IN THE NEWS: Reason (October 22, 2019)

[Excerpts taken from the article “A Famous Study Found That Blind Auditions Reduced Sexism in the Orchestra. Or Did It?” by Robby Soave, published in Reason Magazine]
“One of the best-known scientific studies to posit that implicit bias—the idea that all people are unconsciously racist, sexist, etc.—can be counteracted via strategic effort is taking a…beating. It now appears that the findings were significantly overstated.”
“The study, “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians,” by Harvard University’s Claudia Goldin and Princeton University’s Cecilia Rouse, was released in 2000. Its bombshell finding was that blind orchestra auditions—which prevented the choosers from seeing whether each auditioner was male or female—increased female auditioners’ odds by 50 percent.”
“The American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Hoff Sommers notes that the study was ‘lionized by Malcolm Gladwell, extolled by Harvard thought leaders, and even cited in a dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.'”
“In May, Columbia University statistician Andrew Gelman took a deep dive into the study. He described them as “not very impressive at all,” and had great difficulty trying to locate the 50 percent statistic within the modest findings.”
“‘You shouldn’t be running around making a big deal about point estimates when the standard errors are so large,’ he wrote. ‘I don’t hold it against the authors—this was 2000, after all, the stone age in our understanding of statistical errors. But from a modern perspective we can see the problem.’”
“Sommers…noted the existence of another study that had contradicted Goldin and Rouse:”
“In 2017 a team of behavioral economists in the Australian government published the results of a large, randomized controlled study entitled “Going Blind to See More Clearly.” It was directly inspired by the blind-audition study.”
“For the study, more than 2,000 managers in the Australian Public Service were asked to select recruits from randomly assigned résumés—some disguising the applicant’s sex, others not. The research team fully expected to find far more female candidates shortlisted when sex was disguised. But, as the stunned team leader told the local media: ‘We found the opposite, that de-identifying candidates reduced the likelihood of women being selected for the shortlist.'”
“It turned out that many senior managers, aware that sexist assumptions had once kept women out of upper-level positions, already practiced a mild form of affirmative action. Anonymized hiring was not only time-consuming and costly, it proved to be an obstacle to women’s equality.”
“Blind interviews and auditions may be preferable for other reasons. They may even reduce implicit bias in some situations. But as is so often the case, the sweeping claims of social scientists do not seem to survive scrutiny.”
To read the article, click here.

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