Friday, September 28, 2007

Still confused about facts

Paul Soglin has tried to clarify what I thought was a rather elliptical satire of John McAdams' study on racial disparity. I don't think that he has managed to salvage his point. Here is what he now says about McAdams study:

McAdams uses his preconditioned prejudices and right-wing social theories to dictate the outcome. Any person with a brain in their body would look at the data and conclude that Wisconsin does lock up too many blacks and try to figure out how to solve that problem.

Well, yes, but, in order to do that, wouldn't one have to know why Wisconsin locks up too many blacks? Is it because of differences in the crime rate or is it because of bias in the criminal justice system? That's what McAdams is after. If it's not due to bias in the criminal justice system (his argument) then the Governor's Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System is barking up the wrong tree if it insists on solutions focused on the system. In fact, as Professor McAdams points out, those solutions might even make conditions in the central city worse if, as a result of an obsession with improving the numbers in the criminal justice system, we adopt policies that impair law enforcement and result in more inner city crime. Poverty can cause crime but crime can also cause poverty.

As I wrote yesterday, Paul is confusing a social scientist's attempt to explain a phenomenon with a value judgment that the explanation means that the phenomenon should be accepted. McAdams is arguing that the disparity is "explained" by something other than bias in the criminal justice system and that, given the situation on the ground, the racial disparities that we see are should be expected.

But that is a claim about facts. It is not a judgement about whether those facts are good or bad or whether they deserve some response outside of the criminal justice system.

Paul asks what we should do to change this and that is a fair and important question. But it can't be answered until we know what needs to be changed. We can't remedy a disparity until we know why it exists. That is the task that John set for himself.

Paul apparently doesn't like the title of John's article: "Is Wisconsin Locking Up Too Many Blacks?" because answering the question in the negative somehow implies complacency about racial disparities. But the title (which he may not have even chosen; I have a piece in the same magazine and I didn't choose the title) is obviously a reference to the Governor's Commission and the question of bias in the criminal justice system. If there are disparities in the crime rate that explain the disparities in the outcomes of the criminal justice system, then the criminal justice system isn't locking up too many blacks.

This says nothing about whether whatever is causing the disparity in the crime rates is acceptable or, if it's not, what can be done about it. Paul says he votes for eliminating poverty. Wonderful. That's a great goal to have and we can talk about how to do it. But, as Professor McAdams suggests, if the problem is, for example, racial disparities in the poverty rate leading to racial disparities in the crime rate leading to racial disparities in the incarceration rate, focusing on the last element in the chain won't eliminate poverty and may make it worse.


wa said...

Frequently when the debate digresses to a discussion of motives it indicates that the facts cannot be disputed.

Motives also are much more difficult to prove or disprove; that way, crying racism is convenient-the person accused cannot disprove it, and because of this, those who are already convinced that racism is the motive (because we're all racists, as members of the "power structure", right) the facts become irrelevant. How convenient.

Dad29 said...

Ah, yes. Let's 'eliminate poverty.'

While we're at it, we ought to 'eliminate war,' not to mention disease and dirty dishes.

Real Debate said...

Soglin thinks someone else is using preconceived notions based on ideology?

Now that is precious.

mickey said...

Soglin concludes that "too may blacks are locked up".
Either, too many deserve to be locked up or they are being unfairly locked up.
I suggest an obvious connection between the number of black victims and the number of black inmates. Why isn't the enormous disparity in black victimizatin by these inmates his concern?
Doyle didn't empanel a commission on exponentially large and disturbing black victims.
Nor did Mr. Doyle and his pal Soglin seek to study why "too many blacks" were drop-outs.
Connecting the dots is way too easy and doesn't come to the conclusion these liberals want.
Too many blacks are victims.
Too many blacks don't get a good education.
Too many black children don't have guidance and parental discipline.
Too many guilty white liberals seek to blame everyone for this.....except themselves.

Anonymous said...

Since Soglin lost his mayoral bid a few years ago because he was perceived as not left enough by those who vote in Madison, he appears to be trying to gain credibility with the leftists through his blog.
He was a better mayor than the current one but there's a disconnect for me when I read his blog. I don't recall this level of stridency that he now exhibits.
-Alone in Madison

Anonymous said...

It is more than obvious that McAdams has an agenda in asserting that we need to lock up more blacks because they commit more crimes (or more heinous ones). He fails to mention that blacks might a.) get caught more often, b.) experience more racism, and/or c.) have fewer resources than whites. Eliminating poverty may not be the answer but suggesting that blacks are more dangerous is surely not very scholarly. Look up the empirical research.

Anonymous said...

The research shows that whites commit a large number of violent and white collar crimes. McAdams explains that most murders are intraracial in his article, "Racial Disparity and the Death Sentence." However, he fails to explain why there is a highly disproportionate number of blacks in prison. If the criminal justice system discriminates against blacks through its lack of concern for black victims (according to the 'specialist' argument), then shouldn't we see fewer blacks in prison since they are the the primary offenders against other blacks. It seems McAdams is saying that blacks commit a much larger number of crime overall. Yes, they commit more street crime but this ignores the pervasive amount of white-collar crime which is extremely costly for society (both in lives as well as monetary terms). He also never addresses why there is such a large amount of street crime among blacks. (By the way, arrest rates are not the best data to go by.) I suppose he'd argue that racism has nothing to do with the lack of privilege among blacks. However, it has been shown that deterrence, his suggestion, is not effective. Maybe we should just incapacitate all blacks... that doesn't seem racist at all in his terms.