Yesterday, during the oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, Justice Scalia raised the issue of “mismatch.” This is the phenomenon, identified by scholars Richard Sander (along with legal affairs writer Stuart Taylor) and Gail Heriot, whereby students admitted to top colleges with lower credentials than their classmates tend to struggle academically to their detriment. As Sander says:
There are now dozens of careful, peer-reviewed studies that find strong evidence of mismatch. None of the authors of these studies claim that mismatch is a universal or inevitable consequence of affirmative action. But in my view, only demagogues (of which there is, unfortunately, no shortage) or people who haven’t read the relevant literature can still claim that mismatch is not a genuine problem.
Sander and Taylor filed an amicus brief in Fisher. So did Heriot, along with fellow U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow. Prompted by this briefing, Justice Scalia raised the issue with counsel for the University of Texas:
There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well.
One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them. I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer.
From the reaction of much of the mainstream media, you would have thought that Scalia advocated the overturning of Brown v. Board of Education. The Huffington Post wrote, “Justice Scalia thinks black students belong in ‘slower-track’ schools.” Actually, of course, Scalia was simply raising the question of whether those blacks who, based on their record, are unlikely to do well in elite schools should be admitted, and whether they benefit as much as they would if they attended a school where they are likely to do well.
Scalia has never suggested that black applicants who can get into top schools without being preferred due to their race should attend lesser institutions. Such a view would be inconsistent with the theory of “mismatch” that he raised.
This distinction was also lost on The Hill, which declared, “Scalia: Maybe black students belong at ‘less-advanced’ schools.” Similarly, Yahoo claimed that “Scalia suggested that black students benefit from a ‘slower track’ at less prestigious schools,” as if this suggestion extended to black students whose credentials fit top schools.
Mother Jones also adopted this line and sniffed, “after [Scalia’s comment], Court watchers will really be looking forward to his opinion in the case.” Actress Rashida Jones promptly called for Scalia’s impeachment.
This commentary demonstrates mismatch of a kind — the mismatch between a serious Supreme Justice and a press corps too lazy, too ideologically left-wing, and/or too politically correct to engage an argument that, though controversial, is well-rooted in research and legal scholarship.
More broadly, we see an example of a dangerous tendency. Too often nowadays, arguments and assertions of fact are judged by whether they are “offensive,” not by whether they are valid or true. A joke can be judged by its offensiveness (in addition to its humor). However, arguments should be judged only by whether they are valid and assertions of fact only by whether they are true.
To judge arguments and assertions of fact based on whether they are offensive is to assess them on a purely subjective basis. Worse, it is ultimately to live in the world one wishes existed, not necessarily the world that actually exists.
A society that rejects traditional epistemology in this manner cannot prosper. In the long run, it probably cannot survive.
UPDATE: Joe Asch tells me that the first research on “mismatch” was performed at Dartmouth by Rogers Elliott, a professor of Psychology, and A. C. Stenta, then head of the College’s Office of Institutional Research.
Meanwhile, Harry Reid joins the idiot crowd that claims Scalia endorses racist ideas.