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ufojoe

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: May 08, 2007, 08:54:27 PM

Updated article is at last post...

Interesting but shouldn't be a huge surprise since, as the authors note, the NBA officials
operate no differently than society in general.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/02/sports/basketball/02refs.html?_r=1&bl&ex=1178251200&en=ea4bc6088bb438e7&ei=5087%0A&oref=login

May 2, 2007
Study of N.B.A. Sees Racial Bias in Calling Fouls
By ALAN SCHWARZ

Editors' Note Appended

An academic study of the National Basketball Association, whose playoffs continue tonight, suggests that a racial bias found in other parts of American society has existed on the basketball court as well.

A coming paper by a University of Pennsylvania professor and a Cornell University graduate student says that, during the 13 seasons from 1991 through 2004, white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players.

Justin Wolfers, an assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School, and Joseph Price, a Cornell graduate student in economics, found a corresponding bias in which black officials called fouls more frequently against white players, though that tendency was not as strong. They went on to claim that the different rates at which fouls are called “is large enough that the probability of a team winning is noticeably affected by the racial composition of the refereeing crew assigned to the game.”

N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern said in a telephone interview that the league saw a draft copy of the paper last year, and was moved to do its own study this March using its own database of foul calls, which specifies which official called which foul.

“We think our cut at the data is more powerful, more robust, and demonstrates that there is no bias,” Mr. Stern said.

Three independent experts asked by The Times to examine the Wolfers-Price paper and materials released by the N.B.A. said they considered the Wolfers-Price argument far more sound. The N.B.A. denied a request for its underlying data, even with names of officials and players removed, because it feared that the league’s confidentiality agreement with referees could be violated if the identities were determined through box scores.

The paper by Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price has yet to undergo formal peer review before publication in an economic journal, but several prominent academic economists said it would contribute to the growing literature regarding subconscious racism in the workplace and elsewhere, such as in searches by the police.

The three experts who examined the Wolfers-Price paper and the N.B.A.’s materials were Ian Ayres of Yale Law School, the author of “Pervasive Prejudice?” and an expert in testing for how subtle racial bias, also known as implicit association, appears in interactions ranging from the setting of bail amounts to the tipping of taxi drivers; David Berri of California State University-Bakersfield, the author of “The Wages of Wins,” which analyzes sports issues using statistics; and Larry Katz of Harvard University, the senior editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

“I would be more surprised if it didn’t exist,” Mr. Ayres said of an implicit association bias in the N.B.A. “There’s a growing consensus that a large proportion of racialized decisions is not driven by any conscious race discrimination, but that it is often just driven by unconscious, or subconscious, attitudes. When you force people to make snap decisions, they often can’t keep themselves from subconsciously treating blacks different than whites, men different from women.”

Mr. Berri added: “It’s not about basketball — it’s about what happens in the world. This is just the nature of decision-making, and when you have an evaluation team that’s so different from those being evaluated. Given that your league is mostly African-American, maybe you should have more African-American referees — for the same reason that you don’t want mostly white police forces in primarily black neighborhoods.”

To investigate whether such bias has existed in sports, Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price examined data from publicly available box scores. They accounted for factors like the players’ positions, playing time and All-Star status; each group’s time on the court (black players played 83 percent of minutes, while 68 percent of officials were white); calls at home games and on the road; and other relevant data.

But they said they continued to find the same phenomenon: that players who were similar in all ways except skin color drew foul calls at a rate difference of up to 4 ½ percent depending on the racial composition of an N.B.A. game’s three-person referee crew.

Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a vocal critic of his league’s officiating, said in a telephone interview after reading the paper: “We’re all human. We all have our own prejudice. That’s the point of doing statistical analysis. It bears it out in this application, as in a thousand others.”

Asked if he had ever suspected any racial bias among officials before reading the study, Mr. Cuban said, “No comment.”

Two veteran players who are African-American, Mike James of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Alan Henderson of the Philadelphia 76ers, each said that they did not think black or white officials had treated them differently.

“If that’s going on, then it’s something that needs to be dealt with,” James said. “But I’ve never seen it.”

Two African-American coaches, Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics and Maurice Cheeks of the Philadelphia 76ers, declined to comment on the paper’s claims. Rod Thorn, the president of the New Jersey Nets and formerly the N.B.A.’s executive vice president for basketball operations, said: “I don’t believe it. I think officials get the vast majority of calls right. They don’t get them all right. The vast majority of our players are black.”

Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price spend 41 pages accounting for such population disparities and more than a dozen other complicating factors.

For the 1991-92 through 2003-4 seasons, the authors analyzed every player’s box-score performance — minutes played, rebounds, shots made and missed, fouls and the like — in the context of the racial composition of the three-person crew refereeing that game. (The N.B.A. did not release its record of calls by specific officials to either Mr. Wolfers, Mr. Price or The Times, claiming it is kept for referee training purposes only.)

Mr. Wolfers said that he and Mr. Price classified each N.B.A. player and referee as either black or not black by assessing photographs and speaking with an anonymous former referee, and then using that information to predict how an official would view the player. About a dozen players could reasonably be placed in either category, but Mr. Wolfers said the classification of those players did not materially change the study’s findings.

During the 13-season period studied, black players played 83 percent of the minutes on the floor. With 68 percent of officials being white, three-person crews were either entirely white (30 percent of the time), had two white officials (47 percent), had two black officials (20 percent) or were entirely black (3 percent).

Mr. Stern said that the race of referees had never been considered when assembling crews for games.

With their database of almost 600,000 foul calls, Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price used a common statistical technique called multivariable regression analysis, which can identify correlations between different variables. The economists accounted for a wide range of factors: that centers, who tend to draw more fouls, were disproportionately white; that veteran players and All-Stars tended to draw foul calls at different rates than rookies and non-stars; whether the players were at home or on the road, as officials can be influenced by crowd noise; particular coaches on the sidelines; the players’ assertiveness on the court, as defined by their established rates of assists, steals, turnovers and other statistics; and more subtle factors like how some substitute players enter games specifically to commit fouls.

Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price examined whether otherwise similar black and white players had fouls-per-minute rates that varied with the racial makeup of the refereeing crew.

“Across all of these specifications,” they write, “we find that black players receive around 0.12-0.20 more fouls per 48 minutes played (an increase of 2 ½-4 ½ percent) when the number of white referees officiating a game increases from zero to three.”

Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price also report a statistically significant correlation with decreases in points, rebounds and assists, and a rise in turnovers, when players performed before primarily opposite-race officials.

“Player-performance appears to deteriorate at every margin when officiated by a larger fraction of opposite-race referees,” they write. The paper later notes no change in free-throw percentage. “We emphasize this result because this is the one on-court behavior that we expect to be unaffected by referee behavior.”

Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price claim that these changes are enough to affect game outcomes. Their results suggested that for each additional black starter a team had, relative to its opponent, a team’s chance of winning would decline from a theoretical 50 percent to 49 percent and so on, a concept mirrored by the game evidence: the team with the greater share of playing time by black players during those 13 years won 48.6 percent of games — a difference of about two victories in an 82-game season.

“Basically, it suggests that if you spray-painted one of your starters white, you’d win a few more games,” Mr. Wolfers said.

The N.B.A.’s reciprocal study was conducted by the Segal Company, the actuarial consulting firm which designed the in-house data-collection system the league uses to identify patterns for referee-training purposes, to test for evidence of bias. The league’s study was less formal and detailed than an academic paper, included foul calls for only two and a half seasons (from November 2004 through January 2007), and did not consider differences among players by position, veteran status and the like. But it did have the clear advantage of specifying which of the three referees blew his whistle on each foul.

The N.B.A. study reported no significant differences in how often white and black referees collectively called fouls on white and black players. Mr. Stern said he was therefore convinced “that there’s no demonstration of any bias here — based upon more robust and more data that was available to us because we keep that data.”

Added Joel Litvin, the league’s president for basketball operations, “I think the analysis that we did can stand on its own, so I don’t think our view of some of the things in Wolfers’s paper and some questions we have actually matter as much as the analysis we did.”

Mr. Litvin explained the N.B.A.’s refusal to release its underlying data for independent examination by saying: “Even our teams don’t know the data we collect as to a particular referee’s call tendencies on certain types of calls. There are good reasons for this. It’s proprietary. It’s personnel data at the end of the day.”

