Thursday, September 30, 2010

Get It Right

"...the odds of a black man becoming a professional athlete is 2.25 times greater than earning a Master’s degree, and 4.5 times greater than earning a PhD..."

That blurb definitely got my attention when a friend sent it to me the other day. Right there in bold print was a factoid that seemed to give lie to all the "stay in school" efforts championed in the black community, and made me reconsider whether I could let my 3-year old son slide on the poor form on his jumper.

"Is that a real stat" I asked, immediately.

I'm no fool, at least not most of the time. I know that random statistics that seem to buck accepted norms should be viewed with a skeptical eye. Yes, sometimes a fresh set of eyes can see the truth, but often, people get outlandish answers because they ask loaded questions. My friend directed me to this link, which brings up an academic study featuring mathematical computations far beyond my limited ability. It purports to provide proof for the quotation I provided above.

It does not.

I don't say that because I have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I have no such interest. I don't say that because I believe that corporate America and expensive secondary degrees are the black man's ticket to prosperity. I don't believe that at all. I say this study is fairly bogus because it makes some pretty obvious mistakes when examining data, and I'm left wondering if the two young men who did it meant this as a prank, or just a scheme to get people talking about careers in a different way.

If I read it correctly, the study compares the performances of black male NCAA athletes to the the performances of black male students as a whole. I may not understand all the formulas used, but I do understand that's not a fair comparison. I'm not shocked that it's more likely that athletes will make the NBA than your average black man will get an MBA.

That doesn't tell me anything profound or shocking and it definitely doesn't tell me its more likely to make the league than get an MBA. The researchers didn't compare the percentage of all black men who make the NBA to the percentage of all black men who get an MBA. They compared a specialized subset to a larger group and that's just bad science.

Sure, this a random study done by random researchers, but given the way information travels in the world today, I would not be surprised to see it picked by websites and news services and become part of urban lore. I wanted to get ahead of the rush because just like the Willie Lynch letter, just like the "stat" about there being fewer black men in college than in jail this study seems destined to be repeated constantly by black folks trying to make a point.

And that is saddening and maddening.

Everybody loves a juicy rumor and crazy anecdote, but we as black folks have to be more careful. Certain "facts" don't merit repeating. Quite often this information is based on half-truths and outright lies, and only serves as grist for the "Why are the niggers so effed up" mill. It's self-defeating to repeat the latest quasi-stats about black pathology, or support the pipe dreams of children with faulty information.

Let's get it right.

1 comment:

ch555x said...

It's a sad state of affairs if that's the truth.

Raving Black Lunatic