Is there any limit to the degree to which “researchers” will discredit themselves to prove their woke bona fides? A new study published in JAMA Surgery suggests not.
The study, “Association Between Markers of Structural Racism and Mass Shooting Events in Major US Cities,” purportedly seeks to understand whether evidence exists that “structural racism” plays a role in mass-shooting events.
To test their theory, the researchers quantitatively examine the correlation between mass shootings and “structural racism.” They define mass shootings as any incident in which four or more people are shot, and they define “structural racism” according to various factors, including the percentage of black population in a major metropolitan area, the proportion of children living in a single-parent household, the violent crime rate, and measures of segregation and income inequality.
The chosen measures of structural racism are the paper’s first obvious shortcoming. Out-of-wedlock birth and violent crime are not phenomena ordained by supposedly pervasive and irrepressible bigotry but regrettable exercises in accordance with free will. “Segregation” and “income inequality”—politicized framings to describe habitation and earnings patterns that differ by race—are much the same, lest someone truly believe that Asians (the highest-earning racial group) are the greatest beneficiaries of structural racism.
The assertion that metro-area demographics are a measure of structural racism is especially problematic. It ignores the fact that the Great Migration featured millions of blacks moving from the rural South to the industrialized North in search of greater tolerance and opportunity. In other words, freedom of movement has existed for generations, and the escape from structural racism largely defines black migration in the twentieth century.
Despite the profound flaws with the notion that black habitation patterns are a proxy for racism, the study ultimately relies on this assertion to establish a purported connection between structural racism and mass-shooting events. When the researchers use multivariate analysis—a technique that allows them to observe the relationship between mass shootings and each “structural racism” variable after statistically accounting for the ways in which the other independent variables mediate the relationship—the composition of the population that is black emerges as the only variable with a statistically significant correlation with mass shootings. Put another way: the correlation between mass shootings and measures such as violent crime or single-parent households is a statistical artifact of the reality that mass shootings are more likely in areas with higher concentrations of black residents.
A reasonable person would conclude that this analysis fails to find a link between structural racism and mass shootings. Instead, the authors claim that demographics themselves (that is, the metro areas that black people choose to reside in) are an “imperfect” indicator for structural racism. They conclude that “structural racism appears to be associated with MSE (mass shooting event) incidence.”
While the researchers seem to appreciate the importance of contextualizing data, they have a glaring blind spot when it comes to acknowledging how shooter demographics feature in the story. They mention that another study concluded that white perpetrators commit 49 percent of mass shootings, compared with 19 percent by black perpetrators, but they fail to disclose that whites are somewhat underrepresented given their share of the population, while blacks are overrepresented by about 50 percent. Moreover, most shootings are intra-racial rather than interracial. The observation that mass shootings are more common in areas with higher concentrations of black people is likely incidental to the demographics of the shooters.
The study also notes that a higher proportion of black population is associated with a higher number of deaths in mass-shooting events. The researchers dubiously claim that this, too, is evidence of structural racism in the form of disparities in access to trauma care, even though most trauma centers are in urban areas. They neglect to speculate on less salacious but more likely explanations—such as the use of military-style guns among gang members or slower emergency responses due to a “no snitch” culture in urban communities.
Good social scientists don’t set out to prove anything. Instead, they interrogate data with an open mind about whether their theory is true. The researchers in this study violate this principle when they observe that other studies on mass-shooting events found “only a single or a few measures of structural racism . . . to be significant.” Rather than following this evidence, which weighs against their own hypothesis, the researchers conclude that this “suggests the measures are imperfect.” In other words, the theory isn’t wrong; the data are wrong.
The researchers’ sloppiness didn’t get in the way of media coverage for the study. CNN plugged a story on it within hours of its publication. It’s only a matter of time, no doubt, before judges cite the study in their rulings or policymakers use it to craft the “science-based” policies that progressive activists purportedly favor. This study’s proper function, however, is to serve as a prime example of the medicalization of social issues and public health’s growing penchant for policy-based evidence-making.