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E-Pluribus | October 3, 2023
When "equity" distorts science; Social Justice Fundamentalism; and using conversation to reduce polarization.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Joel Zinberg: Equity vs. Evidence
According to Joel Zinberg at City Journal, the DEI mindset has come to cancer screenings. Zinberg writes that, given the costs, the appearance of fairness has even trumped health outcomes in the latest draft proposal for lowering recommended mammography screening from 50 to 40.
The USPSTF [U.S. Preventive Services Task Force] recently issued a draft recommendation lowering the starting age for mammography screening from 50 to 40 years. This will affect approximately 20 million additional women. It is not clear what prompted the change.
The USPSTF acknowledged that no new randomized trials of screening mammography for women in their forties have been conducted since the previous recommendation was made. Nor have new, follow-up findings emerged from the eight previous randomized trials in this age group, all of which found no significant benefit.
Instead, the task force relied on modeling studies to provide information about the benefits and harms of breast-cancer screening in different age groups. As with any model, the results depend on the assumptions made. The model assumed that screening mammography reduces breast-cancer mortality by 25 percent and concluded that lowering the starting age from 50 to 40 would result in 1.3 fewer deaths over a lifetime for every 1,000 women screened.
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Averting 1.3 deaths per 1,000 women over their lifetimes by initiating screening at age 40 rather than 50 amounts to improving these women’s chances of not dying from breast cancer by a little more than one-tenth of 1 percent.
This small gain, however, comes at a high cost. Mammogram screening has a significantly higher rate of false positives for women in their forties than for older women. The USPSTF model estimates that lowering the age for initiating screening from 50 to 40 will result in about a 60 percent increase in false positives. That adds up to more than 500 false-positive results over ten years for every 1,000 women who begin biennial mammography screening at 40, leading to psychological harm, as well as additional testing and invasive procedures, such as biopsies, which bring no benefit.
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If the cost-benefit calculation for screening has not clearly changed, why did the task force change its recommendations? A clue is found in the introduction to the modeling study performed for the task force, which noted, “The USPSTF has recently highlighted the need to include ‘an intentional focus on embedding health equity’ into its processes.” The introduction cited “New and more inclusive science about breast cancer in people younger than 50.” In the next paragraph, it noted “Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than White women and too often get deadly cancers at younger ages.” It described this disparity as an “inequity.”
The choice of words is telling. Rather than describing the higher incidence of deadlier, more aggressive cancers in younger black women as an inequality—suggesting a biologically determined difference between individuals or population groups—the task force used inequity, which suggests a lack of fairness or justice. The task force went on to emphasize the importance of addressing “the health disparities faced by Black, Hispanic, Latina, Asian, Native American, and Alaska Native women,” and of the potential for timely treatment “to save more lives for people experiencing disparities related to racism.”
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Increasing screening for younger black women will not address racism leading to delayed treatment and lower quality of available medical services. It might actually divert resources and attention from those problems. Lowering the age of screening will not eliminate disparities, since the screening rates for black and white women in their forties are already roughly equivalent, and rates for black women aged 50 and over are significantly higher than for all women.
Read it all.
Julian Adorney: Does Your Worth Depend On Your Immutable Characteristics?
Engendering a sense of community is one thing, but Julian Adorney of the Foundation for Economic Education argues that the “Social Justice Fundamentalists” only see group identity (or identities) when they look at individuals. At the website of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), Adorney says all humans have worth and dignity regardless of which favored or unfavored classifications they may be filed under.
In a witch hunt, an ideologically near-homogenous group feels threatened by external forces. They respond by attacking, not the enemy without, but the insufficiently zealous within their ranks. The goal is to enforce ideological conformity by weeding out traitors. As renowned social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) Greg Lukianoff note in their bestselling book The Coddling of the American Mind, witch hunts happen when "a community becomes obsessed with religious or ideological purity and believes it needs to find and punish enemies within its own ranks in order to hold itself together."
