For years, the left has pushed the notion that Americans are “implicitly biased.” Hillary Clinton repeated this trope throughout the campaign. In her first debate with Donald Trump, Hillary told NBC’s Lester Holt, “I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police. I think, unfortunately, too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other.” She actually proposed that the federal government spend cash “to help us deal with implicit bias by retraining a lot of our police officers.” Yesterday morning on Capitol Hill, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) pushed the implicit bias line, too, while ripping into Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for not pressuring cops enough.
One of the most frequently invoked proofs that Americans are racist comes courtesy of the pseudoscience known as the Implicit Association Test. The IAT is a simple test in which you are asked to associate a face with a word; typically, leftists say that the studies show that both white and black people associate criminal words with black faces. Here’s what I wrote about the IAT back in June:
[T]hose studies are not particularly reliable, have a relatively small sample size, and also find no significant correlation between implicit bias and behavior in the real world. Texas A&M psychologist Professor Hart Blanton rightly points out that scores on the IAT – and particularly exceeding supposed bias cut-off scores – mean virtually nothing. “There’s not a single study showing that above and below that cutoff people differ in any way based on that score,” Blaton explains. Social psychologist Russell Fazio of Ohio State University says, “as traditionally implemented, [the IAT] really has problems.” Even advocates of the IAT such as creator Professor Anthony Greenwald admit that IAT findings are simply not appropriate for settings such as courtrooms. In fact, at least one major study has found that “being alerted to potential bias and limited response control through a direct personal experience such as that provided by the IAT…can lead to worse rather than better behavioral regulation.” Actually, statistics show that the correlation between IAT and political preference are stronger than racial preference. And there’s good evidence to suggest that the IAT measures in-group, out-group implicit bias rather than racial bias per se – if you’re told which group is in your group, you associate good things with that group off the bat. It’s even possible that the IAT measures intelligence – how quickly can you overcome your implicit reaction to particular pictures? Are you more biased if you’re slower to hit the right key on the keyboard?
Now, Jesse Singal of New York Magazine has thoroughly debunked the leftist take on the IAT. After quoting a number of correspondents and scientists suggesting that the IAT predicts behavior, Singal goes through the evidence. And he finds that there is no evidence that the IAT predicts behavior in any serious way:
Unfortunately, none of that is true. A pile of scholarly work, some of it published in top psychology journals and most of it ignored by the media, suggests that the IAT falls far short of the quality-control standards normally expected of psychological instruments. The IAT, this research suggests, is a noisy, unreliable measure that correlates far too weakly with any real-world outcomes to be used to predict individuals’ behavior — even the test’s creators have now admitted as such. The history of the test suggests it was released to the public and excitedly publicized long before it had been fully validated in the rigorous, careful way normally demanded by the field of psychology. In fact, there’s a case to be made that Harvard shouldn’t be administering the test in its current form, in light of its shortcomings and its potential to mislead people about their own biases.
The IAT, Singal reports, is unreliable (you can take the test twice and reach wildly differing results); Singal’s strong claim is that there “doesn’t appear to be any published evidence that the race IAT has test-retest reliability that is close to acceptable for real-world evaluation.” It’s also invalid, because it doesn’t predict behavior. As Singal points out, “both critics and proponents of the IAT now agree that the statistical evidence is simply too lacking for the test to be used to predict individual behavior.”
Now, none of this means that racism doesn’t exist. It does, of course. And perhaps there is unconscious bias. But unless it’s manifest in behavior, we simply don’t know how much it would impact the real world. Ridiculous, anti-scientific mind-reading exercises do nothing but reinforce wrong perceptions about how implicit bias works and how much it matters.