Academic Absurdity of 2022 (So Far)

A few years back we flagged the article in Gender, Place and Culture on “Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity in Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon,” wondering if it was a hoax. And it indeed was a hoax—part of the very successful Pluckrose/Boghossian/Lindsay project to plant absurd articles in postmodern academic journals.

I thought we might have a sequel involving on our hands in the current issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, except this looks to be entirely authentic, which makes it worse. Behold:

When a Name Gives You Pause: Racialized Names and Time to Adoption in a County Dog Shelter

Natasha Quadlin [UCLA], Bradley Montgomery [Ohio State]


Racialized names carry both penalties and premiums in social life. Prior research on implicit associations shows that racialized names tend to activate feelings of racial bias, such that people are more positively inclined toward White-sounding names than they are toward Black- and Hispanic-sounding names. But to what extent do racialized names continue to matter when they do not belong to people? In this article, we use an original data set collected over six months at a high-volume shelter where dogs are frequently given racialized names (N = 1,636). We also conducted a survey with a crowdsourced sample to gauge the racial perceptions of each dog’s name. We combine these data sets to examine how racial perceptions of names are associated with time to adoption, a meaningful outcome that captures people’s willingness to welcome a dog into their family. We find that as dogs’ names are increasingly perceived as White, people adopt them faster. Conversely, as dogs’ names are increasingly perceived as nonhuman (e.g., Fluffy), people adopt them slower. Perceptions of Black names are likewise tied to slower times to adoption, with this effect being concentrated among pit bulls, a breed that is stereotyped as dangerous and racialized as Black. These findings demonstrate the remarkable durability of racialized names. These names shape people’s behavior and their impressions of others even when they are attached to animals—not just humans.

This is just another entry in the dubious academic literature demonstrating “implicit” or “unconscious” racism. The study is a heavy exercise in data qualification and regression model outputs, but is surprisingly tentative and equivocal about the scene. Given that dog names are not fixed and can be changed (and are often assigned by the shelter in any case rather in inherited from a previous owner), the cause of supposed “bias” requires explanation for which no “data” can be produced. So we get a fog like this (emphasis added to the weasel words):

Adopters could be making assumptions about previous owners based on dogs’ names. Adopters’ preferences for dogs with White-sounding names, for example, could emerge because they assume that these dogs previously belonged to White people. We mentioned that names are rarely ‘‘held over’’ because the shelter typically does not have contact with dogs’ prior owners, and even then, only a subset of these prior owners request that their dogs’ names be retained on the adoption floor. . .

From a theoretical perspective, this is an important possibility because it may be signaling something of a status-based assessment of shelter dogs. If, for example, people decline to adopt dogs with Black-sounding names because they assume that they previously belonged to Black people, then this could indicate much more than just implicit bias against animals with Black-sounding names. Instead, this could signal broader prejudices toward dogs that were previously owned by Black people, such as assumptions that they are poorly behaved, poorly trained, or perhaps aggressive or prone to fighting. This would indicate that people are inherently making judgments about the dog’s competence and worthiness on the basis of their racialized name, which would have broad implications for the social psychology of human–animal interaction. We are unable to conclude whether people are making this kind of calculation because we did not talk to adopters; and even if we were to talk with them, they might be hesitant to describe this thought.

In other words, let’s just go with confirmation bias of our deep-seated racialism. The whole study is full of passages like this. More evidence that America is overproducing a certain kind of noxious “cognitive elite.”

P.S. If anyone wants to mess up the replication studies of this article (stop giggling), I suggest adopting a pit bull and renaming it “Michael Vick.”

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