The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information

 TeasersiSteve Blog
Vulcan Society

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
🔊 Listen RSS
From WCBS in New York:

There were hurt feelings and racial tensions as white applicants were left standing outside a prep class on Wednesday night, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young. 

“Whoever’s name is not on the list is not getting in, so were just following orders. That’s just the way it is,” the applicants were told. 

Joseph Basile was one of those who didn’t get in. 

“It wasn’t a good feeling. It felt like it was discrimination,” Basile said. 

The class was conducted by the Vulcan Society, a group of African American firefighters in an overwhelmingly white department. Many applicants who were turned away preregistered online on forms that did not ask for their race, which made for testy moment. … 

Wednesday night’s class was the third in a series of prep exams given by the Vulcan Society. The previous two were integrated. The one Wednesday was the only one from which people were barred from attending.

To the ranks of Tiger Mothers and Eagle Fathers, we can add the Dalmatian Dads of the Fire Department of New York, who encourage their sons and nephews to study hard the family trade of saving people from burning buildings. 

🔊 Listen RSS
From the New York Times, an update on the Vulcan Society disparate impact discrimination lawsuit filed by the Bush Administration (thanks, Alberto!):

In a lacerating decision that accused Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of willfully ignoring the racial imbalance in the New York Fire Department, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday that a court-appointed monitor would be installed to oversee the department’s recruitment efforts and ensure that more minority candidates are hired.

The decision by the judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, comes at the end of four years of bitter litigation in which the city and the Fire Department stood accused of allowing the department to remain almost 97 percent white for decades, despite the fact that the city’s population is about 25 percent black.

Judge Garaufis has been revealing himself to be an innumerate fool for a couple of years now, but do you think anybody he knows has ever pointed this out to him? There is no shame in our society for being a certain kind of idiot. He, in fact, gives off repeated hints that he’s immensely proud of himself.
The judge’s latest decision is a case study in disparate impact reasoning, such as it is. 
The one interesting thing is a footnote showing that while blacks make up 3.8% of the FDNY, blacks make up 61.4% of the Corrections Department. Why no disparate impact study of that department, where blacks are wildly overrepresented? (Presumably, blacks like working for a black-dominated department where you don’t have to run into burning buildings, the technical knowledge requirements are lower, and maybe there are more chances for graft.)
🔊 Listen RSS
From the New York Daily News on the next phase in the Vulcan Society v. Fire Department of New York disparate impact discrimination lawsuit:

The controversial upcoming FDNY [Fire Department New York] exam will be the most expensive test in the city’s history, the Daily News has learned. 

The new civil service test, ordered by a Brooklyn federal judge who declared that previous FDNY exams discriminated against minorities, is expected to cost the city more than $3.3 million to develop and administer, officials said. 

The cost of the previous Fire Department exam, given in 2007, was $1.3 million, according to officials at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. 

The huge jump in cost hasn’t sat well in City Hall. “This litigation has forced some very costly mandates on the city for the development and administration of the test,” said Julie Wood, spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg. “We have to pay for them.” 

Judge Nicholas Garaufis last year demanded that the city alter its method of recruiting firefighters and blocked the FDNY – which is 91% white – from hiring any candidates until a new test was created. The judge also mandated that the new test be created by an outside developer, instead of within DCAS – the agency that normally creates the city’s exams. 

The city hired California-based PSI Services to develop and give the test, which is expected to be given in the first few months of 2012. 

The requirement to hire an expensive outside consultant has sent costs soaring, City Hall insiders grumbled.

This is the golden age of for-profit psychometrics. A big driving force is the following logic:
- We are unsatisfied with the disparate impact of the current test.

- Since, as everyone knows, it’s racist to say that there is anything unsatisfactory about minority test-takers, therefore the test must be unsatisfactory.

- Ergo, we should hire an expensive psychometric consulting firm on a cost-plus contract to finally design a non-discriminatory test from scratch that won’t have disparate impact. Obviously, the only possible reason that none of the countless tests already created eliminated disparate impact is that they weren’t trying hard enough. So, if we have to spend an extra million or two million dollars to get the Platinum Premium custom-designed test that will finally overcome disparate impact, then it’s well worth it. (Subsidiary logic: Pay no attention to results in other cities during the last several decades. Otherwise, you might learning something, and learning is racist. If you do ever let yourself notice that everybody else has failed at what you plan to do, reassure yourself that the reason all these other cities have failed to find the holy grail of the fire department test without disparate impact is because they were not as pure of heart as you are.)
Lather, rinse, and repeat ad infinitum. Hey, it’s a living for testing firms.
🔊 Listen RSS

La Griffe du Lion’s great term for the one standard deviation gap between whites and blacks in just about any measurement that’s related in some way to cognition — the Fundamental Constant of Sociology — is actually rather mysterious.