Because of their gender, Social Justice Fundamentalists often see white women as already "within the ranks" of the SJF movement. In SJF terminology, white women constitute an "oppressed" group by virtue of their womanhood. The late Kathryn Pauly Morgan, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, taught intersectionality in terms of binary groups: the "privileged" and the "oppressed." "Oppressed" groups included women, as well as non-whites, gays and lesbians, transgender folks, and other groups. For many Social Justice Fundamentalists, your identity should determine what you think, and every oppressed group should unite against the forces of oppression (see, for example, the new Progress Pride Flag). There's a strong sense among SJFs that by virtue of their "oppressed" status, white women should already agree with the Fundamentalists on key issues.
This is heightened by the fact that so many white women are Social Justice Fundamentalists. A 2018 study by Hidden Tribes found that Progressive Activists are 80 percent white. Progressives are also overwhelmingly likely to be female. According to the Survey Center on American Life, which analyzed Gallup Poll data, fifty-four percent of young women considered themselves liberal in 2021 (among men, that number is just 25 percent). As pollster Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), put it as early as 2018, "Women just tend to be more progressive, more focused on social issues, on social justice."
When SJFs see white women who don't toe the ideological line, they're often much more angry than when they see white men refuse to toe the line. It's similar to how black conservatives routinely get called the n-word—the vitriol is more intense because there's a sense that black people who don't espouse the correct SJF talking points are "traitors to their race." White women who are insufficiently far-left are seen as "traitors to their sex," as well as to all the other oppressed groups—and traitors are the one group a witch hunt will target above all others.
Read it all here.
Mylien Duong & Liza Garonzik: Combatting Polarization with Conversation
Few question today that real problems exist in education, but a few contentious issues routinely attract the majority of the attention and the large issues remain unsolved. Liza Garonzik of R.E.A.L. (Relate, Excerpt, Ask, Listen) Discussions recently interviewed Mylien Duong of the Constructive Dialogue Institute about how teachers and parents can work together to overcome the polarization that is so prevalent today.
Mylien Duong: The Constructive Dialogue Institute is a national nonpartisan educational non-profit built to operationalize much of the research from Professor Jonathan Haidt and to broaden the work of Heterodox Academy.
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What we know – from both research and practice – is that polarization in educational spaces keeps people from really engaging with topics that are meaningful and issues that are contentious in an even, open-minded, and informed way. It hinders their ability to develop fully informed and nuanced opinions and consider other people’s perspectives. We’re seeing people come into educational spaces already having decided what they think, or not even wanting to engage in political discussion, because they’re afraid they might say something “wrong” and get “canceled” by other people.
[ . . . ]
[Liza Garonzik]: I want to go back to your comment about the “instinct for self-preservation” and how polarization is a source of stress for many teachers, and particularly humanities teachers, where the content lends itself to more political or societal topics. Did you find any relationship between polarization and teacher burnout?
Mylien: That’s an interesting question, and actually some of this surprised me. Teachers were giving me very extreme examples: getting in trouble for having or not having certain types of flags in their classroom, and fear that they could be recorded at any moment and have that video shared with school board members or parents. They feel like they have to walk on eggshells around very basic decisions they make about what readings to assign.
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The other thing that surprised me was that for many of these teachers, politics is not the only problem, contrary to what the media presents. They were talking about the broken printers, the inability to get their handouts, the inability to serve all students’ needs, the stack of assignments, the daily stresses of teaching. That, to me, is incredible. Hearing some of these stories, I say, the fact that anybody has to put up with this at work is incredible and shouldn’t happen.
So these teachers are saying, yes, polarization is a problem – but so are the other eight things that are a barrier to feeling my best at work. It’s surprising and it’s not surprising, because we know that teachers are not well supported in many school districts. Grappling with political polarization is one more thing we’re asking teachers to do in an already tough working environment.
Read the whole thing.
Via Brandon Warmke of Bowling Green University, the left-leaning nature of many universities isn’t a huge mystery based on who they are often looking to hire:
Via Free Black Thought, former law professor and author Winkfield Twyman, Jr. doesn’t have a terribly positive view of “activists”:
And finally, lunch in middle school used to consist of boys daring each other to eat gross foods and girls sitting by and looking disgusted. Now, in Canada, it can involve **checks tweet** discussing “navigating transition” and “race & being trans/gender diverse.” Welcome to 2023.