The American Philosophical Association’s Explicit Bias about Implicit Bias

“As philosophers, we are professionally involved in unearthing assumptions and values underlying ordinary thought and practice, and subjecting them to critical examination”: this is the opening line of the chapter on “countering implicit bias” in the American Philosophical Association (APA)’s just-released draft Good Practices Guide. What follows this opening line is an uncritical, and one-sided, presentation of implicit bias, leaving lots of “assumptions and values” to be unearthed by unmentionable websites such as this one; for example, the assumptions

  • that implicit bias explains our behavior to an important degree, so that “faculty and administrators need to take affirmative steps” to counter it (p. 49)
  • that implicit bias is reliably measured by the Implicit Association Test, so that it “is reasonable to encourage all teaching and administrative staff to take such tests, and to ask students to take these Implicit Association Tests (IATs) as part of relevant course work” (p. 49)
  • that implicit bias is a real “phenomenon”, a “problem… [that] does not seem to be going away” (p. 49).

It is unnecessary to question these assumptions in this post, however, since a previous post of mine has already done so, referring–directly and indirectly–to a host of scholarly work in philosophy and psychology. A recent article nicely summarizes the existing case against assumptions (i), (ii), and (iii). It may even be fair to say that implicit bias’s bad reputation has become common knowledge in the philosophical blogosphere.

What is interesting is that the author of the chapter on implicit bias briefly touches upon the controversy surrounding assumptions (i), (ii), and (iii). Toward the end of the chapter, he or she (most likely, she) writes that “the Implicit Association Test and the implicit attitude research program in general are based upon empirical findings, and these always carry with them an element of uncertainty” (p. 50). The impression is thus created that the uncertainty about implicit bias is merely the uncertainty that “empirical findings… always carry with them” (my italics). Obviously, this is not true. The theory of implicit bias is a lot less certain than other “empirical findings”, to say the least. Similarly, the Implicit Association Test does not have the standing that other tests have; say, pregnancy tests or even some psychological tests (for example, IQ tests). To suggest otherwise is simply disingenuous, and a clear sign of explicit bias in the evaluation and reporting of “empirical findings”.

Hence, once again, the APA has made it clear what its “values” are. They are not the “ideals of impartiality, fairness, open-mindedness, evidence-sensitivity, and rigor in judgment” that it claims to promote (p. 47). Rather, they are the opposite ideals of partiality, unfairness, and evidence-insensitivity in the interest of left-wing political activism. To describe this as “a willingness to brave professional controversy”, as Justin Weinberg does on Daily Nous, is to provide a nice example of euphemism.

Bob le flambeur

Bob le flambeur is a professional philosopher who enjoys the finer things in life, but who is afraid that his opinions about politically sensitive topics are becoming unaffordable. Hence, he has decided to go underground.

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