Sure, it’s easy to understand why we see it in nationally representative samples, but why do we also see it also in highly selected samples, such as folks who showed up to take the New York firefighter’s hiring test? (1999 gap: 1.04 s.d. 2002 gap: 0.96 s.d.)

In contrast, consider average height. Chinese people on average are less tall than black and white Americans. Yet, the average height of Chinese NBA players (such as Yao Ming) has usually been well above the NBA average. Short Chinese guys just don’t play in the NBA.

So, why don’t we see this kind of non-representativeness of the sample among FDNY test-takers? Just as 6’3″ Chinese forwards generally decide to continue playing in China rather than try to make the Lakers, would-be minority test-takers could have estimated their scores from practice exams and then decided not to bother to show up and waste their time taking the test if they were likely to only end up way down the hiring list. This kind of self-selecting behavior would reduce the racial gap.

And yet, we saw the usual one-standard deviation gap. Why?

Well, one reason is that affirmative action promotes the more competent sort of minorities into higher realms, the equivalent of Yao Ming skipping playing center in the NBA to play keeper in the Intergalactic Quidditch League, leaving only short Chinese guys to try to make the NBA.

Another reason, however, is that, for a black or Hispanic, taking an FDNY test is like buying a very, very long-lived lottery ticket.

If the damages in Vulcan Society are set at, say, $20 million, the contingency fee lawyers will presumably grab about $7 million, and several hundred or more black and Hispanic test-takers who came close enough on the test so that they would have been hired if there had been no disparate impact will get checks in the mail adding up to $13 million.

Wouldn’t it be totally awesome to get a five-figure check in the mail for something you wasted time on and failed at a decade ago? So, you can see why so many minorities who didn’t have a chance of getting a good score took the firefighters test — because there was always a sizable chance under Disparate Impact theory that a judge would change the rules years after the game was played and send them money.

In contrast, dumb white guys wouldn’t be as likely to bother showing up because they know nobody is going to change the rules in their favor.

Thus, the Fundamental Constant of Sociology endures.

🔊 Listen RSS

Michael Cammarata
October 5, 1978 – September 11, 2001

Last week, Federal District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis upheld the Bush Administration’s 2007 Vulcan Society lawsuit, which was filed in the name of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Judge Garaufis ruled that the Fire Department of New York racially discriminated in its 1999 and 2002 hiring tests by asking questions that blacks and Hispanics less often answered correctly. Judge Garaufis held:

“From 1999 to 2007, the New York City Fire Department used written examinations with discriminatory effects and little relationship to the job of a firefighter … These examinations unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color… Today, the court holds that New York City’s reliance on these examinations constitutes employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Thankfully, we now have heroes like General Gonzales and Judge Garaufis to protect us from the likes of young Cammarata. In our society’s total war against racism and Disparate Impact, we must not only honor the General and the Judge by making firefighter exams less discriminating; but we must also admit the power of their logic and publicly dishonor those who profited from this shameful violation of civil rights. For example, Cammarata’s white male privilege permitted him to “earn” a perfect score on that 1999 exam that Judge Garaufis determined, by drawing upon his vast statistical sophistication, was racially biased and irrelevant. The New York Times reported on December 16, 2001:

A day after Michael Cammarata died in the attack on the World Trade Center, his brother, Joseph, went through his things looking for a birth certificate. On the top drawer of Michael’s night table, Joseph found a letter — the kind of letter that a brother never wants to read. It was a what-to-do list in case something happened to him.

No. 1 on the list: “Take care of Jenna,” referring to his girlfriend of seven years.

No. 2: “Don’t mourn me. This is the career I chose.”

Michael Cammarata, 22, was a firefighter with Ladder Company 11 in Manhattan. He died on the ninth week of a 14-week training program. He lived with his parents in Huguenot, Staten Island.

No. 3: “Make my spirit live on.”

No. 4: “Remember I love you all and will be waiting for you upstairs.”

From the time he was 7, Michael Cammarata wanted to be a firefighter. He was fascinated by fire engines and trucks. In his fireman’s test, which he took with his brother, Michael got a perfect score; Joseph did not.

“They wanted to be together,” his mother, Linda Cammarata said of her two sons. “Thank God they didn’t.”

Joseph, 24, is a police officer. On Jan. 14, he, too, will join the Fire Department.

