"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Legal Profession, Diversity and the Difference Between White and Black Mirror the Problems of Bias Faced at Every Level of Society, including Science

NPR has a thought-provoking piece at Diversity In The Legal Profession. Copies of the same memorandum of law were divided 50-50 and individually among two groups of partners in a law firm, one group being told that the memo author was white, the other group being told that the memo author was black. The partners were then asked to grade the memo (identical for both groups).

Those partners who thought the writer was white graded the memo at 4.1 on a 5-point scale and praised the writer. Those who thought the writer was black graded the memo at 3.2 on a 5-point scale and said it was "in need of work".

We have written about biases before, as bias has many facets.

At Do People Really Want Ancient Mysteries to be Solved? Facts as Unwanted Visitors in the World of Academic and Other Wishes and Emotions we wrote:
"The Little Prince" (Le Petit Prince) by Antoine Saint Exupéry ... is said to be the world's second most widely read book, after the Bible, so Artcurial....

[A] Turkish astronomer discovers a new asteroid, unveiling his discovery at an international astronomy conference, but no one believes him, because he is dressed as a Turk, gesticulating at a blackboard and pointing to mathematical equations -- just like astronomical drawings in our writings.
The Turkish astronomer attends a second conference later in the book, dressed as a Westerner, and his discovery is resoundingly accepted."
Yes, you can change your dress and, indeed, the right "threads" have had a lot to do with black culture over past decades, as blacks try to evade the initial fate of Exupery's Turk, but you can not change your color -- even though a person such as Michael Jackson tried in his day, and his album Dangerous had as its first single spin-off the song Black and White with the line "I'm not going to spend my life being a color".

How do we get people to look past color and at a person's actual qualifications?

Even without the issue of color, how do we get people to look at people's actual qualifications and works and not all the rest (money, family, race, tribe, religion, etc.)?

It is very difficult, even long-term, and surely impossible in the short term.

Human bias is widespread about nearly everything.
The problem is not just color.

At Advocates Attention! The Sequential Presentation of Information Can Be More Important than the Content of that Information : Frank I. Luntz and Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear we touched upon the problem of people's biased attitudes defining how they view things and not actually what is going on in reality.

Along those lines, Gregory J. Feist points to bias in the scientific peer review process in The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind, Yale University Press, 2008, and refers to Michael. E Gorman, Simulating Science: Heuristics, Mental Models, and Technoscientific Thinking (Science, Technology, and Society), Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1992. ISBN 10: 0253326087 ISBN 13: 9780253326089, which deals with negative aspects of peer review. The topic is such a threat to the established biases of science that the book is virtually impossible to obtain, though we did find one copy via AbeBooks.com (thank you!).

We think that people slowly acquire a set of biases in the course of developing from infant to adolescent to adult. These biases come from the entire process of growing up. Sons and daughters of kings, for example, pick up one set of biases. Sons and daughters of the lowest social strata, on the other hand, get a different set of biases. There are of course infinite varieties of bias.

These biases (some might say "views") are picked up from the people and institutions responsible and also not responsible for raising and educating children, including of course parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, tribes and tribal-type associations, churches and similar community or religious organizations, peers, schools, teachers, educators, administrators, mentors, neighborhoods, religions, institutions, peer group pressures, societal role models, and all the other influences to which a person is subjected in formative years, including even such variables as language, dialect, dress, manners, etc.

Mankind is generally not educated to be a better human being.

Rather, mankind is generally educated to fit into a particular society in a given role, and is taught and learns the biases that go along with that. 

Issues of color are only one aspect of the way in which humans are "programmed" for their "localized" world from their earliest days.

In our experience, 99.999999% people live in more-or-less "localized" cocoons of bias and belief created by their environment.

Entering define:cocoon in Google Search results in the following verbal meaning: "envelop or surround in a protective or comforting way". Merriam-Webster defines it at meaning 2 as: "something suggesting a cocoon especially in providing protection or in producing isolation". These cocoons include the entire realm of lifestyle, attitudes, belief systems, values, scales of priorities, subjective feelings of societal position, race biases, etc.

99.999999% means that only 1 in 100 million do not conform, or about 3 or 4 people currently living in the USA. Worldwide, for 7 billion people, that means that there are at the most 70 people out there who have advanced significantly in development beyond their protective environmentalized cocoons, no more.

Expecting any significant change in human biases in the short term is thus simply a hopeless Utopian dream.

Working for significant long-term changes is the only possible alternative, and it is an educational process that will need countless years for success, judging by human history, which is a slow-moving process of human progress, very slow, and by no means constant or linear.

Just look at your daily news. People's biases become so ingrained in their localized environments, that they "live" those biases, and that begins in the family, the neighborhood, the tribe, the religion, the prevailing system of values, indeed, even in the legal system.

The only answer would seem to be better education,
but the exact formula for success remains unknown.

Can Billionaire Boom Continue?

The Billionaire Boom - ongoing since the 1980's - may be ending soon according to an article at CNBC News. http://www.cnbc.com/id/102706874
This is a minority view since many economic forecasters expect the boom to continue.