Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The NBA, referreeing, and segue into Malcolm Gladwell

I don't remember hearing about this study, but apparently in 2007 some researchers found subtle racial-bias in the calls that NBA referees made from 1993-2003. And then, after being viciously attacked by the NBA for using faulty methodology, they used the data that the NBA supplied to refute their claims in order to confirm their findings. Cool stuff, and there's an article about the whole back story on ESPN.

The article references Malcolm Gladwell's Blink a lot, crediting him for popularizing the idea of implicit racism. (which, I'm guessing, was either derived from or unknowingly riffing on the idea of microinequity) I read the whole book, and I kinda hated it. There was no thesis, to speak of - he was writing about the power of implicit bias in the quick decisions that we make all of the time. Sometimes our bias is helpful, sometimes it isn't; sometimes we can retrain ourselves to affect it, sometimes we can't. If there's any central point, it's merely that these near-instantaneous, subconsciously-motivated decisions happen. And if one of my students had written this, I would have given them a poor mark for writing a 'grocery list' essay consisting of a bunch of vaguely related items that combine to make no larger point.

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