Reuters fired data scientist for criticizing myths peddled by BLM

Reuters fired data scientist for criticizing myths peddled by BLM
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Zack Kriegman, a Director of Data Science for Reuters, was terminated after he challenged some of the false claims made by Black Lives Matter supporters. Yesterday, Substack published Kriegman’s story about what he discovered about the erroneous assumptions made by BLM, and what happened when he shared that information with his Reuters colleagues in a factually-grounded 12,000 commentary posted on an internal Reuters discussion board.

In 2020, I started to witness the spread of a new ideology inside the company. On our internal collaboration platform, the Hub, people would post about “the self-indulgent tears of white women” and the danger of “White Privilege glasses.” They’d share articles with titles like “Seeing White,” “Habits of Whiteness” and “How to Be a Better White Person.” There was fervent and vocal support for Black Lives Matter at every level of the company. No one challenged the racial essentialism or the groupthink.

This concerned me. I had been following the academic research on BLM for years (for example, hereherehere and here), and I had come to the conclusion that the claim upon which the whole movement rested—that police more readily shoot black people—was false.

Kriegman discusses the oft-cited Washington Post database of police shootings which harps on the fact that the percentage of people shot by the police who are black is bigger than the black percentage of the population. Kriegman points out that this does not prove racism, because it ignores differences in the crime rate and in the higher rate at which blacks kill and attack police officers. He cites a blog post by a prosecutor named Patterico observing that shootings are not racially skewed if you take into account whether those shot were an objective threat to police officers.

If police shootings are a response to deadly threats, rather than motivated by bias, then the total percentage of people (armed or not) of any population shot and killed by police should roughly correspond to the total percentage of people (armed or not) in that same population who pose a deadly threat to police.

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Whenever some subset of a specified population — blacks, whites, men, women, you name it — regularly poses an imminent deadly threat to police officers, the subset posing a deadly threat will obviously include both a) people who kill police officers, and b) people who are killed by police officers. If a) is higher in any given population, you would expect to see b) higher for that same population as well.

So, if police shootings generally reflect an unbiased response to deadly threats, then for any given population, the percentage of those who kill police officers will roughly correspond to the percentage of those who are killed by police officers. If, by contrast, police shootings are largely motivated by bias, then for the population against whom police officers are allegedly biased, you will see a far higher percentage killed by police officers than the percentage who kill police officers.

Bias doesn’t seem to be the reason, as he found by comparing FBI crime data to the Post’s data, which produced a rough match in terms of the percentage of threatening people who were black, and the percentage of people shot who were black:

According to the table [FBI crime data], from 2010-2019, there were 537 known offenders in situations where law enforcement officers were feloniously killed. Of that number, 199 (the highlighted number) of the killers were black, meaning 37% of known killers of police are black.

Meanwhile, my analysis of the Washington Post police shootings database (see the end of this email for details) shows that 136 of 402 “unarmed” people fatally shot by police have been black. That means 34% (136/402) of unarmed police shooting victims are black…

I did a breakdown by sex as well. This breakdown shows that 93% of “unarmed” people killed by police since 2015 have been male. But males are a little less than 50% of the U.S. population. Is this evidence of systemic sexism against males?!? No. Not when you consider that, according to FBI statistics, fully 97.3% of known cop killers are male.

Kriegman noted that the black Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer also found no statistical evidence of racial bias against blacks in police shootings:

There has been only one study that has looked at the rate at which police use lethal force in similar circumstances across racial groups. It was conducted by the wunderkind Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who is black, grew up poor, had his fair share of run-ins with the police and, initially, supported BLM. In 2016, Fryer, hoping to prove the BLM narrative, conducted a rigorous study that controlled for the circumstances of shootings—and was shocked to find that, while blacks and Latinos were likelier than whites to experience some level of police force, they were, if anything, slightly less likely to be shot. The study generated enormous controversy.

After digesting information like this, Kriegman began to have a problem with various claims Reuters was making in its articles:

In one story, Reuters reported on police in Kenosha, Wisconsin shooting a black man, Jacob Blake, in the back—but failed to mention that they did so only after he grabbed a knife and looked likely to lunge at them.

In another story, Reuters referred “to a wave of killings of African-Americans by police using unjustified lethal force,” despite a lack of statistical evidence that such a wave of police killings had taken place. (In 2020, 18 unarmed black Americans were killed by police, according to The Washington Post database.)

And in yet another, Reuters referred to the shooting of Michael Brown as one of a number of “egregious examples of lethal police violence,” despite the fact that an investigation conducted by the Justice Department—then run by Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder—had cleared the police officer in question of all wrongdoing.

Finally, he chose to speak out, and posted a 12,000 word analysis criticizing BLM’s unfounded assumptions, which he made available on an internal Reuters message board called “the Hub.” Within a few hours it was taken down and when Kriegman asked Reuters’ Human Resources department why, he was told to go talk to the diversity officer. When he met with the diversity officer, that company official showed no sign of having read his argument and claimed not to been involved with removing it.

Eventually, the Human Resources department grudgingly agreed to put his post back up on the Hub after he eliminated all references in it to “systemic racism.” But soon after it went back up progressive white employees began attacking him:

A handful of BLM supporters, all of them white, said that, as a white person, I had no place criticizing BLM. They called my review of the academic literature “whitesplaining” (failing to note that many of the academics I cited were black). I was publicly derided as a “troll,” “confused,” “laughable,” and “not worth engaging with or even attempting to have an intelligent conversation” with. One colleague said: “I do not believe that there is any point in trying to engage in a blow-by-blow refutation of your argument, and I will not do so. My unwillingness to do so doesn’t signal the strength of your argument. If someone says, ‘The KKK did lots of good things for the community—prove me wrong,’ I’m not obligated to do so.”

Human Resources then took down his post for the reason that it was attracting unprofessional comments from his colleagues. Less than a week later, Kriegman was fired. He laments, “Most of us don’t understand how deeply compromised our news sources have become. Most of us have no idea that we are suffused with fictions and half-truths that sound sort of believable and are shielded from scrutiny by people whose job is to challenge them.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.

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