Science Retracts Paper That Claimed Black Babies Born Smaller Because Of Police Violence

Science Retracts Paper That Claimed Black Babies Born Smaller Because Of Police Violence

See this peer-reviewed, but then-retracted, paper “Police violence and the health of black infants” by some person calling his- or herself Joscha Legewie?

After it was peer reviewed by knowledgeable peers, and therefore proven to be true, somebody found a fatal flaw: “a reader discovered classification errors in the data openly shared as part of the publication”. This caused the author to admit:

After learning about these errors, I conducted a thorough investigation focusing on a larger sample of cases that revealed further classification errors. A reanalysis of the data leads to revised findings that do not replicate the results in the original paper. Therefore, I must retract the Research Article and apologize that these errors were not discovered before publication. I am grateful that someone found the classification errors, which allowed me to investigate the issue and correct it quickly.

The paper was then officially retracted. A copy of it, however, still exists as of this writing (12 December 2019).

If we ignore the classification errors, and pretend they aren’t there, does the paper make any sense, though? Should it ever have been given the Science imprimatur? No, sir.

From the Abstract:

This study examines the impact of in utero exposure to police killings of unarmed blacks in the residential environment on black infants’ health. Using a preregistered, quasi-experimental design and data from 3.9 million birth records in California from 2007 to 2016, the findings show that police killings of unarmed blacks substantially decrease the birth weight and gestational age of black infants residing nearby. There is no discernible effect on white and Hispanic infants or for police killings of armed blacks and other race victims, suggesting that the effect reflects stress and anxiety related to perceived injustice and discrimination

Here are the opening words:

On 9 August 2014, Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department fatally shot Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old African American man, in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The event and other well-publicized cases in 2014 brought renewed and national attention to police killings and police use of force more broadly.

Brown, you will recall, is the criminal thief who tried to grab Wilson’s gun, and then charged Wilson, punching him et cetera. The real question, which Legewie missed, was why was Brown such a bad person.

Yet that he was shot for his criminality might have caused a black, but not white or Hispanic, baby to be born with slightly lower weight.

At least, by pregnant black woman who was no more than 5 km away. Wee p-values say so.

The goal of the analysis is to estimate the effect of maternal exposure to police killings of unarmed blacks on birth outcomes for black infants. Estimating the effect of police killings is challenging because police killings are not random. They are linked to crime and other neighborhood characteristics, which might also affect birth outcomes. To overcome this challenge, this study relies on a DD approach with and without sibling comparison (29–31, 39). The estimation strategy and model specification are motivated by previous research on the effect of hydraulic fracturing on infant health (31) and the effect of police killings (20) and police surges (21) on student test scores.

DD? “The DD approach compares changes in birth outcomes for black infants in exposed areas born in different time periods before and after police killings of unarmed blacks to changes in birth outcomes for control cases in unaffected areas.”

The analysis distinguishes nine time periods for mothers who are exposed 18 to 13, 12 to 7, and 6 to 1 months before pregnancy; those who are exposed during the first, second, and third trimesters in utero; and those who are exposed 1 to 6, 7 to 12, and 13 to 18 months after birth.

Exposed before pregnancy.

It compares the infant health of siblings who were and were not exposed to police killings during pregnancy. To examine the role of spatial distance from police killings for the effect on infant health, this study defines exposure to police killings by 500-m intervals ranging from 1 to 6 km.

The result is a complicated linear statistical model, which I won’t bother reproducing.

None of it makes the least sense. Police killing unarmed black criminals is supposed to be more birth-weight reducing than police killing armed black criminals. Somehow being closer to unarmed shootings causes greater birth weight reductions. How? The smell of gunpowder? The loudness of the shots? The feeling of guilt?

The results provide causal evidence suggesting that extreme forms of police violence have broader consequences and spillover effects on the health of newborn infants. In utero exposure to police killings of unarmed blacks in the residential environment markedly reduced the health of black infants but not for other groups. Exposure to a single police killing of an unarmed black individual during pregnancy accounts for as much as a third of the black-white gap in birth weight. This finding indicates that police violence is an environmental stressor that contributes to the stark and enduring black-white disparities in infant health and therefore the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage at the earliest stages of life.

If Legewie was really interested in black health, he or she might ask why are blacks so violent compared to other groups. Legewie paints a picture where bloodthirsty police target areas where they can move in and shoot unarmed citizens. Yet this is backwards: police only go where they are needed. They aren’t the “stressors”.

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  1. Sheri

    Joscha Legewie—sounds like some stupid name said person gave themselves……Or evidence its parents hated children.

    I give it credit for retracting the paper. There is some hope, though precious little. The entire premise is INSANE if one had any understanding of science, and obviously it does not.

    It cannot investigate why blacks are more violent because the bastard births of 70 percent of the offspring might come up. Can’t have that inconvenient fact now, can we? Nor that violent gangs are the families the blacks deprived their hated offspring of. Nope, cannot have that.

    It’s as ASININE as talc causing uterine cancer, suing for zantac, glysophate, etc. or the list of what global warming “causes”. SCIENCE IS DEAD. DEAD, DEAD, DEAD. Get over it and break out the witchdoctors, charlatans and homeopaths. We live in the equivalent of the stone age for science and with all the lies and money invested, we’re going to be there for a long, long time. I have come to hate such reports as I see them as simple evidence of how unearthly STUPID and GREEDY human beings are. We deserve the hell we are building for ourselves and I really have zero sympathy for any of this.

  2. John Goetz

    This is what parents get if they send their offspring to Harvard:

    “My research agenda focuses on social inequality/stratification, education, race/ethnicity, quantitative methods, urban sociology, and computational social science. My work is motivated by a theoretical interest in the social, spatial, and temporal processes that lead to inequality. It examines how peer groups, schools, neighborhoods, and the sequencing of events produce macro patterns of social inequality and influence the relations between social groups. It builds on rigorous causal inference based on natural or quasi-experimental research designs with a keen interest in “big data” as a promising source for future social science research. Some of my recent work investigates the social costs of law enforcement activity. As part of this research, I am working on various projects that examine the effect of policing on educational outcomes and health of minority youth using large-scale administrative data.”

  3. Yonason

    Joscha Legewie
    Assistant Professor of Sociology
    Harvard University

    Some inconvenient facts that the sociology professor should know, but whether he does is anyone’s guess.

    “2. More whites and Hispanics die from police homicides than blacks. According to Mac Donald, 12 percent of white and Hispanic homicide deaths were due to police officers, while only four percent of black homicide deaths were the result of police officers.

    “If we’re going to have a ‘Lives Matter’ anti-police movement, it would be more appropriately named “White and Hispanic Lives Matter,’” said Mac Donald in her Hillsdale speech.”

  4. Brian Hunter

    According to the National Cancer Institute, white non-Hispanic women have the highest overall rate of breast cancer. Interestingly though, in the 40-50 year age group, black women have the highest rate. Could this be related to police shooting of blacks? More funding will tell.

  5. Dave

    This correlates well with my rigorous scientific research proving that giving children ridiculous names like Dontavious and Laqueesha turns them into bullet magnets.

  6. Ray

    ” maternal exposure to police killings of unarmed blacks on birth outcomes for black infants.”
    But wouldn’t there be an inverse square effect with this exposure like there is with light? As you move away from a light source the intensity of the light decreases as the square of the distance. You would think that when you were far enough away the killing it would have no effect on you.

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