From the New York Times, June 8, 2003:

The funeral yesterday, at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic church on Staten Island, was the first in many months for a firefighter. Yet the rawness of the emotions on display — as firefighters stood in the pouring rain while taps played, a police helicopter flew overhead and a powder-blue coffin was lifted onto a ceremonial firetruck to be carried to the nearby cemetery — served as one more demonstration of the enormous pain caused by the Sept. 11 attack.

Mr. Cammarata’s family had waited almost 21 months for word that the remains of the 22-year-old probationary firefighter had been recovered and identified. Unwilling to put off the funeral any longer, yesterday they buried a vial of blood Mr. Cammarata had donated before he died, along with his department uniform, letters to his girlfriend, hockey sticks and baseball gloves, the funeral director said.

To date, 208 of the 343 firefighters killed on Sept. 11 have been positively identified. Firefighter Cammarata, who lived with his parents on Staten Island, was the first to be buried in a department ceremony in which the ”recovered remains” consisted of nothing more than a vial of donated blood, city officials said.

Mr. Cammarata, nicknamed ”The Face” by his fellow firefighters for his movie-star looks, achieved a perfect score on the Fire Department’s written exam and physical. He was last seen going into the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel on the morning of Sept. 11 to try to evacuate any guests or staff. It had only been four months since he was sworn in as a firefighter and assigned to Ladder Company 11 on East Second Street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The hotel was nearly flattened when the towers collapsed.

His family wrote in Little League Online:

On Sept. 11, 2001, at 8:54 a.m. from the firehouse on East Second Street in Alphabet City, Ladder Company 11, a phone call was made to the Cammarata family from their youngest son Michael. He left a message on his father’s voicemail stating: “I am going to the World Trade Center, a plane just hit it. Just tell everyone I am all right.”

Those were the last words he said to his family.

Michael was born on Oct. 7, 1978. He was only 22 years old on the date of the attack.

He was looking forward to graduating the fire academy and being permanently assigned to Ladder 11. Michael was given the gift to carry on his uncle’s shield number of 33 years, No. 1138.

Playing Little League Baseball as an all star, he competed in the Little League World Series, reaching second in the United States and third in the world. …

Michael was scouted by the Wagner College Hockey Club on Staten Island, soon to be named Rookie of the Year in 1996. In 1997, as a sophomore in college, he was the youngest to be named MVP in Wagner College history. In 1997, he led his team to the Metropolitan Collegiate Conference Championship title. In 1998, he led Wagner to another championship.

In 1999, Michael left college to work in the building industry with his father. During this time, he was anx
iously awaiting a call to be accepted for a job as a fireman. This he wanted since he was a little boy. Michael scored an impressive 105 perfect score on the New York Fireman’s Test, with a list number of 345. He was quickly called to duty and sworn in as a firefighter on May 3, 2001. He had a passion and love for the job. He was in his 14-week training program awaiting official graduation. …

Michael had an extreme love and closeness for his family, friends, and fellow firefighters. His personality made light of any dark situation, … with his brother saying, “You can never find a better best friend.”

🔊 Listen RSS

I was pleased to receive an email from the Zorro of statisticians, the mysterious La Griffe du Lion. He wants to point out that the Fundamental Constant of Sociology applies even more closely to the FDNY test data than I made it appear:

In your fine article, Professor Gates, Officer Crowley, President Obama—And the New York Fire Department, you illustrate the fundamental constant of sociology using data from the FDNY exams. Your calculation assumes normal distributions with equal standard deviations for each group. (I have often uses these same assumptions.) For most cases they work well.

But on heavily g-loaded tests, the black distribution is usually a bit narrower, being roughly 90% that of the white. We can mostly ignore this difference. But in the tails, e.g., where say 97% of one group passes, the width disparity can be important.

I repeated your calculation with and without accounting for the disparate distribution widths:

For the case where whites and blacks pass at 89.9% and 60.3%, respectively, as on the 1999 FDNY test [when an 85% score was required to pass], the calculated black and white means are separated by 1.01 SD for equal-width distributions and 1.04 (white SDs) when different widths are factored in–hardly worth the effort.

But for the case where whites and blacks pass at 97.2% and 85.4%, respectively [on the 2002 test when the passing score was lowered to 70% to satisfy the EEOC's Four-Fifth's Rule], the calculated black and white means are separated by 0.86 SD for equal-width distributions and 0.96 (white SDs) when different widths are factored in.

Thus the fundamental constant is somewhat more robust than might at first appear using the simpler calculation.


🔊 Listen RSS

Here’s a Commenter’s question about the Fire Department of New York hiring exams ruled discriminatory in Vulcan Society:

“I have a friend who tells me the test is simply a “dumbed down” version of the SAT with no prior knowledge of firefighting and related topics necessary. At the same time I keep hearing “fire buffs” are skewing the scores for “everyone else.” There’s a definite disconnect here.”

The explanation is that you can pass the test (which you can see for yourself here) in one of two general ways:

1. All the information needed to answer the questions is in reading passages directly above the questions. So, anybody with good reading comprehension can walk in cold and pass the test. For example, here’s the question on p. 6 that the New York Times considered to be a smoking gun of “Racial Bias:”

17. Which one of the following portable power saw blades must be put out of service?

A) A carbide tip blade missing nine tips.
B) A carbide tip blade with three broken tips.
C) An aluminum oxide blade measuring 12 inches.
D) A yellow silicon carbide blade measuring nine inches.

Well, I certainly didn’t know the answer to that question off the top of my head. However, I could have answered it by reading the 250 word passage on the same page, which includes the sentences:

A saw blade must be put out of service (OOS) and sent to the Technical Services Division when the blade becomes worn or damaged. Carbide tip blades must be put OOS when eight or more tips are missing or broken.

And then I could use Math Skills to recognize that nine missing tips is more than eight missing tips, so I would choose A).

2. If you aren’t that good at reading comprehension, you can study ahead of time and learn much of the material asked about so that your poor reading skills won’t be a problem. (That’s one of the reasons the New Haven reverse discrimination victims chose Frank Ricci as their lead plaintiff — he’s dyslexic, so his reading skills aren’t that good, but he just studied hard before the test.)

However, if you are bad at reading and you aren’t interested enough in the vocation of firefighting to learn a lot about firefighting ahead of time, well, then, you probably won’t do well on the test, much to the outrage of Judge Garaufis and the New York Times.

🔊 Listen RSS

Last week’s federal district court ruling in Vulcan Society v. New York throwing out the written tests used to hire some of the 343 firemen who died on 9/11 should be taken to the Supreme Court posthaste, before Clarence Thomas keels over and Obama replaces him with, say, Henry Louis Gates’s lawyer Charles Ogletree. (To understand the political significance of Vulcan, first read my column. Then, to understand the legal significance, read my blogpost below.)

Don’t overlook the publicity-garnering value of the case’s title: Vulcan Society. The late night talk show monologue jokes write themselves. This case could generate a huge amount of publicity — after all, many media personalities have a self-interest in competent FDNY firemen.

Another key would be to personalize it by finding firemen who died on September 11, 2001 who wouldn’t have been hired under Judge Garaufis’s ruling. Personalize the case by showing that he is demeaning and dishonoring their service and sacrifice as being the product of racial discrimination.

It’s time to go to the mat.

Not only does Judge Garaufis’s decision self-parodyingly demonstrate the idiocy of Disparate Impact theory, but it seems to extend it beyond the EEOC’s Four-Fifth’s rule to demand lowered hiring standard whenever there is any disparity, no matter how nugatory, in hiring rates by race.

The question is: Who will take the case to the Supreme Court? Can we trust the Bloomberg Administration to appeal and to appeal in an aggressive fashion? After all, the DeStefano Administration in New Haven sure wasn’t helpful in defending their firefighter tests, and Bloomberg is under much the same political pressures.

I suspect this shows the key, if unstated, reason that Judge Garaufis refused to let the Uniformed Firefighters Association union become a co-defendant while letting the Vulcan Society of black firefighters come into the case midway through to become lead plaintiff. (Who, you might ask, petitions to be a defendant in a lawsuit? An organization intending to make sure a strong appeal is filed.)

Garaufis likely grasped that the union was much more likely to appeal, and appeal on broad grounds, that Mayor Bloomberg, so if the Judge could keep the union out of the case, he could make up any absurd ruling he wanted with less risk that the political will would exist on the losing side to have him overturned.

Can any lawyers out there explain the necessary strategy for getting Vulcan Society to the Supreme Court?

🔊 Listen RSS

In my column yesterday night on the Bush Administration’s belated triumph over Disparate Impact in the Fire Department of New York, the ironies were so rich that I didn’t have room to analyze the legal reasoning of Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis’s opinion in Vulcan Society v. FDNY. Fortunately, a reader has done it for me, so we’ll do a tag-team in-depth analysis of this important and stupid decision. (As an intro, please read my column first. By the way, you can take the tests for yourself here.)

Yesterday, I got a copy of a recent decision in the Eastern District of New York about another fireman discrimination lawsuit, this about the city of New York, which is rather larger and more significant than the one in New Haven. I read it and learned that (i) Ricci means nothing and (ii) the 4/5 test is dead—replaced by a simple test for statistical significance. Under the new test, any statistically significant difference between white and minority scores is prima facie evidence of discrimination.

The judge’s decision is both insanely important and insane. He is saying that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Four-Fifth’s Rule isn’t tough enough at sniffing out Disparate Impact. Instead, any “statistically significant” difference in passing rates between racial groups should shift the burden of proof in the case to the employer and make the employer meet the strict “business necessity” burden.

And with a big enough sample size, such as the 10,000 or so who take the FDNY entry level employment test, practically any racial difference, no matter how pragmatically insignificant, can be deemed to have attained statistical significance for purposes of bringing the hammer down legally on the employer under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Judging from media coverage, you might think that racial quotas are an open question in this country. You might even get that impression from reading iSteve some days. But they aren’t. Racial quotas are part of how we live now. This case demonstrates how and why.

You can learn a lot about a case just by looking at the caption. The plaintiff is the United States of America, joined by a black firefighters group and individual black and Hispanic firefighters. The case number, beginning with 1:07 CV, shows that it was a civil case commenced in 2007. From that and the name of the plaintiff we can deduce that this case was brought by the Bush Justice Department in 2007, while Alberto Gonzales was attorney general and, you will recall, there was great worry that Bush was politicizing the Justice Department. In fact, cases like this get brought in every administration, no matter who is the president and who is the attorney general.

Defendants are the City of New York, the fire department, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (which developed the tests at issue) and the mayor and the fire commissioner. No unions and no firefighters. No New York equivalent of Frank Ricci.

Judge Garaufis specifically allowed the Vulcan Society to take over as main plaintiff from the three individuals, and specifically banned the main union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association from joining the defense. The union was worried that the Bloomberg Administration would not put up a stiff enough fight. I can’t find online documents showing Bloomberg’s defense, so I have a hard time evaluating how true the union’s worry was.

Checking the bio of the judge, Nicholas Garaufis, I see that he was appointed by Clinton on Sen. Moynihan’s recommendation and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2000. He has a typical background for a New York federal judge: associate at a white-shoe firm, Chadbourne & Park, nine years as counsel to the Queens borough president, Claire Shulman; five years as general counsel to the Federal Aviation Administration during the Clinton administration. If I had to guess I would say he was politically in the left half of the federal judiciary, but nevertheless he is a completely mainstream guy. In his opinion he cites to a 1972 decision by Judge Edward Weinfeld dinging an earlier version of the firefighters’ exam. Weinfeld was one of the most respected federal district court judges in the country.

The news angle: this decision made the front page of the New York Law Journal, which is basically the house organ of the New York bench and bar. It was a subject of a short article in the Times. It didn’t make the Wall Street Journal at all. It will get maybe one /one millionth of the coverage that Ricci got or that Professor Gates’ arrest is getting.

The Times article is innumerate but informative. There are the expected quotes from the intervenors’ lawyers, including a pious statement from Dana Lossia that, “Really what this decision says is, the exams you were using don’t pick the best-qualified people. What they really don’t do is pick the people who would best protect the city.” Not a word from the Department of Justice.

But it’s the stuff from the city that is really important. The city says: the tests are no longer being used, and since the city began administering a new test in Jan. 2007, minorities are now 38% of the candidates on the passing list and 33% of the top 4,000, who are most likely to be offered a job. They are a third of the most recent class of probationary firefighters. So, in practical terms: racial quotas for New York City firefighters have been in place since January 2007; and all this lawsuit is about is back pay and promotions for black and Hispanic applicants before 2007. Back pay and promotions will be addressed in the remedy phase, which is what Judge Garaufis, the lawyers, and the experts will turn to now.

The critical thing legally is that this case was decided on summary judgment: expert opinions and statistics. The judge did not hear any testimony. Under the law, you are only supposed to grant summary judgment when the losing side has failed to show any dispute about any fact that might conceivably affect the outcome. Or, in layman’s terms, there was no need for a trial, because New York City’s position was so weak that it didn’t deserve one.

Here is what Judge Garaufis said about Ricci in his opinion.

“Before proceeding to the legal analysis, I offer a brief word about the Supreme Court’s decision in Ricci v. DeStefano, 129 S. Ct. 2658 (June 29, 2009). I reference Ricci not because the Supreme Court’s ruling controls the outcome in this case; to the contrary, I mention Ricci precisely because it does not. In Ricci, the City of New Haven had set aside the results of a promotional examination, and the Supreme Court confronted the narrow issue of whether New Haven could defend a violation of Title VII’s disparate treatment provision by asserting that its challenged employment action was an attempt to comply with Title VII’s disparate impact provision. The Court held that such a defense is only available when “the employer can demonstrate a strong basis in evidence that, had it not taken the action, it would have been liable under the disparate-impact statute.” Id. at 2664. In contrast, this case presents the entirely separate question of whether Plaintiffs have shown that the City’s use of Exams 7029 and 2043 has actually had a disparate impact upon black and Hispanic applicants for positions as en
try-level firefighters. Ricci did not confront this issue.”

The obvious corollary of this analysis is that if the City of New Haven had not set aside the results of the exam and simply allowed itself to be sued, it would have lost and racial quotas would have triumphed. I don’t think other municipalities will miss this.

To the numbers.

Disparate Impact

Both tests consisted of 85 multiple choice questions. You had to pass the test in order to get to take the physical test, the PPT. The written test and the PPT were then averaged and the applicants were rank-ordered. Judge Garaufis isn’t so simple-minded as to attach copies of the tests to his opinion, but it is my impression that they weren’t very different in content.[1]

You can see both the 1999 and 2002 tests in their entirety here.

But they were very, very different in passing grade. Test 7029, in effect from 1999 to 2002, required you to get 84.705% right (72/85) to pass. Test 2043, in effect from 2002 to 2007, required you to get only 70% (60/85) to pass. So, under test 2043, passage rates rocketed up and the racial gaps diminished—but not enough for the Justice Department or Judge Garaufis.

Test 7029 — 1999

Whites passed at an 89.9% rate (11,613/12,915). Blacks passed at a 60.3% rate (1,054/1,749). So, blacks passed at 67% of the white rate. Test 7029 failed the 4/5 rule. An expert said there were 33.9 “units of standard deviation” between the white and the black rate, making it a one-in-a-ridiculously-large-number possibility that the disparity in white and black results were the result of chance. The expert report is not online, and I don’t know what a “unit of standard deviation” is. Obviously the black result is not 34 standard deviations below the white result. But perhaps here “units of standard deviation” simply expresses how far the white-black result is from chance, if you assume no difference in ability between the two groups.

Hispanics passed 7029 at a 76.7% rate, meaning their pass rate was 85.3% of the white pass rate. So test 7029 did not flunk the 4/5 rule for Hispanics. But, an expert found that there were 17.4 “units of standard deviation” between the white and Hispanic results, again making it staggeringly unlikely that the difference in scores between the two groups was the result of chance.

Test 2043 — 2002

Whites passed this test at an impressive 97.2% rate (13,495/13,877). Blacks passed it at 85.4% (1,190/1,393). So, this is a spectacularly easy test. I would think you’d have to be damn near illiterate not to pass it. Anyway, the black pass rate was 87.8% of the white pass rate. So, the 4/5 rule is satisfied. But, an expert finds that there are 21.8 “units of standard deviation” between the white and black scores, again making it extraordinarily unlikely that the difference in scores between the groups is the result of chance.

The Hispanic pass rate is 92.8% of the white rate, or 95.5%. The 4/5 rule is easily satisfied. But there are 10.5 “units of standard deviation” between the white and Hispanic results, making it extremely unlikely that the difference between the scores was the result of chance.

The opinion then goes on to the rank ordering issue. There is a gap of more than 600 slots between the average white and the average black applicant on the hiring list under test 7029, and a gap of more than 900 slots between the average white and the average black under test 2043, because of course everyone and his cretinous brother are passing 2043 and getting on the list.

The city argues that the judge should deny summary judgment on the prima facie question of disparate impact where the 4/5 rule is satisfied (that is, test 7029 for Hispanics, and test 2043 for black and Hispanics). But the judge says no. Citing to various cases from the Second Circuit (i.e., the geographical branch of the federal appellate courts comprising New York and Connecticut) he says that disparate impact is established any time the racial gap is more than 3 standard deviations—by which he means, not that the black/Hispanic score is more than 3 standard deviations lower than the white score, but where the gap between the races is great enough that the result is almost certainly not caused by chance.

In other words, statistical significance at the .01 level. Assuming the two races were absolutely equal in test taking ability, what is the chance that blacks would do so much worse on average on this test given to many thousands of people just by random bad luck? The answer is of course one in bazillion. Therefore, the FDNY got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

Does the Judge know what “statistical significance” even means? As Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride: ” You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.” If you have a huge sample size, you can find “statistical significance” in the technical sense even when there is no practical significance.

I won’t spend a lot of time discussing the legal tests and discussion of precedent, but will try to focus on the basics. The main conceptual flaw of these exams was that they measured cognitive abilities to the exclusion of non-cognitive abilities, even though non-cognitive qualities are clearly important to being a successful firefighter. (Of course, if non-cognitive qualities are equally distributed among the population, and cognitive abilities are concentrated among whites, then the rank-ordering of a test that considers non-cognitive as well as cognitive abilities won’t be different, racially speaking, than the rank ordering of a test that considers cognitive abilities alone. But the law, in its majestic equality, takes no notice of such trifles.)

The judge complains that the cognitive test didn’t test for non-cognitive traits such as Conscientuousness and Cleanliness, but doesn’t indicate how the city could have efficiently, effectively, and fairly tested these non-cognitive traits among many thousands of job applicants … and with no Disparate Impact, either!

Perhaps city officials could have sniffed each job applicant and then graded him on Cleanliness?

Written tests of the boy scout virtues aren’t bad, but they have a much weaker chain of evidence supporting them than do cognitive tests. So, all the judges’ quibbles about this cognitive test would be an order of magnitude larger for any of the virtue tests.For example, pencil and paper virtue tests can be outsmarted. “Ooh, how can I look good on this question?” (This isn’t such a problem for firemen, except in the case of smart arsonists like John Orr, but it’s a big problem testing policemen, where the last thing you want is somebody out at the extreme of the Smart-Bad quadrant.)

The good thing about IQ tests is that they can’t really be outsmarted (outside of blatant copying off the Asian guy sitting next to you). If you outsmart an IQ test, well, then, you are smart.

Nor does the judge cite any evidence that there won’t be racial gaps in non-cognitive traits like Dependability, Cooperation, Concern for Others, Persistence, and Self Control. Any kind of valid test for those traits will show large (and embarrassing) racial gaps, so the fire department would be right back in court being charged with Disparate Impact. For example, the judge complains that the City should have tested for “mechanical ability” as if adding a test of “mechanical ability” would obviously reduce the black-white gap.

The main structural flaw in the tests was that the questions were written by firefighters, rather than by testing professionals. The judge made great hay of the fact that some of the questions were supposed to measure inductive reasoning, and several of the firefighters involved in the proc
ess had no idea what inductive reasoning was.

Judge Garaufis then engages in a lot of quibbling over how the test was made up — in house, by NYC civil servants interviewing firemen.

Ironically, Garaufis compliments the New Haven Fire Department’s test in comparison to FDNY’s, even though Justice Ginsburg’s losing dissent went on and on about how bad it is.

Clearly, though, a lot of work went into it, and no evidence is presented of racial bias. (Presumably, the city officials went to extra lengths to get minority firemen to contribute to the test design processs and to buy off on the results.)

NYC’s good-enough-for-government-work approach possible isn’t the ideal way to make up a fireman hiring test. Nor is the best way these expensive custom-made city-by-city tests like in New Haven. The best way is like in college admissions — you have a couple of nationally competing companies put out national tests, like the SAT and ACT. But, that’s not feasibly under the current law because everybody has to act like the only reason for disparate impact is because the last 37,434 fireman’s tests didn’t do it right, but this time, we’re gonna all roll up our sleeves and, doggone it, get it right!

But if you know anything about test design (which the Judge clear doesn’t), you also know that there are rapidly diminishing returns to test design sophistication. When you are just coming up with a test that eliminates the bottom 30% of white guys who want to be firemen, you know, it’s really not that hard to come up with something good enough.

Other issues: the reading level of the test was too high (see p. 75); there was an insufficient showing of a linkage between the qualities measured and the abilities necessary to make a good fireman; and so on.

The government’s expert, Siskin, seems to acknowledge the existence of g, see p. 67 of the opinion. But the judge notes this solely by way of saying that the test was unjustifiably focused on the measurement of cognitive abilities.

That’s a hilarious part where the plaintiff’s statistical genius expert witness rediscovers the general factor of intelligence, like Charles Spearman discovered the g factor in 1904. The test design process identified nine cognitive skills useful in firefighting.

This analysis revealed a pattern showing that the “[questions] intended to measure an individual cognitive ability actually tend[ed] to correlate as or more highly with [questions] intended to measure different cognitive abilities . . . .”

Spearman invented factor analysis, which he used to discover the existence of the g Factor. No doubt wholly innocent of this bit of cognitive testing history from more than a century ago, the judge complains:

To further support his conclusion, Dr. Siskin applied a method called “factor analysis,” which is “a statistical methodology that, based on the empirical data, defines an underlying structure which can explain the correlation among the [questions].” (Id.) “For the results of factor analysis to confirm the test plan, the analysis should find that [questions] group together to comprise nine or 10 factors in a manner consistent with the test plan, such that the Deductive Reasoning [questions] group together to form one factor and the [questions] intended to measure Inductive Reasoning group together to form a second factor, and so forth.” Dr. Siskin’s factor analysis showed that the data did not “factor into nine distinct factors or ability domains,” but instead “seem to primarily measure a general cognitive ability (except, perhaps, Memorization), and to a much lesser extent, a second specific cognitive ability (which is different from any defined by the test developers).”. According to Dr. Siskin, [t]his result demonstrates that the purported intent of the test design (to measure and weight nine distinct cognitive ability domains) was not successful.”

