Affirmative Action Prevents Binge Drinking?


Campuses where more than 21% of students come from "minority" groups have less binge drinking according to a new Harvard University study–only 44% of students were heavy drinkers compared to 53% for campuses with less diversity. The new study may provide the biggest stretch for a justification for affirmative action ever proposed. "Such an approach could add a twist to the affirmative action debate raging at predominantly white universities and education think tanks nationwide," suggests the Washington Post. BTW, binge drinking is defined as more than 5 drinks in succession for guys and 4 for gals.

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  1. I wonder if it has anything to do with the cultural centers. The african/asian/jewish/etc. cultural centers were constantly holding dances, speakers, etc. Probably a subset of the minority population spends more time at sponsored activities than the typical white frat boy who spends his evenings getting drunk and gang-raping hapless freshman girls. I’m can’t say for sure that there is less drinking at typical Maya Angelou lecture than on a Thursday night in state university frat house, but I’d guess so.

  2. What I have a problem with is not so much that the study was done or publicized (although mathematical correlations are trivial things), but that some take this from it:

    Such an approach could add a twist to the affirmative action debate raging at predominantly white universities and education think tanks nationwide

    It’s a correlation…a number. A study that takes into account a finite number of metered events. The likelihood that the tendency of white kids to binge drink can be expressed as a function of a known and finite set of currently measured collegiate characteristics? Please. The correlation’s applicability or meaning in any grander scheme is {0}.

    Academia is a competitive world yes, but prestigious doesn’t mean competitive, it just means well-publicized and well-funded. The media wants to make the # causative status quo, and that is dangerous. My little Harvard blurb was mostly sarcasm and vitriol…who cares how sociologists make their estimations. Rarely do offerings of the “science” have compelling or interesting consequences on our lives.

    I wonder if they considered the Native Americans.

  3. How about this theory – minorities tend to have less money than non-minorities. Therefore, schools with more than 21% of students from minority groups (as cited in the study) tend to be cheaper schools. Students at cheaper schools (both minority and non-minority) tend to have less spending money than students at more expensive schools. And, since “binge drinking” obviously requires that one have some extra spending money, viola, you have your correlation in the Harvard study.

  4. Your colleagues will catch your mistakes and shoot you down.

    Uh-huh. Like Bellisiles? The historians were handing him awards when a bunch of law professors and gun activists who were not his colleagues showed him up to be a fraud.

    Academia will ruthless expose every flaw in work that does not reinforce its preconceptions. For work that does reinforce its preconceptions(e.g. “diversity is wonderful! and here’s a study that proves it cuts down on drinking!), the scrutiny is considerably less intense.

    Every junior liberal arts professor knows that challenging the work of the senior professors is not a good career move.

  5. Yeah, I don’t know what the deal is hear, but I just can’t believe it. If this is verified by someone else, I’ll give it a look. But for now I find it so unlikely that I think it will be discredited before the ink is dry. Not worth my time at this point.

  6. thoreau, you see that? RC Dean has just demonstrated that wonderful ‘peer review process’ isn’t perfect! Stop the presses! Why didn’t you allow for the poss — oh, wait a minute, didn’t you say something very much like:

    “I’m not saying peer review is perfect. I’m just saying that nobody from a prestigious institution could get away with pubishing too many sloppy papers high-profile journals.”? Well, then, now I’m confused.

    Mr. Dean, I don’t believe you read the referenced post very, ahem, thoreau-ly.

    BTW, I can remember way back when I binged multiple times in one night!

  7. well, kinda remember….

  8. “I am backing Snoop on this one.”

    Didn’t Snoop give up the dope, supposedly?

  9. Brad S, I think you are on to something… need to give those poor students a larger stipend so they can enjoy the college years properly.


    PS Snoop Dog has cut back from a $1000 per day habit to something a bit more laid back. But he didn’t really quit completely. Personally, I think the grand per day thing I heard was exaggerated, but what do I know? I am sure his entourage helped with the consumption of said allotment.

  10. $1000 a day on weed? Say it ain’t so.

  11. Mr. Dean, I don’t believe you read the referenced post very, ahem, thoreau-ly.

    Sure I did. I generally agree with what thoreau writes, as a matter of fact.

    I was just pointing out that the feeding frenzy he predicted from academic competitors doesn’t seem to erupt when the work at hand reinforces their prejudices.

  12. Obviously frauds can be perpetrated for a while. But they seem to get caught, at least the high profile ones who make good targets. And since anything that gets public attention (and has a chance of influencing events and policies outside academia) makes a nice target, I feel safe approaching a publicized study with an open mind rather than just assuming that it’s biased piece of junk.

