The ‘Aha’ statistic, the New York 7, and works without faith (June 5)

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

We all heard the wisecrack: There’s lies, damn lies, and then there’s statistics. We all heard the statistician’s warning: Correlation is not causation, but most people never heard of the “Aha!” statistic.

Check it out.

An economist asserted, too many “experts” skim through statistics to find numbers that match their assumptions and shout “Aha!” after they find a simple correlation. This is one of the many misuses of statistics that goes unchallenged and the “Aha!” statistic (which proves nothing) becomes a justification for social reform.

For example, a widely held assumption states disparities prove racism. So, if an “expert” saw the following report: Blacks are 13 percent of the U.S. population while Whites make up 77 percent, but, at the state level, Black males make up 38 percent of the prison population and Whites account for only 35 percent…the “expert” would shout “Aha!” because the disparity correlates with the assumption, conclude the criminal justice system is racist, and the reformers would create policies to eliminate the racial disparities.

But the idea that the percentage of Black males in prison should equal the percentage of Blacks in the country is unchallenged, and since no one bothers to ask—What do the percentages have to do with each other?—it’s assumed the disparity is the result of racism.

Therefore, reformers create remedies to adjust the numbers without addressing the cause.

For example, the Washington Post reported: Black and Hispanic students make up 68 percent of New York’s population with only 9 percent receiving offers to attend New York’s elite high schools.

Of course, the usual suspects shouted “Aha!” (62 percent of the students at these elite high schools are Asian. Asians are less than 15 percent of New York’s population, but this disparity doesn’t reflect an injustice so no one shouts “Aha!” because it contradicts the assumption.)

New York’s mayor devised a plan to diversify the elite high schools by setting aside 20 percent of seats at each elite school for students of low socioeconomic backgrounds. New York’s Department of Education spokesperson said, “Our schools are academically stronger when they reflect the diversity of our city.” (Another assumption that went unchallenged.)

Setting aside a percentage of seats sounds like an easy numerical fix.

But getting into one of the elite schools is determined by a single test known as the Specialized High School Admission Test, and according to recent reports New York’s most prestigious school accepted 7 Black students out of 895. (Last year it was 10, the year before that 13.)

This time the shouts of “Aha!” echoed across the country.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: To have only 7 Black students… Tells us that this is a system failure. But the only thing it actually tells us is that Black students aren’t passing the Specialized High School Admission test.

Is it possible that there are other factors besides system failure?

But anyone who poses that question will be accosted with shouts of “Aha!” you’re blaming the victim i.e. you’re a racist. So, the Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to eliminate the Specialized High School Admission Test for the sake of diversity.

Columbia University professor, John McWhorter, said, “We must teach these Black kids how to manage the test. I have faith. I don’t think the mayor does and all his allies are the same.”

But if faith without works is dead, what are works without faith?

(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)


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