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California State Capitol. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

A Desperate Measure Cloaked in Science: The Left’s Latest Attempt to Overturn Proposition 209

‘Give me your agenda, and I’ll give you a study supporting it’

By Allen Shafter, July 10, 2023 3:15 am

The opponents of Proposition 209 — the proposition that amended the California constitution to ban racial preferences — are at it again. After losing their campaign to defeat Prop 209 in 1996, the proponents of race-based affirmative action spent the next two decades exploring creative ways to circumvent the law. By 2020, with the political winds blowing in the direction of a “racial reckoning,” the anti-Prop 209 forces thought the time was right to reorganize and give it another go in the form of a new ballot measure, Proposition 16, which sought to overturn Prop 209 in its entirety. Backers of this measure were undoubtedly stunned when the voters spoke, soundly rejecting Prop 16 by a decisive margin (43% to 57%). Clearly, even after more than two decades of left-wing indoctrination by the educational system and corporate media, the voters in the deep blue state of California were not in a mood to enshrine race-based preferences in the California constitution after all.

Given that the pro-racial preferences forces had laid dormant for over 20 years in between their defeats with Props 209 and 16, many, including those on the political left, did not anticipate a comeback attempt after just one election cycle, yet here we are. This time proponents of racial preferences are adopting a more devious approach they hope to sneak past the voters in 2024.  After failing to erase Prop 209 all together through Prop 16, their latest scheme comes in the form of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7 (ACA 7), which if implemented, would permit the state’s Democrat politicians to bypass key provisions of Prop 209 with the aid of their allies in academia. Specifically, the proposed text of ACA 7 states that, subject to approval by the Governor:

“… the State may use state moneys to fund research-based, or research-informed, and culturally specific programs in any industry, including, but not limited to, public employment, public education, and public contracting, if those programs are established or otherwise implemented by the State for purposes of increasing the life expectancy of, improving educational outcomes for, or lifting out of poverty specific groups based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, or marginalized genders, sexes, or sexual orientations.”

The key to understanding the strategy behind the proposed amendment centers around the use of “Research-based” and “Research-informed” programs: According to the authors of the bill “Research-based program” means “a program or practice that has been tested in a manner that meets all of the following conditions:

(A) The test is conducted with a single randomized evaluation, a single statistically controlled evaluation, or both.

(B) The test is inclusive and representative of the diverse populations in the state, based on the most recent census data.

(C) The test demonstrates sustained desirable outcomes or the weight of the evidence from a systematic review of the test supports sustained outcomes.”

A related “Research-informed program” is defined as “a program or practice that exercises the explicit and judicious use of the best available evidence from multiple sources that use disaggregated data to increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome.”

It’s not hard to see what could possibly go wrong here. Academic research can be a messy business even in the realm of “hard sciences” where progress is typically slow, and it’s not difficult to find prefatory studies supporting multiple sides of a given topic.

The scientific method can be thought of as a process of elimination where a wide range of plausible hypotheses are repeatedly tested with only the most robust surviving the gauntlet. Along the way many initially promising hypotheses are ultimately rejected. This is particularly true in the medical and psychological fields that would likely be relevant to ACA 7. In these arenas, findings that are popular at the moment are often proven wrong in the course of time. It may come as a surprise to many in the public who generally regard science as infallible that most published scientific research report findings fail to hold up against careful scrutiny.

In a seminal paper entitled “Why Most Published Research Findings are False,” Stanford Professor John Ioannidis of the Stanford Medical School generated widespread attention when he demonstrated that the methodology employed by many medical researchers led them to overestimate the significance of their results. He concluded that a significant fraction of medical research results could not be replicated and that most published findings represent false positive results — that is they report findings as true, when in fact they turn out to be false.

In the nearly two decades since Ioannidis sounded the alarm, several studies have been conducted to explore reproducibility — using a study’s original data to regenerate the results — and replicability — repeating the experiment with new data — in scientific findings. Although there is no firm consensus on the extent of the problem and its solution, it is widely acknowledged that a problem exists and extends across a wide range of scientific disciplines. For example, a poll conducted in the prestigious journal Nature in 2016 revealed that more than half of the scientists surveyed felt that science was facing a “replication crisis” (1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility).

In the majority of cases, problems with replicability of scientific findings are the result of poor research methodology and the pressure young faculty seeking tenure often feel to publish findings prematurely (publish or perish), not outright fraud. Even if this pressure doesn’t lead to scientific misconduct, which is fortunately rare, inherent biases can cloud a researcher’s judgement and leading to the publication of misleading findings.

Considering the overwhelming left-wing bias in our universities where the latest HERI survey reveals that 60% of faculty self-identified as “Liberal” or “Far Left”, while only 18% identify as Conservative, the temptation to skew research to achieve a perceived social benefit will be difficult for many activist faculty to resist. Regardless of any particular motivation, as the authors of ACA 7 are no doubt aware, there will certainly be sufficient “diversity” in published research findings to allow the proponents of the bill to cherry pick the studies they need to justify frequent exceptions to California’s ban on racial preferences.

It seems clear that if ACA 7 were to be eventually approved by voters, the race preferences lobby will be able to gut Proposition 209 pretty much at will. Put another way, the proponents of ACA 7 are counting on the fog that permeates the scholarly research landscape to give cover to their racial preferences agenda. There is the old saying attributed to Lavrentiy Beria, head of Joseph Stalin’s secret police: “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.” In the case of ACA 7 it’s “Give me your agenda, and I’ll give you a study supporting it”.

In the final analysis, ACA 7 is a cynical attempt by a few left-wing activists in the California legislature to achieve by the backdoor what they couldn’t win at the ballot box when the issue of racial preferences was honestly presented to the voters (twice!) in 1996 and 2020.  Their latest scheme, which attempts to exploit the public’s faith in science to give the governor veto power over the will of the people, isn’t just manifestly anti-democratic; it represents a prime example of leftist elitism in its most brazen form. If and when ACA 7 finds its way out of legislative committee and onto the ballot in 2024, it must be decisively rejected by the voters just like Proposition 16 before it.

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