    Don’t get me wrong, some publicized studies turn out to be wrong, but even solid work can be wrong. Wrong in the sense that although what they did was thorough, it was only one piece of a much larger puzzle, and after much analysis it turns out that their data was a fluke or irrelevant to the bigger picture. But that doesn’t mean the authors weren’t thorough.

    Anyway, my main complaint is that people here start assuming that authors weren’t thorough enough to try one or two alternate explanations. When I’ve read social science articles (at least the ones that get media attention) I’ve found that they almost always consider alternate explanations or other variables.

    I get tired of reading posts like “Well, obviously it could all be explained if they had just looked at this other variable that I thought of in the last 30 seconds.” Maybe the poster was right, but he usually has no data and no way of knowing if the study considered his alternate explanation and found it lacking when compared with the data.

    So let’s give people a little more credit.

  13. To elaborate on fraud:

    Somebody who fakes a plausible-looking data set can get published if he puts his data set through all sorts of tests and says “See, it only supports one conclusion, various other explanations have been conclusively ruled out.” A guy at Bell Labs did something like that: He forged data and claimed it was from real samples (he was studying semiconductors), and described very thorough experiments.

    But if somebody took a real data set, and said
    “We did one test, we didn’t consider any alternatives or examine the data from multiple angles, here’s our conclusion”, it would be rejected most likely.

    But the assumption on this forum always seems to be “that conclusion can easily be explained away if they had just tested this one explanation I came up with in the past 30 seconds.” The poster is assuming that (1) the data would be consistent with his explanation if subjected to rigorous statistical methods and (2) the authors didn’t already consider his hypothesis and rule it out.

    Fraud tends to be perpetrated with bad data subjected to thorough tests (that it was designed to pass), not by real data subjected to hardly any tests and used to draw unsupported conclusions.

    So go ahead and ask “Did they consider this? I wonder what the result would be.” But please don’t post “That’s nonsense! They must not have considered MY explanation. This study only got attention because it confirms the prejudices of the liberal media!” (Not an exact quote, just an amalgam of various posts I’ve seen in multiple threads of this sort over several months.)

  14. Here is the real deal overlooked by all. White students are more likely to level peer pressure against their friends as they cry out, “drink it, you pussy!” or “chug! chug! chug!”

    As for Snoop dogg, he is back to smoking. Also, here in the Pacific Northwest is a strain called tha Magoo. It has a street value of $800 an ounce. If an ounce is to reach the LBC, I am sure there would be a $200 transport fee. Of course, I only know this by word of mouth.

  15. yeah but how much weed do y’all smoke?

  16. So, if I drink 4 or 5 forties in a sitting, I’m not binge drinking. Right?

  17. I can binge on 5 light beers, or take it easy and have only a 40 of Old Engligh.

    I’ve had more alcohol with the old english, but at least I haven’t binged!

  18. Obviously, the definition is flawed. But if the same flawed definition is being applied to both samples, the difference it reveals actually exist.

  19. From the Post article: “The study found that on campuses that had 21 percent or more minority representation, 44 percent of students were heavy drinkers. That number rose to 53 percent on campuses with less diversity.”

    A proper study would state its margin of error, typically 5% (although 10% might be more appropriate in survey-based, social ‘scientific’ studies), so the real correlation might be a 4% (or -1%?) decrease.

    Still, that’s science for ya… Howard, Morgan State and all the other Historically Black Colleges and Universities are just going to have to recruit more PHMs (pale-hale-males)!

  20. I’m guessing Mormon universities, like BYU, have some of the lowest levels of drinking, binge or otherwise. Therefore, by the logic of this report, schools wishing to tackle the problem of student drinking should seriously consider recruiting more Mormons as a partial solution.

  21. I am backing Snoop on this one. I successfuly exchanged my kegerator for a bong in my sophmore year and never looked back! Good ole Humboldt State!

  22. Did the study look for other types of correlation? Like: Perhaps campuses with fewer “minorities” happen to be smaller colleges, and that kids at smaller colleges tend to drink more. Or maybe campuses with fewer “minorities” happen to be private colleges, and that kids at private colleges tend to drink more. Or maybe campuses with fewer “minorities” happen to be skewed younger, and that kids at schools skewing younger tend to drink more. And so on…

    Or is it just all automatically about “race”? Are we stuck with “race” being the definitive characteristic upon which everything in contemporary American society, including Harvard studies, must revolve?

