Friday, December 13, 2013

Quote of the Week

"The crux of the problem is that our national data systems and the social facts they produce are based on a normative view of economic and domestic life as stably situated in households. As a  result, people who are institutionalized, unstably housed, or tangentially connected to households are commonly overlooked in statistical portraits of the American population.
 In this book, I show how inmates and former inmates are categorically and systematically excluded from the data collection efforts that frame American social policy and social science research. Their exclusion clouds our understanding of the American economic, political, and social condition. Decades of penal expansion coupled with the concentration of incarceration among men, black, and those with low levels of education have generated a statistical portrait that overstates the educational and economic progress and political engagement of African Americans."
That's from the foreword of Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress by University of Washington sociologist Becky Pettit. While biasing statistical data sets probably isn't the most consequential effect of mass incarceration, it certainly is shocking and a great example of the difficulty inherent in most large-scale statistical research. When Noam Chomsky talks about "objective" in the media and big governing institutions really meaning, "from the perspective of the rich and powerful," this is very much the type of thing he's referring to. For deeper look check out this fantastic EconTalk interview with the author.

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