“Labeling can be problematic.” No Kidding.

Posted on by JohnJ and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

It’s a study!

Black youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites. But new research shows that young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and people of mixed race.

I guess everything I thought I knew about the world was wrong. This is clearly evidence that drug laws are being enforced in a racist manner.

But wait! What’s this?

It is not known why rates for Native Americans were so elevated, but the category of substance use disorders does include alcoholism, a disorder for which this group is known to be at high risk.

So… if they’re including legal drugs, why lead into the story with a statement about arrests in the very first sentence?

Well, the author of the study talks a lot about the need to get culturally-sensitive treatment and identify youths in trouble as early as possible. The allusion to arrests was included by the author of the column, Maia Szalavitz. She believes that crack laws are racist. So it’s no surprise that when she saw this study, she thought it supported what she already believed to be true.

This is why studies that do not support a journalist’s worldview don’t get reported. This wouldn’t be a problem except the result is that journalism tends to reinforce what is already the consensus view among journalists. There doesn’t have to be a conspiracy to explain the systemic bias in journalism. Journalists are as human as everyone else.  

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About JohnJ

Law student, currently studying for the Illinois bar exam. Iraq vet.

11 Responses to “Labeling can be problematic.” No Kidding.

  1. Napsterbater says:

    Every black male knows that you don’t get high off your own supply. That’s kindergarten stuff. When white people start actually listening to NWA, they’ll learn it too.

  2. Napsterbater says:

    Every black male knows that you don’t get high off your own supply. That’s kindergarten stuff. When white people start actually listening to NWA, they’ll learn it too. See, rap music is educational!

  3. DataShade says:

    Um … unless I’m crazy, you can commit drug crimes with legal drugs. I can pop Codeine as fast as my doctor prescribes it, but I can’t sell even a single pill it to my neighbor without breaking the law.

    I can go to the liquor store and blow my whole paycheck, go home, and get drunk – and it’s all perfectly legal… unless I get drunk in the store, or the car, or walking down the street in front of my house.

    Are you really trying to say selective enforcement doesn’t happen? Or even that it’s possible that an affluent white suburb mightn’t have the same kind of drug task-forces as a minority-filled violence-plagued inner-city precinct?

    • DataShade says:

      I guess if you’re trying to say “the study doesn’t say anything about arrest rates,” then I guess I have to ask, “what is the purpose of a journalist? To repeat, by rote, the findings in academic journals? Isn’t that what a tenure committee does?”

    • Guy Fox says:

      Yes, you can commit crimes with prescription drugs, but it would take some effort to get caught and prosecuted for selling a single pill to your neighbour. Here’s what happens when the legal distribution of drugs has to compete with the black market. Guess who wins?
      Given the classification of some drugs as legal (e.g. nicotine), you could also ask at what stage discrimination enters the system. Is it harder to ban soccer moms’ favourite drugs? I guess if the discussion is about selectivity, we’d first have to agree on what selection/discrimination is and when it where it does in fact happen. Worüber man nicht sprechen kann…

      As for the proper purpose of a journalist, boy, that’s an ancient question. You might not think they can or should just repeat what they’re told by anybody or from any other medium, which would imply that they’re discriminating, which would imply that they have an agenda, and you’d probably be right. The question then becomes what distinguishes journalism from propaganda, or are there just different flavours of propaganda?

      • geerussell says:

        Here’s what happens when the legal distribution of drugs has to compete with the black market. Guess who wins?

        A quote from that article:

        Although the shortage of Adderall and similar drugs have focused national attention on the problem, 74 percent of the drugs in short supply are for cancer treatment, said Charles Mollien, a clinical pharmacist for health care provider Priority Health.

        Is there a black market for cancer drugs?

  4. slipperyn says:

    Or you could go look at the article, where you’d learn that even among the exclusively illegal drugs (marijuana, inhalants, cocaine, hallucinogens) Whites are still using each type at greater rates. So while we might want to say that the journalist could have made this clear, it doesn’t seem to be a case of misrepresenting anything, and the opening doesn’t seem particularly unfair to me.

  5. The study is infuriatingly badly written.

    “Substance use” means use.
    “Substance related disorder” means abuse or dependence.
    “Substance use disorder” does not exists, but they use it synonymously with “substance related disorder” which confuses everyone into thinking it is the same as “substance use.”

    In any event, all of these are self-report. So if you drink but don’t think it’s a problem it’s not.

    “Findings also do not apply to institutionalized or homeless adolescents, who were not included in the NSDUH”

    “This study also does not address the influence of community-level poverty or intraethnic differences (eg, differences among Hispanic groups) in substance-related disorders”

    Translation: “we asked a lot of people what’s up? And a lot of them smiled.”

  6. Sorry, a better translation: “Native Americans are most likely to admit they have a substance abuse problem.”

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