Who is a bigger academic fraud: Ibrahim X Kendi or Francesca Gino & Dan Arieli?
No data or made up data?
Recently there have been two stories about academic investigations. First, Francesca Gino and Dan Arieli are under investigation. These researchers are accused of falsifying datasets that have been used to make claims about honesty. For e.g. if you pledge to be honest at the top of the form, you are more truthful than signing at the bottom. (Or so they claim)
The second academic under investigation is Ibrahim Kendi, who is accused of mismanaging the millions he had raised for his anti-racism center. Kendi is most famous for his point of view that policies are either actively anti-racist or racist, and there is no in-between.
In Kendi’s worldview, a policy cannot be neutral to race. As far as I can tell, there is no high quality evidence in support of his claim. In fact, it is easy to imagine many policies that are entirely neutral to race. Of course some policies may be discriminatory, and others may constitute affirmative action, but many policies may simply be neutral.
The investigations raise several questions. What's better: Making up data, or making arguments without even trying to generate data in the first place?
Second, why do these academics get so much attention from the media?
Third, what's the solution?
First: obviously making up data and not offering data to support your claims are both problematic. I think many are tempted to say that making up data (i.e. fraud) is worse. But I believe that not offering data for ludicrous claims is worse. To do the latter, you have to assume your audience is so stupid that they do not even think about if your claim requires support. (All policies are racist or anti-racist). At least the person who is fabricating data acknowledges their audience is smart enough to demand data. (If you want to argue about this, leave a comment, I'm open to changing my mind)
Second: these academics get lots of attention for work, which is silly. It's uninteresting to know whether or not you're more honest by vouching at the top of the bottom. If you could show that changing the signature location can increase tax revenue in a district….. Well now you're talking. But they didn't do that. They just did some flimsy study that people over interpreted, and it turns out that that might not even be true.
Why are these academics popular? Because their message is simple. You don't need to know anything to think about it. Yes, all policies are either racist or anti-racist. You barely need to know anything about policy to believe such a ludicrous statement. The entire field of behavioral economics gets popular acclaim not because it claims to have relevance to our day to day lives, but because they are blisteringly simple,
The reason the media loves to cover these people is because media is lazy. It takes more work to explain why a complex issue is worth the audience’s time, and it takes more education. Instead, Kendi and Gino can easily capture the zeitgeist.
What is the solution? I think the solution is simple: decentralize news consumption. The more people read substack and watch youtube, the less opportunity for a Kendi or Ariely to capture everyone’s attention. The best alternative media dives into topics that might require some unpacking— but almost everything that matters in life requires deep reading. If you think Kendi is doing good work than that just means you don’t read well. The solution is to engage more deeply in topics, and to not fund his center.