Hiding Amy Wax

Amy Wax has been heavily in the news… but many of the articles about her barely mention her, instead mentioning each-other.  That’s generally a sign of a culture war where the facts have fallen by the wayside.

Let’s take a look.

Amy Wax is a law school professor.  In a video conversation available on YouTube, she made a statement that affirmative action recipient black students seldom graduate at the top.  This is true, although perhaps phrased hyperbolically.

She was banned from teaching.  Based on those statements.  But not for the reason you’re thinking.  It was for disclosing facts.

The Black Law Student Association circulated a petition alleging that Wax’s comments violate Penn Law’s policy of keeping grades anonymous and private: “We would like to know upon what data Professor Wax relies.”  The petition further claims that the Law school assures grade privacy, and as a result demands to see her data.

Let’s review that:

  • We don’t like your data.
  • You weren’t allowed to disclose it.
  • Oh, but you didn’t disclose it sufficiently!  Prove  your statements with data!
  • Either way, we’ve gotcha!

You would hope that an honorable University would stand up to this.  Unfortunately, this is 2018 and this is the University of Pennsylvania Law School… not where you would go for rational behavior.  (In fairness, while Ivy League, and utterly out-of-touch, U-Penn is not Penn State.  Penn State has an entirely different scandal profile.)

Why is this news? 

This has hit the news from multiple angles.  This is a bit unusual.  But the angles include:

This story, much like the Jordan Peterson story, serves as a bit of a confirmation-bias echo chamber.  If you’re willing to accept victimization as fact, any position can be reinforced by either the primary story or by how others react to it.

  • The left focuses on the hyperbole.  Of course there are top-finishing black students.  But they are a distinct minority even relative to the University entry proportions.
  • The right focuses on the left’s self-victimizing reactions when the statistics clearly show that Amy Wax is essentially correct.
  • The left sees considers the right’s view that blacks are represented by that aggregation as proof of racism.
  • The right sees the left using that excuse… when so many laws and Affirmative Action are based precisely on blurring those same lines… as proof that the left is hypocritical and evil.

There are facts.  At Reality Dispatch, Facts Still Matter.  Unfortunately, our island is getting smaller.

What Else Has Amy Said?

Roughly speaking, Amy Wax espouses conservative social values.  For example, last August she wrote that traditional cultural values – two parents, stay married, get educated – were superior….

That probably would have been okay had she not used terms such as “single-parent, antisocial habits” and “the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks.”  The former, while statistically absolutely valid, is politically incorrect; culturally we can only see the single parent as “heroic” for putting their child at risk.  And there is no culturally-acceptable way to discuss the “urban” culture, so don’t try it.

What Did She Actually Say (this time)

Keep in mind that “this time” was September, 2017.

Take Penn Law School, or some top 10 law school. Here’s a very inconvenient fact, Glenn. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class and rarely, rarely in the top half. I can think of one or two students who’ve scored in the top half in my required first-year course.

She laid the blame on affirmative action putting them into overly-competitive, mismatched environments:

If they were better matched, it might be a better environment for them.  We’re not saying they shouldn’t go to college.

The disparity at the professor level could be due to culture… in business, inclusion courses focus on ensuring all communication types get a say.  But that in turn requires you acknowledge that different groups have different aggregate traits – that, for example, there are differences between men and women.

Is It True?  Do black students do worse in Law School?

Yesterday we covered this.  The bottom line is, yes, it’s true.  Black students do poorly in the standardized tests, in law school and on the bar.  But… and it’s a big butt… there are completely rational reasons for this.  Affirmative action is killing them.

The frustrating bit is… this is precisely what Amy was saying.  Race-based preferences are harming those “preferred” by putting them into pools they cannot compete in.

This isn’t a racist issue.  Very few players in rookie baseball teams could compete at all in the majors.

Is This Battle Over Facts-vs-Hyperbole-vs-Victimology New?

Oh heck no!  The censoring of the truth and attacking of the messenger by the racial and politically correct (gender identity, feminism) warriors is nothing new..

On the other hand, the alternative viewpoint is generally defended:

Who Is James Damore

We haven’t covered James Damore because, to R/D, he’s part of the culture war rather than a facts-vs-bias issue.  However, in this context, it’s worthwhile to review.

  • In early August, 2017, Google engineer James Damore wrote, on an internal message board, a memo concerning diversity efforts.
  • This memo was statistics- and science-backed, but not aligned with the current culture.  (In other words, even if you’re stating facts, you may have to be diplomatic in how you state them, where you state them and even whether you state them.)
    • There is some debate about how sound the science he cited is.  That’s the point most of the critics try to make – science they happily quote when it suits their needs is suddenly invalid when it doesn’t.  But it was all science, or as close as these fields get.  The trouble is, there isn’t much sound science in the psychobabble fields, despite us basing entire government programs on it.
  • (You can read it here.)
  • Some women were offended, primarily due to the generalizations.  Some people stated they would refuse to work with him.  He was fired by Google.
  • He has filed a suit alleging discrimination against Google.

California is an at-will State, and Damore certainly could be construed as both factually correct and creating a hostile work environment simultaneously.  He probably should not win the lawsuit.  From a pragmatic perspective, there is no fair/unfair here… it would be unfair

Google has been in hot water for discrimination against white males.  They have a fine line to walk.

The relevance of James Damore to the Amy Wax topic is that it simply isn’t safe to discuss diversity, if you are not already on the culturally-winning side of the discussion.  (The left would claim that it is absolutely safe, as long as you do it correctly.  There’s little practical difference there; the penalty for not knowing or following those arbitrary rules is extreme.)  Some view that as censorship (which it clearly is), others view it as maintaining a “safe-space” (which it clearly is not, as there’s no danger there) or in improving the business environment (which it might be), but regardless, consequences are attached to open discussion.

Who Is Larry Summers

Larry Summers was a World Bank Vice President of Development Economics and Chief Economist.  He was on Obama’s National Economic Council, was a Treasury Secretary for Bill Clinton, and was President of Harvard University.

Sounds like a heavy hitter, no?

In January 2005, he gave a talk at the Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce, which he stated would be “an attempt at provocation.  He over-achieved with the easily-provoked, by justifying the disproportionately low number of women in hard sciences/engineering as a difference in aggregate aptitude due to men disproportionately falling at the extremes of the bell curve.  (In other words, while the averages may be the same, more men are geniuses… and more men are idiots.)

There were protests demanding Summers’ resignation.  The Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences passed a “lack of confidence” motion and a mild censure motion.  Harvard students supported Summers by 3-to-1.  This was 14 years ago; such support would be unthinkable today.

The Bottom Line

Yeah, it’s kind-of late for this, right?

Amy Wax is roughly correct in that black students are being harmed by Affirmative Action and not reaching the top of the class, nor passing the bar sufficiently.  She over-stated it though by claiming none make it.  And further, the bar to success seems overly arbitrary.

 supports accurate-but-culturally-inappropriate statements.  But Amy may have overstepped this with the hyperbole.  Unfortunately, every word matters today.  Had she used twice as many words to more nuance the situation…

  1. It wouldn’t have been attacked
  2. It wouldn’t have been interesting or newsworthy.

Shed few tears for the purposeful provocateur.



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