See this peer-reviewed, but then-retracted, paper “Police violence and the health of black infants” by some person calling his- or herself Joscha Legewie?
After it was peer reviewed by knowledgeable peers, and therefore proven to be true, somebody found a fatal flaw: “a reader discovered classification errors in the data openly shared as part of the publication”. This caused the author to admit:
After learning about these errors, I conducted a thorough investigation focusing on a larger sample of cases that revealed further classification errors. A reanalysis of the data leads to revised findings that do not replicate the results in the original paper. Therefore, I must retract the Research Article and apologize that these errors were not discovered before publication. I am grateful that someone found the classification errors, which allowed me to investigate the issue and correct it quickly.
The paper was then officially retracted. A copy of it, however, still exists as of this writing (12 December 2019).
If we ignore the classification errors, and pretend they aren’t there, does the paper make any sense, though? Should it ever have been given the Science imprimatur? No, sir.
From the Abstract:
This study examines the impact of in utero exposure to police killings of unarmed blacks in the residential environment on black infants’ health. Using a preregistered, quasi-experimental design and data from 3.9 million birth records in California from 2007 to 2016, the findings show that police killings of unarmed blacks substantially decrease the birth weight and gestational age of black infants residing nearby. There is no discernible effect on white and Hispanic infants or for police killings of armed blacks and other race victims, suggesting that the effect reflects stress and anxiety related to perceived injustice and discrimination
Here are the opening words:
On 9 August 2014, Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department fatally shot Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old African American man, in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The event and other well-publicized cases in 2014 brought renewed and national attention to police killings and police use of force more broadly.
Brown, you will recall, is the criminal thief who tried to grab Wilson’s gun, and then charged Wilson, punching him et cetera. The real question, which Legewie missed, was why was Brown such a bad person.
Yet that he was shot for his criminality might have caused a black, but not white or Hispanic, baby to be born with slightly lower weight.
At least, by pregnant black woman who was no more than 5 km away. Wee p-values say so.
The goal of the analysis is to estimate the effect of maternal exposure to police killings of unarmed blacks on birth outcomes for black infants. Estimating the effect of police killings is challenging because police killings are not random. They are linked to crime and other neighborhood characteristics, which might also affect birth outcomes. To overcome this challenge, this study relies on a DD approach with and without sibling comparison (29–31, 39). The estimation strategy and model specification are motivated by previous research on the effect of hydraulic fracturing on infant health (31) and the effect of police killings (20) and police surges (21) on student test scores.
DD? “The DD approach compares changes in birth outcomes for black infants in exposed areas born in different time periods before and after police killings of unarmed blacks to changes in birth outcomes for control cases in unaffected areas.”
The analysis distinguishes nine time periods for mothers who are exposed 18 to 13, 12 to 7, and 6 to 1 months before pregnancy; those who are exposed during the first, second, and third trimesters in utero; and those who are exposed 1 to 6, 7 to 12, and 13 to 18 months after birth.
Exposed before pregnancy.
It compares the infant health of siblings who were and were not exposed to police killings during pregnancy. To examine the role of spatial distance from police killings for the effect on infant health, this study defines exposure to police killings by 500-m intervals ranging from 1 to 6 km.
The result is a complicated linear statistical model, which I won’t bother reproducing.
None of it makes the least sense. Police killing unarmed black criminals is supposed to be more birth-weight reducing than police killing armed black criminals. Somehow being closer to unarmed shootings causes greater birth weight reductions. How? The smell of gunpowder? The loudness of the shots? The feeling of guilt?
The results provide causal evidence suggesting that extreme forms of police violence have broader consequences and spillover effects on the health of newborn infants. In utero exposure to police killings of unarmed blacks in the residential environment markedly reduced the health of black infants but not for other groups. Exposure to a single police killing of an unarmed black individual during pregnancy accounts for as much as a third of the black-white gap in birth weight. This finding indicates that police violence is an environmental stressor that contributes to the stark and enduring black-white disparities in infant health and therefore the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage at the earliest stages of life.
If Legewie was really interested in black health, he or she might ask why are blacks so violent compared to other groups. Legewie paints a picture where bloodthirsty police target areas where they can move in and shoot unarmed citizens. Yet this is backwards: police only go where they are needed. They aren’t the “stressors”.
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