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E-Pluribus | August 17, 2021
Can artificial intelligence be racist, when permission culture chips away at liberty, and say hello to "Critical Media Literacy."
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Zachary Robert Caverley: Who Will Save Us From Racist AI?
The potential impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on privacy, civil liberties and even healthcare should not be glossed over, but at times an oversensitivity to the concerns can actually lead to a rejection of the benefits of technology. Zachary Caverley writes at Quillette about a situation where some researchers have distanced themselves from a study that simply looked at AI’s capability to divine a subject’s race even when there was no evidence that harm resulted and, given the differences in risk factors for certain medical conditions in different racial groups, may actually provide some benefit.
Many intellectually honest scientists already admit that race can be a useful proxy for some medical decision-making. If AI is prevented from accounting for this proxy, it could potentially produce more unintended harm than intended good. A recent medical controversy involving the African American adjustment for kidney function illustrates this point. One of the methods used to test a patient’s kidney function measures glomerular filtration rate (GFR). However, several studies have found that blacks have higher baseline GFRs than whites, so the test has to adjust for this factor depending upon the race of the patient. Graduate student activism led to several institutions removing the racial adjustment or replacing it with a different lab test, ostensibly in the name of addressing “systemic racism.”
Professionals justified this change with the same claim that race is simply a social construct. Nevertheless, it is not at all clear why simply labeling something a social construct automatically disqualifies it from medical algorithms—particularly given healthcare’s unending fixation on social determinants of health. This development was particularly distressing because a study published around the same time found that eliminating the racial adjustment resulted in less accurate estimates of kidney function in African American patients, with potentially harmful downstream consequences.6
Incorporating race in medical algorithms is not limited to kidney function estimations. In my own specialty, we often use a scoring system based on the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis to predict a patient’s 10-year risk of developing a type of heart disease to guide treatment decisions.7 Regardless of which organ system is evaluated, I would be willing to bet many patients would prefer not to have the racial/ethnic aspect of their testing excluded if it meant a less accurate risk prediction.
Read the whole thing.
J.D. Tuccille: Free Society Dwindles as Permission Requirements Grow
The pandemic has presented America (and the world) with difficult choices between freedom and security. Lockdowns, quarentines, masking and vaccinations have raised serious concerns about liberty and self-determination, particularly when the rules have been put in place via “emergency” provisions in the law without a clear limited time frame. J.D. Tuccille writes at Reason that good intentions alone cannot justify the chipping away at freedom, and we will likely live to regret the new normal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a bonanza for government officials, allowing them to extend authority that they then exercise with relatively little oversight or restraint in ways that would have been inconceivable in the past. It has accelerated the transformation of previously free societies into permission-based states, where things once done as a matter of right are now considered privileges to be dispensed or withheld by those in power. Case in point: the Biden administration reportedly discussed making travel within the United States conditional on vaccination status but is holding back out of fear that the public has yet to be sufficiently softened-up for such an intrusive restriction.
To be certain, the permission society isn't new. Roughly 30 percent of workers in the United States now need a license—permission from the government—to do their jobs. That permission can be revoked for reasons having nothing to do with work responsibilities, meaning that it becomes just another tool for controlling people by denying them the ability to make a living unless they submit.
"States must adopt laws that allow them to suspend driver's, professional, occupational, and recreational licenses of individuals who owe overdue support," according to the Department of Health and Human Services, citing the requirements of a law intended to ensure payment of child support. And who could object to making parents meet their obligations to their kids? But that's how rights become privileges, one ostensibly well-intentioned incursion at a time.
Read it all at Reason.
John D. Sailer: Media Literacy’s False Promise
Look out Critical Race Theory (CRT), Critical Media Literacy (CML) is here. John Sailer writes at City Journal about the annual conference of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) where CML took center stage. CML appears to have much in common with CRT as its advocates see it as an overarching concept that should impact all areas of education, arguing that effects trump intent. But contrary to its promise, Sailer says CML will harm true media literacy by distracting from the real issues.
The Critical Media Literacy Guide, a book by UCLA professors Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, offers a broad and influential summary. Kellner and Share cite Marx’s observation that “in every epoch, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class” to argue that media literacy should be taught through the lens of power and identity groups. Critical media literacy seeks to undermine what it sees as the dominant institutions of Western capitalist society—or, to use the academic jargon, to foster “counter-hegemonic alternatives.”
In practice, CML is all-encompassing. Since issues of power and identity lurk behind all information, Kellner and Share argue that critical media literacy belongs in every subject. In math, “students can analyze how numbers are used to support or undermine issues with graphs and statistics, thereby demonstrating that all media, numbers, words, images, or sounds are social constructions.” Physical education “is a class that is ripe to unpack the inequality of gender representations in sports.” Music instruction “provides opportunities to explore the use of sounds in movies to tell stories and the ways songs of protest energize social movements.”
Changing society is a clear goal. In a section titled “Challenges for Creating Social Justice Educators,” the authors describe how the pedagogy “aims to empower teachers and students with a sense of civic responsibility to confront social problems with progressive solutions, often involving media and technology.” The ultimate end is to “support social justice educators with ideas and strategies to inspire their students to action.”
Read it all.
Instagram recently announced tools to “protect people from racism and abuse”:
Via Wesley Yang, a CRT-related court ruling:
Via Heterodox Academy and Commentary: can a rock be cancelled?
Finally, apparently everyone has a position on Facebook censorship: