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Authors Of Paper On Police Killings And Race Cite ‘Misuse’ By Media, Ask It Be Retracted. Say ‘Political Considerations’ Weren’t Involved.
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Earlier this week, researchers who wrote a paper published in 2019 that found “no evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities across shootings, and White officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than non-White officers,” asked for it to be retracted, and their statement caused a number of conservatives to opine that the authors seemingly wanted it taken down because it didn’t fit the left-wing narrative about police.

In their initial retraction statement, crime researchers David Johnson, of the University of Maryland and Joe Cesario of Michigan State University referred to Heather Mac Donald, the author of The New York Times bestseller The War on Cops (2016), which the Manhattan Institute said had warned that “raced-based attacks on the criminal-justice system, from the White House on down, are eroding the authority of law and putting lives at risk.”

Mac Donald wrote about the paper in the City Journal and The Wall Street Journal, asserting, “The more frequently officers encounter violent suspects from any given racial group, the greater the chance that a member of that group will be fatally shot by a police officer.”

Robert Verbruggen noted in National Review:

“The authors of an often-cited study about racial bias in police shootings have asked for it to be retracted, while standing behind the data and statistical analysis. They’re retracting the paper only because they don’t like the way it’s being discussed in the media. As I explained last year, the study has been controversial because of the roundabout way it approached the issue: It checked to see if, when police kill civilians, there is a correlation between the officers’ races and the suspects’. The idea is that if white cops are killing blacks out of bias, white cops should disproportionately be involved in killings of blacks.”

He surmised of the researchers’ reaction to Mac Donald’s statement, “I’d imagine they’d prefer something like ‘when someone has been shot by the police, that person is more likely to be black if homicide victims in the surrounding county are heavily black, but not if the officer involved is white,” then added, “I’m all for using precise language and correcting retraction, the record when you fail to, but retracting the entire study is a bad decision. The lack of a correlation between officer and suspect race is noteworthy and deserves to be a part of the discussion.”

But then Johnson and Cesario issued an amended retraction statement in which they elided Mac Donald’s name; they told Retraction Watch, “The [first statement] was an earlier version and we slightly amended it because people were incorrectly concluding that we retracted due to either political pressure or the political views of those citing the paper. Neither is correct and so this version makes the reason more clear.”

The authors also added these paragraphs:

We were careless when describing the inferences that could be made from our data. This led to the misuse of our article to support the position that the probability of being shot by police did not differ between Black and White Americans. To be clear, our work does not speak to this issue and should not be used to support such statements. We accordingly issued a correction to rectify this statement (Johnson & Cesario, 2020).

Although our data and statistical approach were valid to estimate the question we actually tested (the race of civilians fatally shot by police), given continued misuse of the article we felt the right decision was to retract the article rather than publish further corrections. We take full responsibility for not being careful enough with the inferences made in our original article, as this directly led to the misunderstanding of our research.

This was the sole reason for our decision to retract the article; this decision had nothing to do with political considerations, “mob” pressure, threats to the authors, or distaste for the political views of people citing the work approvingly.

After the amended retraction statement, Verbruggan summed up: “It still says they’re retracting it not because it’s wrong but because of how it’s being discussed in the media, but they removed references to Heather Mac Donald and say the politics of people doing the citing aren’t the issue. My take does not change.”


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