  23. chthus:

    Is that the logic of the report, or the Post’s conclusion based on the report’s findings?

  24. Jean,

    Sorry, I should have been more specific. I meant the report in the post. I haven’t had the chance to read the original study yet (only up to October available through my library).

    Another thing that I’m curious to see is if they looked at specific minorities, or just lumped them together. Asians in general have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, making fewer drinks more effective. Several of my fellow students, of Asian heritage, who I go drinking with rarely get past 2 or 3 drinks without getting visibly drunk and somewhat uncomfortable (flushed face, increased bp, headache). This tends to mean that outings with them don’t take on as much of a drinking flair as when they aren’t around.

    Sounds good, Mormons and Asians, stock ’em up.

  25. Binge Drinking = 5 drinks in succession???

    My college days are long behing me but the binge drinking apparently isn’t. I had 5 pints at the pub during game 6 of the world series! I used all 15 taste tickets at Oktoberfest!

    Even worse, what were people thinking of me when I picked up that six pack last night?

    “Shame, there goes another binge drinker.”

  26. Speaking of Mormons and drinking:

    Q: Why should you always bring two mormons with you when you go fishing?

    A: Because if you only bring one he’ll drink all your beer.

  27. Give statistics to someone with an axe to grind, and you’ll get an uninformative correlation dressed up as news.

    This has got to be the most excessive example I’ve seen yet of “multi-culti” worship. What total horse pucky.

    By the way, there is a thematically-related piece in the Spectator UK — it’s worth reading, especially for anyone who forgets how fascist liberals can be.

  28. I know it’s cliched to quote him, but Tocqueville once said something along the lines of: The more equal a society becomes, the less equal the people perceive themselves to be.

    In other words, as society becomes more level, more egalitarian — inarguably the case with American society over the centuries — the smaller “inequalities” get magnified. For instance, what would have been a laughable grievance in the 19th century, when blacks were enslaved, becomes an earthshaking matter in the 21st.

    It must be a knee-jerk human instinct to always look for what’s wrong, rather than what’s right.

  29. Yeah, that seems quite contrived, as though some Harvard grad student (fighting to raise his already Ivy-inflated GPA) caught some numbers, plugged it into an autocorrelation function, got a number reasonably close to 1 and said, “whoa, multiculturalism makes kids drink less!”

  30. I’m sorry, I thought the point of going to college was to chug a six-pack in under half an hour, act like an asshole for the rest of the evening and then puke on some sorority bitch’s tits.

  31. Whenever a study comes out with finding that liberals might have even the tiniest sympathy for, the standard clamor on this forum is “Did they check this factor? Did they check that factor?” Those are very good questions to ask, but the general implication of the posts seems to be “They probably didn’t. They probably just got the result they wanted and then ran to press with it.”

    I haven’t had a chance to examine this study yet, but when I have examined controversial studies I’ve usually (but not always) been impressed by the thoroughness. And I’m a physicist, so skepticism of the social sciences is in my DNA.

    Likewise, I notice a few posts along those lines once again. Let me clue you in on something that I’ve observed in academia: It’s very competitive. Your colleagues will catch your mistakes and shoot you down. You could take the two most liberal social scientists in the world, but if they’re at prestigious (read: competitive) institutions, their egos won’t permit them to engage in “Hey, my competitor got the politically correct result! Cool! No need to check it further.” It’s not that they don’t want to get the politically correct result. They do. They just don’t want their competitor to get credit for that result.

    I’m not saying peer review is perfect. I’m just saying that nobody from a prestigious institution could get away with pubishing too many sloppy papers high-profile journals.

    And I’m not saying we should accept the results without scrutiny because we have faith in the competitive process in academic research. But we should approach studies with a somewhat more open mind than:

    Yeah, that seems quite contrived, as though some Harvard grad student (fighting to raise his already Ivy-inflated GPA) caught some numbers, plugged it into an autocorrelation function, got a number reasonably close to 1 and said, “whoa, multiculturalism makes kids drink less!”

  32. Well, if thoreau will permit a bit of healthy, albeit unscientific skepticism, I’m unconvinced that the same rigor (or intellectual honesty) applies in the social ‘sciences’ as it does in the natural sciences.

    Research academics are rewarded in large measure by how well they secure funding (largely grant money), and whether or not *they* have axes to grind, many of those funding sources clearly do. Moreover, it is beyond question that (possibly excepting economists) the social ‘scientists’ are overwhelmingly left-leaning and there is a ‘herd instinct’ operating in what gets studied and what gets published.

    thoreau’s point is valid, however — certainly it would be better to examine the study itself and not the Post’s (far from objective) reporting of the study, but let’s not kid ourselves about the cutthroat nature of academic competition in the social ‘sciences’ where there is precious little opportunity for genuinely free inquiry and debate.

