We think our cut at the data is more powerful, more robust, and demonstrates that there is no bias.
My major concern about it is that it’s wrong. This is a bum rap, and if it is going to be laid on us it should be laid on us by basis of some people who are purported to be scholars in a publication that purports to hold us up to a higher standard — a little bit more should have been done.
Those are the words of David Stern in response to a study by economists Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers that indicates some racial bias in foul-calling in the NBA. The first is from the NY Times article which broke the story, the second is from an AP story.
The problem is that in his haste to refute the story Mr. Stern was a bit over-confident in the study that the NBA claimed to refute the Price-Wolfers study. According to Lester Munson at ESPN.com, an independent analysis of the NBA’s study confirms rather than refutes the findings of Price and Wolfers.
An independent analysis of the two conflicting studies requested by ESPN.com confirms Wolfers’ findings that referees favor their own race when they blow their whistles. Thomas Miles, who has a Ph. D. in economics from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of Harvard Law School, dissected the massive study completed by Wolfers, and compared it with the smaller study by an NBA consultant.
“I believe [Wolfers] has the better points,” said Miles, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. “His study focused on the interactions of the race of the referee and the race of the player. The NBA was more concerned with the number of fouls called on black players and comparisons with the number of fouls called on white players.”
Mr. Wolfers explains further.
“Their own study agrees with our conclusion: A referee is more likely to blow the whistle and call a foul against a player of another race,” Justin Wolfers said after he reviewed the information in work done by an NBA contractor.
The league initially had refused to allow Wolfers to examine its study, but finally sent it to him last week after a series of blistering criticisms of Wolfers and his work.
Responding to Wolfers’ conclusions that officials were guilty of “own-race bias” in enough foul calls to affect the outcomes of games, a league spokesman said that Wolfers was “wrong,” that he was “disingenuous” and that his work was “sloppy and ludicrous.” Commissioner David Stern and league president Joel Litvin attacked Wolfers in numerous broadcast appearances.
“After refusing my requests for weeks, the NBA was unexpectedly gracious enough to share its material with me,” Wolfers said. “And I am now able to say that their critical statements are contradicted by the league consultant’s own statistical output.”
It is no surprise the the NBA is refusing to comment. David Stern owes an apology to Price, Wolfers, and Alan Schwarz. Failure to do so would be regrettable. We all make mistakes, but Mr. Stern was too forceful in his condemnation of the study and The New York Times for reporting on it.