2011 AALS Research Plenary on Implicit Bias

by jerrykang on December 4, 2011

This is old news, but back in January 2011, the Committee on Research of the AALS (American Assoc. of Law Schools) held a plenary session on implicit bias.  Tony Greenwald, one of the creators of the Implicit Association Test, was there, and both I and Gregory Mitchell commented. Prof. Greg Mitchell, UVA is one of the most strident critics of the science of implicit bias and its use in law and policy making. See, e.g., Gregory Mitchell & Philip E. Tetlock, Antidiscrimination Law and the Perils of Mindreading, 67 Ohio St. L.J. 1023 (2006).

The AALS took a very long time getting the audio available, but I received a copy in late Fall, so I’m posting about it now (stream or download by (right) clicking on link and selecting “save as” from dropbox) (mp3 162MB).  After the Intro is Tony’s talk.

My comments start around 50:20, where I introduce a 4-quadrant model of importing implicit bias into the law (covered in Seeing through Colorblindness 2010).  My direct challenge to Mitchell and claims of politicization starts at 1:07:35.

Mitchell responds at 1:13:30.  Here are some highlights of his comments:

  • 1:14:47 — calls implicit bias work not “junk science” but “wonderful science”
  • 1:16:45 — doesn’t dispute at all that IAT measures construct-relevant variance
  • 1:17:31 — states that IAT is measuring something important and doing it better than other implicit measures
  • but there are problems
    • 1:18:10 — measures only relative attitudes
    • 1:21:00 — calls Tony (greenwald) “much smarter”
    • 1:25:10 — challenges meta-analysis for using broad definition of behavior
    • 1:26:17 — states that use as social framework evidence is no problem; it’s applying to specific cases that’s the problem
  • 1:26:40 — calls himself an “anti-reductionist”
    • 1:27:05 — jokes that he’s probably implicitly deceiving himself
    • 1:27:30 — goal is to complicate things
    • 1:27:40 — concerned about perverse effects

Given the tone of his writings and expert testimony work, I expected Mitchell to be much more critical and negative than he was in person.

As for anti-reductionism, who wants to be reductionist? That said, there is an inevitable trade-off between simplifying models and complex reality. The real question is why we insist on simplifications in some contexts but complexity in others. See, e.g., Gregory Mitchell, Why Law and Economics’ Perfect Rationality Should Not Be Traded for Behavioral Law and Economics’ Equal Incompetence, 91 GEO. L.J. 67 (2002) (preferring the simplicity of rational choice over the complexity of behavioral law and economics).



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