This comes up often because it is human nature to make judgments. It is human nature to use past experiences (and others’ past experiences) to make inferences about the future. Those inferences may not be 100% accurate, but statistically they’re the best you got given what you know. One of the main things you learn in history is that forgetting the past leads to repeated history. So why do we as individuals choose to forget the past?
Out of the desire to appear politically correct, people often reject summary statistics as “generalizations”. Those who use them are “being judgmental”. Just because there is a correlation between one thing and another doesn’t mean the former implies the latter. But given nothing else, that’s close to the best you can get–which is that the former is linked to the latter with probability
r (which is the statistical correlation).
Would you fault me to claiming that tall fathers tend to have tall sons? Would you fault me for claiming that black fathers tend to have black sons? Would you fault me for claiming that the same father probably scored lower on the SAT than the national mean? Would you fault me for claiming that those who score lower on the SATs tend to be less intelligent than their peers, and vice versa? Would you fault me for claiming that those who are less successful are more likely to be involved in crime?
If you said no to any of them, ask yourself: If you had to bet 100 dollars for or against my proposition, which would you bet on for the higher expectation? Your sense of political correctness is tickling your senses, but when faced with a completely mathematical option, you have nowhere to insert your OWN judgment. Either the expectation is or isn’t greater than zero.
So where’s the problem with using data to back up judgments? People disregard that as stereotyping. Do I stereotype if I assert that smart people tend to have smart kids? No? What if I say that in people of a certain race tend to be less economically successful than people of the dominant race? No? What if I say that those who are more strapped for money are more likely to commit crime? No? But what if I combine them and assert that those same people of that certain race are more likely to be criminals than people of another race? (Which means if the police has (a) limited resources–enough to arrest only one–and (b) equivalent evidence against two suspects of a crime, it should choose the better guess based on past data)
Why does the PC-meter signal red on the last statement? Is it because people can see only one step in an equation? If a => b and b => c, can’t people see that a => c? Or do they recognize that but refuse to acknowledge it publicly out of the desire to appear PC? Have we been so inculcated with the messages of PC-ness that we now fail to see the meaning behind it? If everything is indeed equal (level of education, past criminal history, people of association, economic standing, etc)–and that’s impossible to assure–then sure, these politically sensitive criteria should play no role in people’s decisions and judgments.
But not everything is equal. Therefore, we use data we know to guess at the variables we don’t know. That’s called the empirical mode of thinking and is the basis of the method of scientific inquiry.
So don’t be so judgmental of your more perceptive peers. It’s only human nature.