Is the use of force by police racially biased, and if so, to what degree? When a peer-reviewed study that claimed to answer this longstanding challenge to social science was published last year in a prestigious journal, Dean Knox and Jonathan Mummolo demonstrated mathematically that it was based on a logical fallacy. Now, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Professors Knox and Mummolo address the implications of the difficulty of fixing blatant mistakes in academic publications, especially when they may lead to erroneous policymaking.
Dean Knox is Assistant Professor of Politics and Jonathan Mummolo is Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Both Mummolo and Knox are CSDP faculty associates.
In many ways, the current era represents a golden age for the scientific study of social problems. New high-resolution data and sophisticated techniques for parsing correlation from causation are allowing unprecedented insight into human behavior. And politicians have actually expressed interest in evidence-based policy, leaving the door open for academics to make a real-world impact.
But the promise of this moment will be wasted if scientists cannot be relied upon to separate fact from fiction. We must do better, or risk receding into justified irrelevance.
More background on this issue:
Research on racial bias in police shootings by Dean Knox, Will Lowe, and Jonathan Mummolo is cited in Science: Study that claims white police no more likely to shoot minorities draws fire. The discussion of this research question continued in an article in Nature. What the data say about police shootings focuses on how racial biases play into "deadly encounters" with the police, and discusses how scholars are using data to answer these important questions. Knox and Mummolo's letter, following months of public protest and controversy, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on January 21, 2020.