The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Ted Frank on Justice Jackson's Dubious Claim about Infant Mortality among Black Americans


Frank writes in the Wall Street Journal:

In a dissent from last week's ruling against racial preferences in college admissions, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson enumerated purported benefits of "diversity" in education. "It saves lives," she asserts. "For high-risk Black newborns, having a Black physician more than doubles the likelihood that the baby will live."…

The study makes no such claims. It examines mortality rates in Florida newborns between 1992 and 2015 and shows a 0.13% to 0.2% improvement in survival rates for black newborns with black pediatricians (though no statistically significant improvement for black obstetricians)….

Even the much more modest Greenwood result—which amounts to a difference of fewer than 10 Florida newborns a year—is flawed. It uses linear regression, appropriate for modeling continuous normally distributed variables like height or LSAT scores but not for categorical low-probability events like "newborn death." The proper methodology would be a logistic model. The authors did one, hidden deep in an appendix rather than the body of the paper.

There, the most highly specified model still shows an improvement in black newborn survival. But if you know how to read the numbers—the authors don't say it—it also shows black doctors with a statistically significant higher mortality rate for white newborns, and a higher mortality rate overall, all else being equal.