The percentage of black officials in the N.B.A. has increased in the past several years, to 38 percent of 60 officials this season from 34 percent of 58 officials two years ago. Mr. Stern and Mr. Litvin said that the rise was coincidental because the league does not consider race in the hiring process.

Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price are scheduled to present their paper at the annual meetings of the Society of Labor Economists on Friday and the American Law and Economics Association on Sunday. They will then submit it to the National Bureau of Economic Research and for formal peer review before consideration by an economic journal.

Both men cautioned that the racial discrimination they claim to have found should be interpreted in the context of bias found in other parts of American society.

“There’s bias on the basketball court,” Mr. Wolfers said, “but less than when you’re trying to hail a cab at midnight.”

Pat Borzi contributed reporting from Minneapolis and John Eligon from East Rutherford, N.J.

Editors' Note: May 5, 2007

A front-page article on Wednesday about an academic study that detected a racial bias in the foul calls of referees in the National Basketball Association noted that The New York Times had asked three independent experts to review the study and materials from a subsequent N.B.A. study that detected no bias.

The experts, whose names the authors of the two studies did not learn until after the article was published, all agreed that the study that detected bias was far more sound. That study was conducted by Justin Wolfers, an assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School, and Joseph Price, a Cornell graduate student in economics.

After the article was published, The Times learned that one of the three experts, Larry Katz of Harvard University, was the chairman of Mr. Wolfers’s doctoral thesis committee, as Mr. Wolfers had acknowledged in previous studies. Because of this, Mr. Katz should not have been cited as an independent expert.

An updated version of the Wolfers-Price study added acknowledgments for Mr. Katz and a second expert The Times had contacted, David Berri of California State University-Bakersfield. They were thanked for brief “helpful comments” about the paper they made to Mr. Wolfers via e-mail messages after reviewing it for The Times. These later comments would have been mentioned in the article if editors had known about them.



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#1 : May 08, 2007, 10:02:24 PM

Heard about this a few days ago and not gonna bother to read thru it all again... but would the fact that the majority of the refs are white / players are black have anything to do with the outcome of the study?

ufojoe

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#2 : May 08, 2007, 10:04:31 PM

The bias went both ways. White refs vs. black players and vice verse. The white vs. black thing was
more pronounced according to this study. The NBA's (very short) study sees none of it. Of course.

Booker

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#3 : May 08, 2007, 10:05:18 PM

I was going to say the same Hate.

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#4 : May 08, 2007, 10:13:51 PM

 [banghead]

Incomparable sig by Incognito

ufojoe

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#5 : May 08, 2007, 10:33:23 PM


The study hasn't been accepted by a peer reviewed journal yet. But that's the plan.

All of the issues and variables are covered thoroughly in the report, which you will see
if you read it. Also noted in the article, the one big thing the NBA study had over
the independent study is that it had "the clear advantage of specifying which of the three
referees blew his whistle on each foul."

But if the NBA really wanted to compare studies, they would have to do a study for the
seasons 1991-92 through 2003-4 seasons instead of the 2.5 seasons that they looked at.

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#6 : May 09, 2007, 01:08:30 PM

Joe whats the ratio of black players to white?
Seems to me logic says more black players equals more fouls.


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#7 : May 09, 2007, 01:17:10 PM

Even if it is true, does it matter in any way?  It's human nature and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.  Everyone agrees that the refs aren't doing it intentionally.  That's the only important thing here.

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#8 : May 09, 2007, 01:25:52 PM

they already play favorites to veterens and stars.  The NBA is a joke.


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#9 : May 09, 2007, 02:25:41 PM

Ufo is obsessed with racial tension, get over it come up with something new!


ufojoe

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#10 : May 09, 2007, 02:58:00 PM

Here's a decent editorial on why it's worth discussing...

And if this doesn't interest you, don't read it.

http://www.wilmingtonstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070508/NEWS/705080400/1050&template=currents

Officiating bias study worthy of debate

By Jason Whitlock,
The Kansas City Star

The reaction to a New York Times story that suggested NBA referees - both white and black - occasionally succumb to subconscious racial biases when whistling fouls proves once again that most of the media are unprepared to lead an informed, honest discussion of race.

The study, conducted by a University of Pennsylvania professor and a Cornell University graduate student, has been dismissed and ridiculed by the black sports media elite. The methods, conclusions and relevance of the study have all been trashed.

Why?

Because too many of us believe that the spoken word is the "smoking gun" when it comes to discrimination. Let a Don Imus call someone "nappy-headed," and that's a case of black hatred we can all sink our laptops into. Let young black men randomly shoot each other in the street, and that's not a sign of black hatred - it's the natural byproduct of poverty, according to the experts.

In my view, discrimination is in deed and not in words, and much of American discrimination today is unintended and unconscious. That was the point of the study The New York Times quoted.

White refs, not out of malice, were quicker to blow the whistle on black players than white players. Black refs, not out of malice, were quicker to blow the whistle on white players than black players, but not to the same degree that white refs did the reverse.

Bottom line: The study insinuates that white refs are a little more controlled by their racial biases than black refs.

The study did not call anyone or any group evil. The study simply added to previous studies that prove we all have racial biases, and we unconsciously let them control some of the decisions we make.

Remarkably honest Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told The Times this: "We're all human. We all have our own prejudice. That's the point of doing the statistical analysis. It bears it out in this application, as in a thousand others."

I can't understand why everyone is dumping on the study. The study should contribute to healthy dialogue on the issue of race. The study points out what we should all recognize: The best way to combat discrimination is to understand that we're all capable of discriminating.

It should also raise questions about why white refs are more prone to surrender to their biases than black refs. There are a number of factors at work here, but I'll only mention one, the one I've been harping on the past month.

Black NBA players have aligned themselves in terms of appearance and attitude with hip-hop/prison culture. Everyone pretty much acknowledges the NBA's predominately white-in-arena fan base has a problem with the league's hip-hop/prison image. But we're supposed to think the predominately 40-year-old white refs aren't turned off by the same things making the fans uncomfortable?

No, this is a study worthy of debate and consideration. We should talk about it without demonizing white or black referees. We should talk about how it relates to the things that transpire in our schools and workplaces.

With all the negative, pervasive images being thrown at us by pop culture, it's even tougher today to avoid giving in to stereotypes.

Over the last month, I've received literally thousands of e-mails and letters from people thanking me "for having the courage" to say what I did about the Imus situation. A lot of the writers have identified themselves as white, and they claim they could never say what I wrote without being accused of being racist.

That may be true. But it might also be a product of remaining silent or feigning ignorance when they see obvious discrimination affecting black people. To be honest, I found many of the letters patronizing. The celebration of principles you don't practice is the worst form of hypocrisy.

That's my problem with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. They're like most of America - they fight for values they fail to demonstrate. No doubt, Jesse and Al need their comeuppances. It would be easier to remove them from power if the majority community sporadically policed its discrimination without the threat of loud-mouthed opportunists.

It would also help if well-intentioned members of the media offered some depth and perspective to their analysis of America's complex, black-white racial dilemma.

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#11 : May 09, 2007, 03:14:14 PM

If you soley keep the study within the bounds of everyday life then it's fine.  The problem I have with it is that it calls out NBA refs even though it says that's not its intention.  It puts the spotlight one a group who are doing nothing wrong or differently than anyone else. 

As for debating race in our society, there plenty of areas that defeinately need some dialogue.  This is not one of them and it doesn't really help anything since it only tells us something we already know.  I certainly has its place and that's all well and good, it just isn't groundbreaking by any means.  I think it's getting a lot more attention than it merits.

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#12 : May 09, 2007, 03:18:37 PM

Hey, if it costs one or two baskets per game, I need to know that when I bet with the line!
Very important story.

(PS - I don't bet on sports. Except for the free $50 bet I used on the Derby.)

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#13 : May 09, 2007, 03:20:50 PM

Hey, if it costs one or two baskets per game, I need to know that when I bet with the line!
Very important story.

(PS - I don't bet on sports. Except for the free $50 bet I used on the Derby.)

I hate to break it to ya, but if you start betting on teams with the most white guys you're going to lose no matter what the refs do.  ;)

ufojoe

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#14 : May 09, 2007, 03:28:05 PM

No, just bet against the team with no white starters and a team of all white refs!

The difference is too small to be able to exploit this betting-wise. Although, I have a friend
who tries to exploit anything he can when it comes to gaining an advantage at sports
betting. Betting on events after they are over is his specialty. And yes. he has collected
a decent amount of $$$ on bets like that.
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