An Initial Association Test (IAT) purports to signal whether the testee (I nearly wrote something else) displays an inherent bias against something or someone. It’s called “science” (mostly by the charlatans who dreamt it up) but it isn’t, as the redoubtable Heather MacDonald writes in City Journal:
There is hardly an aspect of IAT doctrine that is not now under methodological challenge.
Any social-psychological instrument must pass two tests to be considered accurate: reliability and validity. A psychological instrument is reliable if the same test subject, taking the test at different times, achieves roughly the same score each time. But IAT bias scores have a lower rate of consistency than is deemed acceptable for use in the real world—a subject could be rated with a high degree of implicit bias on one taking of the IAT and a low or moderate degree the next time around. A recent estimate puts the reliability of the race IAT at half of what is considered usable. No evidence exists, in other words, that the IAT reliably measures anything stable in the test-taker.
And it gets better:
But the fiercest disputes concern the IAT’s validity. A psychological instrument is deemed “valid” if it actually measures what it claims to be measuring—in this case, implicit bias and, by extension, discriminatory behavior. If the IAT were valid, a high implicit-bias score would predict discriminatory behavior, as Greenwald and Banaji asserted from the start. It turns out, however, that IAT scores have almost no connection to what ludicrously counts as “discriminatory behavior” in IAT research—trivial nuances of body language during a mock interview in a college psychology laboratory, say, or a hypothetical choice to donate to children in Colombian, rather than South African, slums. Oceans of ink have been spilled debating the statistical strength of the correlation between IAT scores and lab-induced “discriminatory behavior” on the part of college students paid to take the test. The actual content of those “discriminatory behaviors” gets mentioned only in passing, if at all, and no one notes how remote those behaviors are from the discrimination that we should be worried about.
In other words, the stats don’t add up, and the subject of the test (racial bias) cannot be established beyond cooking the numbers and faulty projection.
Sound like global warming theory.
If you read the whole piece — it’s long, like all City Journal articles — what will strike you the most (as it did me) was not the bullshit of the IAT, but the degree to which the IAT has become embedded in government and the corporate world.
This is yet another reason why I could never find employment in today’s business world: not only would I refuse to take the test, but I’d also pour scorn on the whole process, loudly. Exit Kim, on Day One at Global MegaCorp, Inc. And I wouldn’t even get a chance to be fired for complimenting some harpy on her outfit, or for carrying my 1911 into the office.
But I digress.
Once again, as with global warming “science”, this whole IAT thing smacks of people having a theory (people are prejudiced / the Earth is over-heating because of SUVs), then creating the pseudo-science underpinning to support and prove the theory. So it’s complete bullshit, just like Glueball Wormening. (Of course, the appearance of “Harvard” in the credentials of one of the IAT’s developers should have been a warning to everyone.)
I should also remind everyone that Heather MacDonald is a statistician, not just a journalist. Hers is the scientific method; what those other two tools are doing is selling snake oil.