I started to ask a simple question of experts who provide and organize legal defense for condemned prisoners: How many people on death row are disabled? The answer came back unanimously: pretty much all of them.
The status quo is shifting: Just last week, the state of Washington abolished the death penalty after a compelling statistical analysis demonstrated that juries were four times more likely to condemn black defendants than white defendants. Eventually, either wholesale abolition or at least expanded exemptions will come to the remaining death penalty states, including Texas, but likely not in time for Kwame Rockwell.
Imagine an eleventh-grade classroom in American history in early fall. The text is Life and Liberty; students are reading Chapter 2, “Exploration and Colonization.” What happens when an African American girl shoots up her hand to challenge the statement “Not until 1497 to 1499 did the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sail around Africa”? From rap songs the girl has learned that Phoenicians beat da Gama by more than two thousand years. Does the teacher take time to research the question and find that the student is right, the textbook wrong? More likely, s/he puts down the student’s knowledge: “Rap songs aren’t appropriate in a history class!” Or s/he humors the child: “Yes, but that was long ago and didn’t lead to anything. Vasco da Gama’s discovery is the important one.” These responses allow the class to move “forward” to the next topic. They also contain some truth: the Phoenician circumnavigation didn’t lead to any new trade routes or national alliances, because the Phoenicians were already trading with India through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Textbooks don’t name Vasco da Gama because something came from his “discovery,” however. They name him because he was white. Two pages later, Life and Liberty tells us that Hernando de Soto “discovered [the] Mississippi River.” Of course, it had been discovered and named Mississippi by ancestors of the American Indians who were soon to chase de Soto down it. Textbooks portray de Soto in armor, not showing that by the time he reached the river, his men and women had lost almost all their clothing in a fire set by Natives in Alabama and were wearing replacements woven from reeds. De Soto’s “discovery” had no larger significance and led to no trade or white settlement. His was merely the first white face to gaze upon the Mississippi. That’s why most American history textbooks include him. From Erik the Red to Peary at the North Pole to the first man on the moon, we celebrate most discoverers because they were first and because they were white, not because of events that flowed or did not flow from their accomplishments. My hypothetical teacher subtly changed the ground rules for da Gama, but they changed right back for de Soto. In this way students learn that black feats are not considered important while white ones are.
“Computers aren’t good at inclusion,” he says. “They’re good at exclusion, because they’re only based on past data. The business opportunity for the future-thinking designer is in inclusion.”
This finding highlights a previously unknown strength in empathy and emotion processing in adults with ASD, which may have been masked in previous research that has typically relied on explicit, response-based measures to record emotional inferences, which are likely to be susceptible to demand characteristics and response biases. This study therefore highlights the value of employing implicit measures that provide insights on peoples’ immediate responses to emotional content without disrupting ongoing processing.
It was hard to accept some of the (valid) criticism, especially the idea that women and people of color felt particularly unwelcome. There’s a weird paradox with bias. Those of us who have privilege, but care deeply about reducing bias should be uniquely positioned to help, but we struggle the hardest to recognize that we are (unintentionally) biased ourselves.² As it happens, making people feel left out is a deep personal fear of mine. (There is probably a seriously repressed playground kickball thing in my past somewhere.) Ironically, that made it harder for me to accept the possibility that something I work on could make outsiders feel unwanted. So I focused on what we were proud of: We _are one of the only large sites where it’s practically impossible to find a single slur – our community takes them down in minutes. _We _don’t tolerate our female users being called “sweetie” or getting hit on. But _we _weren’t listening. Many people, especially those in marginalized groups _do _feel less welcome. _We know because they tell us.
Given the ample evidence of extreme bias in marijuana arrests, there’s no reason to think that the situation is any better in other areas of crime. Indeed, from a statistical standpoint, we should assume there is a bias in all categories. We just can’t know how extreme it is, because we’re missing data, and we don’t know how much data we’re missing.
Worse, when marijuana is legalized, we’ll lose our only indicator of how off-base the available data really are. Overall, decriminalization is probably a good idea, considering how much devastation the policing has caused in black and brown communities. But it will eliminate our most reliable barometer of police racial bias. When the arrests stop, we’ll stop seeing the disparity, but that doesn’t mean bias in other police practices will suddenly end.
I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…
…most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance…
We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements—transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting—profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
“Needless to say, racists don’t spend a lot of time hunting down reliable data to train their twisted models. And once their model morphs into a belief, it becomes hardwired. It generates poisonous assumptions, yet rarely tests them, settling instead for data that seems to confirm and fortify them. Consequently, racism is the most slovenly of predictive models. It is powered by haphazard data gathering and spurious correlations, reinforced by institutional inequities, and polluted by confirmation bias. In this way, oddly enough, racism operates like many of the WMDs I’ll be describing in this book.”