There is a new article out in the NYT on the research of Russell Fazio, work which I mentioned late last year under the same heading as that which I have used above. Fazio studies college students who are unlucky enough to be assigned a roommate of a different race — in the bright-eyed but now hoary hope that living with a black will make you like blacks more. The theory (generally called the “contact hypothesis”) goes back to the 1940s and I summarize most of the early research on it here. As I think most readers would expect, the facts give little support to the theory. The theory is based on the view that blacks are just the same as whites, only browner — and if you believe that you will believe anything.

Needless to say, Fazio finds what many others before him have found — that most whites thrown together with blacks very rapidly want out. Those who do stick it out, however, seem to have more positive attitudes towards blacks at the end of the experience. In the usual logically-deprived reasoning that seems to pervade the sciences that I know something about (psychology, sociology, medicine and climate science) Fazio just assumes he knows what is the cause of that improvement. One of the first things you learn in Statistics 101 (I used to teach introductory statistics at university level) is that “correlation does not prove causation” — but an awful lot of scientists seem not to have done a statistics course. Fazio somehow seems to think the improved attitudes observed in some students confirms his “contact hypothesis”. But what does it really prove? It COULD prove that it is only when blacks “act white” that whites can live with them and that those whites who live with such blacks are relieved to find that such blacks do exist. Much more likely, however, is that the whites who stick it out are more politically correct and know what to say when Fazio questions them. Students are very good at giving their professors the answers that their professors want. That’s how most of them get their degrees.

So if anyone thinks that Fazio has found anything useful towards improving race relations, all I can say is I admire your optimism but not your reasoning power. I was amused, however, by the finding that living with Asians tended to make you dislike Asians. Given Asian superiority in all sorts of academically relevant ways, I don’t find that surprising at all! And it does in fact reinforce the most usual finding from “contact hypothesis” research: That getting to know other races makes you like them LESS.

I was amused also by this sentence from one of the other researchers quoted: “Just having diversity in classrooms doesn’t do anything to increase interracial friendships”. That does rather undermine the whole rationale of having “diversity” on campus, it seems to me!

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