The NBA has done a counter-study that finds no racial bias. I like David Stern and the NBA, but does anyone really take this study seriously? Does anyone think that if the NBA commissioned a counter-study and it replicated the finding that referees have subconscious racial preferences, the NBA would then release that study? The one advantage that the NBA study has is that it can use a data set that takes into account the specific referee making a given call. (Wolfers and Price could only analyze the effect of the racial composition of a crew as a whole, since they did not know which referees made particular calls in a given game.) Naturally, the NBA will not make its data available, citing confidentiality concerns. If the NBA had a real interest in determining whether subconscious racial bias exists on the part of officials, it would make that call-specific data available subject to a confidentiality agreement, a tactic that is used all the time in litigation when competitors produce proprietary information to one another. My guess is that the NBA, in places that David Stern doesn't talk about at parties, will quietly increase the number of African-American referees over the next several years.
What interests me so much about the study, other than the fact that it jibes with my view of modern racism as being very subtle, is the fact that sports can be such a valuable ground for empirical analysis because of its defined outcomes. The results of a basketball game can be tangibly measured, so factors like racial bias can be measured with some degree of precision. This is why I quite enjoyed seeing Rush Limbaugh's demise as an NFL pundit. When Rush is "analyzing" political issues, he can get away with whatever he wants because of the imprecision with which most political issues are analyzed. When he brought his agenda to analyzing the NFL, he was exposed as a fraud within weeks because he went off on Donovan McNabb and his claim that McNabb was a media creation could be easily debunked with numbers. McNabb's merits can be reliably measured in a way that Barack Obama's cannot. This isn't to say that our analysis of the performance of sports figures is perfect (hence Michael Vick's multiple Pro Bowl appearances and Derek Jeter's multiple Gold Gloves), but it's certainly better than the measures of issues that, you know, actually matter.
[Update: John Hollinger makes a pair of good points in response, noting that: (1) the actual disparity in fouls is quite small; and (2) teams with more white players did well because the smarter teams picked up on the fact that European players were undervalued.]
I also enjoyed this opus by Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at The New Republic (and graduate of the University of Michigan), on the Netroots movement, which I view as similar to having Claude Lemieux on my team: their methods might not be totally ethical, but I like having them doing my dirty work for me because the other team has Ulf Samuelsson and if my team doesn't have a pest, then we're going to lose. I'm mainly thinking about the conclusion of the article, which describes how the Netroots have managed to put pressure on the mainstream media from the left that had never existed before.
I was also amused by this paragraph:
In point of fact, the most successful bloggers have been pulled into the warm embrace of the political establishment. Moulitsas consults regularly with influential Democrats in Washington. Presidential candidates hire popular bloggers or court them with private dinners. Last year, numerous top Democrats trekked to Las Vegas to attend YearlyKos, the liberal blog convention, where they sucked up to the attendees as relentlessly as if they were software executives. The climax of the proceedings was a party for bloggers thrown by then-presidential hopeful Mark Warner, costing more than $50,000 and featuring chocolate fountains. None of these things, however, have softened the netroots' sense of grievance and exclusion.
I want to know when I'm going to get to nosh from a chocolate fountain purchased by The Orgeron at Swindlepalooza in Tuscaloosa.