This post initially appeared on Science Blogs
A while back, ERV wrote about a rather silly study trying to equate viruses with obesity. I don't have anything to add to that, but I mention it because in that post, she linked to William M Briggs. He seemed to have a pretty good take on that study, and since I wasn't reading any other blogs by statisticians (and know fairly little about statistics), I added the blog to my RSS feed. It soon became abundantly clear that he and I do not see eye to eye on most issues; he seems very conservative, doesn't have a very high opinion of science, and might be a global warming denier (he never comes right out and says this, but is constantly trashing the models that climate scientists use). Still, he writes well and seemed willing to engage in discussion the few times I commented, and so I continued reading. Though it's often comforting to be in an echo chamber for your own ideas, I valued reading diverse views.
Unfortunately, Briggs himself just penned a devastating critique of the notion that diversity is a positive thing:
Suppose then that we have agreed upon a locale; for definiteness, imagine it is the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. What would maximizing "diversity" mean here? Consider only physical characteristic. We'd have to staff the team with the short and tall, the fat and skinny, the able and disabled...but enough. This is obviously absurd. It is idiocy to insist on diversity of characteristic for any profession in which physical ability is important. And this is most professions: orchestra member, line worker, fireman, physician, sportsmen of any kind, jailer, soldier, and on and on. We're done: we have just proved that requiring diversity of physical characteristic for nearly all defined scopes is idiotic and a truly stupid idea. I hope you realize that this is a proof and not an opinion.
Oh, I do Briggs, I do. Such an ironclad argument bears repeating: because the idea of having a 5-foot-tall, 90-pound weakling on the Detroit Redwings is clearly absurd, ANY diversity must therefore be absurd. Got it? There's no way to argue against this, but just in case you feebs can't grasp the utter simplicity and universality of this argument, Briggs deftly elucidates another, more relevant example:
The simple proof that requiring diversity of characteristic is idiotic is this: we would require that our professors contain members who are brain damaged, who have congenital defects of the brain, who are diagnosed as "learning disabled", who are senile, who are infantile, and so forth[...] To maximize diversity means that one must positively discriminate in favor of each possible physical realization. To exclude any is to eschew diversity.
That's it. We're finished.
"But Kevin," you might be thinking, "Surely those advocating diversity aren't suggesting achieving diversity to the exclusion of other important qualifications, basic competence or brain function." You might be thinking that, but you're stupid. It's obvious: if you think diversity has any value whatsoever, you must seek to maximize diversity. And if, when choosing among equally qualified applicants, you decide to choose a woman over a man, or someone black over someone white, or someone from a disadvantaged background over someone a trust fund, all in the name of diversity, you are bound by logic to accept an unqualified psychopath with a learning disorder and a penchant for smearing goat cheese on his face, because THAT would constitute diversity too. It's so obvious!
The only assumed premise is that we wish the members of each of these professions to be "the best". Meaning we want doctors to be the best doctors, not the best white doctors weighing over 300 pounds born in Cleveland. We want the best violinists, not the best bald violinists. Our proof does not hinge on our imperfect methods of measuring "the best", either: it is enough that the method of discovering the best exists and does not itself invoke diversity: part of "the best" includes the idea of minimal competence, suitably defined. [emphasis added]
This premise is self-evident. We want the best doctors, and we know what makes the best doctors, so the only reason women and minorities are under-represented among physicians is because woman and minorities suck at medicine. If you think that the elite professions and schools clearly have an historic, pervasive and systematic prejudice built into their hiring practices then again, you're stupid. Human beings are completely rational, and only make decisions based on maximizing utility, so all the doctors ever hired were the best ones for the job. As I said before, I started reading Mr. Briggs to increase the diversity of the opinions I was exposed to. But he's convinced me: reading his opinions is a terrible idea.