazy-sounding theory.”  Could Scalia have been more artful in this?  Quite surely.  But him taking one particular side in a debate that is not inherently racist hardly makes Scalia a racist.

More GMO; less e. coli

I was going to put this into quick hits, but once that title came to me, I had to use it for a post.  Good wonkblog post about the problems faced by Chipotle and I particularly enjoyed this summary:

“They’re trying to be local and serve food with integrity, but as you grow it becomes incredibly complex and difficult and challenging,” said Darren Tristano, president of industry research firm Technomic. “When you look at what’s going on, how they’re expanding, the outbreak was almost bound to happen.”

Bill Marler, a lawyer specializing in food-borne illness who represents many of the people who have fallen ill as a result of the outbreak, said people shouldn’t assume that just because a company touts certain kinds of food that it has taken all steps to protect them from pathogens.

“I worry that they look at food safety from the organic, non-GMO, sustainability, animal welfare standpoint,” Marler said. “And a lot of people in that space, in that agricultural movement, tend to believe that because they do those things their food is automatically safer than food that’s served at McDonald’s or Jack in the Box or Walmart. But that’s just not the case.” [emphasis mine]

I’ve actually not eaten at Chipotle in over a month, since my local pizza place re-opened (I’ve been making up for lost time), but I’ll start going there again soon.  That said, I’d love a lot more concern with food safety and less with false concerns about GMO.  (Of course, I love their animal welfare concerns).

Gun rights snowballs

Love this piece from Adam Gopnik.  I suspect this will be the first of many times I link to it.  Gopnik uses the analogy of James Inhofe bringing a snowball onto the Senate floor to somehow disprove global warming to talk about the snowballs of the pro-gun crowd.  There’s six, but these are my favorites (bold is Gopnik):

Snowball No. 1: There is doubt or mystery or uncertainty about whether national gun control can actually limit gun violence. No, there isn’t. The real social science on this, published in professional and, usually, peer-reviewedjournals, is robust and reliable, while fake or ersatz social science that proposes to show the opposite has been debunkedmany, many times. Of course, to say that the social science is settled is exactly not to say that one or two authority figures are in dogmatic possession of the truth—that’s not what makes it science—but that a broad community of people who have taken the trouble to study the evidence and open their data to each other have come to somethingclose to a consensus. More guns mean more homicides. More guns mean more gun massacres. More guns mean more death. Common sense confirms what social science demonstrates: there really have been no gun massacres in Australia since Australia decided to act to stop gun massacres from happening.

Snowball No. 2: Levels of violent crime have been receding in America in recent years, so guns can’t really be a problem. This decline is real—but it is real everywhere in the Western world. The remarkable point is that American gun violence persists at its astonishingly high levels in spite of the general decline in the rich world of violent crime. You have to accept a uniquely narrow view not of human nature but of American character—that Americans are so uniquely violent, so paranoid and hate-filled, so incurably homicidal, that they will keep killing each other no matter what laws exist—to believe that the same simple social restraints that have ended epidemic gun violence elsewhere won’t work here.  It would be more American to be more optimistic about Americans.

Snowball No. 3: Gun laws solve nothing because terrorists, whether in Paris or San Bernardino, aren’t the sort of people who care about or obey them.This snowball might properly be restated as follows: if a pickpocket steals your wallet on the bus, repeal the laws against pickpockets. If terrorists and criminals do still get guns, despite existing gun laws, there is no reason to have gun laws at all. But the goal of good social legislation is not to create impermeable dams that will stop every possible bad behavior; it is to put obstacles in their way…

Snowball No. 6: Gun rights are a necessary hedge against tyranny.Ted Cruzhas been throwing this snowball around quite a bit, strange as it is to hear a senator praise preparations for acts of terrorist sedition. This was, as it happens, exactly the argument of slave owners of 1861, well answered by Lincoln, and then by Grant…

Great stuff.  The whole thing is not all that much longer and definitely worth a read.  I’ve seen a lot of people arguing 1,2, and 3, so I really wanted to have them here.  I’m especially tired of the argument that because gun laws won’t eliminate all gun crime we shouldn’t have them.

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