The folly of statistics

Neal Lloyd Banerjee (
12 Sep 1995 20:29:26 GMT

I know the subject of racism has been worn to the bone in this newsgroup, but
I just wanted to add my two cents worth. I think one of the big reasons for
what I call unconsious racism is statistics. What I mean by this term is not
the KKK type racism, but the more subtle type that many people seem to have -
for example a fear/nervousness of blacks (especially by white women). I think
one of the main reasons for this is the misinterpretation and over
generalization of statistics. I have a technical background and work in
environmental issues, and from this I have seen so many time the same set of
data giving very different conclusions. I think most people have a sort
of automatic statistical machine in their head too. They see the news which
always is accompanied by all kinds of statistics which often shows blacks as
the criminals. In addition many of the higher crime area also coincide with
a relatively high black (or latino) population. The human statistical machine
then mabye associated crime with blacks (or latinos,ect.). The problem here
is that the machine does not take into the many social, economic, ethnic, and
many other parameters.
I think humans process most information similar this, and thus we seem to work
and think on a underlying layer of stereotypes (or generalizations), whether
we are consious of them or not. Of course these can change. For example
if we lived in an area with only very rich black people then of course, we
might reevaluate our generalization.
The thing that really makes this statistical machine seem possible is asking
people about these generalizations they make. Two people who I was talking
with the other day were saying that black men made them nervous. After I
asked them questions that made them focus there generalizations, it seems
it is not black men they are afraid of really, but "rough" looking men, in
relatively vacant areas. They're responces to questions like, would you be
scared of a black man in a college class, would be "Of course not, they are
different". It is hard for me to really express my idea in a few paragraphs
so I hope my point is clear.