I’m shocked, shocked to discover that this test validates the existence of the g Factor and once again fails to prove the validity of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Then the judge says:

This evidence shows that the cognitive abilities intended to be tested on Exams 7029 and 2043 were not the most important cognitive abilities for the job of firefighter.

But, Judge G., you just complained that the test tested g, the general cognitive ability, rather than various hypothesized specific abilities. Tautologically speaking, isn’t general cognitive ability the most important cognitive ability?

Interestingly, the use of a cutoff score is very problematic, even when the cutoff is based on the number of firefighters required (I should say, especially when the cutoff is based on the number of firefighters required). See p. 78. I think the obvious takeaway is that the fire department should consider many applicants more than it needs, and hire on a racially balanced basis from that larger pool.

In other words, do what Chicago is doing: hire firefighters largely at random.

We’d be better off with strict racial quotas than with that.

🔊 Listen RSS

From my new column:

Two stubborn individuals have done more than anyone to slow the Obama political juggernaut over the last month: Frank Ricci and James Crowley. …

Interestingly, both Ricci and Crowley are not the kind of folks the Republican Party has focused upon representing in the 21st Century. They are Northeasterners, civil servants, and union men. Indeed, their unions’ strong opposition to the racial spoils system and to racial blackmail has been one of the keys to their fortitude.

The Bush Administration systematically worked to alienate men like Ricci and Crowley, who had worked hard to pass civil service exams.

For example, on May 21, 2007, Bush’s Department of Justice filed suit in the name of Bush Crony/Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales charging the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) with violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act…

May I suggest that as a tiny first step in rebuilding a potentially winning coalition, Republicans stop and rethink whether their President should have attacked the Fire Department of New York as racist?

Sure, these firemen are highly paid civil servants with a pushy union, and they’re New Yorkers to boot. But … 343 of them gave their lives on 9/11.

Last Wednesday, July 22, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, a Clinton appointee, gave Bush a belated going-away present by swallowing the Gonzales Department of Justice allegations wholesale and deeming FDNY’s 1999 and 2002 paper-and-pencil employment exams discriminatory against minorities solely on the grounds of Disparate Impact. …

The judge found the tests discriminatory despite being unable to find any evidence of actual discrimination. Even John Coombs, the head of the plaintiff organization, the black firefighter’s Vulcan Society, couldn’t identify specific problems. Newsday reported:

“Asked to point out questions he considered discriminatory on the exam, Coombs said, ‘I’m not going to answer that. It’s irrelevant.’ He added, ‘It’s a bad exam when the exam gives you … results that are abysmal for diversity.’… The Bush Administration’s claim that the test “is not job related for the position in question” was laughable. Each question is flagrantly job related. (You can see the 1999 and 2002 tests here.)

Thus Diane Cardwell of the New York Times reported on July 23 in Judge Finds Racial Bias in Fire Dept. Recruiting:

“New York City used tests that discriminated against black and Hispanic applicants to the Fire Department and had little relation to firefighting, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled on Wednesday.”

Yet, Cardwell’s accompanying feature article in the same issue of the NYT, Racial Bias in Fire Exams Can Lurk in the Details, included numerous complaints that the problem with the FDNY test was that it had too much relation to firefighting:

Besides, Professor Primus added, some of that knowledge is not needed to become a good firefighter. … Some of it tends to be knowledge that “firefighting junkies have, even though it is not really necessary for fighting fires.’”

Those darn “fire buffs” keep studying in their spare time how to save our lives. It’s discriminatory!

Cardwell’s explanation in the NYT of what’s wrong with the test can most charitably be read as heavy sarcasm:

“Each exam consists of 85 multiple-choice questions about firefighting practices: the order in which a firefighter should don gear in an alarm; what the rear of a building would look like, based on its facade; the right situations in which to say ‘mayday’ rather than ‘urgent’ over the walkie-talkie.

“Nevertheless, a closer look shows that the exams also required applicants to read and understand long passages, often containing technical terms, and then answer questions about them.” [Italics mine.]

Cardwell complains:

“One question, for instance, follows a 250-word description of the use and maintenance of portable power saws …”

I’m sorry, but portable power saws, especially the hellacious ones used by firemen to cut through steel and concrete, come with massive instruction manuals much longer than 250 words (owing to decades of product liability lawsuits, as the judge should know).

Read the rest here and comment on it below.

Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
The evidence is clear — but often ignored
The unspoken statistical reality of urban crime over the last quarter century.
The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?