  33. Thoreau:

    It’s not the science (well, it might be, but I haven’t read the study, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on the science). It’s a stupid study to begin with. A “binge” is 5 drinks? Holy shit, I guess I binged last night! In college, I guess I binged 4 nights a week! So fucking what?

  34. Sorry to interrupt your two minute hate, but here are some quotes from the article:

    “The Harvard study does not conclude that the presence of minority students directly results in less binge drinking, but rather that there is a correlation between diversity and less heavy drinking by students.”

    “In July, (the study’s lead author) released a study that found that an effort by educators to curb campus drinking by emphasizing that heavy alcohol consumption was abnormal has failed.”

    Yeah, a prohibitionist trying to push an agenda by overstating his findings. That’s it.

  35. My theory: minority students drink less than white students. (College students of any race being a distinguishable subset of the overall population of that race.) Incoming students learn how to drink by taking their cues from the existing scene, that is, older students. When the % of minority students hits a certain threshold, their behavior ceases to be an exception to the mainstream, and begins to serve as a model for a significant number of students.

  36. joe, not sure who you’re arguing with, but I noted that all that was being asserted was a correlation, not a causal relationship. Also, if something is being done by between 44% and 53% of a population, how exactly is it abnormal?

  37. I think the reason that everyoneis jumping on this is because we see that they’re claiming a correlation and not a causal relationship, but then we assume the next step – that the researchers will then make a causal connection, otherwise this study is reduced to the relevance of a “factoid” (you know, like how many taste buds the average human tongue has). Even worse is that some other than the researcher will conclude that there is a causal relationship – worse because they don’t really understand the study.

    It’s fair to put out a study like this, but you can’t expect people to not react to it. If someone put out a study saying “White students average 1250 on the SATs but black students only 850” people are not going to respond and look for the cause of the discrepency rather than just marvel at the fact itself.

  38. Two points (and not just for Thoreau)

    1. In academe, virtually nobody who wants to advance (not to mention get tenure) is going to question anything positive about multi-culti stuff, or they’ll be victims of a pile-on. Perhaps they’ll even have to attend “sensitivity training.”

    2. Thoreau: You’re a physicist? Woop-dee doo. I’m a sinologist. And I still don’t like correlations dressed up as news.

  39. A factor which hasn’t been given sufficient consideration in this discussion is the filtering of statistics by the news media. There are many studies which show unexpected correlations. One study will often seem to contradict a previous one, not because of dishonesty in the first one, but because of subtle differences in the way the tests were conducted. But news media will tend to publicize studies which match their own preconceptions, while ignoring studies which go against them.

    This study of a correlation between racial composition and drinking allowed news media to say something that sounded good about so-called “diversity,” so it was widely publicized. A study that looks embarrassing to noisy pressure groups or undermines an editorial policy will likely not get as much publicity.

  40. If white kids go to a “diverse” school, they probably just go home on the weekends to binge drink with their white friends.

  41. Another possible explanation:
    What about tradition of drinking. I have noticed that my black friend don’t drink as much beer as my irish friends. ( For whatever reason )
    Maybe black people preffere other type of drinks of which you can’t drink more than five.
    I was in a russian colledge where we rarely had more than five drinks but we surely were completely wasted every time we had a party.
    Whould the study take in the account that we drunk exlusively vodka?

  42. The “binge drinking” standard has always puzzled me. If I, as we often did in college, walk from the dining hall in our dormitory to a party or a local bar around 7 or 8 of a Saturday night, and proceded to drink until bar-closing time (2 or 3 a.m.), a five drink session would be roughly not even a beer an hour. We did not have to drive to get to our booze. Drinking less than a 6-pack in an evening was exemplary moderation. After the bars closed, we’d go out to eat, then hit the hay, and wake up the next afternoon no worse for wear. Someone who arrived at the hooley late, and drank that much in a couple of hours would, of course, get drunk quickly and be more likely to get sick or be hung over. What time window do alcohol researchers use when describing a “sitting?” If, in the space of five hours, I visited five different bars, and had a 2-drink “sitting” at each one, my friends would likely have had to pour me into my room art the end of the evening!

    I’m sure they are averaging the impact of alcohol on 98 lb. co-eds and on 300 lb. defensive linemen. Could the lower minority drinking rate be an artifact of the larger percentage of women minority students matriculating than their male counterparts?


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