I’m a skeptic

Via a suggestion from Haunt Fox @Haunt_Fox I looked at a research paper claiming to show:

These findings illustrate the shooter bias toward both human and robot agents. This bias is both a clear indication of racism towards Black people, as well as the automaticity of its extension to robots racialized as Black.

See also Robots and Racism: New Study Suggests That Humans Apply Racial Biases, Stereotypes to Black and White Robots.

The study presented test subjects with a series of 128 images. Half contained a gun held by a person or robot. The other half had some other object being held. Half of the robots and people had a dark skin color and half were white. The test measured the response time of test subjects to make shoot/no-shoot decisions and their accuracy in making those decisions.

I found it “interesting” the researchers did not break out the supposed discovered bias by the various racial identities who participated in the study. Only seven subjects out of 163 in Experiment 1 identified as “Black or African American” so I could be persuaded this isn’t an adequate sample size. But 19 out of 172 subjects in Experiment 2 identified as “Black or African American”. I would think this should be a sufficient sample to test one or more additional hypothesis.

For example, were “Black or African American” people also biased against people and robots with dark skin tones? If these participants behaved essentially identical to “White, Caucasian, or European American”, “Hispanic or Latino American”, and “Asian American” participants then I would be strongly inclined to believe there was some aspect of the testing that caused what appeared to be the bias against dark skinned people and robots rather than actual bias. That is, unless it is claimed “Black or African American” people are also biased against their own race. From reading the study this could be true but it wasn’t made as clear as I would have liked it to be.

The authors did not mention doing this sort of validation of the test procedure and did not supply us with the raw data so that we could do this validation for ourselves. It would seem to me this is an obvious check on the validity of their experiment. If the racial identity of the subject did not correlate with the time required to make a shoot/no shoot decisions but there was a consistent bias toward shooting more quickly at black people and robots then doesn’t that strong imply it is an artifact of the testing rather than a bias of the subjects?

One could easily conclude they did not provide that information because it contradicted their predisposed conclusion. The study may well demonstrate the prejudice of the researchers rather than the prejudice of the study participants.

So, what could have the experiment measured rather than a racial bias? As suggested by Haunt Fox:

Just looking at the images of the targets it seems to me there are some serious visual-contrast issues that might prove major confounders.

The researchers supplied eight of the 128 images they used. Here are two of them:



As Haunt Fox observed there are significant contrast differences. The accuracy rates were generally slightly lower for the black people and robots. If the pictures above are representative then this is as expected. But if rapid identification of the gun in a low contrast situation contributed to time differences I would have expected the lower contrast images to take longer. This isn’t making sense.

I wonder about the 120 images they didn’t supply. Did they have contrast issues that were even worse and have some sort of bias not displayed in the pictures supplied? Were all the guns black? What about some chrome colored guns? Could an association of a dark skin colors with the presence of a gun have been created?

I’m skeptical this study tested what they claimed they were testing. I think there is a good chance they demonstrated their and/or test procedure bias rather than a “clear indication of racism” toward dark skinned robots.


9 thoughts on “I’m a skeptic

  1. No matter the subject.

    If researchers do not make available all information, every item used, participant’s background ( sex, race, age, career, training etc (less PID, of course) and all procedures and protocols, so others will have the ability to be able to reproduce the study for verification, the ‘research’ is nothing more than propaganda meant to support some agenda, in this case that people are automatically racially biased

    I don’t care about the purported reputations of the researchers or of the institution that supported it;
    Nothing released other than the ‘finding’? It’s considered Bullshit until they do; and another, independent, test reproduces results that are very close to 2 Sigma ~95% to the original, allowing for people not being fungible.

    • Reputation is one of the well-known logical fallacies we’re supposed to have all learned in college. Appeal to Authority. “Trust me, I’m a doctor, I know what I’m talking about.” I guess that now the Leftists are the experts we’re supposed to strike that one off the list.

  2. You should write them, and spell out some of their confounding factors, and what would be needed to verify / correct / quantify things better. include your background as a knowledgeable person in the field. Can’t hurt to try. It’s likely bullship propaganda, but it is also possible that by phrasing things in a certain way, you might be able to help them make a research gaffe, i.e., reveal the truth in spite of their credentials and research.

    If they won’t or can’t do so, or fail to reply, then that likely answers the question of their honesty and integrity.

    • Dennis Prager says that either a study proves what common sense would indicate or it is wrong. The simple matter of contrast in the two examples you post indicate part of the problem. And what Rolf says is true. The details of the test and the raw data have to be available for replication, or you can rightly suspect their honesty and integrity.
      Manipulating data and studies like this is happening more and more frequently. Not only the global warming data set scandal, and the perhaps less well-known, Michael Bellesiles alleged expose’ of the origins of the gun culture in America, but also Alfred Kinsey’s statistically indefensible studies about human sexual behavior which he publishes over 65 years ago.
      Without the questionnaires used and the data sets compiled, it is all opinion hokum dressed up as fact.

  3. Why do the test at all, unless you have a case you’re trying to make? In other words, there those rare individuals in the world who wish to understand things and come ever closer to the truth, and then there is everyone else, the vast majority, who go through life trying to make various cases which will give them some advantage. That’s the difference between a scientist and a trial lawyer or politician. Most people fall into the trial lawyer/politician category, including most purported “scientists”. We could also refer to them as “Pharisees” and thereby show some greater insight.

    Also; an unfortunate fact that many wish to ignore (or are desperate to ignore) is that black people, particularly young black men, exhibit a disproportionately higher rate of criminality than other races, at least in the United States. Might reality then have contributed to the results, and thus not any shred of “racism”?

    As for the images shown from the test; I would not have associated the first image with a black person, nor with a robot depicting a black person. At all.

    My first reaction was “gingerbread man”. If I were to see a gingerbread man on the street, carrying a gun in its hand, I’d probably be more inclined to shoot. But then; where do you hit a gingerbread man so as to incapacitate it? I know nothing of gingerbread man anatomy…

    The bottom line as far as I’m concerned? There are political interests that are desperate to maintain the narrative which says that the West, particularly the United States, but most especially Judaeo/Christian, Protestant Civilization as a whole, is inherently racist. This sort of “experiment” demonstrates a level of desperation, bordering on panic, in attempting to maintain that clearly false narrative.

  4. Were the subjects told it was a racial study? As already stated, all perimeters have to be questioned for a study to have validity.
    Appearances are everything. If I see an old black man walking down the street with a gun on his hip. I don’t worry. If I see a ” White punk on Dope”, with his hood up and a gun in his hand, fights on. Its not about anything more than self- preservation.
    From the test pictures, I would have shot all of them. Immediately. Just for being a ugly robots.( I’m prejudice like that.)

  5. In the past year or so, I read an interview of a black man who was questioned about what made him concerned when out in the city. The statement was made that if he heard people coming up behind him, and he looked and saw blacks, he would be looking to change his situation. But, if he saw whites, he could relax, as he would not perceive that to be threatening.
    The tenor of the exchange was that even blacks were biased against other blacks, due to the high levels of black on black crime.

    My personal observations over several decades leads me to believe this is not an isolated viewpoint. However, I don’t recall this level of violent tendencies in blacks back in the 60’s.

    • Raise up several generations with the majority having,
      No known father,
      No real education,
      No jobs paying more than minimum wage if you can get hired
      No way out of the hood except the one in a multiple thousand shot of playing Ballgames
      ‘Gangsta’ Rap and street gangs dealing drugs with the turf wars and other crime around all that.
      Then go back to the 60s to check where all that began and who started the ball rolling down hill with all their good intentions political purposes in mind.

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